Recorded in 2014, “From Broadway to Hollywood with Richard Glazier” is Glazier’s third program for the network and features the artist’s piano talents as well as interviews with artists having connections to the Golden Age of music.
“It will continue to air on PBS affiliates over the next three years and I’ll be appearing during the pledge drives,” said Glazier, who lives in Sacramento, Calif.
Unlike most conventional concert pianists, Glazier draws on his background and connections with legendary figures in American Popular Song, such as Ira Gershwin, to blend recitals with anecdotes of artists who influenced his career.
“I’ve always told interesting stories about the composers, the performers, the shows, the movies—they all enhance the concert experience,” explained Glazier. “I also add audio/visual components showing rare clips, photos, and interviews that I’ve done.”
Glazier’s journey to the concert stage as a performer and historian of popular Broadway and Hollywood music goes back over 40 years ago, when then 9-year-old Richard started digging though his aunt’s collection of old 78 records.
“I found an Oscar Levant recording of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and became obsessed with the music,” recalled Glazier. “That led me to the library where I learned about the composer, George Gershwin, and his brother Ira.”
Glazier was hooked after discovering the 1943 musical film “Girl Crazy,” which featured Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney singing Gershwin songs, and began piano lessons.
George, the composer, had died in 1937, but when young Richard learned that lyricist Ira was still living, he wrote to the aging songwriter asking for a photo. That led to a three year correspondence between the music legend and his young fan.
“I was a small child who loved Gershwin music, so I think Ira wanted to encourage my passion for their music and my goal of being a pianist,” said Glazier who, to his astonishment, was invited to Gershwin’s California home to meet his hero.
Accompanied by his mother, Glazier remembers the butler leading them into the living room where Ira sat waiting. “He was very reclusive during his later years and hardly ever had company, but I would never have known since he was very warm and animated.”
During the two hour visit, Ira showed Richard the Pulitzer Prize for Drama he had won in 1932 for writing “Of Thee I Sing.” He invited the boy to play a piano in the room – the same instrument where the Gershwins composed some of their best known music including “Porgy and Bess.”
When he departed, young Glazier didn’t leave empty-handed.
“He gave me a picture of George, along with one of his cancelled checks, an autographed photo of himself and an autographed score of ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’” said Glazier, whose mother also took a photo of her son with Gershwin wearing a monogrammed gold sweater.
This past March 26th, after a recent Gershwin concert and lecture Glazier did with Mike Strunsky who represents Ira Gershwin’s estate, Strunsky surprised the performer with a boxed gift on stage.
“I opened it in front of the crowd and inside was the gold sweater Ira wore the day we met almost 40 years ago to the day!” said Glazier. “That incredible gesture of kindness will stay with me the rest of my life.”
A sentiment Glazier also experiences when recalling Ira Gershwin’s parting words four decades ago to a 9-year-old fan, having just played at the famous lyricist’s keyboard.
“He said, ‘some people say that George played that piano, and Oscar Levant played that piano. Someday they’ll say Richard Glazier played that piano.’ Talk about encouragement!”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers.