Friday, April 6, 2012

Alex Rybeck!

Peggy Herman, Peter Glebo, Alex, and me
"Don't do to others what you wouldn't have them do to you."
- the Talmudic version of the Golden Rule

Happy Friday!
I hope this finds you all. 
Whatever your religious beliefs are (or not), I wish you all peace and happiness today and always. 

Today, I'm celebrating Alex Rybeck! 
I have been a fan of Alex's since I first heard him play. He's one of those people that I cannot remember when, where, and how we met. But I will tell you this, if Alex's name is attached to a show, it will be a show mired in excellence. I am thrilled to be celebrating Peggy Herman's CD Release party at Feinstein's on May 6th celebrating Jerry Herman. 
Click on the banner at the end of this blog to reserve. I'm also thrilled to let you know that Alex Rybeck did the arrangements for this CD, wait till you hear it, and he will be playing for the show as well. Alex will also be playing at the 27th Annual Bistro Awards on April 23rd! 
I hope to see you ALL at both events.
Best audition advice Alex ever heard: Don't seek to impress -- seek to express.

Favorite mantra before going onstage: "Nothing to prove, only to share."
Alex was fortunate in having parents who loved theater (both straight plays and musicals), opera, movies, and concerts.
 
So Alex was treated to attending performances of many kinds as a young child, and these special occasions definitely impacted him, instilling both an appreciation of the arts as well as inspiration to develop his own artistic impulses.

Since I am a Jerry Herman fan, Alex told me that one of those memorable early theater experiences was seeing a touring production of MILK AND HONEY at Shady Grove Music Fair in Maryland. 
 It was around 1962, which would have made him about 5 years old. The star was Molly Picon, who was already well up in years. In a boisterous production number, the chorus boys tossed this pint-sized grandmother around, catching her and tossing her over and over -- an image Alex can still visualize. 
After seeing a production of The Nutcracker ballet, he remembers drawing the sets and costumes from memory, as a way of reliving the experience.

He developed his ear for music very early on.
 
Alex would come home from a show or movie musical, and spend hours picking out the tunes on the piano. 

Listening to cast albums and soundtracks furthered this development. 
Long before he ever saw the printed music, he could play medleys of tunes from THE SOUND OF MUSIC, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, MARY POPPINS, and other scores . 
Alex's Dad also played (and still plays) piano, so he was really Alex's first influence as far as the piano goes. 
When Alex was a little older, he discovered pop radio, and picking out tunes by Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Tony Hatch, and the like really stretched his abilities to "hear" -- not just melodies, but harmonies, rhythms, accompaniments, orchestrations. 
He started classical piano lessons when he was about six-and-a-half.
I asked Alex what is the process that leads to him and a singer working together.
In his experience, Alex is usually the one who is contacted by someone looking for a musical director/pianist/arranger/composer.

But he has offered his services in situations where it felt appropriate.
Alex said he would certainly never offer his services to someone whom he knew to be in a successful ongoing relationship with another musical director -- that would be like trying to break up a marriage.

ALEX'S THOUGHTS ON LEARNING TO MAKE INDUSTRY RELATIONSHIPS MORE SOLID AND RESOURCEFUL:
Alex tends not to think in those terms ("industry relationships"as apart from other relationships). He thinks all relationships are important -- whether it's with the cab driver who drives you to the airport or the Broadway star who is counting on you to play their one-person show, or your family and friends. The same basics apply: be open; listen; show up on time; be prepared. 
Be respectful and you'll be respected. 

The qualities that attract Alex are kindness, humor, and positive energy.He strives to surround himself with people who exude these qualities, and he tries to follow their example.

ALEX'S THOUGHTS ON ARTS EDUCATION:
Is there anything more important, yet granted such little value in our current school systems? Alex is disheartened at the lack of support given the arts in our educational institutions and by our politicians. It is not debatable; the arts are a vital and essential part of being human. We dismiss arts education at our own peril.

with Ann Hampton and Liz Callaway
ALEX'S ADVICE TO YOUNG ARTISTS DESIRING TO PURSUE A CAREER IN THE ARTS TODAY:
Alex's advice would be to take that lyric from "Try to Remember" seriously and literally: "Follow, follow, follow!"
Give yourself every opportunity to develop your talents. Even if you don't pursue the arts as a profession, your passion will express itself in other areas. To be "artistic" really means to envision other worlds, truths, possibilities -- and the need (and ability) to express these visions. 
You can be a creative cook, a creative business person, a creative parent, a creative best friend. Painting, dancing, singing, composing, writing -- these activities produce a "high" that no drug can touch, and even better, these activities are actually good for your health!

And for those who deep in their hearts know they DO want to follow their dreams of an artistic profession:
You have been given an awesome gift -- your passion. Most people don't go through life with that passion. It's your secret weapon -- your superpower! 
It will attract wonderful things to you. 
Embrace it, cherish it, and nurture it.

Alex said he would be extremely wealthy if he had a nickel for every time he is approached by an audience member after a show who shakes his hand and wistfully says, "I wish I had kept up with my piano lessons..."
Nothing sadder than the eyes of someone lamenting the dream they let slip away.

Margaret O'Brien, Carol, Rhona Flemming
ALEX'S THOUGHTS ON CAROL CHANNING:
For her mission to bring awareness to the importance of Arts Education,Alex says: Thank you!!!!! May her efforts be repaid with meaningful action and funding!

ALEX'S THOUGHTS REGARDING A KENNEDY CENTER HONOR FOR CAROL:
It would be a thrilling cap to a very long and iconic career. Since Gower's death, you (Richard) are her greatest champion!   :-)

HOW DOES ALEX CHOOSE WHO TO PLAY FOR:
Generally, I don't choose the people I work with -- they choose me!
Or not!
But if I have the luxury of choosing projects, it's based on any number of considerations, personal and financial. And sometimes it's just a matter of timing -- being available or not, due to schedule restrictions. I am still trying to master the art of time management. Generally, I tend to say "yes" to more than I can easily handle.

NEXT APPEARANCE:
With Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway in Palm Springs at The Annenberg Theater on April 7.

BIGGEST SHOW BUSINESS SUCCESS:
Not sure I could point to one accomplishment as my "biggest success", nor am I sure how to define that, anyway.
If the question means what am I best known for, it's probably for a body of work as an arranger/Musical Director for such singers as The Callaways, Faith Prince, Jeff Harnar, and so many others over the years. On a personal level, I would have to say I feel "successful" in that I make my living as a musician, working with people I love and respect, and that I do occasionally meet people who know my name from the work I've done.

Michael Miyazaki, Alex Rybeck, Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, and Ron Squeri, the cabaret master class
LOWEST LOWS AND HOW TO SURPASS THEM:
Being fired from jobs; being unprepared; botching important relationships (both personal and industry); for me, the worst feeling comes from letting someone down, and not being able to salvage a damaged relationship.
In order to surpass the lows, you have to develop the ability to forgive yourself. 
Sometimes all you can do is just accept the reality that you made a mistake, and if you can, you make amends. And sometimes, if the fence is beyond repair, you just have to get on with it, with the self-knowledge you've gained -- knowledge about your own frailties and tendencies -- which hopefully you'll apply to future situations, so you don't REPEAT your mistakes!
And from experiencing your own weaknesses and challenges, you hopefully develop compassion for others.
MAC NOMINATED BEST SONG OF 2010
Music by Alex Rybeck
Lyrics by Todd Murray
Alex Rybeck - piano, Sean Harkness - guitar, Steve Doyle - bass. Lead Vocal Todd Murray, backup vocals Alex, Sean, Steve.
Recorded live at The Metropolitan Room, NYC

THE BIGGEST CHANGE ALEX WOULD LIKE TO SEE IN THE INDUSTRY would be the same change I would like to see in our culture in general, and I realize this is a most unlikely wish: a raising of the bar for what's considered worthy of public consumption. Artists and producers who still believe in art that can elevate our consciousness, and who put their energies into creating and sustaining it, command my highest respect. The AIDS epidemic tragically wiped out an entire generation of artists. 
When they died, a great deal of craft and knowledge was wiped out, too.

with Maureen Brennan and George Dvorsky
ONSTAGE CLOTHING:
I am not a clothes horse. Of course I want to look good onstage, and must be comfortable to play well. A black suit and a pair of shiny black shoes usually works just fine.

IS ALEX HAPPY IN HIS CAREER AT THIS POINT?
Yes; which is not to say I don't have goals I haven't reached yet.

WHAT MAKES ALEX UNHAPPY?
Getting in my own way. Old habits die hard.

HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED SINCE ALEX BEGAN HIS CAREER?
I began my career in the late 1970's/early 1980's. In that fact lies the answer to your question. Clearly the world is completely different, in too many ways to enumerate, especially the music industry. But yet, the essentials of live performance remain the same; the communication between performer and audience is still the bottom line.
(Am reminded of 100-year-old director George Abbott's response to the reporter who asked him what was the greatest change he'd seen in the theater during his lifetime. Abbott's answer: "Electricity!").

As far as cabaret goes, an earnest answer would be: Diversity. I think there's a much broader scope of material and performance style found in clubs now. Anything goes. And that's good, as long as the level of work is high. There's a certain "old school" polish and professionalism (exemplified by the likes of Marilyn Maye) which is all too rare now.

 34/36 DVD de l'any 07-08 Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona
An Evening of Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim
Follies
Losing My Mind
Liz Callaway (veu)
Alex Rybeck (piano)
HOW DOES ALEX REACH THEATERGOERS TO ADVERTISE HIS SHOWS?
By any and all means necessary. And the most important PR is (and was and will always be) word-of-mouth.

Alex, Barry Levitt, Bill Zeffiro
IF A GENIE COULD GRANT ALEX THREE WISHES:
1) A chance to write a Broadway score.
2) More square footage in my apartment.
3) Obama in a landside this November.


HOW DID ALEX GET INTO THIS BUSINESS?
Started playing piano and composing when I was a kid; started playing for shows and singers when I was in junior high.
Got a good education at Oberlin College (studying music and theater) and NYU (The Musical Theater Writing Prgoram).
Most importantly: got lots of different jobs related to what I do now. Before moving to NYC in 1980, I worked for two summers playing live shows at an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. I wrote two original shows at college. I took a year off from college to serve as Musical Director and composer-in-residence at The Round House Theater in suburban Maryland. When I finally moved to NY, I played dance classes, auditions, club acts, background music in restaurants, and whatever I could get my hands on. In this business, experience and ability count even more than education, but I do think a good education is very important. Within my first year in NYC, I served as Assistant Musical Director for an Off-Bway show, REALLY ROSIE, and interned on a Bway show, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. For me, one thing always led to another -- fortunately. 
I have never had an agent.

FAVORITE SONG:
Impossible to pick one song -- I'm far too greedy -- and there are too many songs that are essential to my well-being.
However, when I find myself trying out a new piano, I often find myself playing "Whoevere You Are (I Love You)" -- the gorgeous ballad from PROMISES, PROMISES, by Bacharach & David.

with Bryan Batt and Jacquee Carvin
LAST STAGE SHOW ALEX SAW:
PIPE DREAM at City Center Encores! Series. Wonderful cast.

HOW DOES ALEX PREPARE FOR HIS PERFORMANCES:
After hopefully putting in enough time rehearsing the material so that I feel secure, my goal on the day of the show is to clear my schedule of anything but the most essential activities. I don't want to be running around doing last-minute things. I want to be rested and relaxed. I want the sound check to go easily and efficiently. I like to eat something fairly substantial a few hours before I have to perform -- not overfed, just sated. If possible, I love to take a hot shower before getting into my black suit. In general, I want to avoid any kind of drama. I want to have worked out as many details beforehand as possible, so there are no last-minute "surprises", and I can truly enjoy the act of going onstage to share the material I've prepared. A useful mantra just before going onstage: "Nothing to prove, only to share."

DOES ALEX HAVE A SURVIVAL JOB?
Fortunately for me, not in the sense of having to work outside my chosen field.
However, when I was in college, I worked as a dishwasher and a waiter, and I once even tried telemarketing (I lasted one shift). Every job I've had was a learning experience and valuable as such.
I think any job, if you're going to do it, should be done to the best of your ability. Not only is there no shame attached to taking a survival job, but "real life" experience actually informs your performance career, enriches it. Everything you do is an opportunity, if treated as such.


BEST COMPLIMENT I'VE EVER RECEIVED:
It's not my nature to brag about compliments I've gotten -- so THANKS FOR ASKING! :-)
It would honestly be embarrassing to relate a compliment I received from Burt Bacharach, one of my gods; suffice it to say, it was mind blowing and humbling and I will always hold it in my heart as a very special token of validation.

Another moment I cherish was Jimmy Webb asking me for my arrangements of two of his songs to use in his Feinstein's show (which featured Liz Callaway as his special guest).

And for sure one of the best compliments ever was from Dionne Warwick (of whom I'm a lifelong ardent fan). After she heard me play a medley of her hit songs at last year's Bistro Awards, she turned to me in front of the audience and said "I want that medley!" and then proceeded to thank me "for playing all the RIGHT notes!' -- going on to explain that oftentimes musicians try to "improve" upon Burt's music.

Generically speaking, the best compliment any performing artist ever receives is to be asked back -- by the audience, or the venue, or (hopefully) both.

Peggy Herman has an even greater compliment. She said the greatest thing that happened to her in this business when Erv Rable sent her to Alex 21 years ago! 

Alex, thank you so much for the gifts you have given and continue to give to the world.
Your devoted fan,
 
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Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

                                 
Tomorrow's blog will be..A Preview of my book on Hello, Dolly!


Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!







  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!






  
TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                                
This Blog is dedicated to ALL ARTISTS: Past, present and future and the gifts they give to the world! I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED!






1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this post--thank you for sharing it with us, Richard!

    ReplyDelete