“All I can say to you is welcome to my nightmare…” and so begin our trip with one of the great songwriters and composers. “My father used to have a really bad recurring dream, I don’t know why, he didn’t tell me, but the dream was that I was crazy enough to want to be a musician. Not go to medical school. The recurring dream was that it was possible that I would end up, in later years, in the city on a Saturday night playing piano in a basement bar…”
It is early in Randy Edelman’s superb “A Life In 80 Minutes” one man show at the exquisite new room Chelsea Table And Stage. Dressed snazzily in a suit, his curly light brown hair like a halo, with a pile of papers he places gingerly on his piano top, Randy commanded the audience with a well placed, well timed journey through his musical life. From his father’s worries over his career choices, through Bing Crosby covering one of his songs a week before da Bing passed, through to his latest single on Tribeca Records, released last week, “How Could I Let You Go”.
Unless your name is Jerry Lee Lewis, being a piano player can be a hard sell, especially if you aren’t a rocker, Edelman writes MOR classics when he is not composing motion picture soundtracks, soundtracks for sure work subliminally to enhance aid in drama and transitions so not necessarily a riveting viewing experience; to push them front and center is a tricky business, even when the soundtracks include “ha has” such as “My Cousin Vinny”, seven Ivan Reitman (RIP) movies, and a splendid piece of ragtime for Adam Sandler’s first movie “Billy Madison” and before a string of “non haha” soundtracks towards the end. If you were at Elton John’s farewell on Wednesday you’d have heard how he jackhammers the piano, he pounds it out. That’s not Randy, he is a wonderful pianist, comfortable in his fleet of hand performances that don’t smack you around, he reminds you more of a jazz guy like Oscar Peterson as he re-arranges music composed for a full orchestra to just him on the piano.
Wait, not unlike Randy’s notes on his piano, I’m all over the place.
Randy used a rhetorical gift, he would tell a story but leave the punchline, the musician he is discussing, till the end, sometimes till after he played as we tried our hand at guess the superstar we are only one degree of separation from. It was a fun game and it moved the set along with a sure hand. It is only after you’ve been watching for awhile that you realize it is truly a musical journey, here is Randy befriending Barry Manilow at a Joan Rivers residency where Randy also performed, there he is storming out of a Tin Pan Alley producers office after said producer refused to demo “Weekend In Vermont”, there he is, head down and furious out onto Broadway and running into Barry (not unlike how Frank got “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”) and giving him the song and watching both of their careers explode.
Randy wasn’t like a rocker, he attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and began his career in the pit at Broadway musicals. A member of the audience asked how he got his break and Randy looked at him in amazement. He didn’t get a break as such, years of hard work paid off, that’s what happened. Randy opened with hits like “Uptown Uptempo Woman” and “Seventh Avenue”. It opened the door, the first time Randy performed in a theatre instead of a club he had just dropped his eponymous debut album and was booked to support The Carpenters (they would cover him as well) in huge arenas, and Karen Carpenter would wait at the side of the stage for him and tell him how much she enjoyed the sets, “I’m going to cover every song” she said. Randy choked up before performing “You”. Honestly, I’m with Edelman on this one: I adored Karen, she was truly one of a kind.
It is easy to see both one side and the other of Edelman’s career, the pivot to soundtracks happened after a half dozen solo album as a career as an in demand songwriter, and he performed the same pivot on stage last night moving onto the “Ha Has” including a great Adam Sandler story, an explanation that he isn’t stealing music from the NFL, from Wikipedia: “Starting in 1995, NBC unveiled a new theme composed by veteran composer Randy Edelman which was used for both their pregame show (now simply titled The NFL on NBC) and during the game. This theme would be used until the end of the 1997 season, including Super Bowl XXXII … NBC still uses the 1995-1997 era theme”, so there. Randy returned to solo songs including one of the best singles of 2021, his gotta to get back to living again pandemic farewell “Comin’ Through The Other Side”. Before we get there, there are any number of great songs and a gorgeous “Paris” with Randy’s fluid and smooth and fast runs outstanding.
Now for the “non ha ha” including a wonderful story about Ted Turner spending 20 years in his mansion, plotting a 24/7 all news station while producing “Gettysburg”. We also got some of “Last Of The Mohicans” and more, though I could have used “Anna’s Theme” from “Leap Year”. And then we are back to his songs, including “My Special Friend” not recorded by the best selling artist on the 20th century and neither myself, nor the couple I was seated with, could guess who the best selling singer was, we had been doing pretty well up till then. The couple was Wendy Stuart Kaplan, who has a podcast named “If These Walls Could Talk” (here), in which she goes beyond the entertainers public image to shine a light on the people behind it, and her charming husband Allen Kaplan. “The Woman on Your Arm” is the song the best selling singer of the 20th Century actually recorded, indeed the last song he recorded. That would be Bing Crosby. I am a huge fan of da Bing and am a little shamefaced not to have gotten it.
Now we head towards the end, flying past the 80 minutes run time with no complaints from anyone. I shout out a request for “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”, hardly an outrageous ask since he performed it at Soho’s 9-11 benefit (here) and got shot down with a dirty look and a witty “I don’t play sad songs”. He rounded out the evening with his latest song and two covers and the two covers are really clever, one of which seems to echo his movie writing, the other his singer songwriter vibe. The classical interlude was outstanding, Robert Schumann is a mid-19th century composer and apparently the years haven’t dented Randy’s skills from the Cincinnati Conservatory though a listen to the earlier “PIano Picker” could have told us that. He concludes with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”. Randy remembered the first time he heard it, with his parents on Broadway, and just being awestruck. It is only a slight stretch to conclude that Richard Rodgers brought us here.
It felt as though Randy was winging it last night, but he wasn’t. It was a brilliantly constructed musical trip through Edelman’s backpages, it seemed free formed but it kept a timeline of his career, wherever we might think he is. The perfect example is how he starts with the ha has, the soundtracks that began his career as a movie composer for comedic films, and then, later, he tries to get away from the “ha has” and we are offered the “non ha has”. I love cleverness, I love the skill it takes to perform nonstop for two hours, alone, and be mesmerizing. He put a little love in our heart whether he wanted to or not.
Randy Edelman is back at Chelsea Table And Stage on April 9th, 2022 (here). It is a dream, not his father’s bad ones either, it is unmissable so don’t blame me if you miss it.
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