As a kid – long before I had a record player of my own, or for that matter any records to play on it – I used to hunker down in front of the big wooden family stereo console in the living room and endlessly rummage through my parents’ record collection, spinning my favorites for hours at a time.
There was a treasure trove of music at my fingertips – albums like Stan Kenton’s West Side Story (my dad’s), Harry Belafonte’s Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (my mom’s), Sarah Vaughan’s Dreamy (my dad’s) and Johnny Mathis’ Johnny’s Greatest Hits (my mom’s).
So as I settled into my seat at Albany’s Palace Theatre earlier this month, I couldn’t help but wish that my mom was there with me. Sadly, it was just more than a year ago that she had passed away, but I could almost hear her quietly sighing and swooning during the show… along with most everyone else in the theater.
Stan Kenton’s gone, and so is Sarah Vaughan. Belafonte is still a monumental presence, but he long ago retired from the concert stage.
But lo and behold, Mr. Johnny Mathis is not only still at it, but he’s also still got it. Oh sure, there was plenty of nostalgia in the air at the Palace, but Mathis proved that his old-school balladeer chops have remained almost impossibly intact even at the age of 77.
“First of all, I have a wonderful lady who’s been with me for 43 years.
(While she cleans) I go walking through my house, sitting in different parts of it. Because I live on a hill, I have some really good views, and I sit and think about certain songs and certain performances that I’ve seen over the years.
I listen to every conceivable thing that you could imagine.
My greatest joy is to be able to call my office and (ask for music). Because of the way that music is now everywhere on the internet, you can get songs you never thought you’d hear again. That is my joy. I call up my assistant Amy and say, ‘Hey, I remember some Nat King Cole song from some movie,’ and I can have it sent up to the house in the matter of an hour or two. I enjoy that aspect of this new kind of technical world that we live in where everything that was ever recorded is accessible.
Nothing is lost now, everything can be found musically.”
He’s spent more than a half-century singing professionally, andJohnny Mathis croons his way into the spotlight at the Palace Theatre in Albany at 8pm on Thursday (April 4). Tickets are $36, $56 & $76.
To Americans of, well, a certain age, Johnny Mathisis romance.
And even after all of years – Mathis celebrated his 75th birthday just two days before his show at Proctors – he’s still got it, whatever it is.
Backed by a whopping 29-piece orchestra, Mathis just stood there on the stage as casual as could be with one hand in his pocket. With his other hand, he raised the microphone to his lips, and his still-honeyed voice rolled out across the sold-out theater.
“You know, we weren’t poor, but we didn’t have a lot of money because I come from a large family. So I don’t remember ever buying a record. What I did was I listened to music on the radio and went to friends’ houses who had recordings.
But the way I heard most of my first music was it was played for me by my dad, who was a good singer and piano player.
He taught me the first two albums’ worth of songs that I recorded. After I had a hit record or so, I was left on my own really to find songs that I wanted to sing, so I reverted to the ones that my dad sang. Those are the ones that I put on the first couple of albums, like ‘Heavenly’ and ‘Warm.’
And he would also bring home records of what he called ‘sweet music’ – records by singers like Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine and Peggy Lee. He liked music with a jazz influence.”
Veteran vocalist and hitmaker Johnny Mathis has been recording for more than a half century. His latest album, “Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville,” was released just last week. And he’ll be stepping into the spotlight at Proctors in Schenectady at 8pm on Saturday. Tix are $20, $40, $60, $75 and $100.
PS – Today (Thursday, September 30) is Johnny Mathis’ 75th birthday.
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