In anticipation of the 2021 Virtual TCM Film Festival, I was delighted to interview pianist Richard Glazier about his upcoming From Broadway to Hollywood (2015) program that is part of this year’s exciting lineup. An expert interpreter of the Great American Songbook, Glazier has both personal as well as professional connections to his music. Offering a rich context to the beautiful music of the Great American Songbook, which is at the core of many a Hollywood musical, Glazier’s program is sure to engage as well as educate viewers as then enjoy Glazier’s fine performances and personal stories.
In addition to offering background information regarding the creation of certain songs and development of Broadway and Hollywood musicals, Glazier’s show also includes a variety of special guests–some of whom we have sadly lost over the years–and beautifully preserves their stories and connections to these memorable tunes.
It is my pleasure to post our interview here as we eagerly await tuning into his program.
Annette: How did you become interested in the Great American Songbook?
Richard: When I was 6 years old, I saw a movie on television that changed my life: Girl Crazy. It introduced me to stars Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and the wonderful music they performed. Fortunately, I had an Aunt Esther in my life. She was sort of a grandmother figure to me, spent a lot of time with me, and was very supportive of my interest in music. I asked her about Girl Crazy and she told me about George and Ira Gershwin. We would go to the library together, check out books about them, records, etc. Thanks to her, my lifelong passion for their music was born. One of my fondest memories is Aunt Esther doing the Charleston for me in her living room to the soundtrack of Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Annette: What inspired you to create From Broadway to Hollywood?
Richard: This was my 3rd PBS special. I wanted to combine music I love with the people who are connected to it.
My projects just kind of evolve. I assemble a bunch of songs that I love that are new to my repertoire. I had done that in 2014 and had the idea of interviewing people who were involved with the music that I had learned. For example, I reached out to Efrem Zimbalist Jr. by sending him one of my CDs. He responded and we became really close friends just months before his passing. My wife Jan and I went to Solvang, CA (where he lived), to interview him. It was at that time that I was inspired to play the great TV theme from The FBI by Bronislaw Kaper. Kaper also co-wrote “San Francisco” and “On Green Dolphin Street” as well as the theme from Auntie Mame, which I perform on the show, starring Rosalind Russell.
Annette: What do you value most about the Great American Songbook?
Richard: I feel the Songbook represents America and what it is all about in the best sense. The music of Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, Arlen and and Porter is uniquely American. These great composers heard the many voices of different cultures that came to America for a better life and created a shining symbol in melody and harmony representing the melting pot known as the United States of America. As Americans, we can take great pride in what the Songbook represents.
Annette: Do you feel a connection to a particular song, composer, or artist that is especially strong when you perform?
Richard: Many, really, but first and foremost the Gershwins. I’ve loved them forever and had the very special privilege of corresponding with Ira Gershwin for several years and being invited to meet with him in his home. He was a huge influence on me. I’m also very aware of Judy Garland’s influence when I play. I often phrase a section of a song the way she would, but through my fingers.
Annette: What are some of your favorite moments from your career as a pianist?
Richard: There have been so many, but I’ll say the summer I performed at Chautauqua at the same time that two men I greatly admire were there: author David McCollough and newsman/author Jim Lehrer. We went to each other’s events and spent evenings sitting on the official Chautauqua guesthouse porch talking along with our wives. A year or two later I was performing in Paris at the same time as David and his wife were there and they came to my concert.
I also remember doing my show for Janis Paige at the old Plush Room in San Francisco. It was so much fun and very inspiring to talk about Silk Stockings, Romance on the High Seas, and Hollywood Canteen.
I have had the privilege of performing in almost every state in the union and one of my greatest joys is meeting all kinds of different people who love this music, proving that the American Popular Song has woven its way into the fabric of America and will survive through the generations.
Annette: Do you have a favorite moment in From Broadway to Hollywood? If so, what is it?
Richard: My wife Jan and I filmed the interviews in each guest star’s home. They were all marvelous people—each one gracious, unique, and interesting. It’s very difficult to single anyone out, but the combination of composer David Newman introducing the Theme from Vertigo and my performance of it are very special.
Annette: Tell us a bit about the creation of From Broadway to Hollywood. How did the show come together? What was your selection process like for the songs you included?
Richard: The show evolved from the pieces that I had accumulated in my repertoire. For example, I have always loved “So in Love” from Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter. Once I had learned my arrangement, I discovered that Patricia Morison (the original Kate) was alive and doing well at 98. I called my friend, the fabulous Steve Ross, and he kindly put us in touch. She passed away a couple of years ago.
I wanted to play “It’s a New World” from A Star is Born by Arlen and Gershwin on the Warner Bros. soundstage where Judy Garland recorded it in 1954. The powers that be at the studio couldn’t have been more gracious and gave me access to this historic and important space. I sat down and played this gorgeous song and, luckily, it was beautifully captured in the show.
Annette: What do you hope audiences will take away from viewing From Broadway to Hollywood?
Richard: My wish is that audiences are entertained and educated about the golden age of film, Broadway, and the American Popular Song and realize what an important part this music plays in our culture. It’s really all epitomized with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It was the first time that popular music crossed over into the concert hall and the Popular Songwriters adored and idolized Gershwin for it.
Annette: Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you are working on?
Richard: I have been doing a lot of virtual concerts in my living room and learning new repertoire. I just added the solo piano version of the Spellbound Concerto by Miklós Rózsa. It’s a suite of themes from Hitchcock’s Spellbound and is very effective. I can’t wait to perform it for a live audience. Once I get about 15-20 new arrangements in my repertoire, I will record another CD. Maybe after that, another TV show. Who knows?
From Broadway to Hollywood airs on TCM on Saturday, May 8, at 3am EST. It will also be made available to viewers via the Watch TCM app.