By Frank Barron
When you go to a concert, usually the songs are sung by great singers. But at the annual “The Songs of Our Lives Volume IV” concert, the composers themselves stepped up to the microphone to sing their most memorable tunes. Albeit, not every one was a fine singer, but even with raspy voices full of character, all were undeniably world-class songwriters who have enriched our lives with their work.
So a crowd gathered at the Wadsworth Theater in Westwood last week to see the musical geniuses in a show, with Tony Danza as the enthusiastic song-loving host for the evening. Charles Fox (“Happy Days”), Norman Gimbel (“Girl from Ipanema”), Steve Dorff (“Through the Years”), Felix Cavaliere (“People Got to Be Free”), Allee Willis (“Boogie Wonderland”), Jeff Barry (“Doo Wah Ditty”), David Pack (“Biggest Part of Me”) and Richard Marx (“Now and Forever”) sang a cavalcade of their best known songs. But the big treat was hearing their stories about what inspired them to write the tunes. Some admitted dumb luck played a part in their success, and some of the most popular tunes never were supposed to see the light of day — but we’re glad they did.
The concert raised money for the Fulfillment Fund, which empowers youth through education. Andrea Cockrum is the dedicated CEO of the organization. Joan and Charles Fox are passionate supporters of the cause and produced the three-hour concert, which was directed by Jules Aaron. To date the Fund has served more than 1,700 students annually, both in college and in high school. Fox also serves as a mentor for the Fulfillment Fund, and encouraged his fellow songwriters to do the same. “It truly makes a difference and changes the lives of promising young people,” he said.
Tony Danza thanked everyone for helping the kids, and revealed, “I wish I was a musician. But I just turned 60, I’m over the speed limit now, and I’m too old to change careers.” He said it was a thrill for him to come on board as the host, because “I’m surrounded by my heroes. These are the guys that wrote the songs that I danced to as a kid, or sang along, or made out. And now it’s amazing to hear these guys do their own songs.” Danza was seen singing in the wings, but was thrilled to come out on stage and sing “Watch What Happens” from the classic Umbrellas of Cherbourg alongside Norman Gimbel, who put English lyrics to Michel Legrand’s music. Danza, strumming on a ukulele, was joined by renowned Bossa Nova composer Oscar Castro-Neves playing classical guitar. “How cool is this?” Danza beamed.
Leading off the performances was Felix Cavaliere, who formed the Young Rascals group. That groovin’ ’60s band became well-known in New York’s East Side, leading to a signing with Atlantic Records and a remarkable, long career.
Playing piano was Steve Dorff, who holds every type of music award in film, TV and recording. He regaled the crowd with several personal anecdotes about collaborating with Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and even county singer George Strait.
Richard Marx has sold more than 30 million records, and was an absolute delight to listen to, with a remarkable voice. He has performed with and produced for artists such as Luther Vandross, Billy Joel and so many others. On stage he was absolutely mesmerizing, and got a well-deserved standing ovation.
With an unusual voice, enhanced by what he calls “yodel power,” David Pack was another gifted performer who started his career as a member of Ambrosia, the legendary ’70s rock group. He let the audience know his musical mentors were Leonard Bernstein and Quincy Jones, and that knowledge showed up in his performance. As a producer, he worked with scores of top artists, and is currently a judge, music director and producer for the global Avon female talent search.
The lone female songwriter Allee Willis told colorful stories about her top-selling singles and performed some of the tunes she wrote for Earth, Wind & Fire and The Pointer Sisters. She is a Grammy, Tony and Webby award-winning songwriter. Another wonderful guest artist was the pre-eminent jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves.
A real highlight of the evening was seeing the humor and chemistry between Fox and his lyricist, Norman Gimbel, and hearing them talk about their words and music, including “Killing Me Softly with His Song.”
Supporting the Fulfillment Fund from the audience were Mac Davis, Fred Willard, Kate Linder, Romi Dames and Cherna and Gary Gitnick, M.D., who were on the host committee. It was a memorable musical night thanks to all the creative folks who took the stage and wrote the songs of our lives.
For more exclusive photos from the event, visit our Web site at www.tolucantimes.com.