‘A supreme showman’: Jazzy singer, pianist returns for Philharmonic opener

For once, with a bit of prodding, Tony DeSare played music critic instead of jazzy piano.

Well, kind of.

He acknowledged that 6-year-old son Christopher’s recent first public keyboard recital unfolded as a solid performance.

“He’s not as drawn to music as I was at his age, but we’ll see what happens,” the musician said, speaking by phone last week from his son’s school where he just had lunch with the youngster.

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The son’s more moderate approach is quite OK with DeSare. He and wife Daisy simply want to expose the child to music for all its side benefits, ranging from enhanced creativity to sharper general learning, reading and more.

“It opens up those pathways, you know?” DeSare said.

Listeners would say that the veteran piano man — one who has become a local favorite in two previous performances — allows his concerts open pathways to nostalgia and beauty. He will kick off the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s 33rd season Saturday at Judson Erne Auditorium with “Sinatra and Beyond.” The beyond in the title can be literal, considering that one of the tunes will be Ol’ Blue Eyes’ global-oriented tune “Come Fly With Me.”

Apart from Sinatra, other numbers figure to be a couple original compositions and a Bee Gees’ classic “How Deep Is Your Love?” dressed in a bossa nova beat.

Goodness knows the 43-year-old New York City-based musician left the audience awed at the Philharmonic’s 2017 season opener. At that concert, crowd response was strong enough that the piano man offered two encores, including Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire,” presented with such a frenzy that DeSare played partly with his feet.

“He is a supreme showman,” said David Bowden, Philharmonic music director. “He clearly understands how to engage an audience and how to find ways to connect.”

Bowden was so taken with DeSare’s 2015 cabaret show locally that Bowden did something he never before had done. He asked DeSare about an orchestral date immediately after the concert and finalized it with his manager the next day.

Plenty of others have fallen in love with the musician. His popularity recently expanded worldwide with a just-completed three-week tour of Spain and France that included festivals and jazz clubs with his quartet in locales such as Paris. Next month, he’ll release his fifth album, “Lush Life” with childhood pal and top arranger and keyboard player Tedd Firth, highlighting a variety of jazz standards from artists such as Billy Strayhorn and including two originals.

Plus, he’s aiming for yet another disc in 2020. And he’ll keep his musical selection process broad, considering that three of his releases have reached the Billboard Top 10 for jazz.

“I think about whether a song works for me or not, and not necessarily how it’s classified or the style in which it was written,” DeSare said. “The tradition of artists I like — people such as Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald — are those who have been interpreters of songs others have written.”

Downbeat magazine once labeled him a rising star among male vocalists.

But DeSare, ever one for giving his performances an even broader appeal, still talks of building his audience base as if he were nearly a beginner, just as he discussed in 2015 when he was recording two new videoed songs per month from his home studio. He now considers that release pace too fast for the detailed quality he wants to see in his work online, and he has since slowed the process.

“Any artist understandably wants his audience to be as large as it could be,” he said, before pausing to consider what that could mean for him. “But I don’t ever want to make decisions on what I’m doing just based upon that aspect (of growth). I’m still just thrilled and thankful that people are there to listen.

“And I’m thankful that we all get to have a fun night just sharing music.”

Opening up pathways to new connections.

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Who: Jazzy singer and pianist Tony DeSare performing with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic in a show titled "Sinatra and Beyond."

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Musically Speaking conversation between Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Music Director David Bowden and DeSare is at 6:45 p.m.

Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus. 

Tickets: $10 to $60 at 812-376-2638 or thecip.org.