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Until I read Terry Teachout’s article, I had no idea of your Dad’s existence, although I have a pretty good collection of the very great mid-century pianists. So, to my surprise, delight, and absolute astonishment, I discovered your father through you.
I bought your two albums at once, and so at age 83, I have received the most treasured gift I could have ever expected, the sound of music — my music — heard in the most original, brilliant and captivating way I could ever imagine. It was like hearing it fresh and new again.
Thanks for honoring your parents in such a loving way, and giving the rest of us the pleasure of discovering and hearing your father’s genius.
Van Nuys, California
15 February 2016
During the heyday of piano bars and boites in Manhattan, when one had a wide choice of gifted pianists to enjoy, the standout for me was inevitably Cy Walter. My wife and I always made the Drake Room one of our favorite stops. Cy was a true master of the instrument, and his nonpareil interpretations of the American Songbook created a benchmark for pianists to aspire to, myself included—surely one who could never hope to get close. I was fortunate enough to publish his outstanding published arrangement of “Body And Soul” in Sheet Music Magazine. Had I been aware that additional arrangements of his existed, the goldmine of which, thank goodness, is viewable on this precious gift of a website, each and every one would again have been published either in that magazine, or, more likely, in our pianistically more advanced classical/jazz publication, Piano Today, and in our Steinway collections, Piano Stylings of the Great Standards. How lucky we Drake Room habitués were who could enjoy him live, and in full flight!
Vero Beach, Florida
7 March 2016
Thank you so much for burning those CDs of your dad. I had written an email to you via the website describing how I idolized the guy. If you did not get it: Kathy and I went to The Drake Room as much as possible. We often got the table near his left hand, before the crowd invaded. I had learned his printed arrangement of “Body And Soul” many moons ago, which I could never play today. The hands and the mind have faded. But Cy’s never did, thank goodness. In fact, I published that arrangement in Sheet Music Magazine [of which I was editor] when Warner Bros. found an old copy for me. My issues are in storage, but when I go out there I can look for a copy for you. I just have to find out what issue it was in!
I can’t wait to hear these. It will bring back so many wonderful memories for us.
Vero Beach, Florida
30 January 2016
Also, I read with interest Marlene Cameron’s piece, as I, too appeared on the radio shows she mentioned. Her “Miss Norton” was Hilda Norton, a drama coach who worked out of her east-side brownstone. I believe the radio shows (also Madge Tucker’s “The Lady Next Door”), were broadcast under RCA’s “blue network,” which was sustaining (non-commercial) and became ABC, as opposed to the flagship red network which became NBC.
And to find that “Some Fine Day,” one of my favorite Mabel Mercer repertoire choices, was written by Cy Walter … well, it supports my long-held admiration for his talent.
Thank you for all your efforts.
16 January 2016
[Marlene Cameron is an actress with a varied and successful career whose memories include not only seeing and hearing Cy Walter perform (she remains an avid fan to this day), but also include many cultural and entertainment elements of those times gone by. She shared some of these in email correspondence with Mark Walter, as set forth in edited fashion below.]
We were at war in 1942. In spite of that, women’s fashion in New York City was at its peak. I remember silk stockings with seams up the back, bright red lipstick and nail polish, modified platform shoes with handbags to match, beautiful hats, very high heels even when women were tall, and GLOVES. My sister, Gloria, was a Rockette in Radio City Music Hall at 16 years old, the youngest dancer to join. I remember how she dressed. Later on, stockings could not be purchased, because silk and the new nylon were being used for parachutes. So she used makeup and an eyebrow pencil to paint her legs. One of the girls drew the seams up the back. Costume jewelry was all the rage. Rhinestone pins graced the collars of stylishly fitted suits for women who could not afford the genuine [ones].
The music scene in the 40’s and the 50’s, in the “uptown clubs” like the Blue Angel and the Versailles, was still wonderful! I couldn’t go to even listen at 14 years of age (was I ever that young?!), but I had a coach named Al Greiner who subbed for Cy Walter when Cy had another “gig” to play. Al played well, though not as brilliantly as Cy. Al taught me much of Mabel Mercer’s original and/or not so original material, [songs] that I still love to sing today. Cole Porter was and is a big favorite of mine, too.
Everyone I spoke to raved about Cy Walter and how good he was. I longed to be part of that scene. If you haven’t guessed by now, I was a “Broadway brat”, and [so] into everything I could [get into]. Richard Rodgers was a great friend to Cy, as was I, after being in two Rodgers & Hammerstein productions by 1950. I remember hailing Mr. Rodgers, who would just stand on the corner of 46th Street and his beloved Broadway, when I was 18 years old, and “making rounds”, as all actors [then] did [when] looking for work. Truly, these were magical times.
Sitting here, listening to your father [Cy] play Richard Rodgers, I remember the last [email] I told you about hailing him on Broadway. What I didn’t mention was that he said to me, “I look ugly, don’t I?” This was just a few months after he had [had] the cancer operation that took away half of his jaw. Now you should understand that Mr. Rodgers was always so proud of his good looks as a young man. He was quite a ladies’ man back then. I came close to him on that busy Broadway street and whispered, “Mr. Rogers, you re still the handsomest man on this block as far as I’m concerned.” He grinned a crooked grin. I walked away. Then I darted around the corner and I cried.
[Cy underwent a similar operation as a cancer treatment in 1959, also suffering a removal of a portion of his jaw. Chilton Ryan, a dear friend of Cy’s, recalls visiting him in the hospital one day shortly after the operation; Chilton described Cy as being in deep depression. Then an hand-delivered 23 June 1959 letter for Cy from his friend Richard Rodgers arrived, stating, in part:
Of all the people you know, no one is in a better position to cheer you up than I. You must know that nearly four years ago I had extreme difficulty of my own. I can only tell you that with the exception of a very short period of recuperation I have been not only extraordinarily well but equally active and productive. I realize that words are not tremendously helpful at the moment the blow falls, but they will be later on. My distress over your trouble is second only to my admiration and warm feeling for you over these many years.
(See http://cywalter.com/new/?page_id=1907.) Chilton vividly recalls that Rodgers’ missive achieved his goal: after reading it, Cy was immediately cheered up.]
I have to take issue with something written in the text [of the liner notes to the Cy Walter Sublimities CDs, Vols. 1 and 2] about Milton Cross. Every Sunday morning for several years I appeared with a number of other talented children on NBC’s [show, “Coast to Coast on a Bus”]. Milton Cross was staff announcer at that time, long before he made his name as the [Metropolitan Opera’s] announcer. I was all of 7 years old in 1942. A marvelous coach called Miss Norton was our teacher. I never knew her by any other name. She was a good friend to Nila Mack, director at NBC of a Saturday morning show designed for children who were older than me. It was Ms. Mack that got me an audition for a Broadway show called “Georgia Boy”, [which was] my first Broadway show. [It] was produced by the dreaded Jeb Harris, and starred Henry Hull of Tobacco Road fame.
As an aside, children under the age of 7 years old could not get a work permit in NYC. So I [know that] was 7 years old when I did that show. All of us had to be able to “sight-read” (read and perform cold scripts) by that time, and all of us did — by the age of 6 years old. No, we didn’t actually travel. It was all imaginary, and mostly in song and music of some sort. Oh, and I just remembered the name of the Saturday morning radio show … it was called “Let’s Pretend.”
Gosh, I remember “sight reading” at an audition for a film called “Journey For Margaret” when I was 8 years old, and, as the script called for, bursting into tears. I was applauded for my performance at the time, but lost the role to Margaret O’Brien. This film made Margaret a star. The reason, I was told, was that with my round face, I looked too healthy. Margaret O’Brien had a thin, wasted looking face, with high cheek bones. (Sigh!) The character was that of a little girl made an orphan in London during its bombing in WWII.
And more [memories come back] … as I listen to [Cy’s playing of] “The March of the Siamese Children.” I first heard this music when I was 16 years old. We were celebrating the first year of “The Happy Time.” This was a most successful Broadway show produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein in which I performed. The party was held at Danny’s Hideaway on the East Side somewhere. Mr. Rodgers and Margo sat at twin pianos and played this wonderful music and announced that this would be heard during a new show that he and Mr. Hammerstein [had written]. [It was] called “Anna and the King of Siam”, [and] later renamed “The King and I”. I saw this great musical at an Actor’s Equity preview with Gertrude Lawrence, and did this show numerous times in “Stock” [presumably a reference to Summer stock theatre performances]. I directed it years later in Anniston, Alabama, where I was Managing and Artistic Director of an 800-seat theater.
I also choreographed the ballet “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” on one leg while choreographic notes were taken by a very old man who, in his youth, [had] studied with the famous Russian dancer and choreographer, Folkien. Frank Jones was his name. He owned an antique shop in Anniston. Above the store was his dance studio, where he rehearsed the dancers for many weeks. I was secretly in love with this 80-plus year old man, and, I believe, he was in love with me, too. Did I say [that] I had an interesting life, and as the Chinese say, “lived in interesting times?”
I grew up hearing about Cy Walter from my mother, a classical pianist who performed two pianos and four hands in the Twin Cities [Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota] for many years. One of the pieces that she and her partner played in programs was Cy’s great two-piano arrangement of “Begin the Beguine”. It was very popular. My mother decided she would commission him to do another two-piano arrangement of a popular piece.
In the summer of 1967, we went to the Drake [Hotel, in New York City], and I heard Cy play live for the first, and only, time. We invited him to join us at our table during a break, which he did. When we introduced ourselves, he told us that he remembered playing with an orchestra at one of my grandmother’s big parties on Lake Minnetonka (Wayzata, MN), when he was 16 years old. I don’t know if he was playing with Norvy Mulligan’s orchestra at that party.
Unfortunately, we never got around to commissioning that piece. But at my wedding in 1992, my mother and her partner played that “Begin the Beguine” arrangement, in very same room of my grandmother’s house where Cy had played as a young man.
My grandmother, Louise H. Bell (Mrs. James Ford Bell), was a great party-giver in the Twin Cities, and loved music. She would have parties with a piano player, and when she was ready for bed, she would “borrow” the piano player to play outside her bedroom on the second floor (where she had a small piano stationed just for that purpose). After she fell asleep, the pianist would go back down to play for the party. She was also one of the women who helped support Cole Porter when he was having financial problems, and she spent a lot of time in New York hanging around with show business-types.
I know that Cy’s mother was a piano teacher and over the years I actually met people who knew her. I enjoyed reading the biographies of Cy’s musical parents [in the “Minneapolis Heritage” section of the website]. It says that Florence was a member of Thursday Musical. My mother was also a member of Thursday Musical, and as far as I know, it is still in existence!
The Lars [Boye] Jensen recording is one of the greatest treats imaginable. Thank you for making your father’s music available.
Ford W. Bell, DVM
January 23, 2012
I remember Cy’s playing on the “Piano Playhouse” hosted by Milton Cross. I purchased some of his recordings and sheet music arrangements. I always considered him to be as good as any pianist I have ever heard and way better than most.
Thomas A. Oliphant
Los Alamos, New Mexico
January 12, 2011
My sister was in town this weekend and shared with me the Cy Walter website. My Dad, Bill Smith, was a friend of your dad, Cy Walter. They met in the 1930s (they were together the night George Gershwin died, which I think was in 1937), and stayed friends until the 1960s, when Cy passed away …. I don’t remember ever meeting you or your Mom, but Cy was at our home so many times that my sisters and I called him “Uncle Cy”. Usually the visits were late at night when the pubs closed down, and they came to the house and played till dawn with many of your Dad’s famous friends. My Dad played piano too, and just idolized Cy. We have a burnt piano key on the family upright that I am sworn to keep forever, as it was burned by Cy. We were little kids, and our favorite “Uncle Cy” song was “Jingle Bells”, played real fast. There is no recording of that, but I thank you for saving his legacy.
All my life I have heard Cy referred to as “the piano player’s piano player”. The term “the piano player’s piano player” when applied to Cy to me was more of a spoken, rather than written, term. In college, I sang with the acapella group “The Colgate Thirteen”. We would do about 150 concerts a year, primarily on the East Coast, and sometimes in the mid-West. Naturally, we gravitated to places where the music would be. We met numerous pianists as you would imagine. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, whenever I would hear a pianist with a certain measure of talent, I would ask them if they knew of Cy Walter. The response invariably was, “Everybody knows Cy Walter”, and then many would follow with the observation that he was “the piano player’s piano player”.
A fraternity brother and fellow member of our singing group was struggling to play an arrangement on the piano one evening at our fraternity house. After 20 minutes, he just slammed the piano and quit. When I went and looked at the music, I told him that it was arranged by my Uncle Cy. He said “tell your damn Uncle Cy that no humans can play his arrangements”. Sorry, but I don’t recall the song’s title.
Another story popped to mind after hearing from you. One day, I believe sometime in the late forties, Cy called my Dad at work and said for him to meet him over at Columbia records that afternoon, as he was playing for a ” new girl singer”. Dad went, and said she sounded pretty good. The “new girl singer” was Dinah Shore.
W. Blake Smith
Boca Raton, Florida
January 12, 2011
I was born and raised in Minneapolis and took piano lessons from Flossie (Mrs. Walter), as did my younger sister, Marilyn. We never called her Flossie but she and my mother were close personal friends. Flossie was always “Mrs.Walter”, dispite the fact she was often a guest in our home. I guess I embarrassed myself and her most at my final recital. I had conjoled her into letting me play “Deep Purple” instead of “Anitra’s Dance” or some such. I played the first three lines beautifully three times, bowed and left the stage. In today’s parlance, I had a senior moment !!
During my senior year (1941), my father was trransferred to New York — what a thrill! Both your father and your uncle were a few years older than I, so we seldom saw them when we went for our lessons. But by the time we reached New York, your Dad’s reputation had soared, and I was more than proud to say that Flossie Walter had been my piano teacher in Minneapolis.
In the meantime, I had met my future husband (Bard Quillman) at Cornell. We often frequented The Drake to listen to your father, even if we could only afford a drink. Sometimes we went to his table when he was taking a little break for a visit, and often, if there was room, he asked us to join him and his other guests for a bit. One night I asked your dad about sing-along guests. He answered, “That doesn’t bother me, I just change the key and the tempo and that puts a stop to that”. Another evening, we were off to St. Thomas the next day, and when I mentioned it, [another Drake Room] guest replied, “I lived in St. Thomas for a while, and you’ll love it. It is just one God damn beautiful day after another!!!”. Of course, the description stuck, and St.Thomas has always had that epitaph in our family.
By this time, I had decided I wanted to be a singer. I left Cornell after two years, graduated from Tobe Coburn Merchandising School, and was working at Lord and Taylor. So, whenever Flossie came to visit your father in New York, she invited my mother and me to dinner at your Dad’s apartment. It was easier for her than traveling to Bronxville, since I was working in New York, praying the war would end soon. We three would sing and play, catch up on all the Minneapolis news, and generally make precious memories. (Mrs. Walter forgave me for “Deep Purple”.)
Your website is a gift to me and so many others. It is beautifully balanced, and Lee Wiley and Mabel Mercer and so many others are such a bonus for [those of] us who weren’t paying attention when they were the popular entertainers. We were not quite old enough; I am 87 now, and my husband 89. Thank you for keeping your father’s exceptional talent and beautiful music alive for this generation. Have fun with this and use it or parts of it, whatever suits you. Some of it might entertain your many web readers. I had fun writing it and remembering.
April 12, 2010
Having been a great fan of Mabel Mercer, and particularly liking her rendition of Cy Walter’s “Some Fine Day”, I took a date to the Drake [Room at NYC’s Drake Hotel], I believe it was, to hear him. People were making requests, and I asked for “Some Fine Day”. The smile he gave me, and the rendition of the song [as he then played it], is something that warms my heart to this day.
Red Bank, New Jersey
December 1, 2009
I went to your website and am very impressed … I’m an old time piano player (40+ years) … I listened to your dad play “All The Things You Are” and had tears in my eyes … absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for this rare opportunity to hear him play. I’ll be sure to visit often.
June 9, 2009
June 3, 2009
July 16, 2007
May 2, 2007
March 6, 2008
June 2, 2008
What an awsome website! One could spend hours on it. Where in the world did you get that oldest animated film? That was so neat. I didn’t see or find, maybe I overlooked it, where I could hear some of your father’s music … I found where to listen to his music. I was so intent on reading his boigraphy and everthing else I skipped over the link. I was able to hear the absolute genius of a pianist Cy Walter was. The one person that said you would swear there was more than one piano was right. He was fantastic … After I listened to the clips of your Dad’s music, I really feel like I remember hearing him on the radio when I was younger. It sounded so familiar. I so much enjoyed listening to the selections. Thank you for being able to down load some of his music. I love that kind of piano music, it is so relaxing.
April 26, 2007
I was introduced to the music of Cy Walter when I discovered a few selections of piano sheet music in a friend’s collection. I have greatly enjoyed the style and full use of the instrument that his arrangements display. Since then, I have occasionally searched the internet to glean more information about him. My latest search brought me to this great website. I appreciate the detailed information and the chance to hear the man himself play. I look forward to the Shellwood CD. Thanks for the effort to preserve Cy Walter’s legacy.
April 12, 2007
Double Helix Music, Inc.
January 21, 2007
Pianist and Storyteller
January 17, 2007
Last week I spoke with Dave McKenna, one of my all time favorite jazz pianists. I asked him if he knew [Cy’s] work. Of course he did. He said that he worked in a group with coronetist Bobby Hackett and at one point they played in the room across the lobby from the Drake Room (where Fauchon is now) and that whenever they took a break they would go and listed to Cy. Dave said, “He wasn’t a jazz guy but was an incredible player. Jazz guys called himThe Park Avenue Art Tatum.’
Moscow World Fine Art Fair
January 4, 2007
Great music. We are lucky to have the torch passed on.
Brewster, New York
December 31, 2006
If the family intended to create new fans, you and they have done so!
I listened to “All the Things You Are.”
I experienced the shy courtship, the not-yet-sure-and-stumbling, then the fun and frivolous, then maturity but with a light step, a unification of a couple, a ponderable glowing, then reminiscence. The phases of love and commitment.
It was inspired playing.
December 12, 2006