VAIL — Just as comfortable covering Pharrell as he is old standards from the Great American Songbook, Tony DeSare has a talent for putting his own style stamp on just about anything. As evidenced by winning first place in the 2013 USA Songwriting Contest, the 37-year-old New Yorker is a solid composer, too.
En route to becoming the next Harry Connick Jr., DeSare cannot remember a time that he didn’t love music.
“My dad played guitar and sang in the house every night. I started on violin when I was 8 years old. I fell in love with the piano at 10 years old. I started playing and then performing and before I knew it, I was getting paid to perform at bars and hotels,” said DeSare, who became a father himself last year.
DeSare constantly finds fresh ways to make the keys dance while belting out classics and originals, not to mention several unexpected covers, from Prince to current radio hit Bastille’s “Pompeii.” Three of his recordings were ranked among Billboard’s top 10 jazz albums and his original songs have been handpicked for a number of film soundtracks over the last few years. It was his tune “Chemistry” that won the USA Songwriting Competition, placing first in the jazz category and second overall. Earlier this year, he was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall (one of his regular haunts) with New York Pops for Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday show.
Around this time last year, DeSare spent the day playing pianos all over the streets of New York City — in Central Park, Time Square, Brooklyn and Queens. The pianos were scattered throughout the five boroughs for a project by Sing for Hope, a charity organization that strives to make art accessible to everyone. There was a total of 88 individually painted pianos on the streets for two weeks, after which the organization donated them to schools, hospitals and community centers.
‘I Love A Piano’
DeSare went out on his own early one Sunday morning with a couple of camera guys dressed like tourists and hit about 15 of the pianos, sitting down at each to play Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano.”
“The thing that struck me the most is how every place is such a different experience. Everyone was walking by and if the music caught them enough to stop, they did. All walks of life stopped and shared the moment together. That was the coolest thing,” DeSare said. “That song is almost 100 years old, but it’s still enjoyable to old people, young people ... all people. It’s an excellent reminder of the power of song.”
The video documenting the experience has gotten tens of thousands of views on DeSare’s YouTube channel, as have several of his other mashups and covers that cannot be found anywhere else. When selecting a song to perform in a video — such as his jazzed up mesh of Pharrell’s “Happy” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” DeSare chooses only numbers he believes will take on new life once given his bonafide twist.
“In the case of the ‘Happy’ video, it was the thought of putting those two songs together — Bobby McFerrin’s, which I loved when I was a kid, and the Pharrell hit. It’s a cultural match, which is the musical reason, but it’s also just the fun and joy of it,” he said.
Fun and enjoyment are unsurprisingly two of the characteristics that resonate during DeSare’s live performance, which typically include several jazz standards from the Great American Songbook as well the singer’s heartfelt, high-energy originals and perhaps a doo-wopped rock track by Bob Dylan, Elton John or Prince.
“I’ve got different stories to go with the songs. I come from a school that believes the process of music should be entertaining and have enough to it along with the presentation of music to make it fun,” he said.
Don’t miss DeSare’s Vail debut at 6 p.m. tonight in Lionshead for Jazz @ Vail Square. Jazz Tent tickets are $15 or $30 for VIP seats that include front-of-the-tent seating, access to 1st Bank VIP Lounge and a drink ticket. For more information, visit vailjazz.org.
Shauna Farnell was contracted by the Vail Jazz Foundation to write this story. Email comments to email@example.com.