August 23, 2009 was very special at the Salon. Two days after, on the 25th, it would have been composer Leonard Bernstein’s (pronounced BernstAHEEN, there was some confusion) 91st Birthday. Mark Janas, the co-host of the Salon and pianist, was a protege and assistant to Bernstein, so this evening meant a lot to him. It turned out to be part open mic in Bernstein’s name and part rehearsed concert, with many people bringing in solos, duets and trios of his work from shows like On The Town, Candide, Trouble in Tahiti, West Side Story, and many others. I was asked by Mark on Friday – FRIDAY – if I knew “I Can Cook Too” from On The Town. I didn’t off the top of my head, but once I found it and heard an mp3 of it, I was hooked. I wanted to do this song (and it’s going permanently into my book once I memorize it) and I brought in the sheet music (Mark Janas knew it off the top of his head!) to read on a music stand, madly turning pages and the lyrics went quickly by. While it wasn’t a polished performance, I had a lot of fun spewing the words out.

Man, if I don’t mention a singer below, it’s because there was a LOT of great material to absorb and applause. I only mentioned a snippet of the more than 30 performances that night – some Bernstein, some others – but it was all great and positive and a perfect celebration of the man’s creative legacy. I think it really meant a lot to Mark too; he kept us intrigued and entertained by talking about how he first was picked out of a group of musical students by Bernstein at a party to be his assistant, as well as other interesting tales of the maestro’s life and attitude. Some highlights were the opening two-pianist arrangement of music from Candide with Matthew Ward, the gorgeous-voiced guest host Miles Phillips (fellow SF/Bay Area boy!), Ritt Henn singing a sweet original song of his called “Trip Mama” that made me miss my mom – Hi Mom!, a trio with Stephen Wilde, Danielle Erin Rhodes and a 2nd Stephen (last name?!) singing from “Trouble in Tahiti,” then a tour de force version of the title song from the same show by Julie Reyburn (and backed up by the same trio). Arianna (@OperaKitty) sang “Glitter and Be Gay,” ’cause someone had to do it, Janice Hall did a hilarious version of “I Am Easily Assimilated” from Candide (backed up by Stephen Wilde and Edd Clark), and Erin Cronican (@ErinCronican) and Tanya Moberly did a blonde-only version of “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love.” About 15 people picked up sheet music and harmonized the ensemble when the end of “Make Our Garden Grow” came to wrap up the evening. And I couldn’t forget the multi-harmonied version of Happy Birthday we sang for the man, Lenny, himself.

Happy Birthday, Leonard Bernstein!

Hear the mp3 of “I Can Cook Too” (with Mark Janas at the piano, produced by Peter Napolitano and guest host Miles Phillips).

Photo: Jim Cohn