Pianist Richard Glazier has a special reverence for the Great American Songbook.
"It's more than just songs," Glazier said. "It's a part of our culture; it's part of who we are.
"It represents a voice that came out of the melting pot of America."
Glazier will give a unique presentation of music from the Great American Songbook in a concert at the Kern Piano Mall at 4 p.m. Sunday. The concert is the culmination of a weeklong "piano expo" sponsored by the piano store.
Although trained to perform the music of Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms and other classical composers, Glazier has devoted his career to the promotion and preservation of the music of Gershwin, Arlen, Berlin, Kern and their contemporaries. The devotion began when a 9-year-old Glazier watched the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney film version of George and Ira Gershwin's "Girl Crazy." His fascination with the Gershwins' music led Glazier to write a letter to Ira Gershwin, who maintained a correspondence with the young Glazier for three years.
Then the unbelievable happened: Gershwin invited Glazier to visit him, and allowed the young pianist to try brother George's own piano.
"That's the highlight of my life," Glazier said. "That inspired my career."
Glazier, who also was able to meet and befriend other "Songbook" composers such as Johnny Green and Hugh Martin, has combined his personal reminiscences, anecdotes and American music history with these great songs in an engaging format that he has presented in live performances nationwide in the smallest of venues, like retirement communities and homeless shelters, to the grandest -- the Smithsonian Institute, Carnegie Hall and the United Nations.
Two of his programs --"From Ragtime to Reeltime" and "From Gershwin to Garland"-- have been broadcast on PBS, and he has produced several recordings of his programs as well.
"I'll play the songs and tell the stories," Glazier said. "I take the audience on a magic carpet ride through American popular song."
Glazier explained the uniqueness of the Great American Songbook is a product of the music's distinct origins -- (mostly) Jewish songwriters, growing up in immigrant neighborhoods, listening to and being influenced by Yiddish theater; African-American blues, jazz and ragtime; European classical music. The resulting explosion of music from Tin Pan Alley overtook the Broadway stage, and later, the movie musical, and has left an indelible imprint on American culture.
Glazier said he doesn't perform the original compositions or the original Broadway or film versions. Instead, he performs arrangements and transcriptions written by great pianists from that golden era of songwriting, combining classical music elements with these popular songs that have become classics.
"My mission in life is to go back in the archives and find these arrangements that nobody has played for 50 years and bring them back to life," Glazier said.
"I try to emulate in my mind the way Judy Garland sang or Ella Fitzgerald sang or Mel Torme sang. I try to sing through my fingers."