Seymour: An Introduction


Seymour Bernstein might have ranked alongside such classical pianists as Alfred Brendel and Van Cliburn. His recitals were glowingly reviewed and he had a highly supportive patron. Yet, at the significant age of 50, he voluntarily withdrew from the world of public performance to concentrate on teaching.

When it comes to piano technique and music theory, he clearly has much to offer. But he also has insight into how one best pursues an artistic career in general, or at least that is what one future Oscar nominee thought when he happened to meet Bernstein at a dinner party. The music teacher gets a low-key but satisfying ovation in Ethan Hawke’s documentary profile, “Seymour: An Introduction.”

Evidently, Hawke found in Bernstein an empathetic counselor-guru who could well understand his bouts of stage fright and the general career uncertainty that was plaguing him. Perhaps he was also frustrated about that film he had spent over 10 years on, but had yet to come out. Regardless, Bernstein had a knack for saying reassuring things.

In a variety of master classes and private lessons, we observe Bernstein at work. He is indeed a calm and constructive instructor, but also firm and specific. If you have the talent, he will refine it. Should you doubt it, several of his former students, including pianists Joseph Smith and Kimball Gallagher, offer their reminiscences and insights into Bernstein’s lasting influence on their careers.

For his documentary directorial debut, Hawke was not out to rake any muck. While not exactly hagiography, his “Introduction” is unflaggingly nice and polite. Fortunately, Bernstein is a New Yorker (albeit a really pleasant one), whose experienced, down-to-earth personality keeps it all real and grounded.

Anyone who knows pianos will not be surprised to see the prime placement for American Steinway in “Seymour.” As always, their concert models look and sound lovely. It is also cool to see that they still consider Bernstein a Steinway artist 30-some years after his last public performance. Fittingly, Hawke coaxes Bernstein into a return performance in the Steinway Rotunda on 57th Street, which naturally serves as the closing sequence for the film. Obviously, he still has his touch.

“Seymour: An Introduction” has surely received considerably more attention because of Hawke’s involvement than it otherwise would have, but that is a fine way for him to spend some of his accrued “Boyhood” and “Before Midnight” capital in a way that will generate further good will. It is a very refined and civilized film that will probably have a number of viewers checking out YouTube for Bernstein’s original compositions. (He has a number of them posted, including “The Hawke.”)

Respectfully recommended for classical connoisseurs, Hawke fans, and Steinway admirers, the Salingerishly titled “Seymour: An Introduction” opened  Friday, March 13, 2015 in New York at the IFC Center.

From ‘Seymour’: Ethan Hawke Makes an Introduction.

March 13 in Music History


. 1860 ~ Hugo Wolf, Austrian composer
Read quotes by and about Wolf
More information about Wolf

. 1890 ~ Fritz Busch, German composer

. 1910 ~ Sammy Kaye, Bandleader, Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye

. 1914 ~ Bobby Haggart, Bass with these groups: Bob Cats; Peanuts Hucko’s Pied Piper Quintet, Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, composer

. 1915 ~ Percy Grainger makes his debut as a pianist with the New York Philharmonic playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto

. 1916 ~ Ina Ray Hutton (Odessa Cowan), Tap dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies, pianist, bandleader, singer and actress

. 1918 ~ Tessie O’Shea, Singer, actress

. 1923 ~ Red Garland, Jazz musician, reeds, pianist

. 1926 ~ Roy Haynes, Modern jazz drummer, bandleader

. 1930 ~ Liz Anderson (Haaby), Country singer, songwriter, mother of country/pop singer Lynn Anderson

. 1932 ~ Jan Howard, Country singer, toured with Carter sisters

. 1933 ~ Mike Stoller, Record producer, songwriter with Jerry Leiber

. 1934 ~ Dick Katz, Pianist, composer with the Tony Scott Quartet, J.J. Johnson & Kai Winding groups

. 1939 ~ Neil Sedaka, American songwriter and singer of popular music

. 1942 ~ Bing Crosby and Mary Martin were heard having a bit of fun as they joined together to record Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie for Decca Records.
More about Mary Martin

. 1946 ~ Thomas Frederick Dunhill passed away.  He was an English composer and writer on musical subjects.

. 1947 ~ The musical “Brigadoon” opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City. The show ran for 581 performances and was later staged in London (1949). Memorable melodies from “Brigadoon” include I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean, The Heather on the Hill, Come to Me, Bend to Me, Almost Like Being in Love and There but for You Go I.

. 1949 ~ Donald York, Singer with Sha Na Na

. 1960 ~ Adam Clayton, Musician with U2

. 1968 ~ The Byrds received a gold record for the album, “Greatest Hits”, which featured Turn! Turn! Turn!, written by Pete Seeger (excerpted from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible). The Byrds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

. 1972 ~ The Merv Griffin Show, starring perennial game show and late-night TV host, singer and pianist, Merv Griffin, debuted in syndication for Metromedia Television. Joining Merv were sidekick, Arthur Treacher and Mort Lindsey and his orchestra. Griffin had a number one song with the Freddy Martin Orchestra in the 1940s. I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Cocoanuts launched him to fame and fortune.

. 1976 ~ The Four Seasons, featuring the falsetto voice of Frankie Valli, returned to the pop charts after a 10-year absence. The group scored with December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night), which became the top song in the country. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

. 1987 ~ Gerald Moore, England, pianist (Am I Too Loud), died at the age of 87.