Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians: Paul Shaffer. Keyboardist, Bandleader, Musical Director, Composer


PAUL SHAFFER

Paul Shaffer


Music Online

Welcome to our weekly Sunday music section called

“Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians.”

By David Eisenstadt

TORONTO. Jan 16/22 – Paul Shaffer is best known as David Letterman’s long-time musical director. But he has done so much more, really done it all, and he’s still doing it. 

Toronto-born and raised Jewish, he grew up in Fort William (in 1970 amalgamated with Port Arthur to become Thunder Bay) Ontario. His parents Bernard and Shirley Shaffer loved jazz and show tunes music.

When he was 12, the family saw Nat King Cole and others perform in Las Vegas.  Paul’s experience was “life-changing” telling Newsweek’s Lisa Birnbach that’s what led him to become a performer.

He took piano lessons and played the organ in a local band called the Fabulous Fugitives. 

In the early ‘70s, he studied sociology at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1973. During that time he played with jazz guitarist Tisziji Munoz. His interest in musicals blossomed.  In 1972, Shaffer became musical director for the Toronto production of Godspell connecting with Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, and Andrea Martin.  He played piano for the 1974 Broadway production, The Magic Show.  

Shaffer joined Saturday Night Live’s house band in New York in 1975.  Until 1980 as the pianist, he appeared to direct the band’s actions albeit Howard Shore was credited as SNL’s first music director.  (Under The Radar – 30 Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians). Shaffer also regularly appeared in the show’s sketches, playing piano for Bill Murray’s character Nick the Lounge Singer.

But there were potholes in the road. Notably a well-publicized dust-up with John Belushi who dropped him from the 1980 Blues Brothers film, claiming he was displeased that Shaffer was spending excessive time working on a Gilda Radner album.  Seems Shaffer and Radner were a number. The roadway was repaired with Shaffer appearing in the 1998 production, Blues Brothers 2000.

Shaffer, from 1982-93, was David Letterman’s musical director, leading what they called “The Worlds Most Dangerous Band”. He composed the theme song as the CBS Orchestra leader for the Late Show with David Letterman which ran from 1993-2015.

Since 1986, he has been the musical director/producer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and did the same job for the 1996 Olympic Games closing ceremony in Atlanta, GA.   A music director stint for a Cinemax special – Fats Domino and Friends – saw him perform with Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ronnie Wood.

Shaffer has collaborated with, among others,  B.B. King, Brian Wilson, Carl Perkins, Cher, Chicago, Cyndi Lauper, Diana Ross, Donald Fagan, Earl Scruggs, George Clinton, Grand Funk Railroad, Robert Plant, Warren Zevon, and Yoko Ono. In ’92, his band performed Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” for the film Beethoven.

His TV and radio appearances are many.  He was considered for George Costanza’s role in Seinfeld – but he never returned Jerry Seinfeld’s call, according to TV Guide Network’s “25 Biggest Blunders”.

In 2001, he was the musical director for The Concert for New York City, working with Adam Sandler and the Backstreet Boys.  In 2008, he had a cameo role at the beginning of Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s season seven episode “Vanishing Act.”  He appeared in an episode titled How I Met Your Mother in the sitcom “P.S. I Love You” in 2013.  The letters P.S. refer to Paul Shaffer.

He reunited with The World’s Most Dangerous Band in 2017, then recorded a self-titled album, went on tour, and guested on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel Live

Paul Shaffer NY Studio Cats Reunion-World's Most Dangerous Band

“Paul Shaffer and The World’s Most Dangerous Band”

>>>Click HERE to watch this video <<<


He has appeared in various films over the years – This Is Spinal TapScrooged, and Look Who’s Talking Too.  You’ll hear Shaffer’s voice as the character Hermes on Disney’s animated feature and TV series Hercules.

Shaffer did a Schitt’s Creek cameo, as the piano player at a December 2018 Christmas Party, reconnecting with his long-time colleague Eugene Levy.   In 2019, he hosted Paul Shaffer Plus One, interviewing music industry colleagues on SiriusXM and AXS-TV.

He has championed various charities beginning in 2002, as Epilepsy Canada’s national spokesperson.  In 2005, he contributed to and dedicated a Boardroom in memory of his father at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.  That year, he co-organized (with Steven Van Zandt) a benefit for Dave Clark Five musician Mike Smith, who was an early influence on Shaffer’s musical career.  He accompanied Adam Sandler in 12-12-12, The Concert For Sandy Relief, to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Paul Shaffer Highlight Reel - Letterman

Paul Shaffer Highlight Reel – Letterman – 2015.04.17

>>> Click HERE to watch this video <<<


Paul Shaffer has received numerous awards – his street name surrounding the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium in 2002; a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2006; an Order of Canada in 2007; two Honorary doctorates including one from Lakehead University. A member of Artists Against Racism, he has written a memoir – “We’ll Be Here For The Rest Of Our Lives” with David Ritz in 2009.  Married in 1990 to Cathy Vasapoli, they have two children.

Music notesCredits: jazz.fm; Andrew L/YouTube; NYStudioCatsReunion/YouTube


A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in the Category section.

Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact David Eisenstadt at cjnonline@protonmail.com

David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Reader’s Comments

-I was well aware of Paul Shaffer and his musical contribution to the Letterman Show.  I was totally unaware of his acting ability and his skill at writing music.  Glad to have read your article about this wonderful Canadian-born Jewish musician. – MRB, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

-Loved your article on Paul Shaffer – one of my favorites so far! Keep up the comprehensive research and writing! – CBM, Naples, Florida, USA

-Very informative article about a very talented man. I was at U of T with him. – LR, Boca Raton, Florida, USA

-You got him! Splendid. – DM, Toronto, Canada


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Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians: Lawrence Cherney. Oboist, New Music Artistic Director, Educator

 

“Judaism has been a central pillar of inspiration to me as a performer and artistic director…”

Lawrence Chernney 002

Lawrence Cherney


Music Online

Welcome to our weekly Sunday music section called

“Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians.”

By David Eisenstadt

TORONTO. Jan 9/2022 – Oboists don’t get as much recognition as they deserve.  Players, including soloists, usually sit far back in symphonic and philharmonic orchestras, somewhat under the radar.  Their woodwind instrument has a double-reed mouthpiece, a slender tubular body, and holes stopped by keys.  Mostly manufactured of wood, some are synthetic such as plastic, resin, or hybrid composites.

So, that was Lawrence Cherney’s musical instrument of choice to achieve his revered status.  Born in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada to Harry and Sylvia (née Green) Cherney on May 1, 1946, his older brother Brian Cherney is an internationally-recognized classical music composer. On their mother’s side, there’s a history of string players tracing back to 19th century Russia, “including the violinist Osher Green who had a successful career in the United States,” Cherney said.

Their mother was a “wonderful pianist with a beautiful sound and an ear for choosing great repertoire.” Their father was a successful co-owner of Cherney Bros. Furniture. Their parental skills and interests contributed to both brothers’ musical prowess, including young Lawrence’s future dual career as an oboist and as Founding Director of Soundstream, a leading new music institution. 

Lawrence Cherney Arts 002

Art Life and Stilettos at the launch of Soundstreams Encore and Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu

>>> Click HERE to watch this video <<<


Playing piano from age six, and then trombone in grade nine, “My father loved the oboe sound and suggested I consider a switch.  If he hadn’t voiced his opinion, I’d probably be in the furniture business today,” Cherney said with a smile.

“My high school music teacher John Drewniak was a wonderful musician, but neither he nor anyone in Peterborough taught the oboe.”  In 1959, he studied with Perry Bauman, the principal oboe with the CBC Symphony at the time and then with the Toronto Symphony. 

While at university, Cherney was asked by Bauman to play as an extra with the CBC Symphony.  He learned the oboe part to “The Symphony of Psalms”, joined the Toronto Musician’s Association, and rented a set of tails.  “I never asked who was conducting.  I arrived at Massey Hall for the first rehearsal in 1966 and at the podium, was Igor Stravinsky.  By then he was old and frail but I never forgot his fire and passion.”

Cherney graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy in 1966 and a Masters of Music from the University of Toronto in 1979.  He was awarded Ford Foundation and Canada Council grants for private study with principal oboists John Mack of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony’s Ray Still.

He said, “Judaism has been a central pillar of inspiration to me as a performer and artistic director.  Brother Brian composed various works for me, specifically inspired by Jewish themes and traditions such as “River of Fire” for oboe d’amore and harp, which had strong connections to Kabbalah.”

From 1964-66 he played with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada and the National Ballet Orchestra from 1967-69.  Under Mario Bernardi, he joined Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1969.  From 1972-82, he was a founding member of the York Winds.  

Cherney is well-respected as an interpreter of traditional and contemporary music with a strong commitment to a new Canadian repertoire.  He has commissioned 150 works by Canadian and international composers – from solo and chamber works to concertos with orchestras.  As a soloist, he toured extensively in North America, European and Israeli venues. He has recorded many of his works for the CBC, BBC Radio 3, Swedish Radio & Television, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Israel Radio, among others.  He performed solo and chamber works from 1985-2005 mostly on the Centredisc label.

Lawrence Cherney Video YouTube 002

The Charmer

>>> Click HERE to hear this video <<<


A Canadian music champion, in 1982 he became the founding artistic director of Soundstream, the summer festival, Music at Sharon and Chamber Concerts Canada.  Soundstream is a leading producer of concerts, contemporary opera, and international festivals, crossing genres, cultural traditions, and disciplines. Under Cherney’s leadership, approaching its 40th Anniversary Season, Soundstream produces an eclectic annual series in Toronto and is recognized as one of the leading organizations of its kind around the world.  “We’ve commissioned over 200 works from chamber music up to chamber orchestra, vocal/choral music, and music theatre/opera.”

As ‘Canada’s Ambassador of New Music’, Lawrence Cherney is an Order of Canada 2003 recipient and recognized by the Toronto Arts Foundation for its Outstanding International Achievement Award in 2007.  Named a Canadian Music Centre Ambassador in 2009, Cherney in 2012, received the Friends of Canadian Music Award, presented by the Canadian Music Centre and the Canadian League of Composers.

Music notesCredits: TMA149; Art Life and Stilettos/YouTube; NAXOS of America/YouTube


A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in the Category section.

Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact David Eisenstadt at cjnonline@protonmail.com

David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Reader’s Comments

-Thanks so much for preparing the article in CJNonline; they and we are fortunate to have you doing this community service as a labour of love. – LC, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I just read your column about Lawrence Cherney. Growing up in Peterborough I have lots of fond memories of Lawrence’s family and of his extended family. I am happy you were able to include him in your coverage of notable musicians. He has certainly had an impressive musical career as has his brother. -MK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

It’s so interesting to read about the backgrounds of our Canadian musicians. So many have come from small towns and go on to be accomplished in music circles around the world.  I am learning about so many Jewish Canadians in the music business from your column.  Thanks for all you do – and, keep it up! – BS, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

-Just read your interesting article about Lawrence Cherney. Thanks! – TK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

 


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