It’s been several years since pianist, composer and conductor Peter Nero cast his spell on a Spokane audience, but the master returns Saturday to inaugurate the 50th Anniversary SuperPops series.
It’s a great way to start a landmark season, because no other performer can equal Nero’s touch with the pops repertoire: From Gershwin to Ellington, from “West Side Story” to “Cats,” he simply nails the genre.
It’s true that Nero’s brand of piano composition hasn’t held sway on the pop charts in recent years, but he remains one of the most dynamic interpreters of the American musical experience.
Saturday, he can be counted on to touch the bases. Although specific selections won’t be named until the night of the show, the concert will certainly include a selection of favorites from the Broadway stage, along with a number of jazz standards.
Classically trained and influenced by the great jazz improvisers, Nero has a deft touch with a wide range of composition. As he explained before a concert here in 1986, his is a unique approach to the marriage between pop and classical forms.
“The purpose,” he said, prior to a show called “Classical-Jazz Connection,” “is to point out the connection between jazz and the so-called classics. I have never taken a classical theme and played it as a pop tune. I do the reverse. What I do is to rework popular music under the influence of classical considerations.”
Though he has never made much of a ripple within the serious jazz community, Nero does manage to keep one foot in both the classical and pops worlds.
Since 1979, he has been conductor and music director of the Philly Pops (it has no formal connection to the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra), which is now billed “Peter Nero and the Philly Pops.”
He has been pop music director and conductor for the Edmonton Symphony and Tulsa Philharmonic orchestras. Presently, he is in the middle of a long-term contract with the Florida Philharmonic, where he serves as music director.
Though classically trained, Nero’s performing roots are in jazz - he was influenced by Oscar Peterson and played with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
He was discovered while playing Manhattan nightclub sets and signed with RCA Records. He put 20 albums on the charts between 1961 and ‘72, topped by “Hail the Conquering Nero” which went to No. 5 in 1963. Other big sellers included “Songs You Won’t Forget,” “Career Girls,” “The Screen Scene” and “Nero Goes Pops with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.”
In 1971, his only hit single, “Theme from ‘Summer of ‘42,”’ peaked at No. 21.
During his heyday, Nero won eight Grammy nominations and two Grammys.
In the mid-‘70s, he made a move back toward jazz with a trio record for Concord Jazz called “Peter Nero Now.” He also knows his way around a classical piece, and regularly performs a movement or two amid the pop material.
In performance, Nero is known to be a gracious and witty performer, and with his wide-ranging repertoire, he’s certain to strike a responsive chord with Saturday’s SuperPops audience. His bassist, Michael Barnett, and drummer, Steve Pemberton, will accompany him.
It’s an auspicious beginning to the 1995-96 season.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Peter Nero and the Spokane Symphony Location and time: Opera House, Saturday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $27, $22, $17, available at the symphony box office, 624-1200, and G&B;