Neil Sedaka goes back to his roots


By JERRY FINK

Keeping up is hard to do with 69-year-old songwriting genius Neil Sedaka. He’s now churning out not only pop hits but symphonies, a children’s album and an upcoming salsa number.

And the penman of such classics as “Oh! Carol” (1959), “Stairway to Heaven” (’60), “Calendar Girl” (’61) and “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (’62) is still doing concerts.

The entertainer on a variety of topics:

No retirement: “I have a lot of new projects. I have a Christmas album coming out that is being reissued from last year, which is a double CD which has the traditional Christmas songs and 12 new ones I have written. I will be doing them on the QVC home shopping network on Nov. 25 — that’s a Tuesday morning. Then I have a children’s album coming out Jan. 6. It’s an unusual idea. I took my original rock ’n’ roll songs and changed the lyrics to fit children. One is called ‘Waking Up is Hard to Do,’ another is called ‘Lunch Will Keep Us Together’ and another is ‘Where the Toys Are.’ My 5-year-old twin granddaughters are singing the background vocals. I have three grandchildren. My son and his wife got after me to do something. I actually wrote the songs for my grandchildren and realized this could be appealing to other grandparents and parents as well.”

Classical roots: “I started as a concert pianist at the Juilliard School of Music. In 1956, when I was 16, I won a piano competition on WQXR, classical radio station of The New York Times. Arthur Rubinstein chose me as one of the best New York City high-school pianists. I just wrote my first symphony called ‘Joie de Vivre’ (‘Joy of Life’) and it made its world premiere on WQXR a few weeks ago. It was interesting because they played my winning the competition as a pianist in 1956 and then they debuted ‘Joie de Vivre’ as my first symphony.”

Full circle: “I’m finishing a piano concert now called ‘Manhattan Intermezzo,’ which has its world debut in Ottawa, Canada, on Feb. 5. I’ll be playing with their symphony orchestra. It’s a new career for me. I’ve gone full circle, back to my original roots. I’m very happy with it.

“I still love writing pop music, but this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I waited until I was mature enough. I have a very extensive musical background — theory and harmony, literature and materials of music — and I’ve played some of the great composers over the years, so I felt I was mature enough and ready enough to write these things.”

More pop gems: “I will never abandon my pop writing. As a matter of fact, I was just in the studio with David Foster, one of the great record producers of our time, who happened to be my first piano player when he came over in 1974 from Canada. He has since produced Michael Buble and Josh Groban and Celine. We just came out of the studio and came up with something quite phenomenal, a song that is half in English and half in Spanish, a salsa song. I think Sedaka might be back again on the charts. It will be available next year.”

Back on the charts: “I made an impressive chart appearance recently. I came on the Top 200 on Billboard at 22 with an album called ‘The Definitive Collection of Neil Sedaka.’ That was quite a return to the charts for me. It’s actually the original recordings of many of my songs, plus some hidden treasures, some things that were lost and LPs I was proud of. It was the first time a record label asked for my input. Usually they just put a repackaged album out without consulting me. But it really wasn’t the ‘Definitive Sedaka’ because there’s hundreds and hundreds of things I am very proud of, albums I did with George Martin (Beatles producer) and Dan Hartman that were never released to CDs. I have to make that a project for next year.”

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