HAL SCHAEFER: BIOGRAPHY
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Hal Schaefer, world-class jazz pianist, has had a rich and eclectic career that has bridged several worlds – those of music (from classical to swing and jazz), film and singing. Considered a rising star of progressive jazz in the 1950's, he is an extraordinary pianist with a distinctive musical approach, which combines a lush romanticism with a strong sense of swing.
His journey as a professional pianist began at the age of twelve in his native New York City . While still in his teens, he joined a big band and toured the country, ending up in Los Angeles in the 1940's, in the middle of a progressive jazz scene. He played in bands led by Benny Carter, Harry James, Boyd Raeburn and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Hal became an accompanist for Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstine and other singers, and was befriended by and became the protégé of the great Duke Ellington, who gave him his 21st birthday party.
Later, Hal worked at 20th Century Fox, where his highly specialized, very well compensated but then un-credited work was to compose and arrange film music. There he developed a specialty of teaching actors to sing. “Most of these world-famous stars were terrified to sing,” he says. “Part of my job was to work with them and get them comfortable.” During his dozen years at Fox, Hal coached such stars as Susan Hayward, Mitzi Gaynor and Robert Wagner. However, his most noted efforts were produced when he coached Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes . Schaefer arranged the most famous scene in the movie – Monroe 's show-stopping version of “Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend”.
Hal Schaefer also worked on the Warner Brothers production of A Star Is Born with Judy Garland. Although Miss Garland's reputation was one of being extremely temperamental, Hal recalls, “Judy was wonderful. She was a consummate artist. She was only interested in quality. She was inventive, fresh and smart.”
In 1960, Hal left the restrictive Hollywood studio system and returned to New York where he continued with a variety of stints, including A & R man for the fledgling United Artists record company, creating radio and TV jingles (including a CLEO Award winner), and writing dance arrangements for Broadway shows such as A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Foxy . He performed in jazz clubs – his home base was Greene Street in SoHo – and he also continued to teach singing. One of his students was then 16-year-old Barbra Streisand. Other greats he worked with were Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno and cabaret singer Julie Wilson, whose 1980's career revival he assisted. Schaefer was also a member of the faculty of New York University 's School of Music Vocal Jazz Studies Department for several years.
Hal Schaefar left New York with his beloved wife, Brenda, and finally settled in Ft. Lauderdale in 1993. He was widowed early in 2000, but he continues to teach. Hal emphasizes that he is a “singing teacher”, not a “voice teacher”. He seldom sings in public himself, but his ability to coax the best from would-be singers has launched and revived dozens of careers.
“There is nothing like singing. I've been playing piano all my life and I would probably die without it. But there is nothing as spiritual as singing.” Hal Schaefer
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