Zubin Mehta to Maestro Danny Kaye: ‘And they finished together?’

A rediscovered backstage romp after a NY Phil concert.

What’s Henry Kissinger doing there?

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  • This was the concert where Danny Kaye showed he could really conduct… Available on YouTube I expect. A total hoot.

  • He could not read a note of music but loved conducting. He worked with several orchestras, always on the understanding he received only expenses but that each orchestra would guarantee to use the evening to raise at least $100,000 for its endowment fund or musicians benefit fund. All involved had to sign confidentiality agreements as the jokes and comedy elements were always the same – but many remain extremely funny.

  • Kissinger was a regular at many cultural events in New York, as was his wife, who I believe was or is on several boards. It would seem he is known to Mehta and Danny Kaye, whoever else in the group. Why shouldn’t he be there?

    • Quite.

      The assumption here is that right wing heavyweights can’t possibly know self-respecting artists or indeed like art.

      Either deeply prejudiced or ridiculously naive.

  • The clip is part of the concert’s video being released on VHS way back then. Stunning hilarious. A shame that the concert is not released on DVD.

  • “Did you ever see the tape of Danny Kaye with the NY Philharmonic? I believe that some of the conducting that evening belongs to the best I know.”

    Carlos Kleiber in a letter to a friend [Dr Charles Barber], 1992.

    • Can we take Kleiber’s comment literally? I doubt it. Many of his quotations show a penchant for making fun of conducting and conductors. For instance, when commenting about his video recording of Beethoven’s Seventh with the Concertgebouw, he mentioned about having forgotten the hairspray “the most important thing for a conductor right after knowing how to tie your own bow-tie, having shirts the right size and wearing braces….”

      • Kleiber aside, I am very curious what orchestral musicians think of Danny Kaye’s conducting. Personally I am still laughing whenever I watch any part of that show, more than thirty years on.

        • I could only mentioned the comment from some of the musicians I know from Hong Kong Philharmonic, which once worked with Danny Kaye for a similar fund-raising gag for HKPhil back in the early ”80s. They loved him as a great entertainer. Simple yet very precise beats (anybody should know it’s very hard to keep beating at the same tempo – he was good!)

          I struggled to keep myself from falling off my seat that night – it was too hilarious.

          • Someone’s memory must be incorrect for Danny Kaye unfortunately never performed with the HK Phil. He was scheduled to do so but was forced to cancel following heart surgery. The concert was rescheduled for the following year but was again cancelled, that time at less than a month’s notice, due to Kaye’s further ill health. As there was no other orchestra in Hong Kong at that time, the musicians referred to must have been part of an orchestra elsewhere.

      • These comments are, indeed, priceless and I’ve been researching Kleiber recently for a 2 hour lecture next year on this wonderful man!! And, knowing his penchant for humour, he’ll have been satirizing the music profession in making those comments.

        We do miss you so, dear Carlos!!

  • Thank you, Norman, for reminding us of the genius of this man!! What a performer, what a showman, what an artist!!

  • My friend, Danny! I met him at Gregor Piatigorsky’s house in 1974 at a reception after a master class concert. I was in Piatigorsky’s class from 1973 to 1976, when he passed away. I had a private conversation with Danny Kaye which was quite interesting. He was a tiny bit inebriated, I think…. What an incredibly talented man! As a dancer, he was a great conductor. Conducting is like dancing, after all, I think.

    • It’s kind of co-incidental that you should say that because researching and watching footage of Carlos Kleiber demonstrated to me only very recently how balletic he actually was on the podium; how graceful and light. And he was, of course, also married to a ballerina!!

  • It’s just so odd seeing Isaac being “disrespected” by Danny in the beginning. Anyhow it would have been nice to them doing a shtick together like Isaac did with Jack Benny……

  • He was a tremendously talented man, no question. As a musician who performed with him on a couple of occasions, I can say that for an amateur he was absolutely remarkable and did certain things probably better than many mediocre professionals too, but make no mistake about it — he could never rise to the level of really fine conductors. Fortunately, he had more than enough intelligence and musical sense to know it.

  • Danny Kaye came to the Halle Orchestra in 1974 when I was a member there. It was the funniest evening of my life. I remember he got quite cross with the trumpets who thought it was great to be told to split certain notes in the Aida March and started splitting all their notes. He told them in no uncertain terms that to split the ones he told them to is funny, but splitting them all is not. Nice man, he signed my programme which I treasure to this day.

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