Steve Tyrell knows the standards of the Great American Songbook better than most.
“Standards were my mother’s music,” recalls the Grammy-winning singer, who will perform many of these classics at The Smith Center on May 31 and June 1. “I’m Italian, and I grew up with God and Frank Sinatra, and not necessarily in that order.”
It’s only fitting that his singing career took off as a result of Tyrell recording his first-ever standard – though the opportunity was unexpected.
“The first standard I ever sang in my life was ‘The Way You Look Tonight,’” he says.
The reason behind this was a bit unusual. While working as a music producer for the Steve Martin film “Father of the Bride,” he agreed with the director’s suggestion of incorporating a slow, sentimental cover of the famous tune.
Tyrell accepted the director’s challenge to record it himself.
“I sang a demo so they could hear it. I brought it to the set and played it, and Steve Martin and Martin Short started dancing to it,” he remembers with a laugh. “They loved it, and everybody asked, ‘who’s that singing?’ I said, ‘yours truly.’”
The opportunities came swiftly after that.
Not only did the film “Father of the Bride” play Tyrell’s cover of the song as its opening track, but he was also invited to record two more standards that were prominently featured in the film’s sequel, “Sunny Side of the Street” and “The Simple Life.”
“Then I got a call from NASA – they wanted to use ‘The Simple Life’ to wake up the astronauts,” says Tyrell, who now boasts 11 albums and a residency at the renowned Café Carlyle in New York City. “Before I knew it, I was in business.”
Learning from the Master
There’s good reason Tyrell offers such masterful command of iconic tunes.
He received personal mentoring in singing and songwriting from music legend Burt Bacharach, thanks to landing a job as a music producer in the 1960s.
“Burt’s music was complicated. It bridged the gap between the Great American Songbook and modern songs,” says Tyrell, who recently released an extended album covering Bacharach’s greatest hits.
At just 19 years old, Tyrell worked with Bacharach and his writing partner Hal David on hits such as “Alfie” and “The Look of Love.”
“My job was I would pick the songs,” Tyrell says. “We’d go to the recording sessions and I’d go, ‘I like that one.’ I was the kid on the team, so my ear was more tuned in to what would be a hit, and they listened to me.”
Today, Tyrell — who also just released a 2019 album covering Sinatra’s top hits — has no trouble picking the songs he performs during his live shows.
“I lucked out. I made my career singing the Great American Songbook,” says Tyrell, who will also croon melodies from his new album at his upcoming performances. “There’s 1,000 great songs, so you can hardly go wrong.”
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