Making his debut (at 72!) as a Cabaret performer at Hollywood's Gardenia room in April, 2002, RAY JESSEL has since played to a series of sell-out performances there, at LA's famed JAZZ BAKERY and Toronto's TOP O' THE SENATOR, in New York at DANNY'S SKYLIGHT ROOM and at DON'T TELL MAMA. Jessel was a featured star in the Mabel Mercer Foundation's prestigious Cabaret Convention in Palm Springs and, most recently, at New York's Town Hall where, says the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, he "brought down the house" on opening night.
Michael Feinstein calls Ray Jessel "the millennium Noel Coward", for his songs which range from the hilarious "Oxnard" and "Life Sucks And Then You Die" (about which Amanda McBroom said "I laughed my ear-rings off...And I have pierced ears!!") all the way to heart-wrenching ballads like "I'm All Right Now", "Moonlight" and "Whatever Happened To Melody" (all written with co-lyricist Cynthia Thompson).
RAY JESSEL shared composer/lyricist credit with MARIAN GRUDEFF for 'BAKER STREET", the Broadway Musical about Sherlock Holmes and was the last lyricist to work with Richard Rodgers on Broadway, writing four of the songs in Rodger's last show "I REMEMBER MAMA", including "A Little Bit More", the last song Rodgers was to write for the musical stage. The second show GRUDEFF & JESSEL were to write for producer ALEXANDER H. COHEN was a new musical version of "HELLZAPOPPIN". (The Title song was recorded by Louis Armstrong). One of the comedy stars of that show was BRANDON MAGGART. The Maggart/Jessel link continues for it is Brandon's daughter, MAUDE MAGGART, a rising star in her own right, who sings as Ray's Special Guest on his debut CD.
Most of the music on "...THE FIRST SEVENTY YEARS" is by Jessel. But there are three exceptions. Lew ("Nice 'N Easy", "That Face") Spence wrote the haunting melody of "Life Goes On". "A Married Man" is from "BAKER STREET" and so co-written with Marian Grudeff. And, of course the music for "Moonlight" is an arrangement of Claude Debussy's "Clair De Lune".
Writing shows that close out of town (like "Hellzapoppin!") is not a rewarding experience. It's what led Jessel to leave Broadway for Hollywood, where he changed hats from song-writer to comedy writer. (Though continuing to write songs on the side.) As a writer/producer for the hit television series "Head Of The Class" he also supplied songs for the show when needed. "I'm A Genius" is an adaptation of a song for a "Head Of The Class" episode. Other credits include "The Carol Burnett Show", "The Dean Martin Show" and "The Love Boat". Jessel's "Wanna Sing A Show Tune" was written as the finale of the Special "Love Boat -- The Musical" and sung by the show's incredible guest cast of Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Ann Miller, Van Johnson, Cab Calloway and Della Reese.
After "Head Of The Class", Ray Jessel & Cynthia Thompson began turning back to musical projects. They have a musical-in progress - "MOLL", based on Daniel Defoe's "Moll Flanders". ("Please don't Let It Be Love" on the debut CD is a ballad from that show). They also had the extraordinary pleasure of writing songs and scripts for Lambchop and Hush Puppy, working with the great Shari Lewis.
Jessel's transition from songwriter to performer starts with Michael Feinstein. "Wanna Sing A Show Tune" was the song that brought Ray Jessel and Michael Feinstein together. Michael recorded it on his Album "Live At The Algonquin". "Michael also sang a couple of my "silly" songs in his act, ("Oxnard" and "The Things You Do") but he said at the time "Ray, you really should be out there performing these songs yourself."" It took a few years, a lot of songwriting, and a final push from friend and fellow Cabaret star, Shelly Goldstein, but Jessel is enjoying a whole new career in Cabaret. He thanks Michael Feinstein for "sowing the seeds and for his continuing encouragement"
Ray Jessel's songs have been recorded by Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Durante, Peggy Lee, John Pizzarelli, Karen Akers and, of course, Michael Feinstein. But Ray is most excited about his own new career as a performer. That excitement is there in every note and word in this, his debut CD.