Mike Renzi

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Mike Renzi
Mike Renzi, c. 2009
Background information
Born (1946-04-28) April 28, 1946 (age 70)
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
Genres Jazz, vocal jazz, traditional pop
Occupation(s) Musician, singer, arranger, composer, musical director
Instruments Piano, vocals
Years active 1962–present
Associated acts Peggy Lee
Lena Horne
Blossom Dearie

Mike Renzi (born Michael E. Renzi on April 28, 1946) is an American pianist, arranger, and musical director. He is best known for his collaborations with some of the legends of pop-jazz singing, notably Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Mel Tormé, Cleo Laine, Blossom Dearie, and Jack Jones. Renzi is also a seven-time Daytime Emmy-winning composer of soundtrack music for such TV shows as Sesame Street and All My Children.

Early years[edit]

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Renzi began studying classical piano at the age of eight. In his early teens he taught himself accordion and played in his uncle's band at weddings and other local functions; he also took private classes with classical pianist Julius Chaloff. He played his first, jazz-piano job in a band with Art Pelosi, a tenor saxophonist and club owner based in Providence. In 1962, at the age of sixteen, Renzi became pianist for the house trio at Kings & Queens, a jazz club in North Providence. Through 1967, Renzi accompanied Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Buck Clayton, Ernestine Anderson, Etta Jones, and the married vocal duo of Jackie Paris and Anne Marie Moss. His 1963 engagement with tenor saxophonist Ben Webster – which Renzi played in his junior year of high school – was recorded privately and later released as a bootleg album.

In a 2010 interview, Renzi recalled having no particular musical goals at the time: "I was so young I didn't even think about it." But while backing the singer Carol Sloane at Kings & Queens, he realized he had a flair for accompaniment. "She was calling tunes and I thought to myself, I can really do this. This is easy. The keys don't bother me, I can make instant arrangements. And I knew I could play some jazz."

Renzi went on to study piano at the Boston Conservatory and composition at the Berklee College of Music. Meanwhile, he led the resident trio at Allary's, a jazz club in downtown Providence; Renzi held that position from 1968 through 1976.

In 1972 he had become the musical director of The Sonya Hamlin Show, an afternoon talk show on Boston's WBZ-TV. One of Hamlin's frequent guests was the jazz and cabaret singer Sylvia Syms. That year, when Syms co-hosted a week of Hamlin's shows, the notoriously demanding vocalist[1] was so impressed by Renzi's playing and knowledge of songs that she invited him to accompany her in a concert at New York's Town Hall. Broadway composer Cy Coleman came backstage and urged Renzi to move to New York, offering help and connections. In September 1976, Renzi relocated to Manhattan.

Move to New York[edit]

Once there, he found a job playing piano at the Carnegie Tavern, a bar-restaurant that featured jazz. For the rest of the '70s Renzi commuted between New York and the New England area. He continued his work with Hamlin on her show Sunday Open House, while accompanying Syms at the Copley Plaza Hotel's Merry-Go-Round Bar and other clubs. In 1979 he played on the soundtrack of the Woody Allen film Manhattan; he also made his Carnegie Hall debut when he accompanied singer Jackie Cain (of the pop-jazz duo Jackie & Roy) in a Kool Jazz Festival gala concert in tribute to Hoagy Carmichael. Renzi was hired by Mel Tormé, whom he accompanied at a Carnegie Hall concert and in an engagement at Marty's, a New York supper club. The Marty's shows yielded a double LP, Mel Tormé and Friends: Recorded at Marty's, New York. In 1981, he became pianist in the orchestra that accompanied Lena Horne in her one-woman Broadway concert, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. Renzi would accompany Horne off and on until her last public appearance in 2000.

During The Lady and Her Music, Renzi began a collaboration with Maureen McGovern; he also continued his work with Sylvia Syms, who hired him as musical director for This Time the Ladies, a tribute to female songwriters and singers, presented in the 1982 Kool Jazz Festival. Renzi returned to Broadway in 1983 as the pianist and conductor of Peg, Peggy Lee's one-woman autobiographical show, which closed within a week. Renzi continued to work with Lee, appearing with her in Japan, on a televised 1984 concert in Atlantic City (The Quintessential Peggy Lee), at the Valley Forge Music Fair, and in five engagements at The Ballroom, a New York City cabaret. Their partnership yielded three albums, and lasted until June 23, 1995, when Lee made her penultimate concert appearance, at Carnegie Hall. When a still-obscure Diana Krall heard Renzi's recording with Lee of the song "Remind Me," she called him and asked if he would coach her; over a period of several months he instructed her on harmony.

All through the '80s and '90s, Renzi accompanied and conducted for a staggering array of singers; frequently he teamed with bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Grady Tate. He served as musical director for the actress and cabaret singer Dixie Carter in six of her engagements at New York's Café Carlyle; Renzi also accompanied Carter in her segment of In Performance at the White House: Cabaret, telecast in 1994 on PBS. He performed on several other occasions at the White House, including a performance of Carter's cabaret act for the Clintons and another by Peggy Lee in the presence of President François Mitterrand of France.

Renzi rejoined Mel Tormé in 1995 and continued working with him until the singer's last recording session, for the Concord Jazz label in 1996. (Tormé suffered a stroke before that album project, a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, was completed; his final tracks with Renzi remain unissued.) Renzi has served as musical director for several gala tribute shows at Carnegie Hall, including salutes to Frank Sinatra (1995), Ella Fitzgerald (1996), Marilyn and Alan Bergman (1997), Nat King Cole (1997), Alan Jay Lerner (2000), and Peggy Lee (2003). He performed the same role in an 80th-birthday tribute to Lena Horne at New York's Avery Fisher Hall (1997).

Solo piano work[edit]

Renzi has made relatively few appearances as a jazz instrumentalist. In 1986, he played on an album pairing baritone and tenor saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Scott Hamilton, Soft Lights and Sweet Music. A 1987 concert at Brown University in Providence was issued by Stash Records as the LP The Mike Renzi Quartet. In 1988, Renzi played at the 80th-birthday Carnegie Hall concert of jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. In 1992 he led his own trio at the Chestnut Room of the Tavern on the Green in New York.

Television and film[edit]

Renzi has worked as a session pianist on the soundtracks of numerous films, including Broadway Danny Rose, Everybody Says I Love You, Biloxi Blues, Gremlins, and The Bird Cage. In 1986 he became musical director for the TV soap opera As the World Turns; in 1990 he switched to another soap opera, Loving. In 1997 he began a long stint as a musical director for All My Children; he also appeared on camera in the role of a nightclub pianist. His work on All My Children earned him three Daytime Emmy Awards (and two additional nominations) for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Direction and Composition for a Drama Series. He did session work for Ryan's Hope, also on ABC.

Also in 1997, he began a twelve-year stint as musical director for the Sesame Street TV series and for a number of Sesame Street specials. As composer of most of the music and pianist on all the soundtrack recording sessions, Renzi won four Daytime Emmys and was nominated for seven more (as well as one Primetime Emmy for the special Sesame Street Presents: The Street We Live On.

Recent work[edit]

Since leaving Sesame Street in 2009, Renzi has resumed accompanying on a steadier basis; singers with whom he has collaborated include Jack Jones, Liza Minnelli, Mary Wilson, Jane Harvey, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Regis Philbin, Shawnn Monteiro, Judy Carmichael, and Nicolas King. He has continued his long-standing work as arranger for the Palm Beach Pops. After accompanying Jack Jones on a tribute album to Tony Bennet, he was hired as accompanist for Bennett in November 2013.

Partial discography[edit]

Instrumental recordings (as pianist)[edit]

  • The Mike Renzi Quartet (Stash, 1987, LP only; reissued on CD in abridged form as Providence Jam)

Awards and nominations[edit]

Emmy Awards:

Daytime Emmy awards:

Grammy-nominated recordings[edit]

  • Best Arrangement for Pop Vocal: Lena Horne & Sammy Davis, Jr., "I Wish I'd Met You" (from Horne's album The Men in My Life) (1989 nomination)
  • Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal: Maureen McGovern: The Music Never Ends – The Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman) (1998 nomination)
  • Best Traditional Pop Vocal: Maureen McGovern with Mike Renzi, piano: The Pleasure of His Company (1999 nomination)
  • Best Jazz Vocal Performance: An Evening with Lena Horne (Mike Renzi, pianist-conductor) (1995 win)


  1. ^ James Gavin: Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret, New York: Back Stage Books, 2006

External links[edit]