How many of you remember Lee Shapiro, who was a member of The Four Seasons back in the 1970s? Check out this great story on the former Seasons’ keyboardist and musical director!
As â€œJersey Boysâ€ comes to Detroitâ€™s Fisher Theatre, a Jewish member of the 1970s Four Seasons picks up where the play leaves off.
The Tony Award-winning musical â€œJersey Boys,â€ which opens Thursday, Dec. 17, at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit, tells the story of the legendary singing group the Four Seasons in the 1950s and â€™60s. In the â€™70s, lead singer Frankie Valli performed with four new members, including New Jersey-bred Lee Shapiro. In a Detroit Jewish News exclusive, Shapiro, â€œthe Jewish kidâ€ of the group, for the first time tells his own story about the latter years of the Four Seasons to David Sachs.
In the mid-1960s, 11-year-old Lee Shapiro and his mother sat in their Glen Rock, N.J., living room, watching the Four Seasons perform on â€œThe Ed Sullivan Show.â€ But what especially caught the eye of Lee, a prodigious young pianist, was that the Four Seasonsâ€™ key musical player was their keyboard player, Bob Gaudio. The Beatles, Leeâ€™s fave at the time, featured no piano â€” just John and George on guitar, Paul at bass and Ringo on drums.
Excited and intrigued by the Four Seasonsâ€™ keyboardist, Lee pointed at the TV and said, â€œSee, Mom, someday I could play piano and be in a rock band just like this!â€
Little could the talented sixth-grader imagine that only eight years later he would live out his fantasy and become the Four Seasonsâ€™ new keyboardist â€” and the legendary Italian American rock groupâ€™s first Jewish member.
â€œIt was beshert,â€ mused Shapiro, looking back.
It could only have been destiny that made his dream come true. In 1973, Shapiro was a college sophomore at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, where his interest was orchestration (composing the musical text for each instrument in a songâ€™s arrangement).
A musician whom Shapiro had played club dates for heard the Seasons needed a keyboardist and recommended him to their road manager. He, in turn, dropped in to hear Shapiroâ€™s Buddy Rich-style jazz gig at a New Jersey nightspot. Impressed, he tipped off lead singer Frankie Valli.
â€œAt my audition,â€ Shapiro remembers, â€œI began by playing the first chord of the intro of â€˜Dawnâ€™ and Frankie began singing, â€˜Pretty eyes of midsummerâ€™s morn …â€™ I stopped cold â€” I couldnâ€™t believe that before me was the great voice I heard so many times on the radio.â€
Valli offered to make the fresh-faced 19-year-old the groupâ€™s new keyboardist and musical director. Besides all his piano talents, Shapiro had the smarts to write arrangements for any new songs they added while on the road. Gaudio, the bandâ€™s creative genius, remained the groupâ€™s producer and songwriter, but no longer wished to tour.
â€œI told my parents of Frankieâ€™s offer,â€ Shapiro said. â€œMy father wanted me to take over his electrical contracting business. But my mom was more into the arts, and she was for it â€” although she wanted me to finish school first.
â€œWhen I asked my orchestration professor, a classical music follower, if I should join the Four Seasons, she said, â€˜I donâ€™t know who that is â€” but if theyâ€™ll pay you to orchestrate and play, I think you should leave. You can always go to school.â€™
â€œShe seemed old to me then, but she gave me some pretty cool advice!â€
On his first day, Shapiro was asked by Valli to compose and arrange a completely new orchestral opening for the groupâ€™s concert that night in Chicago. â€œI was so scared,â€ Shapiro said. â€œBut I wrote it; we rehearsed it; we played it that night; and Frankie didnâ€™t change one note.â€
Visit TheJewishNews.com website to read the entire fantastic interview with Lee Shapiro!