CHARLES DE FOREST - SONGWRITER - ELEGANT ENTERTAINER - IS DEAD AT 72

A favorite on Manhattan's Nitery Scene for more than four decades, his songs have been recorded and performed by Tony Bennett and George Shearing

Charles deForest, composer-lyricist, pianist-song stylist and a critically-acclaimed urbane presence on New York's nightspot and supper club scene for more than four decades, died early Saturday morning, July 6, 1996 at the home of his nephew, Dr. Vaughn deForest in Penn Yan, New York.

He was 72 years of age, and died following a lengthy battle with cancer, according to his longtime friend, Earl Jansen. Mr. deForest resided in Manhattan and had only recently moved upstate to be near his family.

An accomplished and respected songwriter, as well as a polished and sophisticated entertainer, Mr. deForest's words and music are widely performed and have been recorded by a range of artists that include Tony Bennett, George Shearing, Chris Connor, Marian McPartland, Felicia Sanders, Julie Wilson, Sylvia Syms, Hadda Brooks and Blossom Dearie.

The latest commercial release of his original songs was this past winter with First Take Records' CD "Christopher Gines Sings Charles deForest." At that time he introduced the album in live performances at The Algonquin Oak Room with Mr. Gines and his recording musicians.

Following Mr. Bennett's recording of Mr. deForest's signature song, "When Do The Bells Ring For Me" on his Astoria Album (Columbia) the celebrated singer performed the song live at President Clinton's Inaugural.

Although he came to New York City from his birthplace in Genoa, New York to pursue a career as a composer, Mr. deForest was quickly discovered as a magnetic pianist-singer headlining as a vast array of club and piano bar venues from the legendary Blue Angel to the Waldorf-Astoria's Peacock Alley. Among these are: The Edwardian Room at the Plaza Hotel, The Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue, Ted Hook's Backstage, Tre Ameci, David K's, The Apartment, and a host of others. Until a few weeks prior to his death he was in performing residence at the piano bar at Restaurant Row's Danny's Grand Sea Palace where, for the past three years, he graced the spotlight created by his close friend, the late Danny Apolinar.

In THE NEW YORK TIMES, Mr. deForest was warmly lauded by its critics: "One of the foremost virtuosos of his musical genre" (Shepard); "...plays like liquid gold, with a mellow voice suggesting he has curled up inside the melodies" (Thompson); "The songs he writes are blithe, Porter-like lyrics riding on a catchy rhythmic pulse" (Wilson). A NEW YORKER writer said, "Charles deForest's songs possess the life and literacy that all big city music should have"; Rex Reed echoed, "The sublime Charles deForest provides the best music this side of 1950 ... lush chords, impeccable phrasing and supernatural good taste..."

As a solo recording artist he released "Daydreams-Night Dreams" (LP) on Version Records; "Arbiter of Elegance" (LP) on Purist Records; and "Charles deForest Sings Joan Crawford and Eleanor Powell" (LP) on Flax Records.

Mr. deForest composed the music and lyrics and starred in "City By Dawn," an independent film that was nominated for top awards at the Atlanta Film Festival. He wrote the score for "Prizes," an original musical that was presented at the AMAS Repertory Theatre in Manhattan by Rosetta LeNoire.

With Benny Goodman he toured on a cross-country jazz tour as Star Vocalist; he presented two solo concerts featuring the works of composer Harry Warren at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC.

Mr. deForest was honored with the Mabel Mercer Foundation's "Cabaret Classic Award" in 1992 and was the recipient of two Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs Awards (1992 and 1995) and was accorded the BACK STAGE "Bistro Award."

On television he appeared on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow" show, Mike Douglas' Show, Joe Franklin Show and did voice-over for Ralph Lauren's "Polo" commercials and was represented on MTV in Billy Joel's "Piano Man" video.

Private services and interment in his family plot will be at the Scipio Center Cemetery. Plans for a memorial are being formulated.

written by JOHN BRITTON

Losing a Friend...

By Stu Hamstra

It was my birthday. And it was a lazy holiday weekend. The Village was overflowing with tourists - all the NYC natives having fled to the beaches or the mountains. The sun was shining brightly - quite a contrast to the 4th of July gloom two days earlier. I was walking down Hudson St. on the way to the office to check my e-mail for the day.

And I was a little angry. I had just had an argument with a deli man when I bought a cup of coffee. He charged me for a DAILY NEWS, which I had purchased in the PATH station back in Jersey - there was a stack of newspapers just outside the door and he assumed I had picked one up. No amount of persuasion would convince him otherwise.

When I got to the office, I fired up the computer, checked for any faxes, and checked my answering machine for messages. There was just one - a sad one. It was from Don Schaeffer, Cabaret Manager at Danny's Skylight Room telling me I had just lost another friend - Charles deForest having succumbed to cancer that morning at the home of a nephew in Penn Yan, NY, near Rochester. It was not a complete shock. Charles had been fighting this battle for several years, and had been away from the piano at Danny's for several weeks. His return to the area of his youth a few days earlier to be with family and relatives was warning enough.

I have made many friends in the 6 years since I started the HOTLINE, but none quite as exciting as Charles deForest. This delightful little man had become an extra and important reason to stop by Danny's Grand Sea Palace for a drink or for a meal every time I was on Restaurant Row. He was always full of stories, little anecdotes and gossip which he sprinkled though his songs like stardust. Many times I had my drink served right at the piano so that I wouldn't miss anything. And he seemed to know thousands of songs, many that he wrote himself.

I phoned #1 son Dennis back at home and asked him to meet me at 6 pm at Danny's for Birthday dinner. I got there first and secured a table - Danny's is always busy around this time of day - especially on Saturdays with the post-matinee crowd merging with the pre-evening theatre crowd having dinner. And I observed again that life goes on - as it must. And as Charles would want it to be.

When I got home I played Christopher Gines CD in which he sings 16 of Charles' songs - the final cut a duet with Charles called "Is There Any Other Way To Live". Charles did all the arrangements and provided the piano accompaniment for the CD. It captures the spirit of this amazing master - not just of the piano, but of entertainment.

The 15th cut is the poignant one - and I am sure that Charles must have mused over it while heading back to Penn Yan on that final journey back home.

"The bravos, the applause.
Those promising reviews.
One tends to get a little lost, I fear.
Realities can start to disappear.
And so the keep the truth of me a little clear, a little near:
I've come home again."

Charles deForest - "I've Come Home Again"

Charles is survived in his home town by his brother George, and three nephews - Joseph, Craig and Vaughn. He is survived in the rest of the world by thousands of fans and hundreds of singers who have used his songs to brighten their shows, records and CDs. And he is survived by the legecy of songs he left us.

Hugs & stuff.

STU

Mailbox If you wish to add a thought of rememberance,
send me your comments at cabarethotline@svhamstra.com
and if deemed appropriate, it will be added to this page.


I am one of the many, many musicians whose 'take' on music was influenced by Charles deForest. I worked opposite him many nights at the Apartment, formerly at 56th and 2nd Avenue, in the mid-60s. He was a mentor, a taskmaster and a friend, and what I learned from him changed my entire life.

Back then I was a neophyte, full-of-myself, 21-year-old who was trying to impress with my piano and vocal style. I was sent to the Apartment by an agent who, at that time, booked many artists -- including Charles -- in dozens of little East Side clubs.

My first reaction to hearing Charles was dread. He simply scared me to death. The very first night I was there, Steve Lawrence and Edye Gorme were sitting at the piano bar, and they were trading songs with Charles. I knew I was in way over my head.

On his breaks, Charles always sat at a table near the bar by himself, manuscript pile and pencil in hand. He was a relentless professional, and crafted wonderful songs, clever lyrics, and performed and refined them on the fly. He was amazing.

For years I copied everything about Charles I could. I took songs-in-work to the clubs, and wrote on my breaks. I leaned 'into' the keyboard in the way he did when the lyric got intense. I developed a 'pathetic' look, singing of lost love, and a knowing smirk when things got 'entre nous.'

Several years ago, here in Florida, I happened to see the NY Times obituary on Charles, and I was immediately transported back to the wonderful years I knew him. Our last meeting was by chance, on MacDougal Street, very late one night. I had not seen him in quite a while.

We hugged, laughed and caught up several years in just a few wonderful minutes. We both had gone on to play many other clubs, most of mine outside of New York. Charles told me he'd been ill, but was on the mend and working again. I told him I would try and see him before leaving town again but, sadly, that didn't happen.

We laughed about my re-make of my young self as "Charles II," and he told me the nicest thing: He said, "I took all that as a compliment. You had a fine talent, but you were still green. I always knew that when you found your own voice, you'd go on to make your own place in the world, and I'm happy you have. Keep it up -- it looks great on you!"

I felt just like a student whose teacher had finally said, 'Well done.' And that last memory of Charles has never left me. I've had a very different, but rather successful musical career, and in my heart, Charles is still my teacher. I still want to hear him sing. I still want to make him smile.

Tony Sheppard
Naples, FL



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