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Photo courtesy of Kitty Kooman
Bertha Rosson films Doug Talbert in Kitty Kooman’s Roanoke condo in the late 1990s or early 2000s. All three graduated from Jefferson High School in 1944.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
On March 16, I — and Roanoke — lost a giant musician: pianist/conductor/arranger Doug Talbert.
Fred Douglas Talbert and I were born on Dec. 16, 1926, Beethoven’s birthday. Doug’s father was killed in a train accident when Doug was 12. He supported his mother from that time on, starting with playing piano and accordion in a local band in a basement restaurant in Roanoke. He went to Jefferson High School, Class of 1944.
After World War II, he returned to Roanoke, worked briefly for the Veterans Administration and had his own local band. He left Roanoke to play the piano with some of the top bands in the country: Tommy Dorsey, the Benny Goodman Quartet, Neal Hefti, etc.
In 1956, I was promoted to New York City in my job, and two years later Doug got the courage to move to New York, where he lived in an apartment building on West 48th Street with a group of up-and-coming musicians — one of whom was Barbra Streisand.
He immediately became the house pianist with the trio at a wonderful little favorite spot on Second Avenue for the “in” crowd, The Living Room. There his trio played for many great young singers who later became famous. And when Jack Jones sang there, he asked Doug to become his music director. Doug was with him for seven years, when Jones was considered (by Frank Sinatra, Steve Lawrence and many others, including me) to be the best singer in the business.
Very late at night, Judy Garland used to come to The Living Room just to listen to Doug and his trio.
The list is long of all of the orchestras, including symphony orchestras, that Doug conducted all over the country and world while playing for Jones and some of the other top singers.
Just a few of the stars that Doug was music director for were Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Gloria DeHaven, Danny Kaye, Juliet Prowse, Mitzi Gaynor, Al Martino, Mel Torme, Lena Horne, Barbara Eden and Tony Bennett. He played for “The Glen Campbell Show,” “Tom Jones in Hollywood,” a Barbara Eden special, five Bob Hope specials . . . there’s no stopping place.
Just before Horne did her fabulous one-woman show on Broadway, she moved into Doug’s apartment building in Van Nuys, Calif., for two months just so he could rehearse her for the show. I saw it — “Lena, the Lady and Her Music” — and it was so great it blew me away.
Doug, Eden (of “I Dream of Jeannie” fame) and Roanoke’s great tenor William DuPree were the featured acts when Roanoke’s Civic Center had its grand opening.
Doug invited me to many of his opening nights with Jack Jones — in New York, San Francisco, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Orlando — and how lucky I was.
The great Sammy Cahn was a “Doug and Jack Jones groupie” (as were Stan Kenton and his wife, Jo). Before Sammy died, he told his wife, Tita, that he wanted only Doug and Jack to be the music at his funeral, and they were. Doug said that while he was playing at Sammy’s funeral, he was very humbled when he looked at the people on the front row in the chapel: Steve Lawrence, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme . . . so many greats.
Doug Talbert was in a class by himself, and he should be remembered. We were best friends since Lee Junior High School days. Never more than friends — but what a friend he was. He enriched my life so enormously. Farewell, dear heart.
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