Love Songs

Famed NYC pianist joins Symphony Pops on stage

Performer and composer Billy Stritch is one of New York City’s most sought-after musicians, working with greats like Liza Minnelli and playing everywhere, from piano bars to Broadway, with classic showmanship and a broad musical range.

On Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, Stritch joins the Santa Rosa Symphony and guest maestro Michael Berkowitz at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa for an afternoon Symphony Pops concert, “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” that features a program of love songs from icons like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

“I’ve been into this music since I was really young,” Stritch says. “It was music I really resonated with and songs that I thought were wonderful.”

Growing up in Texas, Stritch was already playing piano by ear at the age of 12, as well as singing at churches and country clubs. At a young age, he dove deep into the music of George Gershwin and Cole Porter.

Stritch’s first foray into performing came while attending the University of Houston and forming a jazz vocal trio. That eventually brought him to New York City, where he played Carnegie Hall with legendary singer Mel Tormé. Moving to New York after collage, Stritch made a living playing small supper clubs and bars; he was discovered by Liza Minnelli some 25 years ago. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of shows on Broadway, at Radio City Music Hall and elsewhere.

Stritch still plays the clubs, touring the country in various tribute shows and revues. For the upcoming performance in Santa Rosa, he is looking forward to sharing the stage with longtime friend Michael Berkowitz.

“Mike is someone I’ve known many, many years,” Stritch says. Berkowitz and Stritch worked together for years as Minnelli’s band and musical arrangers. “But I haven’t done anything with Berk for two or three years now, so we’re excited about this.”

Berkowitz, the longtime Symphony Pops conductor, approached Stritch about this show last year and asked him to suggest a female vocalist who could accompany the concert. Stritch immediately thought of award-winning singer Gabrielle Stravelli. “She’s got a terrific jazz feel, and she’s a lot of fun,” Stritch says. “She’s done things with big bands more than I have. She’s going to work into it perfectly.”

Stritch is also looking forward to performing these classic standards with a full symphony. “It’s exciting to do the songs, but what’s just as exciting is to do them in these settings.”