The Story of How He Came to Sing at Carnegie Hall
When I first heard about it from Jim, it didn’t sound like that big a deal. My son, 15, came home from school, one day in February, and said something about the high school music teacher asking him to sing at an upcoming concert. Oh? Nice! Eventually, though, the details become clearer, and they were shocking.
First of all, Jim wouldn’t be singing in some choir, but alone as a frontman leading a young rock ’n’ roll band made up of four other students he only knew in passing. And far from some little cute performing-children event, this was going to be the blockbuster all-star charity concert put on at Carnegie Hall each year by Michael Dorf of the City Winery Club to raise money for music education programs and opportunities for underserved youth.
Jim’s band was going to be the only kid band on the bill that would also feature Jim’s lifelong favorites Graham Nash and Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon, plus 1970s Wings guitarist/1964-1966 “Go Now” Moody Blues frontman Denny Laine, as well as Lyle Lovett, Glen Hansard of The Frames, Christopher Cross, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Bruce Hornsby, Natalie Merchant (who didn’t show up but was replaced by the Patti
Smith!), ageless 1960s R&B legend Bettye LaVette, and many more!
“You must be joking,” I said, sitting on the couch feeling puzzled, even though it’s not the sort of gag Jim pulls. It just didn’t seem possible! And here was the kicker. They all were going to be performing the music of Paul McCartney, and Jim was going to be singing 1970 Let It Be #1, “Get Back!” I’ve raised Jim and his sister on The Beatles since they were old enough to coo and point. None of this made any sense to me. I joined The Beatles fan club in 1968 at age six when I already owned and had devoured all their albums to that point.
“OK, Jim, spill it,” I demanded. “How did this all come about exactly?” I mean, I’d seen his report card; he’s not even taking a formal music class this year. It turns out, it’s typical Jim. On his free periods, Jim just heads like a homing pigeon to the school’s music room. There’s a piano, you see—and if you know my boy, you know it’s been the same since he first learned how to play in preschool. Apparently, he’s been slinking in there on an almost daily basis. So that one day in February, Josh Paris, [the music teacher] asked if Jim might join this school band he had been mentoring for the upcoming appearance. One of the organizations benefiting from Dorf’s event is a nonprofit called Music Will (formerly Little Kids Rock), that “encourages and enables children to play popular music, by providing free music instruction and instruments to public school districts across the country, from kindergarten through high school.” Any high school teacher who atypically doesn’t neglect guitar/bass/drums-type rock has my respect.
Music Will wanted to field one teen band for the concert as a shining example of what they’re trying to accomplish. Mr. Paris already had the musicians in place, and good ones at that as I would soon discover; both guitarists, Johnny in 10th Grade, and Cassius in 11th, are surprisingly accomplished lead players, as is the 11th Grade bassist Nina (so much so that she too was given a solo to play), and a solid drummer in 10th grade, Leo. But what Mr. Paris lacked was that sink-or-swim role, a vocalist. (Few of us love an otherwise great band with a lousy front person.) Well, how ’bout that little mop-topped smiley blonde kid who keeps coming in and singing up a storm at the ivories, just ’cause he likes to? It just so happens he already knows “Get Back” and pretty much every Beatles song by heart, anyway. Problem solved.
Once we understood what was happening, our family unsurprisingly got pretty excited. Carnegie Hall was going to be 2800 people, and both nights were already sold out. Gulp! And yet somehow I just knew Jim would have no problem. It’s just who he is. I have watched Jim play piano and sing Beatles songs at micro-public events his whole life, almost all of them McCartney tunes. So what a strange stroke of luck he got picked to sing a McCartney song under such grand circumstances. He loves playing music for people—just not that many before, lol!
The show began, and various performers took the stage, backed by a seasoned house band. Typical Jim hadn’t mentioned that Jordan was going to sit in with them during their song. (Jim is playing with Steve Jordan, now, too? Will the surprises never end?) Well! Pete Townshend was right: The kids are alright! As a final little frill, as the kids stepped out the backstage exit onto 56th Street, headed for the subway and back to normal lives, they were recognized by people out on the sidewalk who kept telling them how inspiring their performance had been and asking for autographs. Priceless.
Well, good on you Jim, living the dream, a rock star for two nights—then back to soccer practice and math quizzes the next day. Here’s to the next generation. As parents, by all means, expose them to great stuff, have some instruments around the house, and they’ll take it from there. It was two nights I know he will never forget, no matter what else he does in his life; for that matter, neither will I. And every time I think of it I’ll just smile ear to ear. “Wasn’t that something?
Read the whole story about Jim’s experience performing in The Music of Paul McCartney benefit at Carnegie Hall on March 15, 2023. Written by Jack Rabid, Jim’s father, which originally appeared in issue 92 of Big Takeover Magazine, June 2023, reprinted with permission.