A unique Father’s Day gift: The music of 20th century pop composer Johnny Anz to be celebrated at South Hadley concert

The music of Johnny Anz, a pop and jazz composer in Los Angeles and New York in the 1950s and 1960s, will be celebrated at a June 15 concert in South Hadley.

The music of Johnny Anz, a pop and jazz composer in Los Angeles and New York in the 1950s and 1960s, will be celebrated at a June 15 concert in South Hadley. Image courtesy John Anz

The music of Johnny Anz, a pop and jazz composer in Los Angeles and New York in the 1950s and 1960s, will be celebrated at a June 15 concert in South Hadley, with performances by young New York jazz musicians.

The music of Johnny Anz, a pop and jazz composer in Los Angeles and New York in the 1950s and 1960s, will be celebrated at a June 15 concert in South Hadley, with performances by young New York jazz musicians. Image courtesy John Anz

New York trumpet player, vocalist and composer Benny Benack III will lead the ensemble at the June 15 South Hadley concert of Johnny Anz’s music.

New York trumpet player, vocalist and composer Benny Benack III will lead the ensemble at the June 15 South Hadley concert of Johnny Anz’s music. Image courtesy John Anz

“Someday, Somewhere” features some largely unheard — until now — music by 20th century pop and jazz composer Johnny Anz that his son, John Anz, arranged to be recorded last year in New York.

“Someday, Somewhere” features some largely unheard — until now — music by 20th century pop and jazz composer Johnny Anz that his son, John Anz, arranged to be recorded last year in New York. Image courtesy John Anz

Pianist Miki Yamanaka is part of the ensemble performing at the June 15 South Hadley concert of Johnny Anz’s music.

Pianist Miki Yamanaka is part of the ensemble performing at the June 15 South Hadley concert of Johnny Anz’s music. Image courtesy John Anz

Vocalist Anaïs Reno is part of the ensemble that will perform the music of Johnny Anz at the June 15 concert in South Hadley.

Vocalist Anaïs Reno is part of the ensemble that will perform the music of Johnny Anz at the June 15 concert in South Hadley. Image courtesy John Anz

Drummer Joe Peri is part of the ensemble that will perform the music of Johnny Anz at the June 15 concert in South Hadley.

Drummer Joe Peri is part of the ensemble that will perform the music of Johnny Anz at the June 15 concert in South Hadley. Image courtesy John Anz

John Anz, age perhaps 1 or 1½, with his mother, Gloria Gordon Anz, and father, Johnny Anz, circa 1965, possibly on Johnny Anz’s 50th birthday.

John Anz, age perhaps 1 or 1½, with his mother, Gloria Gordon Anz, and father, Johnny Anz, circa 1965, possibly on Johnny Anz’s 50th birthday. Image courtesy John Anz

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 05-31-2024 3:44 PM

Modified: 05-31-2024 9:11 PM


When he was growing up, John Anz knew that his father, Johnny Anz, played piano and sang. But he didn’t know much about his dad’s musical background, especially as Johnny Anz died when his son was just 7 years old.

But a little over 50 years later, John Anz, of South Hadley, has discovered much more about his father’s career: how he penned hit singles in the 1950s for people like Dean Martin, Ernie Andrews and the Mills Brothers, and how he later composed a body of music that his son feels is the best work he ever did, but which remained largely unheard.

Until now.

After forging connections with some top young jazz performers in New York City, Anz has overseen a recording project of his father’s later music — and now some of those musicians will play the songs at a June 15 concert at Center Church in South Hadley.

“Someday, Somewhere … The Music of Johnny Anz” will be presented by an ensemble led by Benny Benack III, a New York singer, composer and trumpet player who’s been winning much notice in the last few years, such as being named a “rising star” by Downbeat magazine as both a vocalist and trumpet player.

“These guys are such great players, and they’ve really brought these songs to life,” Anz said in a recent phone call. “I’m so grateful they took this project on … I’m thrilled that people will have a chance to hear my dad’s music.”

Anz, who was born in 1964 in New York City, said for many years after his father’s death in 1971 at age 56, he knew little about his career, other than bits and pieces his late mother shared with him.

“Until a little over 20 years ago, my impression was he was a reasonably good musician who’d had one hit record with Dean Martin,” he said.

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That 1952 release, “Pretty as a Picture,” was a slow number with backup singers and a small orchestra, a common style for many pop songs of that era.

But after his mother died in late 1996, Anz slowly began trying to find out more about Johnny Anz’s career, starting with some internet searches that broadened over the years to plumbing Library of Congress archives for his father’s music.

“I realized I had no one left to tell me these stories, and I just didn’t know that much,” said Anz, who is an only child. “I had a lot of gaps to fill in.”

What he discovered was pretty extensive, he says, namely that his father, after serving as a Navy pilot and flight instructor (and occasional concert arranger) in World War II, had moved to southern California and penned about 12 songs in the early/mid 1950s that were recorded by notable artists of that era.

He also owned and operated his own recording studio and a record label, Vogue Records, for a few years in Hollywood. At one point, he recorded most of the songs for the debut album of Ernie Andrews, a pop and jazz singer whose career stretched into the early 2000s; Andrews also recorded Anz’s song “Don’t Lead Me On.”

Johnny Anz was born in 1915 in upstate New York, in a town west of Binghamton, and John Anz says his father became a notable musical figure in that region in the 1930s and early 1940s, leading his own orchestra and making regular appearances on radio and in clubs.

“He was serious about music, and after the war, he really wanted to make a go of it on a bigger scale,” said Anz.

‘Let’s pull some cats together’

Anz is a music lover himself. Though his day job is as the director of development and community engagement at The Loomis Communities in South Hadley, Anz also plays the piano, and he’s been producing small concerts and music education events in the area for some time, with a particular focus on jazz.

He says his father and mother, then an actress named Gloria Gordon, met in California in the mid 1950s and got married after eloping. They moved to New York City, where Johnny Anz continued to compose music, though mostly for himself and his family.

At some point, his mother gave Anz over a dozen fully arranged manuscripts of these songs, which his father had composed in the 1960s, and the material “was more sophisticated than what he’d written before,” said Anz. “It really shed light on his musicianship.”

Wanting to see if that music could be brought to life, Anz turned to Benack, the New York jazz player, who’d he gotten to know after bringing him to perform in South Hadley a number of times, including for some house concerts.

“Benny is kind of cut from the [Frank] Sinatra line as a singer and performer,” said Anz. “I thought he was the right guy with the right voice, and I showed him my dad’s music and said ‘What do you think? Is this something you could do?’”

Happily, Benack said he liked the music and would be interested in recording it. “He said ‘Let’s pull some cats together and make this happen,’” Anz said with a laugh.

The music was recorded in 2023 in two separate sessions in New York, with some different players working those two sessions. But a core group of the young jazz musicians, led by Benack, will play at the June 15 CD release concert, which will also include some fresh interpretations of some of Johnny Anz’s 1950s songs.

The musicians include Japanese-born pianist Miki Yamanaka, who’s earned praise both for her playing and her band leadership; Joe Peri, a drummer who’s gigged with many jazz players and who also recorded with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga on their 2021 Grammy-winning album, “Love For Sale”; and bassist Alex Claffy.

Also appearing at the concert will be guest vocalist Anaïs Reno, who at 21 — she’s still in college — has been acclaimed as one of the jazz scene’s best young singers. She’s performed extensively in New York and has also played overseas while recording two albums.

Anz says sales of the CD will be fairly limited (they’ll be available at the concert), as his primary goal was simply to give his father’s later music a permanent home.

The whole project will probably end up costing $8,000 to $10,000 “when all is said and done,” he noted, but he considers it money very well spent.

“It’s for me and my family and my dad’s memory, and for anyone who will appreciate what I think is some really good music,” he said.

“Someday, Somewhere … The Music of Johnny Anz” takes place June 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Center Church, One Center Street in South Hadley. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. The show has received in-kind support from a number of sponsors, including The Yarde Tavern in South Hadley.