About six years ago, The American Hotel had a piano, but no pianist — its beautiful Steinway grand collecting dust in the dining room, waiting at the ready for an impromptu, inspired performance.
Or, perhaps, waiting for Lee Glantz.
“When I walked through the front door, I thought how unique the place was — a trip back to the way it used to be, but still is,” Glantz said of his first visit to the Sag Harbor icon. “It has a special aura. And when I saw the piano in the piano room, I was intrigued, and I thought it would be a fantastic venue for what I do.”
Dedicated to keeping “The Great American Songbook” alive, the longtime pianist and vocalist is now a regular in Sag Harbor, primarily providing ambiance for the past five summers at The American Hotel and, in recent years, themed concerts during the winter that put him center stage, instead of a three-course meal.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, he will perform “My Funny Valentine: Love Songs” on Friday, February 15 — a collection on wanting love, being in love, losing love and the effort to keep love, from “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “At Last” to “Stormy Weather” and “Always on My Mind.”
“This period that I mainly sing from, this period from the 1920s to the 1950s, will live on through eternity, similar to what classical music is — the music of Beethoven and Mozart and Bach, even though it’s hundreds of years old,” Glantz said. “That was a period of time that is larger than the 30 years I’m talking about, but this music is so rich and easy to improvise and interpret by other artists throughout the years. It will live on, and it’s music that I love to do.”
Growing up in Queens, his childhood home was filled with Broadway show music — songs by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, and Irving Berlin — and it wasn’t long before he pulled up a seat at family piano himself.
“Around 6, 7 years old, my mother started to teach me how to play these songs,” he recalled. “A lot of these songs that I play were already 20, 30 years old. Even though I grew up in the rock era of the Beatles, I was playing these standards from ‘The Great American Songbook.’ I learned early — all this repertoire really came into me at a young age.”
Dabbling led to an attempt at classical training — “My teacher said to my mother, ‘Well, he’s not really a classical pianist. He can’t stay to the written note. He’s frustrated,’” Glantz said — and he embraced his improvisational streak.
To this day, no song ever sounds the same twice, he said, and “The Great American Songbook” gives him the musical freedom he has always craved, as does his tenure at The American Hotel.
“I’ve been performing for about 35 years, and I’ve played in all sorts of places all through New York, France, Palm Beach, Nantucket,” he said. “I’ve had a very nice career, but I must say that The American Hotel is really home. These concerts enable me to perform in a more formal setting, rather than background — which I enjoy doing, too, because it’s totally different.
“I love playing and I love creating an ambiance, and there’s a certain relaxed aspect of that, but concerts are something that I love doing and I want to do more.”
Pianist and vocalist Lee Glantz will play a concert, “My Funny Valentine: Love Songs,” on Friday, February 15, at The American Hotel, located at 49 Main Street in Sag Harbor, as part of the Friday Night Winter Concert Series. It concludes on Friday, March 1, with “Billy Joel: The Ballads.” Dinner begins at 7 p.m., followed by the concert at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $89, which includes a three-course prix fixe, and reservations are recommended. For more information, call (631) 725-3535.