George Mesterhazy, a singer's pianist, dies at 58
Ron Scott | 4/26/2012, 3:54 p.m.
George Mesterhazy, a renowned pianist whose soft, intuitive touch made him a favorite of such jazz vocalists as Shirley Horn and Paula West, died on April 12 of natural causes in his home in Cape May, N.J. It was confirmed by his life partner, Vicki Watson. He was 58.
On Sunday afternoon, April 15, a ceremony honoring Mesterhazy was held at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center in the Cape May Courthouse. About 500 people came out to celebrate the life of this respected musician and gentleman of jazz. Poems were read, stories were told and music was played.
The June 3 Cape May Music Festival concert, originally featuring Cape May's favorite jazz pianist Mesterhazy, will continue on. "We have decided to go ahead with the concert as a tribute to George," stated Mary Stewart, MAC chief outreach officer.
West recently released a new album with Mesterhazy, her constant arranger, composer and pianist, "Live at Jazz Standard." The pair was scheduled to play the jazz club in May. The pianist started working with West in 2006 at New York City's Algonquin Hotel's famed Oak Room. The one-nighter turned into a successful hitch that lasted until his untimely death.
When Mesterhazy wasn't composing songs for West, he was arranging her picks, which included a blend of standards like Rodgers and Hart's "A Lady Must Love" or pop tunes like "The Beat Goes On." Together, Mesterhazy and West brought another fresh voice to the Great American Songbook, accompanied by a swinging quartet that included Israeli Barak Mori on bass, Jerome Jennings on drums, Ed Cherry on guitar and Mesterhazy.
The pianist arrived at Cape May's popular restaurant the Merion Inn 15 years ago, where he originally sat in with a singer. However, his touch was so smooth he was asked to stay on. He once stated his main motivation for staying "was to talk to Vicki," and they eventually became a couple. It could have been his piano playing, but I'm sure it was his great sense of humor, those crazy stories and that big smile that captured her heart.
On any given evening or afternoon, if Mesterhazy was in town, you could find him at the Merion Inn as the house pianist and manager. He would often play until the wee hours of the morning, often joking with friends, fans and tourists. He was happy to take requests while adding his own improv tunes. The giant martini tip glass adorning the Steinway was full by the end of the night.
When Mesterhazy wasn't playing with noted singers, he would be leading his own group somewhere in this vast country. He was not only an arranger, composer and pianist, he was an educator who ran the jazz piano program at Rowan University and gave private lessons.
While playing with his mentor Horn, he considered it to be a great honor. He accompanied the singer and pianist up until her death in 2005. He began playing piano for Horn following her foot amputation in 2002 from complications of diabetes. Mesterhazy had to be incredible to play for such a great pianist as Horn. The pair worked on two Grammy-nominated recordings, "Loving You" (Verve, 1997) and "May the Music Never End" (Verve, 2003).