Having pondered a life as an actor and a lawyer, Andy Kahn can certainly claim his third vocational choice has proven the charm. The pulsating-with-positivity pianist garnered his initial success more than three decades ago and is reveling in a much-appreciated encore with friends as The All-Star Jazz Trio, performing weekly shows at a pair of Center City restaurants.
“I’m a very fortunate guy and feel as if I’ve lived a couple of lifetimes,” the 61-year-old key canvasser said last week at the Center City-situated Jacobs Music, for whom he serves as Artist in Residence. “This is what I live for, being an entertainer.”
The former inhabitant of the 400 block of Catharine Street and present Center City dweller had already been enjoying Thursday gigs at The Prime Rib for two years before devising the Late Night Lounge Saturday option to offer more displays of his talent and that of peers Bruce Klauber and Bruce Kaminsky. They also forged a relationship with Square on Square Restaurant and have delighted diners each Wednesday since mid-November.
Kahn tabs the occasions as means to exalt the Great American Songbook, the treasured collection of tunes that he earnestly ventured to tout four years ago by designing Music by Intention concerts. Having heralded the melodic masterpieces nonstop for the last two years, he proceeds with a simple yet admirable philosophy.
“The music must be kept alive, must be preserved,” Kahn said of his advocacy, which lauds the likes of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter. “The veterans of the scene have to carry on and get these tunes in people’s ears.”
In advancing the time-tested catalogue, the tireless artist has loved acquiring and divulging details on the songs’ composition, practices that reflect the curiosity that has helped to comprise his note-centric identity. With regular Philadelphia appearances, including Jacobs-based ones, and stops in other states, he finds himself generating and exuding intense energy and excitement, never succumbing to hubris.
“I’m blessed to have had so many opportunities,” Kahn said. “I’m working on a book, but I’m not sure when it will be done because I can’t stop reflecting on what’s gone on in my life, and I definitely don’t want to stop thinking about what’s to come.”
The invigorated individual began gathering great material for his tome at just 7 months old by tinkering with the instrument that has come to define him. Eventually picking out pieces at his paternal grandmother’s prompt, he gave off the confident disposition of a prodigy, never gravitating toward formal training and always trusting his skill set as he marched through childhood and adolescence. With a bit of theater experience behind him, he believed acting would propel his ambition, yet music interceded and provided the figurative and subsequently literal crescendo he had yearned to sample.
“The allure proved too great for me to refuse,” Kahn said of the art form also responsible for interrupting and ending his college days.
Having played with Klauber since their teen years, he came to craft the trio, which has taken on numerous names in its history, in 1971, the year following the formation of the Queen Village Recording Studio on Fourth and Catharine streets.
“I can’t underscore the importance of that location in expanding my knowledge of the music world,” Kahn said of the now-defunct space he and brother Walter helmed. “We really felt so much a part of the evolving sense of putting out great products. That’s unforgettable.”
The music mavens welcomed industry heavyweights such as Stevie Wonder, who recorded some of his Grammy Award-winning “Innervisions” album in ’73, and The Dixie Hummingbirds, whose ’74 rendition of Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock” yielded a Grammy production nomination for the siblings. Having tasted fame through these figures, Kahn feasted on regard in ’78 when Karen Young took his piece “Hot Shot” to the top spot on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart two weeks after his 26th birthday.
“I appreciated the power of Karen’s voice and certainly loved the reception,” he said of writing, arranging and producing the ode to battling boredom and basking in its popularity, which has proven lasting in European markets and through placement in Billboard’s Disco Hall of Fame. “I see that as another sign of how fortunate I’ve been to fraternize with great people.”
Citing a well-organized crusade to eliminate disco, Kahn eventually elected to take a decisive break from his passion, channeling his vibrant energy with life partner Bruce H. Cahan as the overseers of Southwark Decorating, an offshoot of the Southwark Paint Co. his grandfather Abraham opened in ’18 at Fourth and Christian streets before situating it at Fourth and Catharine streets. Operating the endeavor as a virtual business, Kahn has been the subject of an HGTV feature and has attracted patrons such as The City of Philadelphia and The Philadelphia Navy Yard, 4747 S. Broad St. With one form of inspiration yielding satisfaction, he felt compelled to reacquaint himself with his premier muse.
“It feels so good to be back playing,” Kahn said of enjoying another round of renown. “I’m so compelled to expand my personal joy and to give everyone a stellar experience.”
Along with providing lasting memories, he is enjoying making his share, finding himself especially thrilled to work with standout vocalist Peggy King, who last week joined the trio at Square on Square and played with the gentlemen Sunday at The Philadelphia Ethical Society. With a headlining trip to New York City’s 54 Below scheduled for later this month, he gives off as much glee as he did when a burgeoning player.
“I feel healthy, strong and full of life,” Kahn said. “I’ve earned every one of these platinum hairs. It’s been a great ride.” ■