Tony Danza Dreams on Parade at Arizona Musicfest

Writer Joseph J. Airdo

Photography Courtesy of Arizona Musicfest

One of Tony Danza’s favorite pieces from the American Songbook is “Please be Kind,” which has been recorded by a number of musicians over the years, including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis.

“There is this great line in the song that goes, ‘This is all so grand; my dreams are on parade,’” Danza says. “I think about how many times my dreams have been on parade in my life.”

The lyrics, which were written by Danza’s late friend Sammy Cahn, touch the world-renowned entertainer and moved him to create his latest show entitled Standards and Stories.

The show, which combines timeless music with interwoven stories about his life and personal connection to the songs he performs, is coming to the Valley 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24 at Highlands Church in Scottsdale as part of Arizona Musicfest.

“I try to be a throwback,” Danza says. “I do the American Songbook for the most part but I also tap dance, tell stories and bring out my secret weapon—my ukulele. It is hysterical. I wish that my mother was alive so that she could see it.”

Arizona Musicfest Executive and Producing Director Allan Naplan is thrilled to have been able to bring Danza to the festival, which has been providing audiences with affordable and convenient access to a diverse lineup of culturally rich musical acts for the past 29 years.

Danza, who became a household name after appearing in the television series “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss,” falls right in line with the caliber of acts that Arizona Musicfest likes to deliver to audiences.

“We have had great success here at Arizona Musicfest by embracing the nostalgia that resonates with our core audience,” Naplan says. “It brings people back to the music of their youth. And Tony Danza is so multi-versed as an entertainer. The fact that such a cultural icon is now celebrating music that is nostalgic to our audience is such a recipe for success.”

Music: The Touchstone of Everything

Danza says that the last five years giving performances like the one he is bringing to the Valley have been the most successful and enjoyable run of anything that he has done since starring in “Who’s the Boss” from 1984 through 1992.

“Music is such a touchstone for everything,” he notes. “What music has always done—much like what TV has always done—is brought us together. We all watch the same shows and we all listen to the same hit songs.”

However, Danza believes that we are becoming increasingly fragmented by the arts. He uses the insurmountable number of TV streaming services as an example.

“So let’s say I have a subscription to Netflix and you have one to Spectrum,” Danza explains. “We never see the same shows. There is some kind of adjoined, collective thing that is just not happening as much anymore and I worry about that and wonder how it affects us.”

That growing concern is one of the motivations behind Arizona Musicfest, which is one of the Valley’s most powerful promoters of the arts. Naplan believes that it is more important than ever to sustain live performances like the ones Arizona Musicfest brings to the Valley.

“In our more technological world these days, we can isolate ourselves and just listen to music alone,” Naplan says. “There is something very interactive about being in a live experience. When you have a compelling artist, there is not only a relationship with that performer on stage but also a relationship with your fellow audience members in the way that you receive and react to the music.”

Arizona Musicfest’s largest venue is Highlands Church, where Danza will be performing. Its 1,600 seats frequently sell out—as is the case with some of this year’s acts, including Chris Botti and Michael Bolton.

“The audience’s response, participation and appreciation are as much a part of the experience as the notes coming off the stage,” Naplan adds. “It truly is a wonderful call and response because the performer is energized by the audience, which really makes for a compelling and rewarding evening for both the entertainer and the audience.”

Danza agrees, adding that he is basically doing what the Rat Pack did many years ago.

“I’ll be honest with you—this is the most fun I have ever had,” Danza says. “I go up on stage and pretend to be Frank Sinatra. I goof around, try to get some laughs and have a good time. And if I am having a good time, then the audience does too.”

John Pizzarelli, MozART and More

Danza’s show is just beginning. Arizona Musicfest audiences are benefitting from an exciting lineup of acts as well as some outstanding changes this season.

All 1,600 of Highland Church’s seats have been upgraded while the venue’s lighting and sound systems have also been improved.

In addition to Danza, the venue will host world-renowned guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, who will return to his roots with a 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27 concert to honor legendary jazz/pop vocalist and pianist Nat King Cole.

“John Pizzarelli is one of the greatest jazz musicians of today,” Naplan says. “His interpretation and celebration of Nat King Cole’s music is something that is very special.”

One of Arizona Musicfest’s other venues, Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale, will play host to MozART 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9.

“This is a string quartet that is a real virtuosic instrumental ensemble but with tremendous comedic chops that turns chamber music on its head at times, celebrating it but also creating a really funny and entertaining afternoon,” Naplan says. “It is a European act that is not often in America. So we are glad that we are able to present them on this American tour.”

Naplan is also enthusiastic about this year’s Festival Orchestra Week, which will take place Feb. 16–23. The five-concert series features musicians from some of the nation’s finest orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, National Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

“This is really a superlative ensemble that Arizona Musicfest puts together,” Naplan says. “It is highly unique and we are thrilled to offer such excellence to our community.”

This year’s Festival Orchestra Week is particularly special because it features an alum of Arizona Musicfest’s Young Musicians program. After having gone through Arizona Musicfest’s Young Musicians program, Samuel Xu is now a freshman studying piano at the Eastman School of Music in New York.

“Samuel is an amazing prodigy pianist who will be a featured soloist on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4.” Naplan says. “It is an enormous sense of pride that someone who we have really invested in is now able to come back at a level that is absolutely worthy of performing with these world-class musicians.”

Serving the Community

Arizona Musicfest is responsible for much more than just bringing Tony Danza, John Pizzarelli, MozART and other talented musicians to the Valley, though.

“As a nonprofit, we feel that it is our role to serve our community by not only producing our concerts but by engaging people in music on a deeper level,” Naplan says.

The money Arizona Musicfest makes from the concerts it produces benefit a variety of music education programs in the Valley. It presents free classical music and jazz programs to more than 6,000 K-12 students each year, inspiring the community’s youth through the arts.

The organization partners with local educators and administrators to supplement preexisting music education programs and enhance the resources available to them. It also offers unique performance opportunities and financial assistance to aspiring young musicians throughout the community.

New this year for Arizona Musicfest is the organization’s headquarters in North Scottsdale, where it hosts an expanded Music Alive program—a lifelong learning and creative aging initiative.

“We have this tremendous series of lectures about music,” Naplan says. “Some are specifically related to upcoming concerts and some are of general music content just to engage audiences and the community in music learning.

“It is also a great social activity. So many people are transplants to Arizona but one thing they have in common is their love of music. Through Music Alive, we are bringing people together—whether they are from Chicago, Boston or Vancouver. We are creating this community of enthusiasts and people who want to learn more about and increase their engagement in the art form.”

Keeping It in the Zeitgeist

With his 68 years behind him, Danza often worries about the music of today and how it is going to affect the younger generations.

“I grew up with nothing but love songs,” Danza says. “Everything was about love. How to find love, got to be love, love, love, love. And look how we turned out. So, when I look at some of the stuff that is out there today, it makes me worry. A lot of the stuff today is about a beef with another artist. I wonder what the heck that is going to do for us.”

Danza admits that there is still some great music out there, though, with Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding being one of his personal favorite new songs. However, he is far too often disappointed in today’s so-called hits.

“Every year, I go online and look at the list of Grammy nominations,” Danza says. “I listen to some of the nominated songs on YouTube and I just have a hard time buying into it as music. I sometimes think that some of it is not really music at all.”

Danza is on the Police Athletic League’s board of directors in New York City, helping the organization with its Teen Acting Program, which offers a pathway through the theater arts for 150 teens to develop skills that will help them succeed in high school, college and their careers.

“When you teach a kid how to act, you teach a kid how to act,” Danza says. “You cannot be shocked when kids who are inundated with gunplay violence in music videos by antiheroes with gold chains think that those are good role models. And you cannot be surprised when they act out. After all, I wanted to be Elvis when I was growing up.”

Naplan says that the songs Danza and Arizona Musicfest’s other acts perform are classics for a reason.

“The test of time has worn very well on them,” Naplan explains. “I am not of the generation of my audience but I have great affection for and I honor that music because it is great music. I think and I hope that this type of music will go on.”

Danza intends to do his part to ensure it does.

“I think that when you sing and study these songs like I do, you cannot help but see an era gone by where people talked a different way to people through music than they do now,” Danza says. “And it has a good effect on me.

“It is about love. It is about feeling. And it is about caring about somebody so much that you cannot live without them. That kind of emotion and commitment is a little bit out of style. So I am trying to at least keep it in the zeitgeist.”

Tony Danza: Standards and Stories

Friday, Jan. 24 | 7:30 p.m.  | Highlands Church | 9050 E. Pinnacle Peak Road, Scottsdale | $34+ | 480-422-8449 |

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