Michael E. Renzi

Inducted: 2013

Mike Renzi, a master American pianist, arranger, and musical director, was raised in Providence and started piano lessons at the age of eight; the style was classical. Soon he added popular music in the style known as “the American songbook,” consisting of the compositions of such artists as George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Johnny Mercer. He got these renditions from his mother, who loved music and seemed to know all of the popular music of the time–both words and melodies. Mike could find all of these tunes in any musical key.

In his early ‘teens this talent came in handy as he taught himself to play the accordion. Then Mike joined his uncle’s band. This experience got him back to the piano and to jobs with a very popular band led by a highly-regarded tenor saxophonist, Art Pelosi. This duo entertained audiences by playing songs in various musical keys, competing with each other.

Mike left Art in 1962 and formed his own quartet at a North Providence club known as the Kings and Queens. Various big time artists came to play there such as Zoot Sims, Roy Eldridge, and Buck Clayton, and such singers as Ernestine Anderson, Etta Jones, and a great local singer named Carol Vann. These associations provided more great experiences for Mike, and he learned from them that accompanying was “fun” and “not too hard.” Mike took college music courses at both the Boston Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. There he learned more about piano playing, about accompanying instrumentalists and singers, and especially, about arranging and composing.

While employed as the musical director of an afternoon “talk” show in Boston, Mike met the great jazz and cabaret singer Sylvia Syms. She lured him to New York City to accompany her at the famous Town Hall venue. Mike continued to work in the Providence area for a few years, but there were more side trips to “The City,” so in September, 1976 Renzi relocated to New York. There Mike found piano work in Carnegie Tavern; Woody Allen hired him to play on the soundtrack of his film Manhattan;” and Jackie Cain invited Mike to accompany her in a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael in Carnegie Hall itself.

As Mike’s fame grew, Mel Torme recruited him for a New York supper club named Marty’s, and Lena Horne put Mike into the band that accompanied her one-woman show on Broadway. Mike’s future was made. John S. Wilson, a New York Times music critic, wrote: “Renzi is a constantly-in-demand accompanist for discriminating singers.” A few years later, another New York Times music critic, Stephen Holden wrote: “Renzi plays gorgeous long-lined runs” with “extraordinary grace as a pianistic arranger whose accompaniments have a panoramic orchestral sweep.”

Renzi has played for so many great singers that they cannot be named in this brief essay. He also has won seven Daytime Emmy Awards by providing musical background for such TV shows as “Sesame Street” and “All My Children.” Mike has played on and/or arranged more than 100 albums (CDs) with such stars as Ruth Brown, Lena Horne, Mel Torme, Jack Jones, Maureen McGovern, Peggy Lee, and Liza Minelli. He continues to travel with vocalists, work in New York clubs, and play for and with musician friends

– Dr. John A. Worsley

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