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PALM LATITUDES

THE BIZ : The Tin Pan Man

July 10, 1994|Mari Florence

The carwash is an excellent place for Angelenos to network, get their shoes shined and pick up a nifty air freshener. But to change your life?

That's what happened to singer Richard Halpern one day in 1981. He was hanging around a carwash in Palos Verdes when he spotted a cassette entitled "Al Jolson: 20 Golden Greats, Volume 2." He bought it and stuck it in his car stereo as soon as the car was dry.

From that moment on, the former show tune singer has dedicated his life to resurrecting the songs of Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice and other Tin Pan Alley unforgettables from the earliest days of jazz.

"They don't write melodies like that anymore," Halpern says. "The most beautiful melodies that have ever been written in American popular music came out of this period--the teens and, especially, the '20s. And the lyrics, it was poetry, definitely more so than today, like telling a story in song."

Halpern tells those stories in cabarets and clubs around town, including the Derby in Los Feliz and the Atlas Bar & Grill on Wilshire and Western. In September, he'll resume his weekly show, "Richard Halpern's Speakeasy," at the Radisson Hollywood Roosevelt's Cinegrill.

To make sure his performances sound authentic, Halpern combs music archives to make sure he's got everything just right. "I get such a thrill from performing from the same arrangement Jolson used," he says.

Fellow cabaret performer Buck Winston adds, "When Richard compliments my arrangements, I know that I'm on the mark, because Richard knows."

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