You might remember him from the soulful rendition of the theme song from the 1971 film "Summer of 42," or from one of his dozens of appearances performing on Ed Sullivan or Johnny Carson's shows. In the more recent past, you may also have seen him leading the Philly Pops as its founding music director and conductor.
Pianist Peter Nero -- whose career melding classical, jazz and pop music spans more than five decades, 70 albums and two Grammys -- plays Madison Theatre at Molloy College Sunday in an unplugged performance of Gershwin tunes. The former Kings Point resident, who turns 81 next month, will come on stage with only his longtime bassist Michael Barnett.
What is the Gershwin Project?
Me and my bassist -- we've been together almost 30 years ... just the two of us. No printed program. I start off with whatever I feel like playing as long as it's Gershwin. Also, I'm improvising. I'm kind of messing around with the piano waiting for a lightning bolt to hit me. It has to do with feedback with the audience and how I'm feeling ... I do a medley in the second half. Last time someone clocked it, it was 27 minutes long.
How is it playing Gershwin all these years -- since you were a kid, really. Does it ever get old?
The music lives on. I get old.
You have always been known for interpreting pop music your way. Are there songs on the radio now that call out for the Nero treatment?
If I could pick out a melody among all the racket I hear on the radio, I could give it the "Nero treatment."
Of all the music you've recorded and performed, what is the one piece that you enjoy playing most?
The one I happen to be playing at the moment.
How many hours a day do you play?
Musicians, unlike medical doctors, practice at home -- as much or as little as necessary. Practice to most musicians means scales, exercises, etudes -- as exciting as riding an exercycle without a TV but necessary when you're in training. I like to save the real playing for when I'm in front of an audience. Otherwise, it would be like talking to myself.
What do you enjoy most about touring?
You're known for your impeccable comedic timing. How did you learn to make audiences laugh while performing, or did you find that it comes naturally? What's your favorite move?
That's two questions. Answer to first question: I look for humor in everything and in music there is much to laugh about. The similarities between two vastly different idioms and the differences are very humorous to me. Answer to second question: pushups.
With so many albums you've recorded, you must hear stories of special memories about each of them from your fans.
I like the ones where I get credit for my music bringing a couple together. However, I don't like getting blamed for a divorce.
Why do you think that children aren't receiving a proper musical education, and what can be done to change it?
It's all about money. Why the arts lie at the bottom of the educational heap when there's a budget crunch, I'll never know. From a purely fiscal sense, the arts bring revenue to town when people come to a concert. That's what the financial wizards understand, and that should be pitched to the public so that there is a public outcry and financing goes back to general education. If a civilization's art dies, then so does the civilization.
Frank Sinatra's on everyone's mind this year, since he would have been 100. What's your most vivid memory of working with him?
A gala in Palm Springs -- with guests Mel Tormé, Roger Moore, Quincy Jones, Diane Schuur, Liza Minnelli, Sammy Davis Jr. and the chairman of the board himself, Frank Sinatra -- while being his house guest at his compound. He had quite a spread, which consisted of many structures rather than one humongo one -- separate movie theater, separate guesthouses (16 to be exact) . . . six swimming pools plus space to park 120 cars. He also had a real railroad car where he got his haircuts, massages, etc., and being a model railroad fan had a small building built to house his collection of HO gauge locomotives and cars.
What kind of memories do you have of living in Kings Point?
I moved my family from Brooklyn to Kings Point in 1968. A real estate broker had found a piece of land on Manhasset Bay, and I built my dream home -- an acre and a half with a 64-foot wide entrance fanning out to 280 feet of waterfront with the height at 30 feet at sea level. It was a wonderful 10 years, but California beckoned and I fulfilled a dream to live on the West Coast.
What will be your next project?
In 10 years when I hit 91, I think I'll take early retirement.
WHAT "The Gershwin Project Featuring Peter Nero"
WHEN | WHERE 3 p.m. Sunday, Madison Theatre at Molloy College, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre
INFO $45-$55; 866-811-4111, madisontheatreny.org