It's been just about three years since Garden City native John Tesh has played on Long Island, and now, a first — he and his nine-member band will take the stage of the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts on Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. for “A Jazzy Swingin’ Christmas.”
A prolific composer, performer and author, Tesh entitled his 2020 memoir, “Relentless,” which essentially summarizes his schedule and life. On the road for about 30 concerts a year, he and his wife, actor Connie Sellecca, also continue to host and manage the long-running radio show “Intelligence for Your Life."
Meanwhile for Tesh, 71, a few major anniversaries loom. It's been nearly a quarter-century since the launch of "Intelligence" — advice on health and living, now on 350 stations, and also almost 30 years since the first “Live at Red Rocks” concert, his once-reliable (and massively successful) fundraiser broadcast for PBS.
Then, there's this: It's been almost a decade since he was first diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. The subsequent battle changed both the life and outlook of this one time co-host of "Entertainment Tonight" (and incidentally, composer of probably the best-known sports theme in TV history, "Roundball Rock," for NBC's coverage of the NBA).
Newsday's Verne Gay spoke recently with Tesh.
Everything good with you?
We've got three grandkids, so I have soccer poisoning — six hours straight of watching soccer! [Laughs] I played a little soccer at North Carolina State, so I've had my opinions — and only got thrown out of two games.
How old are they now?
Twelve, 10 and eight — two girls. They're the only reason we're still in California — we could live anywhere — because we're really close to the kids.
Where, by the way, do you live?
A Beverly Hills ZIP code, but we're up on top of Mulholland Drive, looking down at the San Fernando Valley … So Jack Nicholson and Denzel Washington are that way, and Charlie Sheen that way — and right behind, members of KISS. My favorite neighbors — a tie between [KISS co-founder] Paul Stanley and Joe Walsh [of the Eagles].
What brings you back to Long Island after all this time?
We haven't done the East Coast in a while — the middle of the country, California, Florida — but not here.
You've scaled back from 60 concerts a year to 30 — does that make it easier to fill seats?
It's never easy! A lot of people wait until the last minute, but we really do understand our audience now — men and women, 50-plus, but mostly women and a massive bump at 65 and up, which includes women who have dragged their husbands or boyfriends along … You can always tell, they're sitting cross-armed, and then we play "Roundball Rock" and they go, 'Oh, the basketball guy!'
Don't you have a second camera pointed at the audience to see what and how they respond to songs — and how will that affect what you play at the Christmas concert?
Our show is very loose and we always get the audience involved — but this is old-school Christmas. We'll play some of the same arrangements you'd have heard in the 1940s and '50s. I also read out of my dad's diary from World War II. We concentrate on emotion — it sounds heady but we want people to have an emotional experience. And yes, I still have that camera pointed out. I'll watch to see if we should move songs around, and we'll play 'Roundball' as an encore.
'Roundball' at a Christmas concert?
If you put sleigh bells into the song, it's fine [laughs].
You stay in touch with anyone from Long Island — including your old band rival Billy Joel?
Our band was The Best of Both Worlds, and I tell the story on stage that we were 'rivals' to Billy Joel — insofar as if Billy and the Hassles didn't want a gig, we got it instead. He was Coca-Cola; we were RC Cola. But no, I haven't talked with him in a while. The people I do stay in touch with are from my Channel 2 days [Tesh joined WCBS/2 in the mid-70s at the age of 22 — at the time, the youngest reporter at the station.] I just talked to John Stossel [because] we recently lost Arnold Diaz [on Oct. 23]. We have an interesting fraternity/sorority from those days — Stossel, Diaz, Linda Ellerbee, Meredith Vieira … They all took care of me.
How's your health?
I'm very monitored and scanned — and things are fine. But the treatment they had me on was muscle wasting, so I'm always trying to hit the gym as hard as I can to build it up. The other thing [the medication does] is mess up your balance. [But] I was supposed to be dead years ago, so I'm the poster boy for M.D. Anderson in Houston for how to get through it.
Faith, as you have long said, was a major part of that as well?
I actually lead a prayer community — John Tesh Prayer Community — on Zoom where like-minded people get together and we talk about what the Bible says about health and healing, and the big idea is to understand that there's nothing in the Bible that says God will put sickness on you. I believe in medicine but also the dual modality of being able to visualize yourself well. Top athletes can visualize themselves winning or standing up on the podium, and when you combine that with faith, it's powerful.
How are you telling listeners of the radio program to deal with the many horrors enveloping the world, or the Middle East, at the moment?
[My children and grandchildren] have thrown me even more into focus on what the Bible says — as to how you live yourself, living without judgment, and trying to show love first and being focused on that [but] we don't side in politics.
What are the concerns of your radio audience?
We just did a big study [and respondents] really had the same answer — that people are worn out from being caregivers and are looking for the next chapter of their lives. They want to know: How do I win my morning, and they're concerned about their memory, and their balance, and their fitness. They've seen family members have a catastrophic incident in their lives — so they're concerned … I was surprised to see the level of fear of tomorrow which was exacerbated by the lockdown and pandemic.
I was thinking that a few key anniversaries are looking for you. What's next now that you accomplished so much?
What's happening with digital online learning is huge, and there are apps that enable you to become a course creator. I've been working with 'The Secrets to Answered Prayers' in one course, and the next one will be a piano course. I had Classical training but there are ways to learn the piano without having to do that, and one of the questions we always get from people is that they always wanted to play.