Irving Fields (August 4, 1915 – August 20, 2016) was an American pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader.
Fields was born Yitzhak Schwartz on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the youngest of six children (all of whom lived into their 90s). He grew up there and in Coney Island and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. His father, Max, a carpenter who sang in local choirs, was from Pinsk in Belarus, and his mother, Eva, was from Minsk, also in Belarus; he once wrote a song playing with the cities’ rhyming names.
Pressured to start taking piano lessons at 8 years old, he found repeating scales monotonous but later credited the exercises with sharpening his playing and making it seem more casual. He also sang in a choir behind the famous cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, and began pecking out popular songs and Yiddish vaudeville tunes. While still a teenager, he put together a band that was hired to play parties.
Educated at the Eastman School of Music and the Masters Institute in Manhattan. By 1933, he was playing on cruise ships. With groups of various sizes he played the Manhattan clubs that were a hallmark of swank 1940s and ‘50s night life, places like the Copacabana, the Latin Quarter, El Morocco and the Mermaid Room. He remembered Ava Gardner dancing barefoot to his Latin songs and Edward G. Robinson asking him to play Viennese waltzes. As television infiltrated more American households, he appeared on shows hosted by Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason and Kate Smith. He also had a few songwriting successes, most notably with "Miami Beach Rhumba" and "Managua, Nicaragua" and "Chantez, Chantez," which Dinah Shore recorded in 1957.
He also performed as a concert pianist with the Boston Pops Orchestra and appeared with his group in Carnegie Hall. From November 1, 1954 to January 3, 1955, he and his orchestra appeared on the DuMont Television Network series The Ilona Massey Show, hosted by Ilona Massey. His most famous album is Bagels & Bongos (1959), recorded for Decca Records with his trio, which sold two million copies. The next year he released the sequel More Bagels & Bongos, which was reissued on CD in 2009 by Roman Midnight Music under the direct creative advisement of 94-year-old Fields, the only reissue commissioned directly by Irving. He was the regular pianist in the Oak Room at the Plaza from 1982 to 1990.
Fields claimed to have recorded more than 80 albums featuring trios, quartets, orchestras and solo. His most known work is the 1960s output that directly followed Bagels & Bongos and fused international music with Latin, including: Bikinis and Bongos, featuring Hawaiian music, Pizza and Bongos featuring Italian music and Champagne and Bongos featuring French music. He also did an album of songs done in a Twist style called Twistin!. Fields' sister was Peppy Fields, often called the Sophie Tucker of Miami, who hosted celebrity radio and TV shows for 35 years.As he aged, Mr. Fields endeavored
to stay current with trends of the day, just as he had during the Latin craze. He learned piano versions of Beyoncé songs — to be prepared for requests from lounge patrons — and collaborated with Dolgin on the 2007 album “Ghettoblaster.” Fields wrote, upon a fan's request, a YouTube theme song. The song, "YouTube Dot Com Theme Song", which he wrote within fifteen minutes, has subsequently received over 800,000 views and was released on iTunes.
In July 2012 Roman Midnight Music, a Manhattan indie book publisher/music label owned by music critic and author Aaron Joy published The Pianos I Have Known: The Autobiography Of Irving Fields. The book was created via conversations between 94 year old Fields with Tony Sachs, who writes regularly for The Huffington Post. As of 2015, Fields played six nights a week at Nino's Tuscany, an Italian restaurant in New York City.
Fields turned 100 in August 2015. Though depending on a walker to get around, his fingers hobbled by arthritis, he continued to find his way to the keyboard, stylish in a blue blazer and pocket square, his customary two-olive vodka martini perched on top of the piano. He could play almost any request, especially if it was for a Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers or Porter tune.
He and Ruth, 14 years his junior, lived for the last half century in a tidy apartment that did not have a piano. On those occasions when he needed to play for a visitor, as he did when a New York Times reporter showed up in May 2015, he would take an elevator upstairs to a neighbor’s apartment. “You think I need to practice — at my age?” he said.
He died from pneumonia on 20 August 2016 at his home in Manhattan at the age of 101. He was featured in the Carl Reiner documentary "If You're Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast", released in 2017.
(Edited from Wikipedia, The New York Times & The Washington Post)