From Gershwin to Elton John, pianist/singer Tony DeSare brings keyboard magic to Fresno Philharmonic


With his recordings and busy touring concert schedule, Tony DeSare has lots of admirers. But it’s easy to figure out his No. 1 fan.

“My mother,” says the celebrated pianist, singer and songwriter, who headlines Saturday’s final Fresno Philharmonic pops concert of the season, titled “Great Balls of Fire.” (I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to the event; details are below.)

tony desare

Tony DeSare performs Saturday, May 12 with the Fresno Philharmonic.

It’s only fitting that on this Mother’s Day weekend, he will play one of his mom’s favorites, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” he tells me in a phone interview. Here’s a rundown on the concert:

The program: Along with Gershwin, DeSare will join with the orchestra to play songs by such favorites as Elton John, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Jerry Lewis and Irving Berlin. You can look forward to boogie-woogie, ragtime, straight-out pop and rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s for people who really love piano music,” he says. “I based the program on what I loved when I was a 10-year-old kid.”


The format: DeSare is a double-threat: He’ll sing and play the piano, joined by his traveling rhythm section.

The conductor: Carl Topilow, music director of the Cleveland Pops and a Fresno favorite, will be on the podium.

You can win a pair of tickets to Saturday’s performance of “Great Balls of Fire” with the Fresno Philharmonic (7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12, Saroyan Theatre). To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us your mom’s favorite song. (Or, if you’re shy, just say that you’d like to go.) Deadline to enter is 10 p.m. Friday, May 11, so this is a quick turnaround. I’ll pick the winners at random. Please don’t enter if you won’t be able to use the tickets. I’ll be informing the winner by email, so check yours Saturday morning.

The resume: DeSare has brought his “fresh take on old-school classics” to a variety of venues, from jazz clubs and Carnegie Hall to Las Vegas, where he headlined with Don Rickles. With three top ten Billboard jazz albums to his credit, DeSare has been featured on the “CBS Early Show,” National Public Radio, “A Prairie Home Companion” and the “Today” show. He’s also a composer of movie and TV scores, including projects for Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel.

The orchestra circuit: DeSare’s program has proved popular across the country. “It’s the backbone of my performance schedule,” he says. “Within a year, I play with 15 or 20 different orchestras.” This will be his first appearance with the Fresno Philharmonic.

The video: DeSare recommends watching “I Love a Piano,” a video that chronicles him playing a bunch of pianos in various New York City locations. It’s a lot of fun:

The back story: There was always music in his household when he was growing up. DeSare became fascinated with the piano, but the family didn’t own one. “I kind of begged my parents for one. They got me a little Casio keyboard from Radio Shack. I learned Scott Joplin and Gershwin.” He graduated to a full-size keyboard at age 11, and by 15, there was a full-size piano in the house.

The mother’s pride: “She loves to hear me play ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ because I learned it when I was 11,” he says. “For my parents to see me play it live on stage with an orchestra is really special for them.”

This one’s for you, Mom.

Show info

“Great Balls of Fire,” Tony DeSare with the Fresno Philharmonic, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12, Saroyan Theatre. Tickets are $25-$79.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (4)

  • Caty Pere

    I’d love to attend!

  • Anne Rose Lee

    This concert is a great and lovely way to celebrate Mother’s Day Weekend!!!

  • Allison C.

    I’d like to go!

  • Amy

    Did you say Elton John and piano in the same sentence?!


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