JACK KELLER SONGWRITER
Chapter One - Growing Up In Brooklyn
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Chapter One - Growing Up In Brooklyn
Chapter Two - I Learned How To Be A Professional Songwriter
Chapter Three - I Met Neil Sedaka
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Growing up in Brooklyn meant two things, the Dodgers and stickball.
 
My parents, Reva and Mal Keller were married on Nov. 28th, 1931, and I was born on Nov. 11th, 1936. Although my father graduated CCNY with a degree in business administration, he decided to become a musician and took one lesson on accordion, and began working nights in a dance band in New Jersey, while working days as an accountant for the New York Transit Authority. My mother wasn’t a typical Jewish mother. Although she graduated high school at fourteen, and was the valedictorian, she was a show business mom and a devoted wife who helped and encouraged her husband, and then her sons. I think the greatest gift I got from her was a positive attitude.

My earliest memory is holding my mother’s hand as she took me downtown at two and a half years old to enroll me in the Greenwich School of Music. Of course I was too young, but she tried again when I was five years old, and again when I was nine years old, and again when I was eleven. By the time I became thirteen, my father had quit his day job and started the most successful wedding and bar mitzvah band in New York. That’s when he asked his piano player (the same one that gave him one lesson on accordion) to start teaching me, and that’s when my musical odyssey began.

My Dad

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. Roger Warren taught me everything I needed to know about music, with one year of accordion and two years of piano. Of course he never charged my father for lessons. The biggest argument my father and I had was that he wanted me to practice one hour a day, preferably as soon as I came home from school. I argued that I could practice at night, but I couldn’t play stickball at night. However it became a mute point when on February 10, 1952 my father suddenly passed away at the age of forty two; I was fifteen and my brother Norman was six years old. Over night I became the “Man Of The House”. I was still in high school, taking piano lessons, and got a job after school working for a camera repair service in Manhattan. The funny thing is that after he died I started practicing six hours a day, as soon as I got home from school.

 

Me playing the piano (with my mom watching)

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My best friend Paul Kaufman and I played stickball everyday after school. I also taught him how to play the accordion while I played the piano.( Five years later Paul wrote the music to “Poetry In Motion”, a top ten hit for Johnny Tillotson) I played my first summer gig as a musician in the Catskill Mountains in 1953.It paid $15 a week with room and board and all you can eat. Paul had a real job lined up for the summer that paid $42 a week. When the drummer in the band dropped out one week before the beginning of summer, I asked Paul to take a drum lesson from one of my father’s drummers, and take this job instead. His mother wasn’t thrilled. She used to wake him with “Wake up Irving! Did you write any hit songs today?”

 

The first day we arrived at the hotel Paul asked me look at a lyric he had written. Up to that time, the thought of writing a song really never entered my mind. We were in the Playhouse which is where we would play dance music three hours a night, Monday through Saturday. When I sat down at the piano and tried to write music to his words, I felt a feeling that took over my whole being. The reason I knew this must have been a big deal was because I couldn’t make myself stop, even though I knew I was missing lunch.

 

When we got home in the fall we started writing songs for our girlfriends. That way “Marcia” could easily be changed to “Rita” when you broke up. The following summer I graduated high school and played my second summer in the Catskills. Paul took a good paying job as a councilor at a big hotel. When we got back home that fall, Paul told me he watched the kids of a major music publisher that summer and we could play our songs for him anytime.

 

While driving around one night we decided to go all the way out to Long Island to his home, and play him the songs. We arrived at midnight and rang the bell. His wife answered the door. She said she expected him any moment, would we like to come in and wait. When he hadn’t shown up by 12:30, we left and started driving away. We saw a car pass us going the other way so we turned around and went back. Sure enough it was Him. He listened to the songs and said he wanted to show them to his music people downtown. Since it was Christmas time he said he wouldn’t have a response until after the first of the year.

 

While walking down the street the week after Christmas I bumped into Al Kasha, who I’d met earlier at a Brooklyn College party where he sang and I played the piano for him. (Seventeen years later he received an Oscar for writing the theme song from The Poseidon Adventure) He asked me if I would accompany him on an audition for a TV show. When he came over to practice with me, my mother bragged about the music publisher who liked my songs. Al said he knew Frank Sinatra’s music publisher and I should play him the songs. I felt compelled to call the other publisher and tell him we had a chance to play the songs for Sinatra, and he said he wouldn’t stand in the way

 

You can hear that song,"The Power Of Love"written by Paul Kaufman & Jack Keller by clicking below.

On Jan.3rd 1955, I walked into the Brill Building for the first time.
Jack Benanti was the general manager of Barton Music, and lived in Brooklyn near me and Al. He was the first person in the music business that took me under his wing so to speak. I started hanging around the office soaking up the music publishing business. Believe it or not, back then songwriters brought their music sheets to the office and I would play and sing the song for Jack (who didn’t read music and was tone deaf). He would decide weather he would send the song to Frank or not, based on my performance.
 
Jack introduced me to the first influential people I met in the business like Don Costa at ABC Paramount Records, and Hugo & Luigi at Roulette Records. In the early part of 1957, still hanging around the Barton Music office my big break happened. A Mafioso type said “Hey kid, let’s go to lunch. There’s someone I want you to meet”. He introduced me to Cathy Lee, who wrote lyrics and lived in Jersey. He said, “I want you to write with her”. I said “Sure”. She gave me three lyrics and I went home and wrote my first hit song.
 
When I played the song for Cathy, she asked me if Barton Music would give us an advance?. Up to that point I never even thought of asking for money up front for writing my songs. When I told Jack Benanti that I would need an advance for the song that I just wrote with Cathy, he said “Let me hear the song first”. When he passed on giving us an advance, Cathy took me by the hand and introduced me to all the other publishers that were out there.
 
One of them, George Paxton, said he’d give us an advance of $50 each when we signed the contract, and another $50 each after a recording was released. He then asked me to make a demo for him. I remember going into Audio Sonic studios in the Brill Building where they cut the 78rpm acetate as you record. I played piano and sang bass. I found a group from the Bronx called The Velairs, with a great lead singer, and we all did it live together. That hit song was… “Just Between You and  Me”. (Listen to the sound byte of the original demo below)

JUST BETWEEN YOU AND ME - ORIGINAL DEMO

July 8, 1957 started out like any other day, but it turned out to be the most influential day of my life. I always called home from downtown to let my mother know that I was getting on the subway and to put up dinner. When she said “Did you hear your song on the radio today”. I got angry, I thought she was just wishful dreaming. It wasn’t until 11:00 pm  that night, while driving around with my friends and listening to Murray the “K” on the radio, that I heard The Chordettes recording of “Just Between You And Me” for the first time. The next morning I called the publisher for my other $50.(See pic of 45rpm label & listen to the sound byte of the Chordettes recording below)

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JUST BETWEEN YOU AND ME - THE CHORDETTES RECORDING

From that day forward, for the next five months all I thought about was “Where is the song on the charts this week?” My mother started a scrapbook, and every week I’d bring home the trade papers and she’d cut out anything pertaining to Just Between You And Me. (See Cashbox Sleeper of the Week July 27,1957 & Billboard Best Sellers Oct.1957 below) Believe it or not, it wasn’t until November, when the song started to drop on the charts, that the thought entered my mind… I HAVE TO WRITE ANOTHER SONG!

 

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"Actually,My Music Is Much Better Then It  Sounds"