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Bruce, Bennett ... Big Time

January 7, 2010 By:
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Eddie Bruce is still "dancin' on air" -- decades after serving as host of the popular Philly-based TV stomp of a treat, he's got good reason to step to the front of the line dance that he once touted.

And that's because these days, he also has a song in his heart.

That that song is "High Hopes" -- so closely aligned locally with the large legend of the late Harry Kalas -- is not lost on the big time band leader who's performed at so many weddings and Bar/ Bat Mitzvahs, an ice sculpture in his image has been eternally frozen in the Jewish party circuit Hall of Fame.

But it was "High Hopes" -- Harry the K's personal seventh-inning-of-a-stretch salute of a song -- that Bruce performed at his late buddy's memorial earlier this year at Citizens Bank.

Giving voice to the Voice of the Phillies' favorite tune was ironic in its own way. Because Bruce's own high hopes are being realized by becoming a voice all his own in the music business.

High hopes, high notes: The native son -- still boyishly handsome -- can Hava Negilah next Sunday; on Jan. 10, he has New York in his hands.

Betting on Bennett: Bruce, whose 2009 CD salute to icon Tony Bennett has received tributes and is treasured by many a Bennett fan, stages his salute to the man who left his heart in San Francisco decades ago but found new audiences to meet and greet him in the new millennium.

It may very well be Bruce's breakthrough in cabaret; after performing at regional clubs -- such as Odette's in New Hope; an SRO gig where he broke records on his way to becoming cabaret royalty at the Prince Music Theatre in Center City; and at New York's Metropolitan Room -- this truly metropolitan singer marks his premiere at New York's Feinstein's at Loews Regency, one of the nation's premier cabaret clubs, on Jan. 10.

This is American idol -- long before Simon Cowell began cowing contestants on television, Bruce was on stage barely past his own Bar Mitzvah, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York, as part of the legendary Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour.

A sound beating ... "I lost to a clarinet-playing priest from Brooklyn," he muses. "Who wouldn't?"

Hot under the collar?

Not the youngster, who knew his day would come. Ironically, he lost with music that would later become his CD salvo. "It was a Tony Bennett song that I sang, 'For Once in My Life,' " he grins now of the one time it got away.

The shadow of his smile extends 90 miles these days, up the Jersey turnpike, uptown to Manhattan. It's all coming together for the singer who also once did a tribute to Anthony Newley; now, stop the world, he's getting off in New York, where this once-in-a-lifetime debut has him thinking future stops.

Back up for a minute: It's 1966, his Bar Mitzvah being celebrated at Fishers in the Northeast and leading the band for his big day was ... Ken Silver, another big time notable Philadelphia name.

"By 1984, we became music partners," says Bruce of his bud with whom he formed a long-lasting friendship and business as bandmates. "I pulled pictures from my Bar Mitzvah and there's Ken -- he was only five years older than me -- on sax." And where's Eddie? "At the mic, singing."

Take out the tallit: Some 40 years later, anticipating his Sunday gig in New York at a club named for acclaimed crooner/pianist Michael Feinstein, he announces, "Today is my Bar Mitzvah!"

And bud/former business partner Silver still has his back.

Stardom, he reveals, is no surprise since "Eddie is a naturally gifted vocalist whose versatility and appreciation of a wide variety of musical genres has enabled him to maintain prominent stature in the regional entertainment scene."

And now Bruce, the former Showstopper on Al Alberts' local long-running TV show, stops a moment to pay homage to the late erstwhile star of the Four Aces and king of the local talent scene. He says that he will always be appreciative of Alberts, "a mentor of mine."

Not bad at the time for a 15-year-old who had been turned down for the lead role in George Washington High School's production of "Oklahoma!" because "they wanted to give it to a senior."

"They offered me the chorus." Definitely not OK: "I said, 'I don't do chorus!' "

Demi-diva? He laughs.

After all, this was the boy with "living-room stage fright" when asked to sing before the family at Jewish functions. "I was shy; it gave me a lot of anxiety"

He said that he found strength at synagogue. "That's where my career really started," he says of performing at age 11 in a talent show at Beth Chaim in Feasterville. His song of choice: "More."

And that's what followed.

The show organizer soon became his manager and the teen teeming with talent was soon playing the Capri Lounge in Center City.

Underage entrepreneur? "I liked to read my name in the paper,"he says with a smile.

Turn the page? A year after the Summer of Love in '67, Bruce had a fall from grace.

Just nine years after he was first taken to the Latin Casino on Walnut Street, the music -- his music -- died. Buddy Holly redux? For a youngster who could fly away at the mere mention of Sinatra's name, it was as if a rock of ages had been pulled out from under him.

"What can I say, I was an old head inside a young body," he says.

With a big body of knowledge. Is it any wonder that this singer who has had a career of multiple choices was a recent big winner on TV's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"?

Cabaret ... final answer? As a bandleader who has held his own with the chupah crowds, maybe "come to the cabaret" is not what his old chums and fans fantasize about.

"If you're a young bride" hiring a band, "you might be asking, 'Isn't that the guy who sings the old stuff?' "I have to fight that" image.

In this corner ... nobody puts Eddie in a box. "I'm in transition," he says of still doing 50 parties a year, and setting sail on the good ship Cabaret. Actually, it's named Moshulu, he says of landing regular cabaret gigs at the Penn's Landing ship/restaurant.

Has his ship come in? "I'm happy, fulfilling my dreams. It's really all that I hoped for," says the star of his leap of faith and high-jump of a career.

Harry the K would be so proud. 

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