A Short History Of Lee

Lee Feldman, born in 1959, is a New York based songwriter, pianist, singer and composer.  He has released three critically acclaimed albums -- Living It All Wrong (Pure/Mercury, 1996); The Man in a Jupiter Hat (Bonafide/Mercury, 2000); and I’ve Forgotten Everything (Bonafide, 2006) -- and STARBOY (2004), an animated musical about a 2-dimensional superhero.

Lee has had extensive training in classical piano, jazz piano and composition.  In spite of that, he writes music that has meaning and sticks in the brain.  Lee is on the piano faculty of Third Street Music School Settlement and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. 

"Lee Feldman's I've Forgotten Everything is unlike anything else in cotemporary pop. If you have a passion for good songwriting, you need this album. - Stereophile

"Lee Feldman uses a Tin Pan Alley bounce to make twisted or troubled situations sound like parlor songs." – New York Times

"Lee Feldman plays the piano in just the dry, subtle, understated manner that his dry, subtle, understatedly hilarious songs call for." - Atlantic Monthly

A Long History Of Lee

Lee Feldman was born in 1959 in Seattle, Washington. He grew up in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and attended Manhattan School of Music’s Preparatory Division, studying piano. His earliest musical influences were Beethoven, the Beatles, West Side Story, Carl Orff’s Music for Children, Theodore Bikel, the Weavers, and Tiny Tim’s "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."

After moving to the suburbs in 1971, Lee started playing in rock bands focusing on Allman Bros., Jeff Beck, Jethro Tull and Cream; later in the 70s his band’s repertoire leaned more towards Mahavishnu Orchestra. In 1976 Lee got into jazz and studied privately with Sir Roland Hanna; performed Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the Mamaroneck High School Orchestra for their Bicentennial Concert; and played for itinerant singers and strippers at a bungalow colony in the Catskills.

Lee attended Indiana University’s School of Music where he majored in music composition and minored in piano.  He wrote instrumental pieces for dance groups, numerous chamber music works, an orchestral piece, and started writing pop tunes.  He was also increasingly involved in free improvisation and his senior recital reflected all these directions.  His teachers at Indiana University were Fred Fox and Bernhard Heiden (composition); John Ogdon and Robert Goldsand (piano).

Lee moved back to Manhattan in 1981. In 1983, his chamber music piece “Prayer (for tenor and percussion)” was performed at Carnegie Recital Hall at a concert of The Academy of American Song. John Rockwell, reviewing the concert for the New York Times, wrote “by far the most original piece of the evening was Lee Feldman’s ‘Prayer’ . . . the effect was surreal, disorienting and strangely powerful.” That same year, Lee started performing his songs in public.

During the 80s Lee was active in New York’s downtown scene, performing his own music at now defunct venues like Darinka, The Cat Club, Café Poppolini’s, The Angry Squire, the original Knitting Factory and still extant venues like La Galleria at La Mama.  He collaborated with other downtown artists such as Peter Cherches, Elliott Sharp and Lee Ellickson.  In 1986 Lee wrote and produced “Invitation,” an evening of music, theater and dance at Washington Square Church; it was a further step in his attempt to fuse his interests in song, theater, and improvisation into acts of public introspection.

Lee supported himself throughout the 80s and 90s by working as a freelance proofreader and word processor in New York law firms. Aspiring producer Roger Peltzman had seen Lee perform his song “Carolyn” at an animal rights benefit concert at Under Acme and approached Lee in 1993 to suggest they make an album together.  Two and a half years later, they completed Living It All Wrong, a spare and classic pop album that featured Lee on vocals and piano, accompanied by drums, electric bass and occasional string and wind arrangements.

Roger became Lee’s manager and shopped the album to labels relentlessly.  Lee was signed to Pure Records, an independent label that had a distribution deal with Mercury Records.  Living It All Wrong started to garner amazing international press from Atlantic Monthly, Chicago Tribune, Les Inrocktubiles, USA Today, SPIN and many others.

Pure Records went bankrupt in 1997 but because of the outstanding reviews, Mercury decided to sign Lee to make a second album.  The result was The Man in a Jupiter Hat, also produced by Roger, featuring Lee’s trio along with diverse New York musicians such as Dave Schramm, the Blues Bros. horn section, a Kurt Weill-styled orchestra and Irish pennywhistle virtuoso Joanie Madden.

Polygram (Mercury Records’ parent company) was bought by Seagrams in 1998; although the album was “in the can,” Lee had to wait two years to find out if Mercury (now Universal) would release the album or allow him to release it on his own.  In 2000 Lee released The Man in a Jupiter Hat on his own imprint, Bonafide.  It too garnered unrivaled press from publications like Keyboard Magazine, People Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Village Voice and Time Out New York.  Lee was featured in a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered.  He performed regularly at New York venues such as Fez, The Knitting Factory, The Living Room, Makor, The Bottom Line, and performed on WXPN’s World Café, WFMU’s Irwin Chusid Show, WNYC’s Around New York, and WBAI’s All Mixed Up.

In 2000 Lee returned to his free improvisation roots and took a month-long workshop with Cecil Taylor.  It was amazing.  He also started supporting himself solely as a musician.  Since then, he has taken on many jobs-- working as a pianist for a pre-school music program; teaching privately; writing music-related criticism and essays; working for National Dance Institute as an accompanist and music director; playing bluegrass and old time music for kids with his old friend, fiddler Henry Hample; and he is now on the piano faculty of Third Street Music School Settlement.

In 2002-2003, Lee developed two music theater projects, Greene and STARBOY.   Greene, a surreal and funny dream-noir musical based on the Arthurian legend of the Green Knight, was staged as a radio show.  Greene had a 2 week run at the Abingdon Theater and was featured on WBAI and WNYC’s Soundcheck. Lee initially created STARBOY, a 30 minute musical for Dixon Place’s 2002 “Not For Broadway” festival.  In 2004, STARBOY was animated by Joe Campbell, “fleshing out” the story of a 2-dimensional superhero.  The animated STARBOY has won awards and been screened in festivals in the US and UK.  In 2005 STARBOY was performed live, to animation, at The Whitney Museum for American Art.

In 2006 Lee released I’ve Forgotten Everything, his most recent CD.  Produced by Edward Haber (Ed has produced albums by Andy Statman and Linda Thompson) the album features Lee’s trio of many years, Byron Isaacs (bass) and Bill Dobrow (drums).  A synthesis of Lee’s songcraft, his surreal mindscapes, borscht belt humor, indelible melodies and free improvisation, this album features performances by guest artists like Teddy Thompson, Steven Bernstein, Rob Berger, Curtis Fowlkes, Joel Frahm and many others.  It too has received glowing reviews in many online and print publications such as Stereophile, Absolute Sound, Lucid Culture, and was heard on radio stations across the country and featured on Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight (WFUV) and WNYC’s Soundcheck.

Lee has returned to both his classical and jazz roots.  In 2008 he performed Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata at a Faculty Recital at Third Street Music School.  He is enjoying pursuing his study of the classical repertoire and (with the aid of the Mark Levine books) the jazz repertoire.

One of Lee’s current projects is the “Lee Feldman Franchise,” in which he licenses his stage patter and song so that others can have all the fun.  Lee lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with his wife Chris Tokar and their two sons.  Lee is the subject of two documentaries, one still in progress.  “Lee Feldman, Lee Feldman,” a 20-minute film by Maya Mumma, was premiered at The New School in 2007.