When Alla Axelrod was a young girl growing up in the former Soviet Union, she hated piano lessons.
“What I really wanted was a bicycle,” she told NJJN in an e-mail exchange.
Fortunately for audiences in both Europe and the United States, Axelrod’s parents prevailed, and she remained at the keyboard. Now living in Matawan, she has been performing on American stages for 35 years, ever since immigrating in 1979.
Area residents will be the beneficiaries of her shift in attitude on Sunday, March 9, when Axelrod will display her talents on the Hayloft Stage at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County in Freehold.
Axelrod’s program is titled “Movie Magic and Lyrics.” Much of the film music of the “golden age” of cinema was written by Jews, she said, and the program will feature classics, the majority by Jewish composers and lyricists, including George and Ira Gershwin, Kurt Weill, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, and Harold Arlen. More recent selections will be by Marvin Hamlisch, Andre Previn, Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Alan Menken, and Randy Newman, among others.
Axelrod said she will also play pieces from her latest CD, Movie Magic. The first part of the concert will consist of solo piano pieces; in the second half, she will be joined by vocalists.
Axelrod said she had to overcome obstacles to get her music career into gear in the United States.
“When I came to Brooklyn, my first home over here, I quickly discovered that in America there was no real shortage of music professionals,” she said. “I could harmonize and transpose any melody in any key, but nobody was asking me to do it. That was a rude awakening.”
It took her about 10 years and a succession of less-than-glamorous jobs to restart her life as a performing artist, she recalled. “I didn’t see or touch, much less have, a piano for 15 years of my life. I thought that part of me had died.” For a while, she tried her hand as a comedienne.
She has also directed over 50 productions of Broadway musicals around the tristate area.
Axelrod said she is happy to be returning to the Jewish Heritage Museum. “It’s a wonderful space and attracts a great audience — very appreciative and very sophisticated. I love how cozy it is, the great piano they have, and Michael and Gloria Berman, who do a lot of the programming, have become my great friends.
“My first concert at the museum was ‘Last of the Red Hot Yiddish Mammas,’ partly dedicated to Jewish composers and partly featuring my comedy act,” said Axelrod. “I had a lot of fun, and I think the audience did, too. I’ve played there several times since.”
“I think everything in one’s life depends on having the right mentors,” said Axelrod. “I got really lucky. From the age of eight, I was taught by wonderful music teachers, one of whom, Esther Grafman, will be in the audience during my concert at the museum. She helped me to become who I am today.”