By Jana Kaplan Features Editor
When you look at Jack Saleeby, you see nothing but passion gleaming through his eyes. A sophomore theater major at Hofstra, Jack grew up on the stage. One of the first musicals he ever performed in was Annie Get Your Gun, written by Irving Berlin. At the time, that name meant nothing to him, but now; it represents the world…or America, at least.
Jack Saleeby recently co-starred in the two-man cast recording of Irving Berlin’s America written and directed by ASCAP award-winning playwright and director, Chip Deffaa. Alongside film, television, and stage veteran Michael Townsend Wright, Saleeby belted out some of Berlin’s most cherished songs, such as “I Love a Piano” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” on the cast album, which was just release January 24th. He was also the first person to ever record “Blow Your Horn,” a Berlin rarity that hasn’t been heard in a century. In fact, Berlin himself once feared the original unpublished arrangement was impossible to sing. Saleeby admits that it couldn’t be sung alone. “The way both melodies match up with each other,” he says, “They’re just really contrasting, but when you sing them together, they fit.” So despite the initial intimidation and difficulty of the song, he gushes that being one of the first people to record some of Berlin’s songs “was really an honor for me.”
Some of Berlin’s classics on the album include “Yankee Doodle Boy,” “White Christmas,” and Saleeby’s personal favorite Christmas carol, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” But what he soon realized is that there were so many songs written by Berlin that many people had never heard of. He said, “I really only hit the tip of the iceberg when I first came into the project in regards to my knowledge of [Berlin] and his music.” But because “We really found some beautiful gems with this piece,” he felt that they were successfully able to introduce everyone to Irving Berlin through his music.
Irving Berlin’s America tells the story of Irving Berlin, “the most popular songwriter in history.” Composer Jerome Kern once said Berlin is American music; Jack agrees. “I think it all comes back to identity and self,” he proclaimed. “In America, we are free to be ourselves and be exactly who we are and not apologize. And I don’t think Irving Berlin did that and that’s why I think his music is so special, because it’s him.” Saleeby even compared Berlin’s strong sense of self with that of Miley Cyrus- unapologetic and proud.
Saleeby jumped into this project back in September 2012 as he was just settling in to college life. He noted that there were only three rehearsals between September 2012 and January 2013, and after that, they had a mere three recording sessions before the album release almost a year later. Because “It was very independent” and everyone on the project often went a month or two without seeing each other, Saleeby doesn’t deny the fact that it was a challenge. “I had to put a lot of personal time into it, but… it was a great reward for me and it was worth every minute spent.”
When asked what he hopes to accomplish once he leaves Hofstra in 2017, Saleeby admits, “I want to be successful and have a job.” He added, “As long as I’m having a dialogue with the audience and the audience walks away with something, that’s what I want to achieve when I graduate.”