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Age is not a cage: 90-year-old musicians go strong

By Mesfin Fekadu

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Aug. 10 2014 11:47 a.m. MDT

Updated: Sunday, Aug. 10 2014 11:47 a.m. MDT

Clarinetist Sol Yaged, 91, left, and comedian Fyvush Finkel, trade jokes during a rehearsal at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, in New York, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

NEW YORK — There's an upcoming concert at Baruch College, but it has nothing to do with students. The performers are in their 90s, and one is even older than the Manhattan school founded in 1919.

Pianist and composer Irving Fields, who turned 99 last week, will perform a show Monday night dubbed "90 and Going Strong" at the college along with Emmy-winning entertainer Fyvush Finkel and clarinetist Sol Yaged, both 91. The concert celebrates their passion and commitment to music and live performance despite their age.

"I call myself 99 years young. Age is just a number," Fields said in an interview. "Music keeps me younger. ... I play 10 notes, I'm 40 years younger. I play a whole crescendo, I'm like Benjamin Button!"

The trio's concert will be their second in a month at the 175-seat Engelman Recital Hall in the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Tickets cost $35.

"It was so successful. It was jam-packed," Fields said of their first show.

The performers have played music since their teenage years and enjoyed success by writing songs and appearing on television, in films and onstage. Fields, who recorded many albums, has written songs recorded by Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Shore. He also composed "Miami Beach Rhumba," which was used in Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry."

During a rehearsal Friday afternoon, the men were chatting away, sipping coffee and eating bagels. They have known one another for years and say their passion for music remains strong.

"What key are we in?" Yaged, holding his clarinet, says to Fields.

"I said D! I'll give you my hearing aid. I have an extra one," he replies as Finkel laughs.

Later, while performing together, Fields speeds up on piano.

"I'm not ready for your tempo yet!" Yaged yells.

"I love you, but you drive me nuts," Fields replies.

Despite some tense moments, there was a sense of love — for one another and for music — which was evident once they tightened their lips and played their instruments.

Yaged, who was heavily influenced by Benny Goodman, will perform with a five-piece band during the "90 and Going Strong" concert. During rehearsals, he was playing a clarinet he remembers buying in 1935 for $125, which he earned from shining shoes. He charged customers a nickel.

Finkel, too, recalls his first paying gig at a Jewish theater in Brooklyn when he was 9.

"A dollar a night. I was the hero of the family," said the actor, singer and comedian, who will open the show Monday.

Finkel earned an Emmy Award in 1994 for his role in the CBS drama series "Picket Fences." He has appeared in various films and television shows, including "Boston Public."

They want audiences to not be fooled by their age — they say they feel stronger than ever in their 90s. When asked how different performing today is compared to their earlier years, Finkel says: "Big difference. I'll tell you the difference."

"We get paid now," Yaged chimes in.

"Our least interest is to get paid. But to get on we get such a thrill," Finkel added. "In fact, we do things better now than we did before. To me every show is an opening night."

Fields, who performs regularly at Nino's Tuscany in New York City, echoed Finkel's sentiment.

"I've lived longer. I've seen more of life," he said. "I take chances now on things I couldn't do, and it works."

Fields is working on a documentary about his career and has penned a song honoring the Statue of Liberty called "Here's to the Lady," which he will perform Monday.

He says he doesn't plan to slow down in his career.

"I'm only 99, and well, I hope I live to be 109," Fields said. "I want to at least get to 100. I am so fulfilled when I play your favorite song."

Follow Mesfin Fekadu at http://twitter.com/MusicMesfin

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