NEW YORK—Irving Fields, 98, stays at Nino’s Tuscany Steakhouse as late as 10:30 p.m. on some nights, when out of state fans come in just to hear him play.
Fields, a pianist who performs at the upscale Italian restaurant near Columbus Circle six days a week, has incredible vigor for his age.
The owner, Nino Selimaj, tries to convince him to take time off, but his response is the same each time.
“When I play I’m the happiest person in the world,” Fields said.
Perhaps what is most remarkable about Fields is not his tenacity, but his ability to compose music—and good music at that—within short intervals of time.
He can compose a melody in as little as two minutes. Even though he is nearing 100 years old, his mind doesn’t cease to create catchy little tunes.
On July 3 and 4 he will be playing his original composition “Here’s to the Lady: A Song for The Statue of Liberty” at Nino’s. He not only plays, but sings too. His Fourth of July song also includes charming lyrics.
Fields has been performing in New York City since the 1920’s. He can compose and perform in the style of classical, opera, oldies, as well as popular songs such as those made famous by Frank Sinatra.
Fields received his first piano lesson at age eight in Brooklyn, on a $50 piano.
At age 15 he was chosen out of 500 contestants as the winner of the Fred Allen Radio Amateur Hour and was given a one-week engagement at the Roxy Theater.
“They picked me because I can take any song and play it like an orchestra,” he said.
Fields does have a remarkable ability to quickly create harmonies, as well as rhythmic variations for both famous and new compositions.
He was educated at the prestigious Eastman School of Music, before composing “Miami Beach Rhumba,” which became a hit performed by Spanish-American bandleader Xavier Cugat, and it was also used in Woody Allen’s film Deconstructing Harry.
Fields has performed at Carnegie Hall nine times, and composed campaign songs for politicians such as Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Rudy Giuliani.
He has spent his life performing around the world, but since Sept. 2004 he has been performing exclusively at Nino’s.
He even composed a song dedicated to their “Albania Beans,” his favorite dish.
“Everybody wants Irving, I’m blessed to have him. He’s a great human being,” said Nino Selimaj, the owner of the restaurant.
“A lot of customers come just to listen to his songs, to his voice,” he said. “He’s an inspiration to all of us. He’s been entertaining for 70 years.”
“Sometimes I tell him to take a day off, but he says ‘I love this. I want to be here six days.’ Even if I call him for seven days, he will come,” Selimaj said.