Irving Fields has got to be one in a million.
Consider the statistics. Of the 5.7 million Americans over the age of 85, only 33% are men, totaling 3.8 million. Of those, roughly 5% of them still work. That's 190,000 guys over 85 still in the labor force.
But how many of them play the piano professionally six nights a week? At 95?
Irving Fields has been entertaining audiences since 1930, when the 15-year-old won the Fred Allen Radio Amateur Hour and received a week's engagement at the Roxy Theater. By the time he was 18 and a student at the Eastman School of Music, he was playing cruises, where he developed a passion for Latin American music. (Check out this vintage video of him playing "The Mexican Hotfoot.")
That passion led to his biggest hits as a composer, including "Miami Beach Rhumba" which was recorded by Xavier Cugat, and a series of albums where he fused Latin music with other styles, like Jewish klezmer tunes in Bagels and Bongos, surely the best album title ever.
Irving continues to innovate to this day, composing the "youtube.com Theme Song," the hilarious video that has received more than 800,000 views.
But every Tuesday through Sunday from 7-10 p.m., he tinkles the ivories at Nino's Tuscany to a loyal following that includes celebrities who seem young by comparison: Tony Bennett, Angie Dickinson, Rudy Giuliani, Regis Philbin, Donald Trump and Jackie Mason. Irving makes a point of visiting every table and asking for their favorite song. "Nine times out of ten, I know it, so I'll play that for them," he says, "creating arrangements and medleys on the spot so it's always interesting."
I'm not sure which is more impressive -- that his memory is so sharp, or that he can still play at all. Fields has both arthritis and carpal tunnel, yet finds playing piano to be therapeutic. "The more I play, the better it feels. I play one note, I get six months younger. I play two, I'm a year younger. I play a whole concerto and I'm like Benjamin Button -- I'm not even born."
When asked to the secret of his longevity, Irving offers these tips:
Maintain a sense of humor. You'll never have ulcers.
Keep busy. If you retire, find a hobby.
And my favorite:
Never make a decision while intoxicated.
Irving will celebrate his 95th birthday this Wednesday, August 4 at a party he promises will be "so jam-packed we'll have to put tables on the piano."
And since it's a work night, he's certain to put on a show. "I'm playing better now than ever, taking more chances," he says. "I play with more feeling because I've been around a long time."
What's more, he's grateful for the gig: "I'm glad to be at Nino's Tuscany, At my age, I'm glad to be anywhere."
And that, my friends, is The Upside.
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