A homecoming song
Ira Antelis, Lee Musiker return to release CD collaboration
By Olivia Cuccaro
It has been said that the bonds formed in college can last a lifetime. Many pairs of friends make memories long after their undergraduate days are done. Others make an album.
In March 2015, Ira Antelis and Lee Musiker returned to campus to release Gone But Not, a CD of piano compositions composed by Antelis and performed by Musiker. But four decades earlier, the duo was just meeting as Harpur College undergraduates with musical aspirations.
For Musiker, Binghamton University circa 1975 "offered a strong Music Department as well as a robust liberal arts education."
"I was a music major from the first moment I set foot on campus," he says. "The exposure to jazz, music theory and composition had a profound and lifelong impact on me as a student, professional and now as an educator."
While Antelis admits he was not as certain of his career path as a freshman, music was always the "priority."
A member of fraternity Tau Alpha Upsilon, (where he was nicknamed "Tiger" by Musiker, as Antelis carried a tiger while pledging) Antelis' on-campus involvement also included music — directing shows, playing backup piano in the jazz band and working in the theater for class credit.
"The passion that I always felt for music blossomed at Binghamton," Antelis says. "It's where I first started composing, which later became the way in which I was able to establish myself in music. It became obvious to me after hearing Lee play that jazz piano wasn't going to work out for me. So being at Binghamton set me on the course for my future, though it was the first of many steps."
One of those steps was starting Shafer Antelis Music in 1987. It became one of the top music houses for jingles in the United States. Antelis was later instrumental in starting Music Dealers, a music licensing company with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and London. Since its 2008 inception, Music Dealers has worked with major brands such as MTV, The Coca-Cola Company and Disney, and has earned emerging artists and composers more than $15 million.
Antelis' catalog includes jingles that ring more than a few bells. He is credited with "Be Like Mike" for Gatorade as well as "I'm Lovin' It" for McDonald's. Antelis also co-wrote "No One," which was featured on singer Marc Anthony's self-titled, triple-platinum 1999 album.
"As far as music, I've had an amazing career," Antelis says. "[I've] written some of the most memorable jingles of our time, worked with many major recording artists, and have gotten up every day for the last 30 years and worked in this industry creating, producing and consulting on music projects. I've been blessed."
After spending his own time at Binghamton playing piano in the jazz ensemble, acting as a pianist and music director for a local dinner theater and "lots of jam sessions," Musiker too followed a musical path.
He describes his current occupation as "pianist, arranger/orchestrator, music director, conductor, producer and educator in the jazz, Broadway, pop and classical genres."
Under this large umbrella, Musiker has performed and recorded with artists such as Michael Bublé, Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban, and guest-conducted numerous orchestras across the country including the New York Philharmonic. Since 2001, he has toured with Tony Bennett. Musiker served as music director and pianist for the Grammy Award–winning album Tony Bennett: Duets — An American Classic, Duets 2, and most recently was music director/vocal arranger for the Bennett/Lady Gaga collaboration, Cheek to Cheek.
Despite an expansive list of accomplishments, Musiker said his greatest is a different kind of legacy. His daughter, Rachel Musiker, is a member of Binghamton University's Class of 2016.
With a collective 80 years of achievements in tow, Antelis and Musiker went back to the start in the spring and gave a free concert at Casadesus Recital Hall for the launch of their joint album.
A few months earlier, Antelis found himself in the Binghamton area and decided to take a walk down memory lane — also known as Vestal Parkway East.
"Not remembering my way around, I somehow ended up in the practice rooms in the Fine Arts Building where I spent so much time," he says. "Nothing had really changed there in 40 years, so it was somewhat surreal."
Antelis says it was after this visit that the idea to host a recital on campus came to him.
"It dawned on me that this piano jazz album I was working on with Lee Musiker should have its release at the school where we met," Antelis says. "What better place?"
"We were thrilled to be back performing in Casadesus Hall for students, friends, our daughters, and former teachers Al Hamme and Doug Beardsley," Musiker adds. "Ira and I also had the opportunity to teach in the Music Department — thrilling to be at the front of the classroom."
"[Binghamton] was a great choice to explore what made sense for me," says Antelis, who returned to Harpur College this semester to teach a Music Department course about how music projects evolve. "By the end of my first year . . . it started to feel like home. [The album launch] was a weekend I'll always remember."