Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett's longtime pianist, dies in Boulder at 91
The Denver Post
3 April 2015
People in the music business called Ralph Sharon "The Phantom."
Whether it was Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall or the Hollywood Bowl, Sharon — who played piano with Tony Bennett for 45 years — would disappear after every gig.
"As a kid, it was kind of endearing because there were all these famous people surrounding him at all times, and dad was like, 'Let's get dinner, let's go home,' " said Sharon's son Bo. "He was always happy to play, and he was always aware that his role as a father and a husband was first."
After performing nearly 300 shows a year with Bennett for more than four decades, Ralph Sharon retired to Boulder in 2002. On March 31, the 10-time Grammy winner died at the age of 91. Only months earlier, he was still playing shows in Boulder and Denver.
"His passion was music, so if you had a piano and the time for him, he'd be there," Bo Sharon said of his father.
"When he was 84, he was still working four or five days around town. We'd go, 'Dad, you're supposed slowing down.' "
Sharon was born in London in 1923. His mother — a pianist for silent movies — encouraged him to start learning the piano as a child. By the time he was 23, Sharon had a spot in Ted Heath's band, one of the top English swing orchestras of the era. In 1953, he moved to America, and three years later got a call from Tony Bennett.
"The story goes that dad went in for a blind audition and was hired on the spot," Bo Sharon said.
Soon, Bennett and Ralph Sharon became as close as brothers.
"Ralph Sharon was a very talented musician and a gifted musical director who I was honored to work with for many years," Bennett said in a statement to The Denver Post. "He found my signature song, 'I Left My Heart In San Francisco,' so for that alone I will be forever appreciative."
At every show, Bennett would take a moment and thank Ralph Sharon for being with him for so many years, Bo Sharon said.
"That was always a proud moment for me, because the audience would stand up and the audience would clap," Bo said.
Throughout his career, he recorded 30 albums of his own, contributed on all of Bennett's albums for 45 years and, along with his Grammys, won the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors Gold Badge of Merit.
"Ralph Sharon is a consummate artist, composer, orchestrater, magnificent piano player, writer, humorist. But more than anything he is a great human being," Bennett told the Camera in 2003.
Aside from being a good guy, he was humble, dedicated, and didn't care about fame or money, Bo said. Ralph Sharon only wanted to play music.
"To me he was just my dad, and my father was a very humble man," Bo said. "But I'll quote other people and say he was one of the best accompanists in jazz ever."
Ralph Sharon is survived by his wife Linda and son Bo.
Funeral arrangements are pending. Donations can be made to MusiCares.