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Who the heck is this Iturbi guy


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Iturbi with one of his favorite things--his motorcycle. Photo courtesy Jose Domenech-Part.

  If you’re not here on purpose, you’re probably wondering how you got here and just why you should give a hoot about José Iturbi

Well, if you have the slightest interest in classical music, boogie-woogie, or piano in general, you will find Iturbi of great interest. Unjustly forgotten today, he was once a household word for his beautiful playing, and just when everyone was sure classical music was all he was capable of, he shocked the musical world by ripping out floor-burning boogie. He was the first classical artist to produce a "gold" record -- and he did it not once, but twice! In 1947 he collected the highest royalty check RCA-Victor had ever handed out, mostly from the sales of one single record, Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat. By 1974 that same record had surpassed the "two-million copies sold" mark.

If you have any interest in orchestras or conductors, you will find Iturbi of interest because he didn’t simply cross the line from pianist to conductor—he deliberately straddled that line, becoming a conductor of note from the piano as well as from the platform. He frequently soloed and conducted at the same time.

If you like vintage movies, especially those lavish MGM musicals from the 1940’s, you may have already seen Iturbi—in fact, if you’ve seen Anchors Aweigh, you have seen him. Now it’s time to learn a little more about this "unknown movie star."

If you don’t give a hang about music or old movies, but you like reading about guys who’ve "been there and done that," Iturbi is your man. He was born poor, but through a combination of talent and very hard work, he became rich and famous. He dated movie stars, and later in life he became a movie star himself. He’s probably the only concert pianist who worked out with a punching bag every day. He lived for speed, driving fast cars, riding his motorcycle like a maniac, and flying his own airplane to his concerts. And even with everything else, he never lost sight of his beginnings. He was a friend and helper to many—whether they were old buddies or people he’d never met before.

If you have an interest in the history of flight, Iturbi would probably rate his own chapter. He was flying, first as a passenger and then as a pilot, long before it became the relatively safe transportation it is now. When it seemed more planes were falling out of the sky than staying up, Iturbi bought his own plane, learned how to fly, and logged hundreds of thousands of miles, surviving some 18 or so "air mishaps" along the way. One of his many nicknames was "the flying fool."

Iturbi once said "Life is a meal, and music is the roast beef. But who can live on only roast beef? You must have your brandy and dessert and cigar. And so I must have my boxing and my airplane and my motorcycle."

Stick around for a few minutes and meet the man.