New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of. That being said, what would you say grabbed you to move to our fine city?
I had wanted to live in New York City for as long as I can remember and never had any doubt in my mind that I would move here as soon as possible. I grew up in a conservative suburb in Michigan, and I was obsessed with any movies that took place in NYC (“Home Alone 2,” “Annie,” “Oliver & Company,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” etc). Even after seeing a tragedy like “West Side Story,” I was like, I gotta get there! In my teens I became a huge jazz fan, and that enhanced my love for this city even more. I couldn’t wait to live here and go to all the legendary jazz clubs like the Village Vanguard, Smalls, Birdland, etc. and hear my heroes play.
What would you say was the hardest thing about NYC when you first landed here?
The hardest part was figuring out how to make money. I foolishly believed I could move here and start working as a musician. I can’t imagine how I thought that would be possible. My first couple years of living here I had so many different jobs that I can’t even remember them all: sales associate at Banana Republic, waiter at multiple restaurants, television PA, receptionist at an investment bank. That’s not even half of them!
You’ve worked with many artists. Who would you say is the wildest person to work with?
Honestly, the wildest person I’ve ever worked with is my good friend Katie Mack. She and I used to host/play for an amazing ensemble cabaret show called Cranky Cabaret (you can still check this show out!), and she would do the most insane stunts on these shows.
She would jump off the piano, eat pints of ice cream while singing, make out with me on stage, or another performer, or the entire audience. She just had so much fun and always pushed the line in the most exhilarating way. She still performs all over the city and writes her own stuff. You must check out the brilliant Katie Mack!
Tell our readers about your wild greatest experience to date?
This may not be your definition of “wild,” but a couple of years ago I got to play piano for auditions for a Julie Andrews project, and SHE. IS. MY. HERO. I watched “Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins” over and over again as a child, and when she entered the room, I truly felt my entire body tremble in her glory. She introduced herself to everyone in the room. When she approached me, she shook my hand strongly and said, “Henry, it’s an absolute pleasure to meet you,” and it took all of my power not to burst into tears. For someone as legendary and iconic as her to remain so humble, kind and loving was a great lesson for me—there is no excuse to not be kind, even if you’re Julie Andrew. And then last year, a similar moment happened when I got to meet another hero, Michelle Obama, on national television, and I learned that very same lesson again. I won’t get into the details, because it’s on YouTube! Both of these women are absolute angels.
Being a newbie no longer, what advice would give to someone looking to break onto the scene?
Be open to trying new things! That is my greatest advice. Leave your apartment, go to all sorts of shows and meet people. This can be very hard, especially if you have shy tendencies (like me). But the more you do it, the easier it gets. And when you do get your first gig, go above and beyond and be perfect (and do this for your second gig as well, and your third, etc., etc., etc.).
What styles of music do you love playing?
I really love playing music theater music, because you get a little taste of every genre: jazz, classical, pop, rock, folk, etc. It’s all there.
You’ve had many great working moments. Which would you say is your favorite?
A few years ago, I had this bizarre inspiration to put up a staged version of “Star Wars Episode 1: Phantom Menace” with the songs of Annie mixed into the story. So I assembled a group of comedians/singers, and with the help of my friends at the Annoyance Theater NY (RIP), put together this mostly improvised theatrical performance of one of the worst movies of all time – with the characters bursting into the songs from one of my favorite musicals. It got a lot of attention and sold out very quickly, and the actual performance was so f***ed up and weird that it was simply…a delight! Everyone involved had so much fun doing this extremely specific and unique show, and I just felt so proud and thrilled that it came from my head, and that I had been able to make it happen.
Besides piano, which other instruments do you play?
I went to school for woodwinds, so I also play saxophone, clarinet, bassoon and flute. And in my late teens, I learned how to play the accordion.
So, you sing. Tell us about it.
Yes, I sing! My mother is an amazing coloratura soprano who travels all over the country performing, and is also a renowned voice teacher in Michigan, and because of this, as a kid, I was very resistant to singing, perhaps because I didn’t want to be compared with her.
I insisted that playing instruments was “my thing,” not singing. In college, I auditioned for my school’s vocal jazz ensemble (Gold Company), and that slowly turned me into someone who now loves to sing.
Have you had great people come into your life who believed in you as a person and your talents?
Yes, I’m so grateful to all the people who have taught me, hired me, helped me, supported me and more. One of my most influential teachers was Dr. Steve Zegree, who led the vocal jazz ensemble I was in. He pushed me so much when I was in college, and left me with lessons that I am still learning from today. He passed away a few years ago, and I felt like I had so much more to learn! His greatest teachings were a mix of how to be professional, and how to be a kind, loving human being.
I hear you are doing your first solo show. Are you excited?
Yes, I am thrilled! I have played for hundreds and hundreds of shows here in NYC as an accompanist or music director, and I’m so excited to finally do my thing. I’m so excited to share what I love about music with an audience.
What should the audience expect at your show?
They should expect fabulous music, some laughs and a lot of love. That’s all I want to say.
When and where is your show?
It’s at The Duplex Cabaret Theater in the West Village on October 18 and 24 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets can be found at hwww.henrykoperski.com/halopop
What do you want our readers to know about Henry Koperski?
I want them to know that I have love and healing to share with them. There is so much terror and sadness happening on our planet right now, but they should know that I intend to remain hopeful, active and full of love and compassion, no matter what. And I do mean that!