Lakeway resident Andrew Heller, 70, has sung his whole life, but never recorded an album until a decade ago, when is wife Mary Ann, pushed him into the recording studio. Now, Heller’s nine albums featuring jazz, country and inspirational music are played across the globe and earned him recognition on national music charts and in music news publications. But Heller’s particular musical passions, and the focus of his two newest albums, are the “American Songbook” and Frank Sinatra.
“Sinatra is the person who made the ‘American Songbook’ what it is by introducing, basically, jazz interpretation to the ‘American Songbook,’ ” Heller said at his home on Jan. 26, rapping on his coffee table to demonstrate how Sinatra moved his sung notes around the beat. “He’s always going to phrase around it to make the story. And he told the story as a jazz singer.”
His most recent album, “Sinatra My Way,” and his as-of-yet unnamed album to come out in the spring both feature Sinatra’s music and are inspired by his style but, Heller emphasized, are not imitations of Sinatra.
“I wanted to do one on the anniversary of Sinatra’s 100th birthday, which was a tribute to him,” Heller said. “I looked at all of the other things that were being done, and they were all imitations of him. That’s not the way he would have done a tribute … he would have put his spin on their stuff. So I decided to do Sinatra my way, which is where the title came from. People like it enough – we’re still getting reviews from around the world, England, Germany, Belgium and France in the last two weeks.”
Heller, 70, has sung since he was a child and was classically trained as an opera singer, learning from influential individuals such as Leonard Bernstein and performing at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Heller said he discovered jazz gave him more freedom as a singer, and while attending college in Columbia performed at four-star restaurants for meals and drinks.
But Heller is a computers guy – in fact, Heller earned the prestigious title of IBM Fellow when he was just 27 years old, has helped start and mentor dozens of tech companies and owns more than a dozen software patents. He’s got a decently-sized store of tales involving working and goofing off with the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. During four decades of his career, Heller said he never worked less than 100 hours a week, and only sang on his wife’s birthday or for charity events. But his passion always remained.
“The musical arts and singing and technology and engineering have always gone together,” Heller said. “They’ve been known to go together for a very, very long time. It’s the same part of the brain.”
It wasn’t until one fateful Christmas more than a decade ago when his wife Mary Ann told him she’d been saving money for years to get Heller to record an album.
“I wanted a recording to send to friends and relatives so if he died at least we would have a copy of his voice,” Mary Ann Heller said, “because he wouldn’t sing.”
Now, Mary Ann runs DiamonDisc Records, who recorded most of Heller’s albums. Mary Ann and her husband have also donated large sums to multiple hospitals as well as to education and the arts, and Mary Ann’s charitable efforts have earned her the high title of Dame of Malta, an order which reports straight to the Pope.
Andrew Heller has performed before audiences big and small in Austin, Nashville and all over the country, and is set to be featured on the “Today Show” “Harry Connick Jr.” and the “Steve Harvey Show” on Feb. 14 to promote his latest album. He said that in the future he hopes to perform more live shows. The charity work he does with his wife and his performances for audiences young and old are all for one purpose, after all.
“Make people happy,” Heller said. “I watch the audience, and I’ll move the phrasing and the way I’m presenting around what I’m seeing from their reaction. And no two audiences are alike.”
Heller’s album coming out in the spring will be dedicated to their son Steven, 28, who died unexpectedly on Jan. 27