NEW YORK – There’s an upcoming concert at Baruch College, but it has nothing to do with students. The performers are in their 90s, and one is even older than the Manhattan school founded in 1919.
Pianist and composer Irving Fields, who turned 99 last week, was set to perform at a show Monday night dubbed “90 and Going Strong” at the college along with Emmy-winning entertainer Fyvush Finkel and clarinetist Sol Yaged, both 91. The concert celebrates their passion and commitment to music and live performance despite their age.
“I call myself 99 years young. Age is just a number,” Fields says. “Music keeps me younger. . . . I play 10 notes, I’m 40 years younger. I play a whole concerto, I’m like Benjamin Button!”
The trio’s concert is its second in a month at the 175-seat Engelman Recital Hall in the Baruch Performing Arts Center.
“It was so successful. It was jam-packed,” Fields says of their first show.
The performers have played music since their teenage years and enjoyed success by writing songs and appearing on television, in films and onstage. Fields, who recorded many albums, has written songs recorded by Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Shore. He also composed “Miami Beach Rhumba,” which was used in Woody Allen’s “Deconstructing Harry.”
It’s a Friday afternoon rehearsal and the men are chatting away, sipping coffee and eating bagels. They have known one another for years and say their passion for music remains strong.
“What key are we in?” Yaged, holding his clarinet, says to Fields.
“I said D! I’ll give you my hearing aid. I have an extra one,” he replies as Finkel laughs.
Later, while performing together, Fields speeds up on piano.
“I’m not ready for your tempo yet!” Yaged yells.
“I love you, but you drive me nuts,” Fields replies.
Despite some tense moments, there’s a sense of love — for one another and for music — which is evident once the trio tighten their lips and play their instruments.
Yaged, who was heavily influenced by Benny Goodman, was set to perform with a five-piece band during the “90 and Going Strong” concert. During rehearsals, he plays a clarinet he remembers buying in 1935 for $125, which he earned from shining shoes. He charged customers a nickel.
Finkel, too, recalls his first paying gig at a Jewish theater in Brooklyn when he was 9.
“A dollar a night. I was the hero of the family,” says the actor, singer and comedian, who would open the Monday show.
Finkel earned an Emmy Award in 1994 for his role in the TV drama series “Picket Fences.” He has appeared in various films and television shows, including “Boston Public.”
They want audiences to not be fooled by their age — they say they feel stronger than ever in their 90s. When I ask how different performing today is compared to their earlier years, Finkel says: “Big difference. I’ll tell you the difference.”
“We get paid now,” Yaged chimes in.
“Our least interest is to get paid. But to get on we get such a thrill,” Finkel adds. “In fact, we do things better now than we did before. To me every show is an opening night.”
Fields, who performs regularly at Nino’s Tuscany in New York City, echoes Finkel’s sentiment.
“I’ve lived longer. I’ve seen more of life,” he says. “I take chances now on things I couldn’t do, and it works.”
Fields is working on a documentary about his career and has penned a song honoring the Statue of Liberty called “Here’s to the Lady.”
He says he doesn’t plan to slow down in his career.
“I’m only 99, and well, I hope I live to be 109,” Fields says. “I want to at least get to 100. I am so fulfilled when I play your favorite song.”