John Wallowitch, New York Cabaret Fixture, Dies at 82

Obituaries   John Wallowitch, New York Cabaret Fixture, Dies at 82 John Wallowitch, a figure long prominent in New York's small, cozy cabaret culture, died Aug. 15 in New York City at the age of 82. He had been battling cancer.

Mr. Wallowitch was something of an anachronism, writing sophisticated songs for a lost urban world of cocktails, nightclubs and café society. Nattily dressed in suit and bow tie, and wearing a bemused expression, he would have fit in snugly with the songwriters of the 1920s and '30s who once provided America with its popular songbook.

Stephen Holden in The New York Times once wrote, "While Noel Coward is no longer around to set the standards for a certain kind of sophisticated songwriting sensibility, Mr. Wallowitch nimbly carries the torch."

He composed more than 1,000 songs in his lifetime, including "Bruce" (often sung by Blossom Dearie), "I See the World Through Your Eyes," "Back on the Town," "Cosmetic Surgery," "Manhattan, You're a Dream," "This Moment," "Come a Little Closer," "I'm 27" and "Mary's Bar." His songs were recorded by Shirley Horn, Karen Akers, Dixie Carter (a particular champion), Tony Bennett and others.

John Wallowitch was born in South Philadelphia. He claimed that he wrote his first song when he was seven, a precocious ditty about suicide called "Waiting on Passyunk Bridge." He departed for New York when still in his teens to take advantage of a scholarship to attend the Julliard School. He studied classical music. After eight years, he made his concert debut at Carnegie Hall, and later toured the country accompanying Ethel Barrymore Colt. That gig and the good notices he got for it led to his touring Europe with the State Department.

His first song to be professionally recorded by a leading singer was "Say Hello For Me," sung by Julius Larosa, and written with composer Tony Scibetta, a frequent early collaborator. Fate intervened just as Mr. Wallowitch was about to achieve his biggest career coup. In the late '60s, Judy Garland was set to record a few of his songs, according to the composer. Unfortunately, she died just weeks before the scheduled studio session.

Mr. Wallowitch occasionally wrote musicals. His titles included Big Charlotte, The Pure at Heart, Summer House, Sweet Mistress and At the Sign of the Queen. The first was performed at La MaMa.

In 1984, he won great reviews for a show he did in tandem with his partner of many years, Bertram Ross, a former dancer with the Martha Graham troupe. After that, they frequently appeared as Wallowitch and Ross, recorded an album together and were the subject of a documentary, "Wallowitch and Ross: This Moment." Ross died in 2003.

In 2004, he was presented with The Blue Angel Award for outstanding contributions to the art of cabaret at the Hoboken Cabaret Festival. He also won both the MAC and the Bistro Award for Composer of the Year.

Last June, he starred as himself in two performances of the new musical Wallowitch At Home, Alone presented at the York Theatre Company.

For many years, Mr. Wallowitch lived around the corner from an elderly Irving Berlin, an idol of the songwriter. To pay tribute to his mentor, Mr. Wallowitch would every Christmas Eve gather a group together to sing in front of the Berlin address. In 1983, Berlin invited the chorus in. "He said it was the best Christmas present he ever got," he remembered. Mr. Wallowitch continued the tradition even after Berlin died.

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