/BY MARCIA JAFFE/
I was enthralled with the Jewish Film Festival movie, “What He Did For Love,” spotlighting Marvin Hamlisch’s stellar talent as a 7-year-old when his father took him to enroll in Julliard.
Van Cliburn, Shirley Temple Black, McCauley Culkin, Natalie Portman, Michael Jackson grew up in front of our eyes, fascinated audiences, and morphed into adulthood.
The cards are still out on Atlanta’s newest resident star Justin Bieber.
Other musicians, Mozart, Chopin, Beverly Sills, YoYoMa, and Yehua Mehuhin were all performing at an age when the rest of us were playing cops and robbers or hide-and-seek.
We all envision the delicate balance of keeping an unspoiled child star on the right path for a healthy, if not normal, adulthood.
In our lifetime, there is yet another (Jewish) boy with the unfathomable gift of music (and charisma) in his soul.
Coming to Atlanta on Sunday night, April 13, to the old Roxy (Buckhead Theatre), the “in culture crowd” will thrill to Ethan Bortnick’s piano virtuosity, stage presence, and witness the spontaneity of composing “on the spot.”
The 13-year-old Ethan Bortnick has moved audiences nationally and internationally as a pianist, composer, singer, entertainer, and a driven humanitarian, dedicated to combining his musical pursuits with his charity work.
He has toured the world, connecting with diverse audiences in countries like South Africa, Brazil, Canada and Australia.
In 2011, he made history as the youngest entertainer to headline a show in Las Vegas. He has also earned the distinction of being named the youngest musician to be endorsed by a premier instrument manufacturer through his Gibson Guitar/Baldwin Piano sponsorship.
His musical director is Dave Rosenthal, whom he shares with Billy Joel, the “Piano Man” himself. Ticketmaster reported a 100 percent positive feedback rating from concert attendees.
Growing Up “Tickling the Ivories”
At the age of 3, the Hollywood, Fla. native begged his parents for piano lessons and discovered an uncanny ability to hear a song once and play it back note for note – the musical equivalent of a photographic memory.
The piano whiz does not come from a musical family. He began picking out melodies with one finger on an eight-note children’s keyboard. .
He soaked up the music of such diverse artists and composers as Beethoven, Mozart, jazz pianist Bill Evans, Little Richard, and Elton John, and began writing original compositions at age 5.
One fan commented, “It’s hard to believe he is a child. His tiny fingers dance on the keyboard. After a minute on stage, it’s like watching a small adult.”
Tikun Olam- The Heart To Give Back
When Ethan was 5, his younger brother (now 8 and healthy) had three heart surgeries. That emotional time eventually inspired him to use his musical talents to benefit charity.
“I remember going to Miami Children’s Hospital and seeing a lot of sick children. I learned that some of these kids could not afford surgery so the hospital raised money for them. It made me want to help these kids,” Ethan explains.
Bortnick has helped to raise over $30,000,000 for nonprofits around the world. At charity events he’s shared the stage with such legends as Elton John, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Beyoncé, and Reba McEntire,.
In 2010 he joined some of music’s biggest names – including Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, the Black Eyed Peas, Justin Bieber, and Tony Bennett as the youngest of the all-star lineup that recorded “We Are The World 25 For Haiti.”
For a Parkinson’s Disease fundraiser, he wrote a song, “The Champ” which was performed for Mohammed Ali, who embraced him on stage.
Bortnick has been featured on many national television shows, including multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America and Oprah, where he was named one of Oprah’s All Time Smartest, Most Talented Kids!
In 2010, Ethan made history as the youngest musician to create and host his own award-winning, nationally-televised concert special on PBS, which aired over 600 times on Public Television stations nationwide.
Legend Quincy Jones has this to say of his songcraft: “Ethan’s imagination and ability to create music from stories is unbelievable.”
Bortnick completed shooting a full-length feature film called “Anything Is Possible” which was released in September 2013 to rave reviews. He co-wrote all of the songs in the film and scored all the background music; a soundtrack was released simultaneously.
He starred as Nathan, the main character, and the touching plot reflected Bortnick’s sense of optimism and commitment to bring warmth and happiness to kids and families worldwide.
It’s a fitting storyline for a boy who is on an epic music-career journey, but remains pure and humble when sharing his talents. (“Humble” is an operative word; because that’s what he told Oprah he strives to be.)
Up Close-One on One with Ethan
Marcia Jaffe: So Ethan, you’re coming to Atlanta…what do you know about Atlanta?
Ethan Bortnick: I’ve played in Atlanta several times. I understand “yawl.” I am super excited to be back there in April.
MJ: What’s your day like? How do you “keep it normal?”
EB: I go to Jewish Day School. It’s small so my teachers can keep up with me. On the road, we Skype. I really like a variety of subjects and can’t be pigeonholed as a math/science guy vs. an English “type.”
I spend a lot of time doing fun things to keep balanced. I play video games, read – I like sports (with my 8-year-old brother). I also like to draw.
I have to be careful not to damage my fingers! I eat and breathe like everyone else. I do need a lot of sleep. Bedtime is 9:30.
MJ: You said to Oprah that you were “humble;” what do your parents do to keep you grounded?
EB: Believe me, I don’t consider myself to be “the best.” Not the best performer, not the best musician. Lots of people are better than me. And people don’t like braggarts. I still have a lot to learn.
MJ: What is your next great goal? Carnegie Hall? Lincoln Center?
EB: Actually I have played at Lincoln Center already. The truth is I don’t plan far out, I like spontaneity. I do whatever happens; and that’s why my concerts flow with how the audience reacts.
MJ: I see you donate to Chabad? Is that where you belong?
EB: Yes, I go to the Hollywood Chabad, and have given concerts to help them fundraise.
MJ: Were you bar mitzvah’d? Was it “off the hook”?
EB: Yes and no, my bar mitzvah was intimate and heartfelt; family came from all over-even Israel to celebrate.
MJ: Your gift of music, do you think you have the ability to teach? Are you able to express what you hear /feel to help others learn?
EB: Of course there are traditional teaching methods, scales and stuff. It’s hard to teach someone prefect pitch or to have a good ear. I tried instructing my brother and it didn’t work out so well.
MJ: If you could spend an evening with a famous person, who would it be?
EB: That’s a hard one. We all have special talents. Some share and can help the world; others are not in that position. Famous entertainers along the way have mentored me about music or by just watching them perform. Elton John suggested I learn a particular Chopin piece, for example.
MJ: Have you been or performed in Israel?
EB: My parents [Hannah and Gene] are from Ukraine, and we have many relatives in Israel. But I have never visited there. Of course, I want to!
MJ: I once heard a famous maestro say he dreams in music. Have you ever experienced this?
EB: Yes, sometimes I compose in my sleep or subconsciously.
MJ: Have you ever had a crazy unplanned moment on stage?
EB: Yes, many. In Ohio, the power went off. I made it a more intimate experience and played piano normally and just sang louder. Another time, a drunk started yelling that he wanted to propose to his girlfriend, so I played a love song for him and went with the flow. Sometimes people join me on stage and faint. That is not so much fun.
MJ: If Atlantans want to know one thing about you that no one else knows, what would it be?
EB: I am “quad” lingual. I speak Chinese, Russian, Hebrew, in addition to English. And I can sing in Japanese! And something really funny is after a concert I really like to eat. I can eat up the whole restaurant. Watch out Atlanta!
MJ: I have the last word. Ethan, you could ditch the musical gig and be a politician.
And I can’t wait to hear you play, “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
On With the Show
His deep musical knowledge and broad tastes make his performance a “family friendly” treat. Onstage Ethan performs relaxing jazz, dazzling classical music, raise-the-roof rock ‘n roll, and his own memorable originals.
He knows hundreds of songs that he can instantly call up to memory. Just by looking out at the crowd and gauging their reactions to songs. Sets can go from Beethoven to the Beatles to Bieber. It’s all a natural flow for Ethan, and he’s always relaxed before performances.
“I don’t get nervous before a concert,” he says. “I usually play video games and as soon as they say ‘Ladies and Gentlemen Please Welcome’…I give the video game to my dad and run onstage.”
Atlantans should run as well to see Ethan on April 13.
To get tickets, go to www.EthanTickets.com click on events, concert tours, Atlanta. $41/person.