He won two Grammy Awards, conducted the Philly Pops orchestra and composed a choral and orchestral work inspired by Anne Frank’s diary
By Harrison Smith
When it came to music, pianist Peter Nero had little use for labels. For more than a half-century, the Juilliard-educated conductor, composer and musician seamlessly bridged pop, jazz and classical traditions, performing eclectic programs in which the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony might segue into the jazz standard “Darktown Strutters’ Ball.” Carole King and “Jesus Christ Superstar” tunes would give way to works by Gershwin and Chopin, and an aria from Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” would suddenly transform into the show tune “Memory,” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” — with a few classical allusions thrown in for good measure.
“That was ‘Memory,’ by Webber and Rice and Puccini and Ravel,” Mr. Nero would tell the audience, offering a characteristically mischievous explanation from the podium. Once, describing his improvisatory version of Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are,” he noted that the song was “semi-jazz and quasi-Bach.”