Johnny Mathis
Johnny Mathis
"Chances are" that, if you get "misty" and "a certain smile" crosses your lips when you hear the name Johnny Mathis, you're a baby boomer. Like most boomers, you probably spent some quality make-out time with one or more of the singer's innumerable top 40 hits playing in the background--most likely, it was something from his third hit album, Rhythms and Ballads of Broadway (1960), which featured songs from West Side Story ("Maria," "Somewhere"), Gypsy ("Small World"), My Fair Lady, and Flower Drum Song. Now, the legendary singer is revisiting the music of the Main Stem with his latest CD, Mathis on Broadway.

While Broadway's reign as the birthplace of pop music may be over, Mathis goes on forever. He sounds 25 in his snazzy rendition of "On Broadway" (featured in Smokey Joe's Café) on the new album. And the disc reveals the veteran popster's dramatic side in his moving reading of Jean Valjean's aching prayer from Les Misérables, "Bring Him Home." Mathis also discovers the passion of Stephen Sondheim's "Loving You" in a deeper, richer vocal range than some may remember.

"I was so excited to do the new stuff," Mathis enthuses during a phone chat from his home in L.A. "Of course, I've seen The Lion King, Phantom, and Smokey Joe's Café, but I must admit I hadn't heard "Loving You" [from Passion] until I heard a snippet in a tribute to Sondheim. That one is really surprising. And so is the "Children Will Listen" [Into the Woods) duet with Betty Buckley; we had an entire orchestra and Betty there at Capitol studios in Hollywood, and we did it all. I love singing duets. I haven't done anything like this since my last album with Henry Mancini."

Mathis is happy to talk about the early days of his career. "When I started to sing [at age 13 at the Black Hawk Jazz Club in his native San Francisco], my dad -- who was a terrific singer himself, and a real booster of mine -- thought that even if I was lucky enough to get a hit record, I'd probably be happiest singing in front of people. You know, you can't base a career on hit records. You're lucky to get one, and I've been very lucky. So, over the years, I've just been having a ball going on stage and finding the instant gratification of performing for a live audience. I still do concerts at least 20 weeks a year."

Mathis with Betty Buckleyand Nell Carter
Mathis with Betty Buckley
and Nell Carter
He recalls being discovered by the head of Columbia Records' jazz division: "My first recording was a 'pseudo jazz' album [with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet and Gil Evans], because my producer was a jazzer. I've always loved jazz, but I was never really a jazz singer. It wasn't until I met Mitch Miller, who was in charge of pop music at Columbia, that I found the direction in which I would continue: to sing popular songs of the day, be they romantic or Broadway songs or what have you. I worked with most of the great arrangers: Percy Faith, Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini. But my other great passion in life is golf, and most of my friends are from that world, not music." (Mathis has a nine handicap and has hosted tournaments in Ireland and England.)

Mr. M. will take time out from the Seniors Tour at the Los Angeles Golf Club to appear on April 25 at the New Amsterdam Theatre, where he will perform two numbers from his new CD in the 14th Annual Easter Bonnet Competition to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (sponsored by Target Stores). For "On Broadway," Mathis will be backed by "The Targettes": Sean McDermott (Grease), David Campbell (Saturday Night), Andrea McArdle (Beauty and the Beast), and Paige Price (Saturday Night Fever). Plus, the boys of Forever Plaid will return once again from the great beyond to join him on "Life is Just A Bowl of Cherries."

A few balcony tickets at $20 are still available for the event, which begins at 4pm. Call BC/EFA at 212-840-0770 for info.