2012-10-03 / Front Page

Bandleader Reflects: 25 Years of Music

By Tim Greco

Alex Donner at home in Cold Spring. 
Tim Greco Alex Donner at home in Cold Spring. Tim Greco Philipstown has always had it share of famous residents from the entertainment world; many, in fact, see the area as a solace from the fame game.

One such resident is singer and band leader Alex Donner, who along with his band, The Alex Donner Orchestra, has obtained a measure of national and international success. Donner has lived in the area for 14 years and is celebrating 25 years in show business.

Donner lived in beautiful spacious home in Garrison for many years with a household, but then decided to sell his large home, “I was a bachelor.” He then moved back full time to the city, but Philipstown still had its hooks in him. He decided to move back to the area a few years later and buy a home in Cold Spring. Here, he put his green thumb to work and designed all the landscaping. “I love it here and I’m not moving again.”

Donner got his start in the business while studying at the Paris-Sorbonne University. A friend of his played the guitar and he also played about 4 chords, so naturally they took their act down to the Metro subway: “At first nothing happened and eventually people started throwing pennies into the guitar case, then after a while they started throwing in francs.”

Eventually, they were approached by someone in the music business who noticed he had a good voice. He was asked to audition for a band and he got the gig. After college, Donner got a job as a singer at the El Morocco Club, a hot night club frequented by the rich and famous. After the club switched over to discotheque and Donner lost his job, it was then that he decided to attended law school at Fordham, but continued to play at various events on the weekends.

After completing his course of study at college and passing the bar exam, Donner joined a NYC law firm and became a well-known divorce lawyer in his own-right. “During the week, I would do divorces and on the weekends, I perform at weddings with the band.”

It was also at the law firm that his music career was kicked into high gear and – as luck would have it – one of the lawyers in the firm was the infamous Roy Cohn.

Cohn would quite often throw lavish parties and Donner was hired to play many of them.

It was at these celebrated parties at Studio 54 where Donner made his connections with the rich and famous and became an in-demand singer and band leader. What was Roy Cohn like? “Roy believed the world was friends and enemies and there wasn’t anything in between, so if you were a friend everything was fantastic, if you were an enemy, watch out.”

Donner pointed out that he worked with Cohn late in his career, “Many people thought they were getting Roy to handle their divorce, but they were really getting Alex Donner.”

After the Studio 54 gigs, Donner’s network expanded and he was off to India to play a second-time around wedding for a former divorce client. It was there he was pictured in Town and Country leading the band. The Associated Press news wire picked it up and his career suddenly exploded. He was left with a choice, “This was when Roy was dying, the law firm’s switchboard was jammed with calls for the band and they called me in and said you can’t do both. I said, ‘it’s been great, thank you very much…’ ”

That was twenty five years ago, when Donner left his successful law practice to devote himself to his first love – performing with the band. He never looked back. As Donner puts it, “Weddings are a lot more fun than divorces.”

Donner has performed for President Ronald Reagan, as well as the inauguration of the elder President George Bush, and a host of other well-known names.

The Orchestra changes from 4 to 25 members, “Somewhere like the Kennedy Center we might have 25. Depending on the venue, it varies.”

One of the standouts of his career ‘Doing a duet with Jimmy Buffett at Versailles, I sang ‘Margaritaville’ with him and he sang ‘Mack the Knife’ with me.”

Don’t be fooled: Donner’s music is not just big band classics. “We play everything, we might start out with a Sinatra swing and then get into Motown classics and then rock and finish up with contemporary music, whatever is on the charts today, Lady Gaga or Timberlake.”

For bookings or more information http://www.alexdonner.com/

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