John Tesh is instantly familiar. And very, very tall.
His face, with its shock of blonde hair and blue eyes, peered back at us from our television sets for more than a decade as co-host of Entertainment Tonight. His deep, booming voice entertains and soothes us with antidotes and information we can bring into our everyday lives via his wildly popular syndicated radio program “Intelligence for Your Life.” This fall marks his return to the small screen as the show makes its television debut—with his wife, actress and former model Connie Sellecca, and his stepson, actor Gib Gerard, co-anchoring.
An accomplished pianist, the Garden City native has risen past mere fame to become a fixture of our culture. And yet, his instincts lead him in near-constant praise of others. Among those Tesh admires most: Harry Connick, Jr. and fellow Long Islander Billy Joel.
“I played in a lot of rock bands on Long Island,” he reminisces over a pot of green tea at Maze, Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at The London NYC luxury hotel in midtown Manhattan. “I played at Atlantic Beach Club, I played at a place called the Chop House in Garden City. At the same time we were playing, Billy Joel was in a band called The Hassles. So we were kind of rival bands.”
Tesh pauses for a moment, then leans in and confides: “It wasn’t much of a rivalry: If he didn’t want to take a gig or if he was busy, we would get it.”
Tesh is no slouch himself. This multi-faceted talent wears several hats: a four-time Emmy Award-winner twice nominated for a Grammy; the author of Intelligence for Your Life: Powerful Lessons for Personal Growth, a New York Times bestseller; founder of marketing and advertising company TeshMedia, which boasts dozens of big name brands; a radio personality whose show brings in more than 8.2 million listeners per week; the leader and star of John Tesh: Big Band Live!—a 12-piece aural and visual tour through the golden years of 1920s through 1950s big band music, conquering one American city at a time as it treks across the country.
He attributes his various talents to ADD, harnessing a shortened attention span into a varied assortment of interests.
“This week, I’m a marketing guy,” he tells me. “I’m meeting with Kohl’s, Walgreens, Walmart, Home Depot. And I love the business part of that, actually becoming passionate about the show and showing clips, like ‘Here’s how you could be integrated, what the gross impressions are and everything, and the math part of that.’ I love it.
“But it’s fun to take that hat off,” he continues. “When we get back, we start production. So I’ll be the anchor guy. And then when I leave you, I’ll go upstairs and do the radio show. I’ll be the radio host.”
But where John Tesh really feels at home, the most alive and the most in tune with what makes his heart soar, is music.
“Being behind a grand piano is the coolest thing in the world,” he says. “Because it’s all live. You’re flying without a net.”
He attributes his love of music to his first teacher at Stewart Avenue Elementary School in Garden City when he was just 6 years old.
“Mr. Wagner taught me how to play trumpet,” says Tesh. “In first grade at Stewart Avenue School, he was the only one in the country doing this. As 6-year-olds, we were in the jazz bands. We were in the marching band. What he did was he created easy versions of all these arrangements. I got a chance to play in front of him not too long ago when we played at Westbury. He’s retired now.”
That love of performance has never left him.
“There’s really nothing like that feeling,” he says. “And it’s a codependency. We don’t play in front of Billy’s [Joel] audiences, maybe 1,500 to 2,000 people, but when people show up, I’m like ‘Holy shit!’”
If his past success is any indication, people will continue to show up in droves, turning to their television screens to watch the inborn chemistry he shares with his family as they broadcast from his guesthouse offering pieces of intelligence on everything from relationships, technology, finance, and well-being.
And if Billy Joel doesn’t want that Madison Square Garden gig, I know a guy who’d be glad to take it.