Adages - The Birdman of Madison Ave.: Adman whistles Debussy

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By day Steve Herbst is a senior VP at Bernard Hodes Group, a recruitment ad agency owned by Omnicom. By night he puckers up his kisser and warbles like a bluejay. Actually, Steve does not mimic birds, he's a worldwide grand champion whistler, so anointed last year by the International Whistler's Convention held in Louisburg, North Carolina. Steve took the crown by performing Franz Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2" and the crowd-pleasing "Danny Boy."

Adages caught up with Steve before he took off with some accompanists on a grand tour of Irish bars in Atlanta, Georgia. He'll perform hits from his new CD "Broadway and Beyond" (available on his Web site, "We are looking to recreate the success we had last year at Sally O'Brien's, a great Irish pub in Fort Lauderdale, Fla."

Steve, 57, started twittering Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsokav when he was a Queens schoolboy. His first big gig, while in college during the sixties, was performing for Japanese Emperor Hirohito's son in Philadelphia.

"I had to simulate a Japanese reed flute hitting high E Flat with a grace note," says Steve. Last year he performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Recently, he warbled with Les Paul at the Iridium jazz club in Manhattan. He often blows at the Sugar Bar, owned by Ashford & Simpson.

Steve says his tootling doesn't interfere with his day job. He's been with Hodes for 30 years. Does he whistle on the job? "I try to keep it to a minimum. People come down and ask, `Do you mind if I close your door?"' Steve says the marble foyer around the elevator bank in his building-Hodes' offices are in the old Daily News building on 42nd St., once the home of Ad Age-have great acoustics. "I like to whistle there, but I don't hang out there for long. Just while I'm waiting for the elevator." He also whistles while he walks his dog Sparky, and in the shower with his parrot, Verdi, who has his own perch in the shower. "Parrots love to shower," says Steve.

He once ran into Gary Richard, president of P.C. Richard & Son, the electronics retailer that has a long-running ad campaign featuring a distinctive whistle track. "Hey, call me if you want some new lips," Steve offered. Recently, Steve was called to lay down tracks for spots with Chase Manhattan, Pepsi, Chili's, and others. "Whistling in ads is coming back," he exults, signing off with an impeccable version of the classic Old Spice jingle.


Notoriously anti-commercial rock group Radiohead raised a fuss when the BBC used its single, "There,There" in a house ad. But San Francisco production startup Rehab scored a forest-fire-prevention spot with the band's "Pyramid." And it cost them only $1. Political hothead and Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke gave the green light to two 13-week cycles for the rock-bottom price. Meanwhile, the anti-social group's record label Capital EMI has begun a billboard campaign in big U.S. cities, promoting the release date of the group's latest album, "Hail to the Thief," a tribute to George Bush.

The boys of Sag Harbor

Four hundred showed up for a screening of Ron Berger of Havas agency MVBMS and publicist Dan Klores' new film "The Boys of 2nd Street Park" in Sag Harbor on Aug. 2. The after-party at Dan's house in Bridgehampton went into the wee hours. Donny Deutsch wore the Hamptons uniform (this year) of tight white T-shirt and white pants. Ann Marie Marcus and hubby Irik Sevin chatted with auteur Berger about MVBMS's new creative director, Kevin Roddy. Other party animals: "Law and Order's" Elizabeth Roehm; Richard Kirshenbaum; Bo Deitel, former NYPD detective; Don Imus; and Emil Griffith, the six-time world boxing champion who killed an opponent in the ring. (Berger and Klores are set to produce a documentary about Griffith.) Jeff Zucker from NBC was overheard telling Klores that he would have bought his film for NBC "in a second." Howard Stern discussed the film and party at length on his show Monday morning. He loved the film, but on air accused his attorney of stalking him at the party and using his name to wangle an invite.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo Send musings to [email protected]

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