Phil and Jackie  | Clive's on Top  | Jack's Back in New York  | Butch Cassidy

Phil Ramone Writes Jackie Mason Musical

It's still officially unconfirmed, but it's been confirmed to me by those who know: veteran, legendary record producer Phil Ramone has written his first Broadway musical. Ramone, according to my sources, has composed the music for comedian Jackie Mason's new show, which will open in the fall.

Now mind you, Ramone must be feeling superstitious about this project.

When I saw him recently at the Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner -- the concert for which he masterfully produced -- Phil looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested he had a new project brewing.

"I'm producing Michael Amante's record," he said, and then we jabbered on about various minor subjects.

But my sources tell me I was right to start with: Ramone -- who is not known for his compositions but rather for making Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart and hundreds of other superstars sound good -- has written the music for Laughing Room Only.

Luther Plus Annie Plus Monica Puts Clive on Top

Clive Davis, about 70 years old, is the biggest star in the record business today. He has not one, not two but three albums in the new top five -- Monica at No. 1, Luther Vandross at No. 2, and Annie Lennox at either Nos. 4 or 5. Hello!

This is pretty wild for several reasons: Three July 1sts ago, Clive Davis was forced to step away from running Arista Records by the folks at Bertlesmann BMG Music Group. They thought Clive, who'd had the best year of his amazing career, was too old and that someone else younger would be a hipper, better replacement.

My, oh my: how the Germans who ran BMG came to regret that decision. They helped Clive start J Records in fall 2001, and he's had huge hits with Alicia Keys, Rod Stewart and Busta Rhymes.

But today Davis and his top-notch team have proved that you can start a label and spin gold in record time. After all, J didn't actually begin releasing CDs until the fall of 2000. Alicia Keys' Songs in A Minor came out in June 2001, and the rest is history.

This huge success at J comes at a difficult time for Arista and Davis' successor, Antonio "L.A." Reid. Right now Arista is represented on the charts solely by a rapper you don't want to know too much about called Bone Crusher and by a Kenny G. album. Earlier this year, though, they had a monster hit with the insipid teen Avril Lavigne; that's what saved Reid from the fire.

I ran into Reid and a couple of his pals last night at the Gotham magazine party for writer Candace Bushnell. Reid is still the best-dressed man in the record business, and unstoppable too. When I asked him when the next CD by British songstress Dido was coming, he replied, disarmingly, "Very soon. And I need it too."

Boy, does he ever. But Reid will get releases between now and the Sept. 30 Grammy deadline from Dido, Blu Cantrell and OutKast. That should help.

And in mid-August Arista will release the first new album in years by the Queen of Soul herself, Miss Aretha Franklin. If the old-school-sounding soulful first single, "The Only Thing Missin''' is any indication, Aretha should have a hit, and Reid should have a reprieve. The question is for how long. It's an unforgiving business right now, and it's not getting any nicer.

Jack Nicholson: 'He's Baaack!' in New York

It was only last Thursday that Jack Nicholson sauntered into Elaine's on the Upper East with PR guru Bobby Zarem and a lovely, young but unidentified brunette. Nicholson kept his sunglasses off during dinner, and chatted with Elaine herself about the Diane Keaton movie he's been shooting in the Hamptons. Now the cast and crew -- including Amanda Peet and Keanu Reeves -- are off to Paris for more filming.

I asked Jack how he felt about losing the Best Actor Oscar to Adrien Brody. "I didn't mind," he said. "He did a great job. I was rooting for him."

I know how the people on Second Avenue felt when Nicholson jumped outside two times to get a cigarette.

Last night, again Elaine's was hit by a star squad: Al Pacino, fresh from Salome on Broadway, took a rear table, the same one Jack had on Friday. And director Robert Altman, with his wife Kathryn and friends, were not far away. Altman is busy shopping his new film, The Company, to distributors. Those who've seen it say it's another masterpiece by this country's most under-awarded director.

Butch Cassidy Shoots Up Bryant Park

I met Mal Albaum last night. He's been with HBO for about 25 years, started there with the company's mastermind, Michael Fuchs. Now he programs and presents the free outdoor summer movie series that began last night with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

"Michael said to me that the most fun he had at summer camp was movie night," Albaum told me. "He said, I wish we could reproduce it in Bryant Park." Thus, a tradition began.

At 9 p.m., just as the sun finally set, Albaum gave the signal. A high-powered film projector pointing out the side window of a silver Airstream trailer started up and sent a flickering image across the huge expanse of the park -- all over the heads of an estimated 8,000 people who'd been camped out for hours, having picnics and generally enjoying the first night of good weather in what seemed like weeks.

Albaum leaves on the big artificial lights that are mounted on skyscrapers and pointed into the park while the coming attractions run.

"People are still looking for friends," he said. Teasers for Alex and Emma, our very own Only the Strong Survive and Project Greenlight ran in succession. Then came a Looney Tunes cartoon, which got the crowd very quiet.

"Do you know about the dancing?" Albaum asked me. I did not. At the conclusion of the cartoon, Albaum signaled a woman from the HBO publicity department who held a remote-control device in her hand. With the flip of a switch, the giant halogen light secured to the AT&T building on Sixth Avenue shut off. Bryant Park was dark.

On the screen, the HBO logo appeared along with the musical teaser that precedes every movie the cable network shows. Suddenly -- people who'd been sitting, lying down, eating their dinners -- began to stand.

"See them standing?" Albaum asked, beaming. "They dance to the HBO theme music." Sure enough, thousands of people stood in the darkness, waving their hands, gyrating and humming along to the HBO fanfare. It was like something from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

"They've been doing it for years."

Then Butch Cassidy started. Applause as the names appeared: Paul Newman, Robert Redford. Even for Burt Bacharach, who wrote the music and the theme song -- with Hal David: "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.":

"They're applauding the credits," Albaum said. He sat back in a Project Greenlight director's chair and relaxed.