Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Adelaide Rises Again

Each year at this time, while the rest of the world seems to get juiced by Pride festivals, Fringe festivals or Uptown Arts festivals - I dig into sources from Down Under where the Adelaide Cabaret Festival takes place. I have been a fan of it for years now and brag about it annually.

It is a smaller Australian town, rich in arts heritage. There had been a yearly Fringe festival, but when it fell on hard times a decade back, sponsorship picked up with the addition of cabaret. It grew quite quickly into a World event. It hearkens back to the original intent of cabaret as a political means of expression that was indeed both intimate & unique. But it also embraces every concept that could be remotely viewed as cabaret. Yes there are big names like headliner Dianne Reeves. But How about the Tiger Lillies featuring a set of the "fiercest, filthiest tunes for your perverse pleasures." Alter-Ego & Drag performances by names such as Meow Meow, Dusty Limits or Bourgeois & Maurice. Kim David Smith brings a Weimar cabaret fantasia of Marlene Dietrich meets David Bowie. There are songbook series with music of Jacques Brel, the Beatles and Cameron Goodall in his Sound of Falling Stars - songs and stories of great stars who died far too young.

I think the whole 3 weeks sounds like an incredible outing and need to start planning for a bucket-list trip to take it in one of these years. Maybe a TCCAN bus trip or cruise down? Who's game???

Adealide Cabaret Fest 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Patti Rocks!

We mention often the "New York Cabaret" scene. It is indeed a somewhat archaic expression and for younger audiences, that concept has certainly changed. Yes we have the fabulous 54 Below which has a constantly revolving door of New York artists singing everything from showtune medleys to recycled R&B. And they do seem to find a hungry audience. There is also the Duplex where almost anyone can flex their vocal muscles with their own spin on cabaret. But the glory days of intimate rooms with adoring crowds and monster talent are far and few between.

Grand Diva Patti Lupone has released old master tapes that reflect back to the end of those glory days. There was a small club in Lowertown called Les Mouches (the Flies). And just as she was achieving fame as Evita, she had a running gig there. To hear her tell it, she would finish a two-show day on Saturdays, take off her costume and make-up, head downtown and tear the stage up with a midnight act for some 8 months in 1980. A mix of everything from standards & rock to disco for a crowd that became a cult following.

Here is a clip promoting her cd on Ghostlight that was salvaged by vintage tapes from both LuPone and her musical director David Lewis. I can't believe this was released back in 2010 and I am just hearing of it now! Patti talks about the rawness of her voice - at first she was put off by it, but after years of reflection she speaks that it captures the energy and intimacy of the event. She also regales about that bygone era that we all idolize. All the big stars of the day including Ethel Merman would perform in their Broadway stints, hit the clubs where they would do an act into the wee hours and then retreat back to some artist's apartment where they would smoke cigarettes and sing around a piano. I know a handful of those New Yorkers to this day. I think it is maybe the audiences or the venues that are no longer craving this type of cabaret.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Reinventing Rogers

This feature fits very succinctly into our recent conversations about the Great American Songbook, and how we use it as a Ground Zero for our cabaret sets and stories. As we debate about TCCAN on how to frame who and what we are, we have been focusing on how to retain whatever cabaret heritage there is, but also embrace a new and younger generation.

It involves Billy Porter, who is certainly both an old soul as well as a rising force in the world of New York theater and cabaret work. I first recollected him as a protege of the former Rosie O'Donnell show. She was notable for shining a light on the Broadway stage and always supporting raw talent there. Billy was a frequent guest and started showing up on holiday albums and such. But even with that - it was a long road to steady roles and acclaim. With his star turn in Kinky Boots a few years back, it seemed his time to bloom finally arrived. Right place, right time after years of sweat, labor and talent.

Now he is collaborating with his huge network of New York talent; this includes recording musicians, stage stars AND cabaret artists. Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Ledisi, Pentatonix. His new CD project is the Soul of Richard Rodgers. This "making of" video totally hits the point that we have all been struggling to articulate. He talks about how these classic tunes were indeed the pop songs of those decades. And then uses the word "treatment" for his reinvention of the songs. Now, they will certainly not meet approval with all our members or audiences; they are definitely R&B/ Soul arrangements - sometimes to the point of being barely recognizable. BUT, and importantly BUT, they are unique, personal and authentic versions of those songs that you can easily see resonate with the performers. Is this not indeed the cabaret we are seeking to participate in ourselves? Interesting revelation. Profound - He Gets It.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Behind the Scenes; Arranging a Chart

I decided that I will seek out similar videos or articles that speak to the educational side of our craft. I can't promise how often; but if you see something that sparks an interest - forward it on to me and I am glad to share it via the blog to a wider audience.
Image result for patrick williams

This one is a video from film composer Williams. And by this, it is Patrick who is lesser known than John. But I am still very familiar with his work and I am guessing you will know it as well. He notes over 65 film scores from Swing Shift, to Cry-Baby, and an Oscar for Breaking Away. Also TV theme songs for the Mary Tyler Moore show, Columbo and the Bob Newhart show to name a few more. He has a brand new collaboration out called Home Suite Home with great vocalists like Patti Austin, Tierney Sutton and Dave Grusin. He is apparently taking his background as an educator at the University of Utah and Colorado and sharing it as a regular feature on Facebook. So if you like what you see here, bookmark it for future episodes.

He talks about the process he uses in detailed terms. He uses holiday tunes as a template since they are familiar to us all in terms of which direction you can take them. It starts with finding the right song that resonates and then making sure it is in the right key. If your lead sheet is in the wrong key, it makes the entire process more difficult. He talks with broad brush strokes about both direction, intent and then finding just the right tempo which sets a ground plan. Then he talks about find the correct or substitute chord changes that brighten it without re-writing it. He references the concept of "harmonizing the melody vs. melodizing the harmony." Then move on to the bass line which anchors the chart. And finally coloring the arrangement with accents or embellishment. Lastly deciding on to an intro or outro that makes the entire song cohesive. All good things to know.

Since the platform originates on Facebook, the only link available is the link to his page. So here it is. And again throw things my way if you have an angle on a feature.
Patrick Williams: Thoughts On Arranging 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Maud Hixson Shout Out

Image result for maud hixsonI think many of our members have their own connections with Maud, certainly via Arne. I myself don't know her but have seen her work around town several times. Although she is not a TCCAN member, she got some incredible accolades in the Chicago Tribune.

Recently she appeared at the Chicago Cabaret Festival, which is an off shoot of the Mabel Mercer Foundation in NY. The Festival is not an annual event, but this marked the fourth time it was held since 2002 where it was hosted at the Palmer House. We often think that our genre has lost its luster, but at events like this, it showcases the royalty that we have singing classics from what we still refer to as the Great American Songbook. I have no idea how Maud was fortunate enough to have secured a slot on that roster, but boy did she get some rave reviews from Howard Reich. "The biggest revelation of the night had to be Maud Hixson, a Minnesota-based singer making her Chicago debut ... leaving at least one listener wanting much more." There were takes on "the alacrity of her approach to rhythm", "her slightly gauzy tone and breezy phrasing", "her inherent swing sensibility driving the music unstoppably forward." Quite the glowing praise. This serves us all well in terms of putting us on the map as cabaret artists here in the Twin Cities.

Chicago Tribune - Cabaret Festival review 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Vintage Industrial Shows

Sometimes a cabaret singer just needs to make a living! Our TCCAN roster has those who do Senior gigs, Musical Theater or sets in dive bars just so we can also do the music we love. There was a time in the recent past where corporate America also appreciated our talents and had the money to invest in the music industry. 

I just caught a news tidbit about both Kristen Wiig & Will Ferrell collaborating on a new film musical about this bygone era that is a cross between the Broadway stage and a Buick commercial. I was lucky enough to do a handful in the early 90's before this sort of thing evaporated; Maurice's, Lifetouch, Alpine spices and of course Target. These events were not cheap talent shows, they were really extravaganzas with big bucks. The biggest I did was a trade show for Dr. Pepper in Dallas TX, where they flew us down, hired a full orchestra and even live circus animals on stage. I also was lucky enough to land one at a resort in Puerto Rico where costumes and sound equipment were held hostage at customs.

I was directed to a fabulous website that shares this forgotten era of industrial musicals. Writers like Kander & Ebb, Cy Coleman and Lerner & Loewe were not above lending their talents to original scores. Headliners like Florence Henderson, Peggy Lee & Mitzi Gaynor thought nothing less of themselves for taking the gig either. There is now a reader's version coffee table book called Everything's Coming Up Profits by Steve Young & Sport Murphy. There are companion discs for 3 decades of 50's, 60's & 70's tracks. It has been a revelation as I piece together a Cy Coleman set with loose trails of his material scattered along the route here. The list of products is mind boggling: J.C. Penney, Coca Cola, Ford Motors, Seagram's, Xerox, General Electric..... Fascinating nostalgia.

Check out the site and listen to these tracks!

Everythings' Coming up Profits 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Chicago Cabaret scene

Looks we are doing something right and somewhat of a role model for other markets across the country. I subscribe to a few mailings related to cabaret calendars. One of them is the Chicago Cabaret Professionals - which would be a "sister" organization to ours.

Where we have for years debated the semantics of a "showcase", they are offering that up the beginning of April. We now call this offering a Cabaret Salon where it offers a monthly chance to sample our members sort of ala carte. They are highlighting 5 of their members and just as we do, they have a host or an emcee for the evening. Each performer gets a short 15 minutes to craft their set into an arc of material. It also looks as if they play a bit with themed evenings, with upcoming sets in May that showcase Chicago composers, Irving Berlin and Ella & Lena for their female members.

Good to know there is a common thread in what we are doing for both our members and audiences.