Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dusty Morning

Another cabaret performer tangent. Yesterday I picked up a disc on hold from the library Dusty Springfield; Come for a Dream. It is a great vault album from 1970-71, the result of a legal feud between 2 record labels that is finally being relinquished via Rhino Records.

Now, we would not likely ever think of Dusty Springfield as a cabaret artist.... But because I have always been a fan of her vintage blue-eyed soul, I was especially taken by the range on this new disc. There are a few bossa nova numbers. A Legrand/ Bergman collaboration. Of course anything Jimmy Webb is a point in my favor. Even a Charles Aznavour piece. So last night I was then distracted and began a YouTube hunt which amazed me to the max. First off, I had no idea she was a modest Irish lass by the name of Mary O'Brien. And then that she started her career as part of a successful folk trio along with her brother - just like a British Peter, Paul & Mary. Before the blonde bouffant was a meager brunette page cut. From there she unleashed a wealth of talents; singing in French, Spanish & Portuguese - all with perfect flair. Vintage Frishberg with "Peel Me a Grape" in 1962 - check. Gospel "the Water is Wide" - check. Bacharach beyond belief with him at the piano in "A House Is Not A Home"- check. American Songbooks classics like "Time After Time" and "Second Time Around" all there. And each sounded like they were her strongest suit.

But what bridged me over to the cabaret tangent were her performances. This was the era of variety show television and she was ALWAYS one to sing her tunes live over the track. So while her voice is instantly recognizable, no two performances were ever quite the same. The hair became an explosive gust of amber, the gowns and pantsuits always impeccably stylish, and gestures befitting a drag queen - she was larger than life. UNTIL the camera found her face. As I watched each clip, over 25 of them, I felt like she was singing directly to me! No matter how big the stage or audience, she was immediate and intimate. And the way she conquers the lyrics is knowing and painfully heartfelt. Here are just two clips that I had to share. I was going to compare with a Bette Midler meets Edyie Gorme, but she is definitely her own talent. A sad legacy of immense talent that was lost far too soon. Please watch both of these clips entirely.


Monday, November 2, 2015

This Is Cabaret

Ann Hampton Callaway continues to be one of the biggest advocates for our genre. In an age when we are not sure what constitutes "cabaret" - is it Broadway casts singing show tunes in tony bars, is it jazz singers sampling the American Songbook in dark and sultry clubs? Ann seems to be the one heir to the cabaret diva legacies of Julie Wilson and Mabel Mercer. I think we would all agree she brings an intimate story and a warm voice to anything she does beside her string of recordings and Broadway shows.

So it is with great anticipation that NPR is producing a new program of her live gigs at Birdland with a select roster of other talent that certainly fills the cabaret bill. Callaway’s stated goal is to present “cabaret as an emotionally engaging experience rather than a place.” She intends to use the emotional power of her guest artists and the heartfelt qualities of the music itself to accomplish this. The show will cover the panoply of American musical genres: jazz, Broadway, folk, blues…you name it. Shows have already been taped for release come January. Her first guest was the lovely Christine Ebersole who has won fans with a resume of Broadway roles, but is really an engaging cabaret spirit in the best sense. There is banter, witty repartee and even a few duets. Guest number two was Curtis Stigers, vocalist and sax man, who comes from a much different world of the music spectrum. But somehow the two found a mutual ground between musicianship and artistry. Ann seems to bring out the best qualities in all around her. I checked the NPR website, but do not see an actual date for the broadcasts posted yet, but will try to be mindful and give you a heads up with advance warning in the New Year.

 Ann Hampton Callaway