Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lovely Lou

For those of us of a certain age, we can hearken back to the now shuttered Nye's Polonaise Room. It was never really cabaret, but for decades it was a song lounge and listening room when there was no other game in town. Before the Shout House, the Times, Dakota and Crooners. One never knew what "regulars" would roll in, or what tunes were on deck for the night. But the one constant that brought all of us back time and again was Lou Snider at the piano in the corner of the room. With her small rail of stools, a few mics to pass around and stacks of charts hidden behind the counter. Even I was in the final "class" of the golden age of Nye's before the college crowd made it a trendy go-to spot & far-too crowded room.

Last Sunday, the #Strib did a lovely feature on Lou as one of those monumental souls we lost this year in the Arts. Of course Prince was the headliner, but it was rightly so that she would be named right beside him as an institution that touched so many people in her 45 years there. I was astounded to read what a tragic childhood she lived. A mother that died while she was young. And then a depressed father that shot her and her siblings in desperation. She survived but always walked with a cane from the injuries - I had often thought is was likely polio or a medical condition. Somehow she defied odds and brought her talents and joy for life to the masses. Lucky us!

Both are gone now, as are many losses in 2016. But I will often recall the many times together that we shared Since I Fell For You in the key of E flat. She always knew what song and what key for me.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

the Evolution of Cabaret

This is a blog share of a blog post based on Porter Carroll Jr. Let me preface it by saying that this show is NOT the kind of cabaret we associate with us here at TCCAN. We are always trying to define very clearly what it is that we do. And this strays far from it. But I am also open to continued discussions of the broader concept of cabaret.

Background - Porter is a veteran Blues & R&B performer with a somewhat successful career as a member of Atlantic Starr who had a 70's history in the vein of Earth Wind & Fire or the O'Jays. So he does bring both clout and experience to the table. Looking at his work available, I think we would call him more of a song stylist hearkening back to the lounge acts of the late 1960's. The sort who is all about a slick showband, showcasing some vocal acrobatics in a small and savvy setting.

But what I do appreciate about the article is his sense of making a song uniquely his own, which we talk about often. Interestingly, he refers much to the Contemporary American Songbook which was a new concept to me. He talked about Gershwin & Cole Porter with a reverence. But he is also speaking about a baby boomer audience that gives that same respect to artists like Hall & Oates, Jimmy Webb & Frank Sinatra. Thinking about it, there is certainly an audience that would give credence to this mission. Here are a few quotes from him that I have to admire. "The listener gets to enjoy some familiar songs, presented in an entirely new way. Me and the guys in the band do, too. Every night doing this is a new experience for us. It’s an incredible feeling.” Then he goes on to say "But deconstructing old standards into new and imaginative creations is both a tricky and  risky business." It begs us to ask the question what is an old standard? And for our members - we do bring a wealth to the table. Some consider that to be something between Rodgers & Hart or Sondheim. Others would say it is Johnny Mercer. Or Joni Mitchell  & Carly Simon. As far apart as possible, but none exactly a wrong answer. Interesting water cooler discussion.

Full blog share:
Huffington Post: Porter Carroll Jr. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Member Spotlight: Erin Duffy

In promotion with our upcoming Cabaret Fest October 1st & 2nd, here is the next installment of our member features.

One cannot speak of TCCAN without the mention of Erin Duffy. Not only did she serve as our first president through a number of terms, but she was part of the original seed that brought us into being after conversations with other local colleagues that had experienced the Yale Cabaret Conference. It was predominantly her vision to create some of that same ideology with the population of cabaret artists here in the Twin Cities. She used her business sense to establish our ranks which aligns with her strong artistic integrity. A consummate cabaret presence, she has found a loyal audience with her recent show I Never Went Away in collaboration with Ben Krywosz & Tom Linker.  
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Why Cabaret:
Like everyone else noted so far, she is drawn to the intimacy of the art form. "I enjoy every aspect of deeply connecting with an audience by telling the story of a song. Ever since I was very young, when I listened to a piece of music, it was always the lyrics that grabbed hold of me and took me away. My imagination would just take off. The words became mine and I would hear and see the stories for each song and live them, making them my personal songs." She originally juggled theater as her creative outlet. Then steered her vocation into the corporate world. "It wasn't until I was older that I discovered Cabaret. And, when I did I thought I finally found home." Erin gets gratification from conversations with audience members after a performance. Connections that are mutual resound with her. In particular, tapping into a lyric and finding that listeners identify with her discovery in the same way. "I found very often after performing maybe a standard or very familiar tune, audience members would come up to me and say "Is that what that song is about?" or "it's like I never really heard that song until you sang it."

Cabaret Snapshot:
Erin talks in her one-woman show about the magic of meeting Julie Wilson. She was in Chicago for a friend's celebration and Julie was the entertainment at that party. When she entered the room "she was the most stunning woman I had ever seen, with her hair - a gardenia perfectly inset. She walked up on the stage, looked out over the audience, smiled that gorgeous smile and began. She owned that stage, she owned that room! And although there were 100 people in the room I felt in that moment that it was just she and I." 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Member Spotlight: Jennifer Eckes

In promotion with our upcoming Cabaret Fest October 1st & 2nd, here is the next installment of our member features.

Jennifer Eckes has to be one of our most prolific members. She has a family where everyone shares a musical talent of some sort. Theater is a mainstay where she has had roles in everything from Sondheim to Frank Sinatra tributes. Work at the Ordway, Artistry and the Plymouth Playhouse shows her versatility. If that isn't enough, she has regular stints with the MN Opera where she is currently in Romeo & Juliet. Along with fellow TCCAN members she merged the worlds of cabaret, theater and pop culture in the successful venture of Pop Up Musical. But the cornerstone has always been her engaging cabaret sets and shows where she is afforded the chance to show us her true identity.

Why Cabaret:
In her own words: "Coming from a background of doing musical theatre, operetta, and opera, I’ve been cast in roles based on my vocal type, my movement capabilities, my age and gender, and how I look. In cabaret, I can choose to sing songs that I normally never would be cast to sing, and I get to reinvent them to suit me and the audience. It’s challenging and fun for me to take a song out of its original context and make it something new, something my own, and to make the audience hear it in a new and provocative way. In cabaret, there is no “fourth wall” as there is in theatre - we create a connection to the audience, and taking that audience along is part of the journey of the moment, which we all get to experience together."

Cabaret Snapshot:
For her cabaret shout out, she talks about finding the humor in her set. We talk at length in TCCAN about making sure our choices are not always a therapy session where we lay our personal struggles out in the open for everyone to sympathize with us. There is something to be said about opening up in the same way, but finding the humor in the hubris. "I really love to make people laugh, especially unexpectedly. There’s a story I like to tell about an old pen pal of mine who used to make mixed tapes for me, and I sing a song he once recorded for me, “Won’t Last a Day Without You”. It’s a beautiful lyric, a song about getting through tough times because of a loyal friend. But about halfway through the song, I start to sing it as my old pen pal did... which was terribly off-key, but nonetheless dedicated and above all, totally sincere in his delivery. I love the moment when this juxtaposition happens, and the audience goes from being pleasantly content to being a little bewildered, and then laughing hysterically at the absurdity." I have seen Jennifer present this and it is indeed endearing. There are many ways to tell a story and she always finds one that is uniquely hers!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Member Spotlight: Vicky Mountain

In promotion with our upcoming Cabaret Fest October 1st & 2nd, here is the next installment of our member features.

Vicky Mountain is a long time veteran of the Twin Cities Music scene. Her cabaret sets have given us glimpses of her many personalities along the way; from bar-band queen in the 70's to Jazz warbler with a killer whistle. She spends her days teaching voice at MacPhail, but in addition to her cabaret work, she also pens original pieces and always brings her unique stylings to every offering.


Why Cabaret:
We always try to refine what cabaret is by saying it is a collaboration between story and song. But Vicky goes one step further by calling it a "collision of story and song." The semantics of this single phrase means that she brings an unpredictable quality to the stage. From the theater side of the genre she appreciates the "absolute uniqueness of each performer." From her jazz roots she explores "the vast possibility of styles and repertoire" at her disposal. It then becomes her job to forge that intimate connection that holds an audience "attentive" and under her control.

Cabaret Snapshot: 
Among her memorable moments in the cabaret world, one that resonates with her goes back to our showcase project 5 years prior. It was a project called Women: A Broad View which gave our members the chance to do material that had anything remotely to do with women. Some chose women composers, others told stories about strong female role models. For Vicky she was really drawn to focus her experience through a lens of her own early roots in the Rock and Soul era of the 70's. In particular numbers like Carole King's It's Too Late and Nina Simone's End of the Line.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Member Spotlight: Joey Clark

In promotion with our upcoming Cabaret Fest October 1st & 2nd, here is the next installment of our member features.

While he might be one of our newer members, he certainly is no stranger to many stages and circles here in the Twin Cities. Joey Clark found his way to TCCAN via a back door. He had played piano as an accompanist for us a few times bringing his expertise to us in that capacity. But he is also a formidable artist in front of a mic, so it only took a bit of convincing from a few of us allies to get him to join. In just a short year he has been a huge advocate in all we do and we are the better for it. He is a valued staff member at Saint Paul Conservatory where he is rearing the next generation of young musical theater artists. He directs all over town in any genre. He has landed major roles at Artistry in Sunday In the Park, with Frank in Cabaret...... How many hats can one talented individual wear? Many it would seem.

Why Cabaret: 
 As a cabaret performer, I get to break down the walls between audience & artist and truly engage my audience on a personal level throughout the performance. This may be in the form of vocal or physical audience participation, bringing members of the audience up on to the stage to be a part of the action, or going out into the audience to engage them in conversation. The feedback loop from audience member to actor on stage and from actor on stage to audience member is thrilling and seductively powerful!

Cabaret Snapshot:
 My cabaret show Out of the Trenches and Over the Rainbow was a one-man, original work about bullying that came as a response to a Rutgers University’s student’s act of suicide after being outed as gay by his roommate. Through that show I was able to promote awareness for Dan Savage's "It Gets Better Project" and raise money for The Trevor Project (a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ+ youth). This is truly a testament to Joey's passion for making change through his art which is obvious in many things he does.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Member Spotlight: Oron Stenesh

In prelude to our upcoming Cabaret Fest on October 1st & 2nd, we will doing regular features on a handful of our members. What better way to shout out who we are and what we do.

PictureThe first without apology is Mr. Oron Stenesh; a proud Kalamazoo MI native who found his way here via New York. He has launched numerous solo pieces such as The Big 3-O, Olection, HerniO; Stories of Strains and the O Train at landmark places like the Duplex in NYC or the Bryant Lake Bowl here in town. His colorful presence is infectious. For each personal profile we are asking Why Cabaret? and also a Favorite Cabaret Moment snapshot while on stage:

Why Cabaret:
I love cabaret because it's such a personal and distinctive artistic expression. I come from a musical theater background, but I find it really fun and empowering to take the artistic reins from casting directors, artistic directors and producers and do my own show. Why sing a traditional 16 bars to try to land a supporting role in a regional production of “Hello, Dolly!” when you can reinvent “Ribbons Down My Back” as a coy uptempo about summer flirtation? I describe cabaret as theatre without the imaginary fourth wall between performer and audience. The audience is an active participant and the show works best as a conversation. And instead of in a play, when an actor takes on a role, in cabaret, the role played is one’s authentic self. How thrilling and fabulous!

As for my vibe, I like to mix it up with a variety of music – usually some music theatre tunes, some standards, a pop song here or there, tongue in cheek. I mess with the lyrics sometimes to give a song my own spin. I traditionally do a spoken word poem. And I weave this all together with stories and anecdotes from Life. This celebration of impromptu, honest thinking and creative freedom are what drew me in and keep me interested. I’m totally energized being up on stage. I love doing my thing, entertaining my audience and pushing the limits of humor and pathos with a show.

Cabaret Snapshot:
I think one of my more successful gambits was within my show Olection (which chronicled my fictional run for the presidency in 2007-08).  I did a bit about how much I love Bea Arthur and called out her roast of Pamela Anderson on Comedy Central. Bea roasted Pam in her own words, reading from Pam’s book “Star,” and it’s amazing. I figured I’d try the same, so did a dramatic reading of Sarah Palin’s book “Going Rogue.” I also rewrote the lyrics to a song from “Annie Get Your Gun” sending up Sarah and Todd and some of the ridiculous antics of late summer ’08 with “Yes, You Can Get VP With a Gun.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cabaret Festivals

It has been a while between blog postings. But I was inspired by our Membership Meeting last night and our ambitious plans to finally present our first version of a local Cabaret Festival this Fall. It is an important step in shining our light, growing our audiences and sharing our passion with other strong performers that should be among our ranks. Here are two other Festivals on the map that are huge and have brought much attention to the work we do. I don't know if the Twin Cities will ever be in the same league as them, but it is something to aspire to.

Image result for new york cabaret convention 2016The New York Cabaret Convention is a few weeks after ours in mid October. In it's 27th year, it is presented in conjunction with the Mabel Mercer Foundation. From what I can see, it is entirely performance based and is a fireworks grand finale of the artists we likely gravitate to. There are 4 HUGE themed cabaret concerts with a theme - Sondheim, Sheldon Harnick, Charles Strouse and performer Sylvia Syms. Each night has a slate of over 20 performers and composers; notables like Maureen McGovern, Christina Bianco, Karen Akers, Steve Ross, Donna McKechnie, Billy Stritch. (It definitely appears more female heavy.) And then ends with two honorary awards in name of Julie Wilson & Margaret Whiting. Tickets max out at $100.
Image result for adelaide cabaret festival

On the other side of the globe is the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in Australia. For my money - this is the ultimate in a cabaret experience. I think TCCAN needs to plan an excursion in the next five years and charter a trip down for members. It embraces the vast diversity in what cabaret can be. It started in the late 1990's as big musicals were in decline and the Fringe comedy circuit was also eroding the local landscape. So in usual Aussie attitude - they carved their own niche where political satire and musical theater collide - much like the early roots of cabaret. The idea began as a showcase for local talent. But in the coming decades it has reached a global outreach. It is inclusive enough to include billing Bernadette Peters and Ben Vereen alongside Dame Edna as they pursue all that cabaret can be. There are tribute concerts, performance art, alter ego shows and pure drag burlesque. There is a nightly Piano Stage bar, Songwriters workshops, Symposiums, Live Radio Broadcasts and backstage Artist sessions which show the process. There are scholarships for young artists. It encompasses 15 days and over 50 artists from around the world. Epic is the word! It is almost done for this year - but please visit the website and think about an outing South mates!

Adelaide Cabaret 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

You are a Work of Art

Image result for hennepin library work of art workshops 2016It seems we have had a lot of emphasis on the Education aspect of our organization lately. Fresh off our great session with Lori Dokken on all things music and an introduction to some great technology that can help us in getting what we want out of our set... I just caught wind of a fabulous series being offered at our Hennepin Public Libraries that focus on the Business side of what we do. The series is called Work of Arts and has been offered in the past in 2012 sponsored in part by Springboard for the Arts. It is coming back over the next month with sessions being offered at both Southdale and Hosmer (S Minneapolis) branches. Workshops are free with on line advance registration.

The topics may not apply directly to our cabaret forum. But for the handful of us that are really trying to carve out an entire career as either a musician or an artist, there is something of merit. Topics such as Pricing for Artists (how to figure our worth), Recordkeeping and Legal Help both will offer up the business side of the career. But also great tips like Residencies for Artists - for those that might have a gift at sharing what we do. How about Funding for Artists or Business Plans for Artists? Even topics like Time Management or certainly Marketing for the Artists which we have all been seeking out. Give them a glance. I know I am thinking about a few possibilities.

Work of Art 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tech Tools for the Savvy Singer

We hosted another great Education event last eve with Lori Dokken at the helm. She has been a frequent collaborator for our roster as well as a huge advocate who has made the Town House a welcome home for us over the last year. But in addition to that, she is an icon of the Twin Cities with a vast career in almost any area of the music scene.

The idea of the session was to give us a valuable tool belt to help take our music from the page to the stage. We work with a variety of players who each bring their own talents. But how do we get from them what we need in the short amount of time we have before hand so we are indeed in command in the spotlight with the mic? Everything she said resonated and could go miles to get us where we need to be in that short time. Most of it, you had to be there for the Q&A to see and hear.

But there was also a handful of shared technology that were laid out as gifts. We are just not aware of them or have not had the chance to embrace them. So here is a go-to resource list that can fill in some of the gaps. They were an earful for me.

iRealPro - seems to be the ultimate tool for us if you have a tablet. It is an app for purchase at $12.99. Lori jokingly pointed out that many scoff at shelling out the cash when there are so many options out there for free. But she countered by saying that she paid hundreds for a Finale program and for what we want and need, this can do much of the same. So I came right home last night and bought it. I have to agree. It is sort of Composition for Dummies once you play around on it. The main takeaway are 1000s of shared charts from the member forums which are yours for the download. Once you lay out your new chart or pull an existing one - you can easily change the key to fit your range. You can adjust the tempo or better yet; select one of hundreds of templates to take your Rodgers & Hart piece from a samba to a disco chart. All laid out and clear. So you have something from the start that you can take to your pianist and not only show them, but play it for them to let them know exactly the direction you are trying to take your song.

Music Memos - is also an app, but works a bit in the opposite way. You start from scratch and build from the ground up. We tried it and you can start with something as simple as singing your melody into the recorder. Or play with a piano or guitar. From there, it uses its own analytics and tries to shape chords and rhythm around what it hears. Or course there is the danger of veering off into the wrong direction. But with manual tweeks, you can lead it back on track and continue to embellish with other instrumentation or harmonies. Certainly for those wanting to craft their own material. It is free, but I had compatibility issues and could not load it?

Online Music - I have to assume that we all have some sort of connection to online purchases. Sheet Music Plus and Music Notes are the biggies. I prefer Music Notes as it generally has more options in terms of what you can transpose into a better key to suit your voice. I have gotten wise in that you only purchase a single copy. But when printing, I usually opt the option that it didn't print and I will try later again. This way I can print out a few versions in keys and keep that on hand to see which fits best as I work the tune. The draw back is that anything outside of Top 40 or American Songbook are a rare find - and I am one that tends to hunt for the obscure. Les tells us that both Schmitt and Groth music have their own extensive online library and more options to manipulate your purchased chart into something more personal - but I did check on line and was not able to find much more than is available at the first two giants.

PrintMusic - if both Finale and Sibelius software are more expensive and beyond our needs, this is the poor man's stepchild of Finale by the same designers on a much smaller scale of only $120. Best used for chord charts and vocal lines. To me it requires an investment of time and digital keyboard that I am content enough to just try with a tablet. If I need that chart arranged, I am going to job it out to someone who has the knowledge and tools to get it done right. But Vicky and Paula both say it is not too hard to conquer over time. And Lori also pointed out that even the efforts fail - they still help you along the process and you come out with more skills to use at a later time.

Teoria - was pointed out by Sheridan and it seems a resource that I should invest some time into - like a new year's resolution. It is not an app, but noted as a peer reviewed website! Think Duolingo but for Music Theory. For those of us that never had to learn more than a C scale, it is the mecca of music knowledge for free on the internet. There are pages of tutorials and lesson plans to start from scratch and take it as far as you need to. You can work both ways from visual into recognizing sounds - or the opposite from listening and having to then translate into notation. I am going to give this one a try - hold me to it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Jazz vs Cabaret: Let the Battle Begin

This shared opine comes to us from Vicky. She is giving a presentation on the point and would be one of our members who is literally caught in the crossfire of the discussion. Several of our members come from the ranks of JAZZ and have made the dark leap into our clique. I'd be curious to know how much kickback they get from other colleagues.

The resource noted is from another blog writer - Sue Russell back in 2009 and originally posted on Jazz.com. It treads on many of our regular discussions. It speaks to the cry that cabaret singers sit a bit lower on the totem pole of singers and labels them "precious." It also alludes to jazz singers paying no attention to the pedigree of the classic American songbook and making the original writers cringe in their graves with the liberties taken. It talks about cabaret being perceived more as a venue than a style of performance. I think my favorite line - and none of our members would challenge it; "So we have a little identity crisis in cabaret. If nobody else knows precisely who we are, how do we define ourselves?" It talks about "the intimacy of the moment," "the connection between the singer, the song and the audience." And thus the crux! 

All familiar language. She fires off a few zingers and some great name dropping. I'll let you read the article to find out which side of the battle she sits on. The full article:

Jazz Singing vs Cabaret Singing 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Banned Songs

It has been a long while since a blog posting. Here is an unusual twist coming to us from the Chicago area. We have always heard of Banned Books. But what about Banned Songs? It is an evening of cabaret song called Blacklisted. We always associate the Cold War scourge with films and literature, but it also affected the world of the American Songbook. Apparently Leonard Bernstein, Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, Yip Harburg and even Zero Mostel were under scrutiny and careers damaged.

It features Joan Curto, Carla Gordon, Paul Motondo, Wayne Richards, Rabbi Barry Schecter,  Robert Sims and Three for the Road & Friends.  With music direction by Beckie Menzie. But it certainly sounds like an interesting spin that could create an entertaining evening. So we are not the only ones thinking about packaging a cabaret evening into a theme or genre.


the Skokie Theater
Feb 28, April 1 & May 10.