Thursday, December 14, 2017

Song Sister Meets the Janes

Our own TCCAN trio of Dames; Connie Dussl, Vicky Mountain and Dorothy Doring have been creating some local buzz with their own side act Song Sister. We saw them workshop a set with Nautilus 2 years back, they resurfaced this Fall at the Nicollet Island Inn and are now featuring a holiday set of new arrangements at Jazz Central in the Vocalists series.

The Janes: Jingle n' Jazz!
So I was indeed surprised in my cabaret #Twitter feed to stumble onto a similar set of ladies doing the same thing in the New York area. The Janes are comprised of Sula Haska, Christine Hanck & Patti Wyss who have collaborated on and off for some 42 years now. Their current gig at the Triad in NY started with the Andrews & Boswell Sisters and went thru the girl groups of the 1960s. It then expands to contemporary harmonies like Wilson Phillips & Destiny's Child.

Our local girls are on to something that audiences are reminiscing about and wanting to see. Here are the Janes doing a cover of "Crazy People."


Monday, September 18, 2017

Tricks of the Trade

This is another post in a series highlighting our upcoming TCCAN Cabaret Fest happening THIS weekend at Bryant Lake Bowl. Complete ticket info is in a link at the bottom of the feature.

One of our vital missions here at TCCAN is our Educational component. We truly are a support network for each other and a major aspect of that is sharing the tools we have learned. The Fest has planned for 2 workshops that give a glimpse of our art form and the process that goes into it. We were just speaking in promotion, that cabaret is the bridge where the improv of Jazz meets the structure of Theater.
Image result for tricks of the trade
Vicky Mountain is our TCCAN education chair and a great fit with all her vocal mentoring that she also does at MacPhail. "The Education committee met in July to brainstorm the choices for mini segments of our Saturday workshop - where it comes under the heading of Enlighten. We broke it down into 6 topics: Story and Song; Song Selection; Song Interpretation; Intimate, Engaging Connection to the Audience/Break Down 4th Wall; Arc/Journey in Song;  & Craft." These small conversations will open doors for other performers, whether just experimenting or more curious to dive into our genre. "The reality is a fun, interactive, informative exploration of what it takes to put together a Cabaret set or show."

For Sunday, the 2nd day of the Fest, we are offering a true Master Class. Guest artists Ben Krywosz, Jennifer Scovell-Parker and Gary Briggle will work with a few of our members giving feedback from a directing, musical and interpretation viewpoint that is specific to the intimate settings that we aspire to.

Both Education events are a ticketed fee that can be purchased at the door or in advance via the BLB website.

Bryant Lake Bowl - Cabaret workshops 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Bit By Bit... Putting It Together

This is the second in a series highlighting our upcoming TCCAN Cabaret Fest, to be presented Sept. 23rd & 24th at Bryant Lake Bowl.

The key component of both this and last years' fest was the performance element. And the mastermind of the concept is our own Joey Clark. When we were discussing how to feature what we do to audiences, and trying to find a new way to package it - Joey suggested the concept of "an endless roster of talent like we used to see from celebrities over the Labor Day telethons of old." Thus the concept of our Salonathon was born. Instead of trying to select a few of our artists to showcase - we ultimately decided to utilize everybody. This perfectly brandishes the range of our many talents as cabaret performers. We all bring 10 minutes of our best and come up with a Smorgasboard of stories.
Image result for pile of vocal sheet music

Joey has also graciously taken on the task of coordinating the massive effort. One can only imagine the spreadsheet for this. First; is finding the accompanists that can collaborate with us. It certainly requires more rehearsal hours. And obviously a few more pages of sheet music than is usual. This year Harrison Wade has agreed to play not one of the two evenings, but both! Every performer is fortunate to get an individual session and then there are group sessions where members can perform for each other and give some positive feedback. This way our Fest audiences are getting mountains of talent.

But even more daunting, is the task of coordinating schedules. "Anyone who is a freelance vocalist or actor knows that there is no such thing as a weekly schedule." With us it plays out more hour to hour as we multitask and run from one small gig to another. So when you take a roster of 20+ and the pianist, finding a few choice hours where everyone can convene is monumental.

Lastly; come the live performance elements. Working with Bryant lake Bowl for the technical elements of sound and lighting. Deciding which order gives the evening the smoothest flow of moods and music. Coordinating dressing room space for all. Last year we crammed us all into one single marathon. This year we are spacing it out over the 2 days with split slates on both Saturday and Sunday. We also realized that our audiences wanted programs that note our names as well as some of song choices which can be varied and sometimes cleverly obscure. If have not seen us en masse, come check us out for both the Performances and the Educational Sessions.

TCCAN Cabarets fest - Bryant Lake Bowl 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Finding the Perfect Space

This is the first of a series of features leading up to our 2nd Annual Cabaret Fest coming up on both Sept. 23rd & 24th. Last year's inaugural event was held at the Phoenix Theater and was an ambitious effort for our organization. Even though it was not a huge financial success, it did open doors to new audiences and members, and also made the bold statement that TCCAN is a sustainable presence in our local music scene.
Image result for bryant lake bowl

So the first in these blog posts centers on Connie Dussl - who is undertaking the reins as the Chair of the process. The first decision made has to be the VENUE. The Phoenix was a great fit for us last year, but their policy has changed from a day-to-day rental to a week rental fee, which was something that TCCAN could neither afford or commit to. Obstacle #1 was seeking out other venues that fit our calendar. TCCAN has made a strategic choice to have the annual Fest coincide with our Fall membership renewal. It makes perfect sense to showcase our members right as we are reaching out to other prospective members to join our ranks. Last year was held the first weekend in Oct. This year, scheduling has pushed it a week earlier in the final stretch of Sept.

Connie quotes "we made up a list of desired attributes. Then as we looked at each venue, we made lists of the pros and cons of each place." It is important for our cabaret audience to find a spot with an intimate setting. There are several small theater & music spaces in town, but this intimate component is lacking in most. Then - learning from last year, she came up with a checklist of haves and have-nots.

So, in looking for a location for our 2nd Annual TCCAN Cabaret Fest
  • Was there an acoustic piano and was it kept in tune? 
  • Was there a sound system, and, if so, a sound man? 
  • What was the lighting like?  
  • Was there food and drink available? How many patrons could we accommodate?
  • Could all ages attend? 
  • Could we hold workshops earlier in the day? 
  • What was parking or accessibility like?
  • And ultimately, what was the rental or gate?
This year, we chose Bryant Lake Bowl because it had the majority of the assets we were seeking. TCCAN has used BLB for our former showcases and several members have produced their own solo shows there. So there is a partnership with ground work already laid. Reaching out to Minneapolis audiences is also a key element in the choice. BLB is a strong fit in terms of the marketing edge they are able to offer up with the rental package and press contacts that we have not been able to tackle.
As final details are being ironed out, we anticipate a Fest that will surpass our impact from last year. Please check out links on our Facebook page, website and the Bryant Lake Bowl link to purchase tickets.

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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

It's Ladies Night

For our monthly Cabaret Salon, TCCAN is lucky to feature a slate of 4 grand divas this weekend! Our monthly gigs are always a grab bag of our fabulous talents. But the way this one played out - it is strictly a female affair that spans 2 generations. So I decided to give a shout to them with an angle of their strong icons & influences. I asked each of them to name a specific song that resonates with them. And the responses sort of chose sides in the telling.

Dorothy and Connie who have strong roots in Jazz and American standards both chose the same piece with Carole King and her defining (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman. They both had their musical upbringing in those early 70's where women singer-songwriters were coming into their own with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carole King to name a few. For Connie it was about an uninhibited woman asserting herself as exactly who she is.

Katia and Trish have spent many of their evenings doing gigs with cover bands, so they have plenty of exposure to pop ballads and anthems. Both of them chose Gloria Gaynor's disco blockbuster I Will Survive. Katia is drawn to not only the strength of the lyrics but its infectious groove. Trish speaks about the the aspect of finding yourself and breaking free of the "chains of regret."

So please come and hear the collective stories that these 4 TCCAN Divas bring to the room. This Saturday @ Town House in St Paul. The usual $10 suggested donation and reminding you that we are now starting our sets at 7:30 instead of the usual 8:00.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hollywood Sheet Music

I'm assuming each of you has your own story of scouring for that one song that is a needle in a haystack. We heard a music track, it came up in a playlist, it is on some archived cast album from decades back... As cabaret artists, we are often trying to find material that is uniquely "us."

On line music is a great asset, with possibilities on MusicNotes and others sites to not only purchase individual charts, but have them transposed to a key that fits our range. Our connection in TCCAN allows us to also exchange pieces or share obscure tabs from old vintage books in our collections. Even our public library has a reserve shelf that can provide us an occasional treasure if we are willing to dig a bit through an archaic card catalogue. But I am here to praise a new find in Hollywood Sheet Music. Enough so, that I am adding it as a resource in our links here. Their by line is "if you can't find it here, you won't find it anywhere."

I am currently work shopping a new set of Cy Coleman material and choosing to really delve into some of his lost trunk songs. Through an adventure chase that began with his own publishing company, I was lucky enough to get a lead to them. Somewhere along the way, some of Cy's songs are still owned by his estate, others went over to the Hal Leonard company. And yet there is a third option of those straggling songs that were never deemed important enough to be published, but merely copyrighted. Somehow Hollywood Sheet Music has assembled many of those stray ducks in a massive strip mall warehouse in Burbank CA. So if anything you are seeking may have come from a musical score or a film soundtrack, chances are that you might have some luck here. 

Their website is hardly high tech. And the search engine there is deceiving and not always at face value. I was told to send a personal inquiry to Stephanie, the librarian there. And that is where I struck gold. Within a day, she responded back and had both rare tunes I was looking for; one from the original theater score and the other chart in Coleman's own notation. They were a bit more expensive than other on line sites - but far less than having someone arrange them by hand. Another great resource to remember!

Hollywood Sheet Music 
Hollywood Piano Warehouse 


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Crossover Artists

Students MandaLeigh Blunt and David Mahoney and faculty Donna DiNovelli, Fred Carl, and Sarah Schlesinger at New York University’s graduate musical theatre writing program. (Photo by Josh Sanchez)

This feature come to us from Vicky - who spends much of her time working with young students and their vocal training. The article's main point (from American Theater) centers on new expectations for musical theater students in a conservatory setting.

Before I made the leap to the cabaret world, I was starting to feel a bit of dismay at the unreal assumptions put upon a working actor. A triple threat was no longer an ace. Directors now ALSO wanted you to play the tuba, juggle, do stand-up comedy and speak fluid Italian. Ridiculous! But what is sad, is that there always seemed to be that one person in the room who was able to deliver on all counts. I had a close friend stage managing the recent Sweeney Todd revival and he talked about how impossible it was to cast understudies for the show - it needed to be someone who could sing their own role and play a fiddle and also be able to step in for a totally different role playing the trombone - throughout the entire score. Add in the new Cirque element and we should all be doing trapeze work in addition to Fosse choreography. So I got out!

But the new element that many conservatory programs are offering up is a fourth track; creative writing. Everything from scene work, composition and full script collaboration. And this concept I like. If you aren't finding the right work out there in the real world - Create Your Own! I think this is where we, as cabaret artists tend to soar. We relish in the idea that we are going to tell our own unique stories with our own personal spin. From conversations with actors - many rely on hiding behind the skin of a role that someone else has created for them. Instead of being their authentic selves. And this is something we strive for in our world - trying to be singularly unique. Some of the programs noted are the Cincinnati Conservatory, Pace University, Baldwin University and the Eugene O'Neil Center. I think those students are getting far more bang for their buck.

Musical Theatre Students are becoming Quadruple-threats