I Feel Lucky

I went to Greece this past August to reclaim a love of mine: cabaret singing.

If you’ve never been exposed to this incredible art form, I recommend you explore some. You will find many spectacular performers in all areas who also perform cabaret, especially in the major cities such as NYC, LA, Chicago, St. Louis.

A cabaret show (of the singing variety – not the topless kind) is a very intimate experience. There’s no “fourth wall” as exists in many other art forms. The cabaret singer is singing straight from their heart using their voice, body, guts and intelligence. Whether they sing with a pianist or there are other instruments added in, there is a deep connection between the musicians and the singer that is palpable. When it is done right, it is an improvised dance happening in the moment – between the audience, the singer, the musicians and the song. It can be hilarious, moving, exciting, thought-provoking, entertaining, heart-breaking. A great cabaret show will be all of that and then some.

Today I am getting my work out there by posting a clip from one of the songs I performed in Greece after an incredible week-long cabaret workshop that was taught under the direction of master teachers Lina Koutrakos and Beckie Menzie.

The week culminated in a casual show in a hotel lobby with a very-old-and-in-need-of-tuning-and-repair-but-charming-upright piano, a so-so microphone and our hearts and souls. It was wonderful, the audience was wonderful, the other singers were outstanding, and I? Well, I was in heaven, once again, singing cabaret style. (I sang “I Feel Lucky,” written by the incomparable Mary Chapin Carpenter, arranged by Rick Jensen with Beckie Menzie at piano adding her own special magic and flare.

It has been 15 years since my NYC debut solo cabaret show, “In the meanwhile…” I loved making that show, directed by Lina Koutrakos, arranged and played by Rick Jensen at piano and Mark Wade on bass. After having been around the scene for several years, and singing in several terrific trio and group shows, I put together my own solo show. It was to be the official beginning of my cabaret life. But other parts of my life went in other directions shortly after that show, and for many reasons, so did my creative focus.

My heart has yearned for it over these years. I made a few brief visits back for various performances. But for the most part, I was outside of the cabaret world, sending love to the many people I know and who I admire who have been and continue to carry the tradition forward these fifteen years. I was doing many other fulfilling and creative things, but a part of me was dormant and aching.

But finally my heart said, “It is time, already!” And so I said yes to Greece, yes to the workshop and yes to singing cabaret again. And I am so glad I did.

Look out, Cabaret. I’m back! This time, for good.

#TheGetMyWorkOutThereChallenge #DayFifteen #cabaret #passion #cabaretsinging #MaryChapinCarpenter #IFeelLucky #Iamlucky #linakoutrakos #beckiemenzie

Featured Image by Diane D’Angelo (who also happens to be an amazing cabaret performer!)

Wordsmith

One of my favorite lyricists is Cole Porter.

Seriously, is there any greater master of the rhyme in song?

His rhymes always feel organic. The rhyme is there, but so snugly placed that it feels natural.

As a singer, it feels effortless to memorize and to connect with his rhymes. Maybe because he not only wrote the lyrics but also composed the music for his songs. It is a tight marriage between the two. And a joy to story-tell through.

Porter lived a complicated life, and to me he is like the Tennessee Williams of the musical theatre world. Porter is brilliant and witty, but there is personal heartache interwoven into his beautiful poetry.

One of my favorites of his most intricate songs is “The Tale of the Oyster,” from the musical Fifty Million Frenchmen, 1929. It is really more of a sonnet than a song. So well crafted:

Down by the sea lived a lonesome oyster, Ev’ry day getting sadder and moister. He found his home life awf’lly wet, And longed to travel with the upper set. Poor little oyster. Fate was kind to that oyster we know, When one day the chef from the Park Casino Saw that oyster lying there, And said “I’ll put you on my bill of fare.” Lucky little oyster. See him on his silver platter, Watching the queens of fashion chatter. Hearing the wives of millionaires Discuss their marriages and their love affairs. Thrilled little oyster. See that bivalve social climber Feeding the rich Mrs. Hoggenheimer, Think of his joy as he gaily glides Down to the middle of her gilded insides. Proud little oyster. After lunch Mrs. H. complains, And says to her hostess, “I’ve got such pains. I came to town on my yacht today, But I think I’d better hurray back to Oyster Bay.” Scared little oyster. Off they go thru the troubled tide, The yacht rolling madly from side to side. They’re tossed about ’til that fine young oyster Finds that it’s time he should quit his cloister, Up comes the oyster. Back once more where he started from, He murmured, “I haven’t a single qualm, For I’ve had a taste of society, And society has had a taste of me.” Wise little oyster.

I also love the simpler but oh-so-exquisite “What is This Thing Called Love?” from Wake Up and Dream, 1929.

I was a hum-drum person
Leading a life apart
When love flew in through my window wide
And quickened my hum-drum heart
Love flew in thorugh my window
I was so happy then
But after love had stayed a little while
Love flew out againWhat is this thing called love?
This funny thing called love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?
I saw you there one wonderful day
You took my heart and threw my heart away
That’s why I ask the Lawd up in Heaven above
What is this thing called love?
You gave me days of sunshine
You gave me nights of cheer
You made my life an enchanted dream
‘Til somebody else came near
Somebody else came near you
I felt the winter’s chill
And now I sit and wonder night and day
Why I love you still?
There is just one Cole Porter song currently in my repertoire. It is my most favorite. The glorious “After You,” one of his lesser known songs, written to open the musical Gay Divorce, 1932. I simply love it. Here is a beautiful rendition by the sublime jazz singer Sylvia Syms. An aside: she died of a heart attack at the age of 74, onstage at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel in NYC, after a long and rich career. Now that’s the way to go.
Though with joy I should be reeling
That at last you came my way,
There’s no further use concealing
That I’m feeling far from gay,
For the rare allure about you
Makes me all the plainer see
How inane, how vain, how empty life without you would be.After you, who
Could supply my sky of blue?
After you, who
Could I love?
After you, why
Should I take the time to try,
For who else could qualify
After you, who?
Hold my hand and swear
You’ll never cease to care,
For without you there what could I do?
I could search years
But who else could change my tears
Into laughter after you?

 

#coleporter #thetennessewilliamsofmusicaltheatre #wordsmith #rhymemaster

 

Kinship

Through marriage, I now have a large Irish family.

This is a continually astonishing gift. I come from a comparatively small family which, as I wrote about in my former post “On Weddings,” has become even smaller over the thirteen years I have been with my boyfriend-turned-husband through a series of losses. It is now just my oldest brother and his wife and two kids, my three aunts, an uncle, four cousins and their spouses, four cousins once removed (my cousin’s kids,) and a few of my father’s cousins, and their kids-that-are-sort-of-like-cousins.

My Irish family is comprised of 8 siblings-in-law: 6 sisters-in-law and 2 brothers-in-law. I always wished for a sister. Now I have 6! Actually, I have even more than that, because the two brothers have wives, so that’s 8 Irish sisters-in-law (in addition to the incredible woman married to my brother.)

These women, my husband’s sisters and sisters-in-law, welcomed me into the family with such love and warmth. As did his brothers. And their 23 children! Yes, that’s right. There are 23 nieces and nephews. Add to that the children those nieces and nephews are now having. I think at this writing there are 17 grandnieces and nephews, and…wait for it…2 great-grandnieces! (We go over at least once a year for weddings!)

And that is just the immediate family. My husband and his siblings all have cousins who have spouses and they have children, and those children have children.)

I love my Irish family. I come from the midwest, from people who were of Protestant stock. My people are stoic, hold-your-cards-to-your-chest people. We get together in small batches of time. There is love, of course. But it’s, well, a bit more subdued. There’s not a lot of hugging. Storytelling and laughter, yes. Just in short spurts.

My Irish family? These people truly love being together. They gather for epic periods of time!

And any time they gather, it is certain that there will be the “sing-song” and “a bit of craic.” (Craic is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, by the way. Pronounced like “crack.”)

This entails each person taking attention to perform a song, or play an instrument (there’s alway one around it seems, spoons if nothing else.) Or recite a poem, in what they call recitations.

This reverence for the spoken or sung word goes way back in the Irish culture. It is truly important and meaningful part of their life. And the love of song! The stories told through song are passed from generation to generation. It seems a rite of passage for one of the “young ones” to start singing or reciting a “piece” that then becomes known as their “party piece.”

At first, these sessions (and they truly are sessions — they often last 10 or so hours, literally into the early morning) were totally overwhelming to me. In so many good ways. I was literally mesmerized by the love and the effusiveness. The laughter! My face and sides would ache.

Of course, I was asked to join in from my first trip there. You would think that as a singer and performer that it would come naturally to just jump in. But I was hesitant at first. What they do is different than get up and sing a song. They sing songs well known to the Irish people, and to their family in particular, and people join in and sing along with each others’ songs. And there is some drinking going on, too, which adds to the joviality of it all. They are usually singing a cappella, or without instrumentation. I mainly know American pop songs and show tunes and am used to singing crafted arrangements with piano accompaniment! I wasn’t sure how to fit what I do in with what I was seeing and experiencing.

When I finally did give in and join in, I was well-received for what I had to offer, and so now I have my own party pieces to do. I also think ahead for songs to do that everyone may know so they can join in. (It feels OK to sing one song that only I know – more of a performance – but it feels weird to me to do more than that.) It is more fun to have everyone singing along. I have taught a round to the group that they love to do (as loudly as possible!)

I have had to develop new muscles for the trips to Ireland for the weddings that bring us back each year. Not only stamina for the epic hours spent together into the wee hours of the morning, which can be additionally challenging while adjusting to the time change. But for the sheer volume of human interaction that occurs.

Being a mostly introvert person, I do love people, but I also need refill-the-well time. I love going deep in conversation; not so much the small talk. I have found my own way while over there. Fortunately, I can just sit and listen a lot. I can take little power naps if need be. No one judges. Being “the American” buys me some wiggle room: I am given some leeway.

But mainly, I just love every moment. I bask in the love and the music. I do my party piece and enjoy their appreciation of what I have to offer.

I am blessed with this extended Irish family. It has been the gift that keeps on giving, this marriage to my husband. I am surrounded by love that helps keep me from getting too blue over the key family members who are no longer here.

And I get to study with true masters the art of storytelling through song and spoken word. It just doesn’t get better than that!

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Post: recite

A Foggy Day

I am a singer. And I love songs.

All different kinds of music and songs: my taste is eclectic and far-reaching. On a given day you could find me listening to rap, David Bowie and Patsy Cline in the same half hour and loving all three.

That said, I am a musical theatre actress and so of course love all things “musical theatre.” But I have also spent many years performing in the cabaret clubs of New York City, and I think that that medium is one of the most beautiful. The intimacy of the cabaret form is unparalleled.

So I have always had a special spot in my heart for the Great American Songbook.

(In case you don’t know what that refers to, it is loosely defined by Wikipedia as “the most popular and enduring songs from the 1920s to the 1950s that were created for Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and Hollywood musical film. They have been recorded and performed by a large number and wide range of singers, instrumental bands, and jazz musicians. The Songbook comprises standards by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and also Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers, and others.”)

Thanks to Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Rod Stewart, and other contemporary artists, many of these “standards” are still being brought into the mainstream. And the jazz world also keeps these chestnuts alive and well. They truly stand the test of time.

Because the songs themselves are so well-crafted, a singer can take a standard and bring their own interpretation of it to the mix, which in turn resonates with the listener and their interpretation of that particular singer’s arrangement.

It becomes a live collaboration between the musicians, the vocalist, and the composer and lyricist (even though they may have been long since dead,) which comes to life again and again when performed with an audience or recorded to be experienced by a listener.

One of my favorite standards is called “A Foggy Day,” composed by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, introduced by Fred Astaire in the 1937 film A Damsel in Distress.

It has been recorded by a zillion amazing singers. But I felt very connected to the song in a specific way. Together with my amazing accompanist and arranger Rick Jensen (an incredible songwriter/singer and one of the most talented people on this planet) and the bassist Mark Wade, we found our own unique relationship with the song.

We recorded it for a demo CD I made many years ago now, but I still love what we found.

I feel such gratitude to the Gershwin brothers for having created such a classic song that spoke to something in me so much that I had to create my own version of it.

I was a stranger in the city
Out of town were the people I knew
I had that feeling of self-pity
What to do, what to do, what to do
The outlook was decidedly blueBut as I walked through the foggy streets alone
It turned out to be the luckiest day I’ve known

A foggy day, in London town
Had me low, had me down
I viewed the morning, with much alarm
British Museum, had lost its charm

How long I wondered,
Could this thing last
But the age of miracles, hadn’t passed
For suddenly, I saw you there
And through foggy London town,
The sun was shining everywhere

For suddenly, I saw you there
And through foggy London town,
The sun was shining everywhere

I am so grateful that music exists, period, to connect me to my own heart, to artists of the past, and to other people, today and tomorrow.