November 22, 2019

Père Lachaise Cemetery: A stroll through time

Five of us Cabaret Connexion singers had just seen the Van Gogh Art Immersive Exhibit in Paris and noticed Paris’ famous final resting place, Père Lachaise Cemetery nearby. It was a beautiful fall day so we agreed to wander amid the shady trees and ornate crypts and graves in search of a few artistic ghosts.

I had been to Père Lachaise years ago but this was before cell phones and the internet so I wandered fruitlessly, unable to find most of the famous grave sites. As luck would have it, three Cuban ladies in front of us were being led by a small man who seemed most knowledgeable about the environs. We started to tag along, after asking if we could join them.

It turns out that Paul, the man in question, was a volunteer docent who lived in the neighborhood and knew Pere Lachaise like the back of his hand. Off we trotted to see some of the most famous graves.

The cemetery is large so we had to cover a lot of beautiful terrain in between burial spots. I was able to touch the memorial with Chopin’s remains, although his literal heart remains in Poland. I gazed with bemusement at the gift-strewn Jim Morrison grave, and nodded with appreciation at the memorials to Moliere, Honore de Balzac and other literary luminaries. Some of my personal favorites were artist Modigliani, singer-songwriter Gilbert Bécaud, mime Marcel Marceau and beloved author Colette.

Some tombs and crypts are ancient and falling apart, but others are decidedly new. Our guide pointed out more recent head stones with colored photos embedded, most notably victims of the Bataclan and Charlie Hebdo bombings. A promenade through this restful place is a journey through culture and history.

The highlight of our walk was the tomb of Edith Piaf where we serenaded her with La Vie En Rose. Passersby were filming our little Cabaret Connexion group so our homage to the Little Sparrow may be floating in the electronic ether somewhere.

As our time ran short, I thought with regret of the many other grave sites I had wanted to visit, Oscar Wilde, Abelard and Heloise, Sarah Bernhardt and countless others. Having a guide made this a much more gratifying afternoon experience so we gratefully tipped him at the end of our afternoon.

Paris Greeters, link below, has people available to lead you through Pére Lachaise although this may not be the organization of our wonderful and knowledgeable guide, Paul. We never even got his last name.

This famous cemetery is like the Louvre Museum; don’t try to catch all of the highlights in a frenzy. Take your time and really experience the few things that you do see. Bonne chance.

Link to the full roster of people buried at Pere Lachaise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_burials_at_P%C3%A8re_Lachaise_Cemetery

Paris Greeters: https://greeters.paris/en/

Game of Thrones Withdrawal Lingers

Nine years ago, I tried to read The Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I was overwhelmed with strange names, places and vocabulary. In frustration, I threw the book down, yet continued to watch the HBO tv series with avidity.

In my current throes of Game of Thrones withdrawal, my brother-in-law suggested I try reading book one of the series again. Lo and behold, all of the main characters were now familiar to me so I no longer felt like I was reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Book one is actually a page-turner. As in any book versus movie adaptation, the prose allows you to get a deeper sense of character, motivations are clearer and the palette of people and place descriptions is much richer and wider. Book Two, A Clash of Kings awaits on my nightstand.

If you have deep pockets and are a rabid R. R. Martin fan, you may want to consider attending the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, an annual benefit for the Chicago Public Library Foundation. For $1250, you will be invited to a dinner honoring Chicago authors with George R. R. Martin as the special guest, along with U of C poet/essayist Dr. Eve L. Ewing. An acclaimed Chicago author will be at every table.

This is one of the yearly highlights of literary Chicago. Plus, you just might get to meet Martin. He has a B. S. and M. S. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism so this is a homecoming, of sorts for him.

A member of SongShop used to play Dungeons and Dragons with Martin, back in the day. The next time you see me, you can guess who this might be!

For now, reading the books is prolonging my obsession with this fantasy series. Let me hope that a Game of Thrones intervention won’t be necessary. Any ideas on the perfect novel antidote?

For information on the Literary Awards Dinner:
https://cplfoundation.org/events/carl-sandburg-literary-awards-dinner/

Two birthday Jimmys: singer/sausage king Dean and singer/songwriter Webb

Jimmy Dean would have been 90 on August 10 (he died in 2010.)

I met Mr. Dean and his wife at the Pump Room in the 1990s. In a departure from his country music and sausage image, he was one of the most elegantly suited of men.

Jimmy Webb will be 72 on August 15.

I encountered the talented songwriter at the Sundance ski resort in Utah during a singer-songwriter workshop sponsored by the Johnny Mercer Foundation.Some of the songs he has penned are MacArthur Park, Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, Didn’t We and Time Flies.

Along with American and European standards, I will be doing a handful of Webb and Dean songs in honor of their birthdays.

Singer Jane Oliver turns 70 this week

I am celebrating Jane Olivor’s 70th birthday this week. Although she has not performed publicly since 2008, you can still find her superlative initial recordings, First Night, Chasing Rainbows, Stay the Night, The Best Side of Goodbye and Jane Oliver in Concert on music purchase and streaming sites.
I saw her at a concert in Minneapolis and was blown away by her power house voice and emotional intensity. Here’s hoping her recordings find their way onto the playlists of budding young singers.

Better still, let us hope that Jane has yet another act in her storied career.

Blossom Dearie and Bob Dorough

At the passing of singer-songwriter Bob Dorough, known for writing jazz standards and music for Schoolhouse Rock, it is worth noting his connection to Blossom Dearie who would have been 94 this week, the same age of Dorough who died this past week.

Dearie moved to Paris in 1952 and sang in a jazz vocal group called the Blue Flames with Michel Legrand’s sister, Christiane and none other than Bob Dorough. They had a hit with a French version of Lullaby of Birdland arranged by Michel Legrand.

Rocket ahead a couple of decades, and you find Dorough and Dearie working together again on Schoolhouse Rock which was initially broadcast on tv from 1973 to 1985. Blossom sang songs written for the educational show by Dorough: Mother Necessity, Figure Eight and Unpack Your Adjectives.

I recently heard her a handful of Dearie recordings on the Amazon show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. That ethereal voice of Dearie lives on!

And if you were wondering where she got that distinctive name, someone delivered peach blossoms to their home on the day of her birth 94 years ago. Blossom was her middle name but it became part of her stage name. Dearie passed in 2009 at age 85.

Several years back, I took a songwriting seminar with Bob Dorough at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Dearie came in to see me perform at the Pump Room when she was in Chicago for a gig. Dorough and Dearie were both consummate performers and songwriters. I was blessed to have met and admired both of them.

Julie Wilson, cabaret icon and mother

I had chosen Cabaret artist Julie Wilson as my honoree since she would have been 93 this week. As luck would have it, I had also selected Mind Hunter for a blog post. Imagine my surprise when I realized that her son, Holt McCallany was one of the stars of this Netflix original series. Synchronicity at work.

Whenever I was in New York, I would stop in to see Iowa-born make-up artist Steven Herrald and buy products from him. He was also the make-up man for cabaret icon Julie Wilson who was originally from Nebraska. Our paths crossed at his studio where I first heard about her son, Holt McCallany, the actor. She was rightfully proud of his success.

For those who need a refresher on who Julie Wilson was, her career spanned from her Broadway stage debut in 1946 all the way to her cabaret engagements before her death in 2015.
Career highlights included her Tony nomination for Legs Diamond in 1988, a Broadway musical starring the legendary Peter Allen, her appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and roles on the soap opera, The Secret Storm. I even saw tv footage where she did a head stand on one of the late night talk shows. She was an avid practitioner of yoga!

Wilson resided in London in the early 1950s while performing in productions of Kiss Me, Kate, South Pacific and Bells Are Ringing. She also did American national tours in Show Boat, Panama Hattie, Silk Stockings, Follies, Company and A Little Night Music.

She was best known to me as a superlative interpreter of Great American Song with collection recordings featuring material by Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, Cy Coleman, Stephen Sondheim, and the Gershwins.

Julie, we miss you but we see a bit of your signature eyes in the face of Holt. Your legacy lives on in son and song.