November 24, 2017

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.

Who is Karen Akers you ask?

She was in the original Broadway production of Nine and had a juicy role in another Maury Yeston musical called Grand Hotel.

Akers has also appeared in films; Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo and Heartburn, but she has devoted fans for her cabaret career.

Her first two albums were continually on my stereo turn-table, Presenting Karen Akers and In a Very Unusual Way. Adept in French and German as well as English, she has been known for her impeccable repertoire of theater and cabaret songs.

All Music lists ten Karen Akers solo albums:

GNOD – The Global Network of Discovery

I happened upon a site with the acronym gnod, quite by accident, while looking for authors similar to crime writers Donna Leon and Henning Mankell. Created by Marek Gibney in Hamburg, Germany, the Global Network of Discovery (gnod) features word maps to discover authors related to what you already like.

Not only can you look up networks of authors, but you can also fill out brief questionnaires that help the site learn more about people’s literary choices. The user is queried about whether you know, like or dislike a particular author.

The site also has sections on music, art, movies, and electronic products. In truth, the electronics portion seems to be the site’s commercial raison d’être, but this shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of the rest of the site when you are looking for new authors, composers, films, and artists.

Nelson Riddle, Arranger to the stars

Nelson Riddle with Frank Sinatra

Nelson Riddle – Composer, music director for tv, film and music recordings, band leader/conductor and orchestrator/arranger would have been 95 this week.

Riddle played piano and trombone but it was as an arranger and composer that he found his greatest success. His arrangements  graced the recordings of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Johnny Matthis, Rosemary Clooney, Keely Smith and some of Ella Fitzgerald’s famed Songbook albums.

He had a career resurgence in the 1980s, working with Linda Ronstadt on her three albums of jazz standards, What’s New, Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons.

Iconic Riddle arrangements include Route 66, One For My Baby, Mona Lisa, Unforgetable and Witchcraft. He also composed scores for films and tv shows. Although he didn’t compose the theme song for the 1960s television show, Batman, he did score several episodes along with those of The Untouchables.

Other artists he did arrangements for included Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr., Kate Smith and Oscar Peterson, among many others.

Born on June 1, 1921, Nelson Riddle died at age 64 in 1985.

Marilyn Maye, Cabaret Diva at 89

Cabaret aficionados may recognize the name, but Marilyn Maye needs to be more widely honored for her lengthy career and her indomitable ability to defy age as she turns 89 this month.

Born in Wichita, KS, she and her mother moved to Des Moines, IA for her teen years. While there, she met songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane who helped secure her own 15 minute radio show.
Chicago and Kansas City figure into her early performing career. She met Steve Allen who promptly invited her to be on his TV program, The Steve Allen Show. This led to her appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson where she holds the impressive record of having sung on the show 76 times, more than any other singer.

Marilyn Maye in the 1960s

She had a handful of hit singles in the late 1960s, with the two stand-outs being Cabaret and Step To the Rear.

Her mid-career was not in the national spotlight, but she continued to perform in venues of all sorts. I caught her several times in Okoboji, Iowa where my parents had a summer home. No matter the locale, she brought verve, heart and a consummate professionalism to every performance.

The Mabel Mercer Foundation kicked her career back into overdrive in 2006 with an appearance at Lincoln Center. She has been the toast of New York and cabaret spots all over the country in the past ten plus years.

Her recording of “Too Late Now” by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane is included in the Smithsonian’s Best Compositions of the 20th Century. Chicago Cabaret Professionals bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award upon her in 2012 (I got to hand her the award.) She was inducted into the American Jazz Museum (Kansas City) as a Jazz Legend in 2015.

Along with her impressive performing schedule, she continues to conduct master classes and teaches privately in New York City and around the country. This octogenarian is proving that age is just a number –  if you have the talent and fortitude of Marilyn Maye. You keep singing, lady! And Happy Birthday.

Imagine Dragons, an alt rock band from Las Vegas

imagine_dragons_2012I always said that I would not be one of those people who became oblivious to current pop music after a certain age. Alas, I realized I was now predominantly listening to jazz, opera, musical theater and artists of yore.

Friend, composer Jim Koudelka who teaches a lot of teenagers has been my initial guide on rectifying ignorance of contemporary popular music.

Formed in 2008, Imagine Dragons, an alt pop rock band from Las Vegas, Nevada made their album debut with Night Visions in 2012. It’s Time was their first break-out song hit, but it is Radioactive that Rolling Stone magazine deemed “the biggest rock hit of the year.” Their second album, Smoke + Mirrors (2014) made it to number one in the US, the UK and Canada.

Accolades include Billboard Music Awards, the Grammys, American Music Awards and a World Music Award.  They have provided music for movies, started a charity called The Tyler Robinson Foundation for kids suffering from cancer and even made an appearance on The Muppets in 2015 which will make you chuckle after you see their Radioactive video.

Little wonder that this year, they decided to take a sabbatical. May they be rested enough to make more of their alternative rock pop gems in 2017.

Current members are Dan Reynolds, Wayne Sermon, Ben McKee, Daniel Platzman. imaginedragons-radioactive-alexandradaddario-02

If you are unfamiliar with Imagine Dragons, check out this youtube video of their hit, Radioactive:

Or On Top of the World, a very amusing video homage to the Beatles, Nixon and the late sixties:

Alyssa Allgood – young jazz vocalist

I recently caught 24-year-old singer Alyssa Allgood at a free concert sponsored by Uptown Saturday Night at the old Essanay Studios currently housing St. Augustine’s College.

As noted jazz critic Neil Tesser said, her last name says it all. She sings with maturity, flawless intonation and a bouncing swing beat. Her original lyrics show great promise, too. Her debut EP CD, Lady Bird is available at iTunes, cdbaby and Amazon.

She will be performing at the Chicago Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 3, 2016 at 1:10 pm on the Von Freeman Stage.

In the mean time, catch Allgood singing jazz standard, Day By Day with organist Dan Chase and guitarist Tim Fitzgerald:

For more Uptown Saturday Night events:

Jacob Collier, young musical internet sensation

Prepare to be wowed by a most talented young Brit by the name of Jacob Collier.

He sings, writes songs, plays a zillion instruments including insanely good jazz piano and creates highly inventive videos that are all the rage on the internet. And oh, he is only 22 years of age.
As a child, he was an actor in tv and movies and also sang child vocals in operas. His mother, sisters and grandfather are all musically-inclined so he grew up surrounded by the audio art.

Catch these 4 varied video clips and enjoy his genius. Warning: once you start, it is hard to stop watching his video clips of well-known tunes and of his original material.

Fascinating Rhythm:


Crazy She Calls Me with Jamie Cullum:

Watch him in action in a big band recording:

I can’t wait to see how this guy evolves. He has been commissioned to create arrangements for orchestras and bands around the world.

Hillbenders – Bluegrass + The Who’s Tommy

I like to pass along recommendations that I get, so here is a clip of a blue grass group called the Hillbenders. Not only are they excellent award-winning musicians, but their current release, Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry has been drawing some attention. If you are a fan of The Who’s 1969 classic recording, the Hillbenders full version will make you smile.

Even the link name makes me chuckle:

Laura Fygi, Dutch Jazz Singer

Happy 60th Birthday to Jazz Vocalist Laura Fygi

If you love jazz vocals, let me introduce you to Laura Fygi who celebrated her 60th birthday on August 27. The daughter of a Dutch father and an Egyptian mother, she spent some of her childhood in Uruguay so she was raised to be an internationalist.

In 1984, she started out in a popular Dutch all-girl band called Centerfold where the members wore lingerie and were big in Europe and Japan. When that folded, she started a short-lived band called The Backlot. At the same time, Mercury Records asked her to do a solo album with famous Belgian musician “Toots” Thielemans where jazz was the predominant style. Her jazz vocal career took off and she has been on the radar of jazz aficionados world-wide ever since.

She has recorded wonderful material from the American, French and Latin Songbooks including the songs The Best Is Yet To Come, Triste and Autumn Leaves.

Besides singing in French and Spanish, she and I share another small thing: we have both performed at the Paradiso, a storied music venue in Amsterdam which has hosted The Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse, Nirvana, Adele, Pink Floyd among many other pop, jazz and classical performers. I sang and played original compositions for a modern classical chamber music concert at the Paradiso.

Back to Laura Fygi, her performances can be found on youtube and her recordings on itunes and Amazon. Check out her Volons Vers la Lune, in other words known as Fly Me To the Moon. Fantastique!