May 26, 2017

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!

In Memory of Vocalist Margaret Whiting

Singer Margaret Whiting would have been 91 this week.

I had the distinct pleasure to meet her at a cabaret camp at the Eugene O’Neill summer home in Connecticut. Our paths crossed again at a singer-songwriter conference at Sundance, Utah. This time she was accompanied by her devoted husband Jack Wrangler. She openly spoke about falling in love with this handsome porn star who was much younger than she was. They married in 1994 and remained so until his death from emphysema in 2009. Margaret outlived him by two years passing away in 2011 at age 87. She and I remained in email contact up until her final illness. I treasure the time I spent with her.

Not only was she a vocalist with several hits under her belt (Moonlight In Vermont, It Might As Well Be Spring), but she was the daughter of composer Richard Whiting who wrote such iconic songs as Too Marvelous For Words, Hooray For Hollywood, Ain’t We Got Fun and On the Good Ship Lollipop. Johnny Mercer had been one of her father’s collaborators and it was Mercer who first signed her to his Capitol Records company, even cutting a duet recording with her of Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Throughout her life, she remained a champion of the songs written by Mercer and her father. She also was a tireless supporter of young singing and song-writing talent.

I remember hearing her sing One For My Baby at Sundance when she was in her 80s and she could still create musical magic with her magnetic presence and her simple, honest delivery of the Mercer lyrics. Margaret Whiting’s memory burns bright this week for me and no doubt for others.

Metacritic, when you want to know what the critics think

If you want to see how your favorite new or old show is doing with the critics, you may want to check out Metacritic, a media site that compiles critical reviews of television shows, movies, music and computer games.

Metacritic rates the various media on a scale of 100 with 61 to 100 being good to great, 40 to 60 being so-so and 39 or under in the stinkeroo category. This weeks Metacritic tv list has Grace of Monaco as a bomb at 39, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! at a “just okay” 53 and Tig: Season 1 topping the list with a favorable 89. If numbers are too much for you, green is good, yellow is “meh” and red is “avoid at all costs.”

Movies use the same number/color format and are listed by whats in the theaters now and what’s available on DVD/Blu-ray. Games are listed by what device you use such as Xbox One, PC or iphone/ipad.

The critical quotes become even handier for the music category. As an example, Wilco’s recent album “Star Wars” gets a 100 score from The Independent in the UK with this to say: “Even by Wilco’s adventurous standards, Star Wars is possibly the most unusual, exploratory work of the band’s existence.”

There is also a features category that has current topics like the 2014-15 TV Season Scorecard which lists which shows have been renewed or dropped, what to watch now on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, what movies you should see this weekend and a list of the Emmy nominations.

My take is this: one critic may be wrong, but ten or more just may be able to steer you to the unmissable hit. Or keep you from spending time or money on a real turkey.

Cedille Records Celebrates 25 Years as Chicago’s classical record company

Cedille Records, Chicago’s own classical recording label is marking its 25th Anniversary this year. Started by Jim Ginsburg back in 1989, the label has made it their mission to record Chicago artists and composers along with international material that needs a wider listening audience.

Some of the notable artists on the roster are violinist Rachel Barton Pine, soprano Patrice Michaels, violinist Jennifer Koh, flautist Mathieu Dufour and pianist Ursula Oppens. Groups include the chamber ensemble eighth blackbird, Gaudete Brass, Fifth House Ensemble, both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Grant Park Orchestra as well as illustrious conductors such as Carlos Kalmar, Paul Freeman, Stephen Alltop, Anne Heider and Christopher Bell. They also highlight the work of Chicago composers including Easley Blackwood, Stacy Garrop, Leo Sowerby, Lita Grier, John La Montaine and William Ferris.

Cedille regularly sponsors live concerts and features a large catalogue of recordings for purchase. You might consider getting on their mailing list which entitles you to a free download of the week and 25% off a CD of the week. Cedille is a  Chicago non-profit treasure which deserves our support as it enters its next quarter century of providing superlative Chicago-connected music.

Cedille Records/Cedille Chicago
1205 W. Balmoral, Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 989-2515

Pop Music: Dental phobia playlist

At a recent dental exam, I heard the dreaded word “cavity” which started my mind down a phobic path of fear and loathing.  It’s not the possibility of pain that sends me into a panic, but the high-pitched sound of the drill. It conjures up memories of Laurence Olivier playing an evil dentist in the movie “Marathon Man.”
I decided to make a fluffy pop music playlist for my ipad so I could attempt to drown out the much-feared noise with ear buds.
Thanks to the alacrity and efficiency of my dentist, Dr. Hilliard Blank, I mercifully got to listen to only two songs. The rest of the music was a reward for enduring the procedure without screaming.

The ten songs are all by female singers including everything from Audra McDonald singing a John Mayer tune, to Linda Eder warbling a country tune, to the pop stylings of the Ditty Bops all the way to K. D. Lang singing the theme song from “Valley of the Dolls.” May you enjoy at least one of the songs in this crazy-quilt assemblage. I have included youtube links so you can check the songs out to see if you want to buy better recordings on itunes or amazon.

“My Stupid Mouth” by John Mayer, sung by Audra McDonald

“Childhood Dreams” by Nelly Furtado

“Stay Now” sung by Jem

“The Dress” by Scott Alan, sung by Randy Graff

“Always” by Scott Alan, sung by Sutton Foster

“Ding Dong” by Nellie McKay

“Let It Go” by Fauxliage

“Lifted” sung Linda Eder

“Wake Up” sung by The Ditty Bops

“Theme from the Valley of the Dolls” by Bacharach and David, sung  by K. D. Lang