May 26, 2020

Ibrahim Ferrer – Afro-Cuban singer and musician

Some may remember the marvelous 1996 recording, “Buena Vista Social Club.” Surely one of the most endearing world music Afro-Cuban singers to be highlighted was Ibrahim Ferrer who had a marvelous last chapter as an entertainer. After officially retiring from music in 1991, he was brought back to record with the Cuban All Stars in 1996, followed by performing on Ry Cooder’s Grammy-award-winning “Buena Vista Social Club.” The recordings garnered him world-wide popularity. He toured Europe with groups and as a soloist until his death in 2005 at age 78.

You don’t have to know Spanish to enjoy this Latin standard about a perfidious lover.

Perfidia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDT-xuqpH2U

Havana goes on my travel list with its vintage cars, pastel buildings, delicious food and soulful music.

Famous Singers Explored: Fado singer Amalia Rodrigues

I decided to do feature posts on famous singers. I begin with Amalia Rodrigues, the renowned fado singer from Portugal. Fado means “fate” in Portuguese which indicates a fatalistic and somewhat dark cast to this passionate style of songs.

Rodriguez started her singing career in 1935 and started touring internationally in 1943. She was especially popular in Portugal, Spain, France and Brazil. She became known as the “Queen of Fado.”

Her most fruitful career time was in the 1960s with concerts world-wide in Europe, the U. S. and the former Soviet Union. She died in 1999. Rodriguez remains the most successful Portuguese artist in history. Her recordings remain timeless.

Here is a Youtube clip of her singing:

The Vertical Line on MHZ – Italian tv series

MHZ Choice, the tv streaming service, continues to introduce me to European television programs that I can’t find other places. The Vertical Line, an 8 episode dramedy from Italy is the freshest series I have seen in quite a while.

The cancer ward of an Italian public hospital seems like an unlikely place for a television show meant as entertainment, but each brief episode packs a punch of deep emotional truths and yes, comedy.

The main character, Luigi, played by the expressive-eyed Valerio Mastrandrea, is a devoted fortyish husband and father of a young child with a baby on the way. He tragically finds out he has a cancerous tumor that must be surgically removed.

He becomes part of an oncology ward where he encounters quirky patients, blasé doctors, aggressive nurses and med-techs and a morose hospital chaplain.

The show is semi-autobiographical in that the creator, Mattia Torre passed away on July 2019 at the age of 47 after experiences with the Italian medical establishment. As his tv swan song, Torre depicts joy and humor in The Vertical Line, as well as sadness in this excellent limited-run series.

If you want something completely different from American medical shows, check out The Vertical Line currently streaming on MHZ Choice. As a reminder, you can add MHZ Choice to your Amazon Prime Video package or sign up for the stand-alone app. It is worth every penny of the monthly $7.99 or $89.99 for the year.

https://watch.mhzchoice.com/

The Embassy: Spanish tv series on MHZ

MHZ, the tv streaming site which now bills itself as the Euro TV Place, has just added its first Spanish tv series, The Embassy. Ripped from today’s headlines, we are introduced to the new Spanish ambassador sent to Bangkok, Thailand. He discovers a vicious nest of corruption in his new office.

The crooked staff push back by sending his wife doctored photos showing him with a female employee. They hire someone to plant drugs in his daughter’s purse causing her to be arrested and sent to prison. They also frame him for corruption and generally make his life miserable.

This is a dramatic soap opera, so we watch with glee as his attractive wife has a one night stand with a younger man who turns out to be her daughter’s boyfriend. The brother of the main bad guy also falls in love with the ambassador’s daughter.

Political intrigue, greed, emotional deception and murder all play a part in this very entertaining 11 part series. The final episode is a little too melodramatic for my taste, but the series is a fun ride nonetheless.

After reading more about our current foreign policy, The Embassy does not seem so outlandish!

Link to the tv show: https://watch.mhzchoice.com/the-embassy

Au Lapin Agile, a trip back in time to a quintessential Parisian cabaret

Cabaret can mean two things in Paris. If you are looking for topless women, champagne, feathers and lots of glitz, head for the Moulin Rouge, Lido de Paris or Crazy Horse and their glamourous ilk in Montmartre.

If you want something less expensive, very musical and a little bit retro, head for Au Lapin Agile for “poèmes et chansons (poems and songs)” and shots of cherry house wine.

Cassita, resident chanteuse Au Lapin Agile

Lapin Agile Owner Yves Mathieu

There is a resident group of professional singers who lead group sing-alongs and perform mini-sets of their own throughout the evening. Everything is in French but those who do not speak the language can enjoy the familiar melodies and soak up the timeless atmosphere with paintings covering the walls as they sit at wood tables that very well may be ancient.

The little house cabaret has existed since 1860 when it was first named Rendezvous for Thieves followed by Cabaret for Assassins.

In 1875, Artist Andre Gill painted a rabbit jumping out of a sauce pan thereby giving the venue its new name, Gill’s Rabbit. Before 1900, the title evolved into the Agile Rabbit or Au Lapin Agile, a delightful historical play on words.

The great cabaret artist Aristide Bruant (immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec) bought the club after the turn of last century and created a meeting place for struggling yet creative luminaries such as Picasso, Modigliani, Apollinaire and Utrillo.

Some of the current excellent performers include Patrice and Oona, a singer-songwriter duo, singer guitarist Gerard Caillieux, baritone Frédéric, the son of the current owner, Jean-Claude Orfali, pianist extraordinaire and Cassita, a clarion-voiced accordionist who summons up the spirit of Piaf.

If you want to brush up on your French before a visit, here is a page of lyrics from group songs sung at Au Lapin Agile.

au-lapin-agile.com/paroles/

This September, Au Lapin Agile was kind enough to let us bring Cabaret Connexion 2019 to their venue on their off night. David Edelfelt and I presented our Porter in Paris show with guest stars Jacques Protat, Jean-Jacques DeLaunay and Ava Logan, followed by Paris Qui Chante featuring Christine Steyer, Jean-Claude Orfali, Mylène Launay, Maryline Rollet, Francoise Miran and resident chanteuse Cassita. Angelina Réaux, Claudia Hommel and Anne and Mark Burnell were guest stars in the regular Friday show later in the week.

David & Elizabeth playing at Lapin Agile 9-19

A few words of advice, use the restroom before you are seated because making that trip once the show has started is problematic. If you want a beverage besides the cherry wine, order that at the beginning of your evening. For those who have trouble sitting on hard benches, opt for one of the banquette seats lining the walls.

The current owner since 1972, host and singer Yves Mathieu and his family have been have keeping the flame alive by including French song favorites from the last hundred years all the way back to folk songs from the 15th century. Bravo, Yves and family!

For the real heart of Montmartre and perhaps of musical Paris, an hour or four at Au Lapin Agile is what the doctor prescribes.

Tuesday to Sunday, 9pm-1am
Cash payments only
22 Rue des Saules, 75018 Paris France

Here is the English site for visitors, but the French site has more info.

au-lapin-agile.com/1-au-lapin-agile-anglais/

au-lapin-agile.com

The German Cabaret Legacy in American Popular Music by William Farina

Evanston resident, author William Farina has written an excellent book about how Germany’s Weimar cabaret culture has impacted much of Western music and culture in the past several decades.

The Weimar Republic is loosely defined from 1919 to 1933 which is the time after World War I in Germany until the run-up to World War II. The 1930s saw the rise of Nationalism and the Nazi Party leading up to the global maelstrom between the Allies and the Axis. As one has watched the rise of nationalism in our own country, one could draw some unsettling parallels between our present day and that of this storied era of German history.

Troubled times frequently result in artistic ferment and the Weimar Republic is a particularly good example. Kurt Weill and Frederick Hollander were writing music, Lotte Lenya (Weill’s wife) was setting new standards in performance and a young Marlene Dietrich was creating a persona that would find world-wide popularity.

Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel), G. W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box with Louise Brooks), F. W. Murnau (Nosferatu) and Fritz Lang (Metropolis) were but a few of the filmmakers working in Germany at the time. Leni Riefenstahl was also writing and directing films throughout the 20s and 30s before signing on as the official visual recorder of the Nazi regime.

German performers, writers, directors, composers and authors, many of them Jewish fled and created new lives for themselves in Hollywood, in New York and in countless cities in the U. S. and other European locales. Little wonder that all of the arts would be impacted by this diaspora.

Lotte Lenya & Louis Armstrong

Interesting connections are made throughout Farina’s book. Jim Morrison of the Doors was a film student of Josef von Sternberg which may explain why he recorded Weill’s Alabama Song. The Beatles got their true start playing cabaret venues in Hamburg, Germany, even recording German versions of some of their songs. Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan wrote that he became semi-obsessed with the song Mack the Knife. Lotte Lenya also recorded a version of Mack with the legnedary Louis Armstrong.

Marlene Dietrich, who performed live cabaret shows from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, was instrumental in creating the “big name” tradition on the Las Vegas Strip. No less than Burt Bacharach was her music director/pianist before his run of song hits. In her final film appearance, Dietrich shared a scene with David Bowie singing the song Just a Gigolo.

Marlene Dietrich

Broadway writers Kander and Ebb renewed interest in the Weimar Republic with their groundbreaking musical Cabaret which cast Lotte Lenya in a supporting role on Broadway. Many of the songs from their other musicals, most notably Chicago, have a Berlin cabaret feel.

Weill songs can be found on recordings by the likes of Bette Midler, Marianne Faithful, Teresa Stratas and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Mack the Knife alone has been sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Buble, Bobby Darin, Sting and Lyle Lovett, to name a few.

Ute Lemper

Current German cabaret artists like Ute Lemper and Max Raabe continue to play to sold-out houses across the globe.

My show at Dank Haus on Friday, April 6 will include a short presentation by William Farina and my interpretation of songs by Kurt Weill, Kander & Ebb, the Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, selected song hits of Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf along with some of my own creations.

Show details below. Tickets must be ordered in advance.