October 21, 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: https://www.allmusic.com/artist/karen-akers-mn0000356422/discography

Johnny Burke – Lyricist of Note (1908 – 1964)

Though not as well known as lyricists like Johnny Mercer or Sammy Cahn, Johnny Burke contributed many great lyrics to the Great American Songbook, including the Oscar-winning song, Swinging On a Star from the 1944 Bing Crosby movie Going My Way.

While born in California, he grew up in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and landed his first job in the Chicago office of the Irving Berlin Publishing Company, in the midst of the “Roaring Twenties.” Berlin transferred Burke to the New York office where he started collaborating with composer, Harold Spina.

By 1936, Burke had relocated to Hollywood where some of his songwriting partners included Arthur Johnston (Pennies From Heaven) and Jimmy Monaco, but it was with Jimmy Van Heusen that his songwriting took off. Their hits included Here’s That Rainy Day, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Imagination, It Could Happen To You, But Beautiful, Like Someone In Love, Moonlight Becomes You and Sunday, Monday or Always. Other of his notable songs were What’s New with Bob Haggart and the classic, Misty with Burke lyrics added to the cool jazz piano hit of Erroll Garner.

Mr. Burke, Happy Birthday this week and thank you for all of your lovely lyrics.

Chicago Cabaret Professionals Annual Gala at Park West honoring KT Sullivan, George Howe and Claudia Hommel’s SongShop

Not only is there a dynamite cast of local favorite singers at the annual Chicago Cabaret Professionals Gala, but the organization is honoring three entities that all music-lovers should know about.

KT Sullivan is one of the most impressive cabaret artists performing today. She was a headliner at the storied Oak Room at New York’s Algonquin Hotel for almost 20 years, starred in the Broadway revival of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and has performed at places like Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center and the Spoleto Festival. She has concertized in London, Paris and Australia and has been seen and heard on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion and PBS. She continues to serve the cabaret community not only as a performer, but as artistic director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation since 2012.
https://www.ktsullivan.com/
Many people know George Howe as the indispensable sidekick to Daryl Nitz, but he wears several other hats as well. His long-running Monday night open mike at Davenport’s draws pros and amateurs alike. With his fine vocals and piano, Howe demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of songs of all types. He is also an accomplished composer having written the scores to family musicals such as “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” and general audience fare such as “Queen Lucia,” “Sleepy Ugly” and “Northanger Abbey.” For more about the amazing George Howe, please visit:
http://www.georgehowemusic.com/

SongShop, created by Claudia Hommel, has provided a safe workshop environment for singers of all ages and levels to explore the approach, interpretation and performance of songs. Homes, churches, schools and theaters have hosted SongShop concerts, but the most long-standing affiliation has been with DePaul University’s Adult Education Division. Hommel has not only kept the Chicago SongShop going strong but has branched out to Detroit. Along with her own performing schedule, she has conducted song workshops in Paris and at institutions across the United States. SongShop has not only nurtured singers, but has educated listeners about the emotional connection possible when lyrics meet the hearts and minds of audience members.
http://songshoplive.com/about

Other performers at the Gala include Anne & Mark Burnell, Cynthia Clarey, Joan Curto, Elizabeth Doyle, David Edelfelt, Hilary Ann Feldman, Laura Freeman, Cathy Glickman, Carla Gordon, KT McCammond, Denise McGowan Tracy, Beckie Menzie & Tom Michael, Marianne Murphy-Orland, Daryl Nitz, Judy Rossignuolo-Rice & Bernie Rice.

Doors open at 5:45 p.m. “Cocktail” performance begins at 6:15 p.m. The Gala Performance starts at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are also available at www.ticketfly.com 877.987.6487

Avoid fees and purchase tickets at the Park West Box Office 773.929.5959

CCP will take ticket sales via check, credit card or PayPal by mail or on our website. For more info call our hotline 312-409-3106 or email ccp408268@aol.com.

Le Petit Bal Musette in Paris

The next time you visit Paris, put Le Petit Bal Musette on your schedule.

Every Sunday from 11 am to 2 pm, rain or shine, Christian Bassoul leads an open air singing and dancing fest in front of the St. Medard Church on the rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondisement.

Song sheets are passed out so you can sing along to French favorites from Piaf to Brassens to Aznavour. If you are brave, you may find yourself getting up to sing or being asked to dance with a pretty French woman or a handsome Frenchman. Limited seating is available for audience members, but you just may find yourself jumping up so you can sway to the music.

Since 1975, Christian Bassoul has been the musical ringleader of this marvelous tradition with his lively accordion playing and singing. He even plays great jazz violin!

This neighborhood is charming so plan on a little shopping along with lunch at a local cafe after you have been musically charmed by talented locals and visitors.
http://www.petitbal.com/fr-rdvous.htm

Alan Jay Lerner, wordsmith

Musical Theater geeks will recognize the name Alan Jay Lerner, but the general public may ask, “Who?”
Not only did he co-write My Fair Lady which some theater aficionados consider the perfect musical theater piece, but his creative output also included Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, Gigi and Camelot, all written with composer Frederick Loewe. He won Academy Awards for writing the screenplays for An American In Paris, Gigi and a nomination for the adapted screenplay for My Fair Lady so lyrics were not his only interest.


He also had some other interesting collaborations. With Burton Lane, he created the movie musical, Royal Wedding, and the stage musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever which was recently revived on Broadway with Harry Connick, Jr. and Jessie Mueller. He and Andre Previn penned a musical, Coco about iconic fashion designer Chanel; Lolita, My Love was a written with composer, John Barry; 1600 Pennsyvalania Avenue was co-written with the revered Leonard Bernstein; composer Charles Strouse was his partner on Dance a Little Closer. Lerner also started the movie project Dr. Doolittle but was replaced with Brit Leslie Bricusse.

A little known fact is that Alan Jay Lerner was, for a time, the lyricist for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The second act opener, Masquerade is conjectured to have an uncredited lyric by Lerner.

The celebrated librettist has two other darker claims to fame. He was a patient of Max Jacobsen, “Dr. Feelgood” and was addicted to amphetamines for 20 years. Lerner was also married 8 times and fathered four children. An ex-wife quipped, “Marriage is Alan’s way of saying goodbye.”

Still and all, every time I sing favorites like Almost Like Being In Love, On a Clear Day, On the Street Where You Live, If Ever I Would Leave You and countless other songs, I honor the brilliance of Alan Jay Lerner.

An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater

I had heard about this charming musical ever since it premiered on Broadway to great acclaim in 2015, so it was with great anticipation that I caught this national tour version of An American In Paris.

The production has several things going for it. Ballet sequences are breath-taking as conceived by director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.  George Gershwin’s music provides the lush soundtrack for the whole show. Not only do we hear permutations of his famous An American In Paris orchestral work, but we are treated to portions of his classical Second Prelude, his Concerto in F, his Second Rhapsody and his Cuban Overture. Beloved songs like I Got Rhythm and The Man I Love are sung by cast members, but lesser known tunes like Fidgety Feet, Who Cares and Liza shed new light on Gershwin’s song catalogue.
The technical aspects of the show dazzle with creative use of screen images on the electronic back drop and moving screens. Parisian buildings, paintings and other famous sights delight the eye throughout the show. A recurring view of the river Seine is most amusing as two boats are depicted by different artistic techniques.

The plot harkens back to the basic romantic formula found in black and white movies. Three men who are friends are all in love with the same ballerina. Boy and boy and boy meet girl. Only one boy gets girl.

The action takes place in Paris right after World War II in 1945 so the frothy doings are sprinkled with references to the German Occupation, the Resistance, and the Holocaust making this a work of both light and dark.

For me the orchestral music, the dance sequences, the stage images and Craig Lucas’ snappy dialogue outshine the singing, but this is a quibble when the over-all effect of the production is to know that one has spent a delightful evening at the theater.  Broadway In Chicago will be running An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater through August 13, 2017.

http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/an-american-in-paris/

Chicago Paris Cabaret Connexion Kick-off Concert Sunday, July 23 at 6:30 pm at PianoForte

Headliners at PianoForte include Lynne Jordan, Claudia Hommel, Elizabeth Doyle, Kat Victoria along with Ava Logan, Cynthia Clarey, Natalja Aicardi, Ty Cooper and Barb Smith with pianist Paul Coscino.

People keep asking me what this “Connexion” is all about. In a nutshell, it is a three day conference with American and French singers in Paris. This is no mere touristic visit to the City of Light, but a meeting of vocal artists from Chicago and Paris to discuss the performance, history and future of cabaret. We hope this to be the first of annual conferences which will alternate between Chicago and Paris, our sister city.

Some of the weekend highlights will include visits to the Museum of Montmartre with its excellent collection of cabaret memorabilia, to the Sunday morning open sing-along at the Petit Bal Musette on the rue Mouffetard and to Le Lapin Agile which has been a cabaret venue since 1860.

Clinicians both French and American will present a concert on Saturday evening, September 16 at Studio Raspail; conference participants will be featured in a concert on Sunday, September 17 at l’Espace le Scribe.

Morning and afternoon sessions will be master classes and special presentations such as Kat Victoria’s show on Black female singers in Paris, Michel Trihoreau’s history of cabaret with singer-guitarist Michel Grange and Yves Bertrand’s program on singer-songwriter Marcel Legay.

The conference is not only for singers. We have some fans who will be attending the evening performances of the “Connexion” in Paris.

Cabaret fan Clyde Whitaker is flying into Paris from Thailand.

The funds we are raising in Chicago are predominantly to pay for the Paris venues and the salaries of French musicians and clinicians. Please support this musical project that strengthens the bond between Paris and Chicago. Your attendance at one of our benefit concerts, your purchase of a raffle ticket or your donation will help make this international cabaret exchange a reality. Long live cabaret in Paris and Chicago!

For more information on the Chicago concerts and the Paris Conference, please go to: http://www.chicagopariscabaretconnexion.org/index.php

Bastille Day on July 14th

Bastille Day is celebrated in France in much the same manner as our 4th of July in the United States. Fireworks, picnics and parades are part of both countries festivities for this patriotic holiday, but the French have some interesting customs I think we should adopt.
Petanques, boules or bocce are all names for the beloved game where the goal is to toss hollow metal balls as close as possible to the smaller wooden ball called a piglet or jack. Any backyard or park with a flat grass or dirt surface can be an instant petanques or bocce court. Many French Bastille parties feature endless rounds of this game that dates from the early 1900s. Luckily, I have found friends and neighbors in Chicago that play this game, too.

Firehouses throughout Paris and environs are filled with revelers enjoying beverages, dancing and music on July 13 and 14th. From 9 pm to 4 am, these festive Firemen’s balls raise money for the community’s fearless fire fighters while providing a blow-out of a party for Bastille celebrants. Cover charges and donations fill the Fire Department’s coffers.

How about talking Chicago firehouses into doing something similar on the 3rd of July? The fire fighters could regale party-goers with their favorite recipes, music and dance steps while raising money for the Chicago Fire Department!

Singing the national anthem and wearing red, white and blue are other things French and Americans share in July. To be honest, La Marseillaise is much easier to sing than The Star Spangled Banner! Vive la France!

Notes on the 2017 Elkhart Jazz Festival

David Edelfelt, Elizabeth Doyle & Charles Troy at the Midwest Museum of American Art (a former downtown Elkhart bank)

As musical guests of Charles Troy in his two Cole Porter presentations this past weekend, David Edelfelt and I were introduced to the charms of Elkhart, Indiana and its Jazz Festival, celebrating its 30th year.

The entire downtown becomes one big block party with food concessions, an exhibit of vintage cars and music, music, everywhere. People lay claim to the outdoor row seating or bring lawn chairs to install themselves in front of two large outdoor stages, or they pop into clubs, churches and theaters to catch a great variety of jazz during the three day festival.

Elizabeth Doyle at the Midwest Museum of American Art during the 2017 Elkhart Jazz Festival

The two programs we presented were Cole Porter and the Great Depression and Cole Porter’s Top Ten List Songs. Our connection to jazz was illustrating the provenance of Porter tunes that have become jazz standards. Hoosiers are justifiably proud of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael who hail from Indiana.

Gene Bertoncini, Bucky Pizzarelli, Martin Pizzarelli and Ed Laub at the New Life Community Church during Elkhart’s 2017 Jazz Fest

We were able to catch some fantastic music when we weren’t engaged ourselves. Chicago trumpeter Bobby Lewis was regaling crowds outdoors with his 1988 Rhythmakers Revival Band. The Ed Laub Trio featured revered 91-year-old guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, his son Martin, guitarist Gene Bertoncini and guitarist/vocalist Laub.

We ended Saturday evening hearing the Fat Babies, a tight 8-piece Chicago  band that specializes in 1920’s and 1930’s jazz charts. Audience members leapt to their feet at the end of this young band’s invigorating set.

We also had outstanding food at the Main street restaurant, 523. Their menu had something for everyone, including steaks and chops, seafood, burgers, salads and vegan fare. This establishment has big city tastes with seasoned wait staff and an interesting bar menu.

Seward Johnson’s “American Gothic” statues in Elkhart’s Central Park

David Edelfelt posing with Seward Johnson’s statue of Marilyn Monroe

Art lovers can admire 56 life-like statues by sculptor Seward Johnson, dotting Elkhart and environs. A giant replica of Grant Wood’s American Gothic in Elkhart’s Central Park was my favorite. Then again, I almost put money into the guitar case of a street musician until I realized he was inanimate.

I plan to return to see all 19 of the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail, having seen one downtown garden that used real flowers to fashion a patchwork pattern. There are also 22 hand-painted murals on buildings that continues the quilt theme throughout the city.

A visit to downtown Elkhart encompasses music, art, good food and fine fellowship.

Count me in for next year’s 31st Elkhart Jazz Fest.

www.elkhartjazzfestival.com