Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Josephine Sanges has a superb voice. That, up till two years ago, she showcased her instrument only at church is something of a surprise. While gifted range and skilled control often dedicate themselves to higher power, Sanges’ s finesse with a world of lyrics describing seriously alternative experience and her facility with other genres are notable.
This show may also be a revelation to fans of Ann Hampton Callaway unfamiliar with her songwriting, but for a television theme song. (“The Nanny Named Fran.”) The author, who writes from the heart, is ably represented. Few artists could offer the material with these muscular vocals, jazz colors, and the clear-eyed spirituality underlying lyrics.
“Come Take My Hand” is a bossa nova. Sanges seems to sing above written notes. This iconoclastic style is rather unique and serves her well. “Music,” with Tom Hubbard’s very cool bass supplying vertebrae, has passages which soar (unstressed) like birds hitching rides on updrafts. Rhythm and mood are infectious.
The tandem “I’ve Dreamed of You” (Hampton Callaway with Rolf) and “I Gaze in Your Eyes” (Cole Porter with music by Hampton Callaway) are episodes of tenderness. Phrasing is eloquent. A small hand gesture and raised shoulder say it all.
“Two And Four” about “getting” jazz, is cleverly framed by Sanges beginning in her choir robe. With a little instruction by Pianist/MD John M. Cook and Hubbard (both wry), what’s operatic gradually gives way to accented, rhythmic swing: Goodbye to my square days/Cause I know the score/You do it on the two and four…The song ramps right into Irving Mills/Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing” replete with interjected hallelujah ! Sanges loosens up during this irrepressible tune.
“It’s All Right with Me” (Cole Porter) and Hampton Callaway’s “Bring Back Romance” are memorable for low key, distinctly original arrangements. Sanges savors feelings. The first elongates lyrics landing like a falling leaf. Piano is filigree. The second is evocatively breathy; bass pulses, piano flickers.
The beautifully rendered, palpably sincere, brotherhood ballad “At the Same Time” and “It’s Hip to Be Happy” buoyed by Cook’s background vocal, bass and scat, are demonstrably characteristic of Hampton Callaway. Sanges is appealingly carbonated.
“Perfect” ends the show backed by crystal wind chimes (piano) and bowed bass. Sigh.
Caveats: “Lady Be Good” (George and Ira Gershwin), custom designed for satin-swathed chorines, doesn’t for a moment sound like someone asking something of his/her lover. “Lullaby of Birdland” (George David Weiss/George Shearing), remarkable for its vocal, alas speeds by like a brakeless train, sacrificing attitude. On the one hand, sambas are just a tad heavy and too physically still. On the other, minimal gestures keep focus where it belongs; the lady has presence.
Josephine Sanges needs to learn to trust us. Numbers in which expression subtly emerges as personal stand out. Warm, economic patter somewhat compensates. With an instinctual toe in jazz, I anticipate her growing freer with riffs. A worthy, entertaining show by a talented newcomer, more savvy than her experience.
Original lyrics penned by MD/Pianist John M. Cook are seamless and clever, eschewing phrases of usually cloying appreciation (to the tribute subject)
All songs by Ann Hampton Callaway unless otherwise attributed.
Photos by Sheree Sano
Josephine Sanges: to Ann with love
Sunday February 19, March 12, April 28
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” sang Essential Voices USA with the kind of strapping vocal that conjured a Hollywood production number starring Norwegian figure skater/ film star, Sonja Henie.
In its 34th season, The New York Pops celebrated upcoming holidaze with an evening of rousing, homey cheer. Inspired by the iconic film White Christmas, the Pops’ Director/Conductor Steven Reineke invited two sets of siblings to perform perennial material culminating in the iconic Irving Berlin songs once sung in the film by Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby.
Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway wearing a closet full of stylish, festive gowns shared the stage with Will and Anthony Nunziata for whose distracting sequined jackets and bespoke shoes one needed sunglasses.
‘This time of year, everyone of every age and every walk of life knows the same songs,” noted Hampton Callaway swinging seamlessly into an Ella Fitzgerald arrangement of “Winter Wonderland.” As always, the vocalist added her own nuanced stamp -an octave rose and slid, a ritard affected… It’s happy and a bit sassy. Later, she rendered William Schermerhorn/Westley Whatley’s story/song “Yes, Virginia”, about Virginia O’Hanlon who, in 1897, wrote to The New York Sun and was told in no uncertain terms, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Performance glows with warmth and was not, for a minute, over the top. First violinist Cenovia Cummins added immeasurably.
Liz Callaway offered two songs from Lynn Ahrens/Steve Flaherty’s Anastasia for which she voiced Anya in the animated version. (The musical comes to Broadway this spring). Stepping into character like a fur coat, the actress rises, expressive and expansive, to lush melodies and yearning lyrics. Particularly appropriate this year, “Grown Up Christmas List” (David Foster/Linda Thompson Foster) emerges with sincere depth of spirit: No more lives torn apart/That wars would never start/And time would heal all hearts/And everyone would have a friend…
Nodding to the music teacher in tonight’s audience who gave him his first solo age 7, Will Nunziata sang “The Christmas Song” with sincerity and gently warbling vibrato. Twin, Anthony Nunziata rendered his grandmother’s favorite, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in honor of his grandfather and those who continue to serve abroad. In Act II, The brothers gave us John Bucchino/Michael Feinstein’s charming, as-if-written-for-them “Carnegie Hall” -both were making their Hall debut and the heartfelt, co-authored “The Gift Is You” which might refer as easily to their mother as Jesus Christ.
To my mind, there were two highlights: Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway’s gorgeous, original, harmonized duet of “Silent Night”/”Mary, Did You Know?” which rose to the rafters with palpable devotion and, new to me, “The Chanukah Song” (Stephen Schwartz/Steven Young), as rendered by Essential Voices USA, which movingly embraced principles as well as season with brotherhood and gratitude.
A White Christmas Medley covered everything from “Happy Holiday” to “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” as all four guests enthusiastically contributed. “Sisters,” was, of course, particularly apt. The ladies had an infectiously good time.
“We Need a Little Christmas” (from Mame) emerged a Jerry Herman wet dream- long, glorified and multi-layered as performed by The New York Pops and Essential Voices USA. Scrooge would’ve imploded on the spot.
Celebratory to the Nth degree, running smooth as an ice pirouette, the evening was peppered by welcome anecdotes and personal memories. Only Sound Design somewhat marred . Orchestra and chorus too often swallowed vocalists.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
The New York Pops: Make the Season Bright Steven Reineke-Music Director/Conductor Essential Voices USA-Judith Clurman Music Director/Conductor Guest Artists: Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Will Nunziata, Anthony Nunziata Carnegie Hall December 16, 2016 New York Pops Calendar
“She lifted the art of life and sang to the height of excellence…” Rex Reed
Helmed by journalist/author Rex Reed, her intimate friend, Thursday’s New York Cabaret Convention salute to Sylvia Syms (1917-1992) is as illuminating as it is entertaining. The well produced event features affectionate, amusing, well balanced recollections by Reed and those appearing vocalists who knew her, as well as numbers out of Syms’s repertoire.
In 1992, Reed tells us, he was awakened by “an angry, urgent phone call” from Liza Minnelli. “We lost her,” she sobbed. Sylvia Syms had a heart attack and “dropped dead into the arms of Cy Coleman” while in performance at the Oak Room of The Algonquin Hotel. “When I go,” she told me a thousand times, “I wanna go in the middle of a standing ovation.” Our host is a terrific storyteller.
We begin with the inimitable Barbara Carroll. Syms asked the pianist to play on her first album in 1951. Discovering Carroll worked until 2 am, the recording was schedule for that hour. A piano tuner was even awakened when the studio instrument was found lacking. With Jay Leonhart on bass, Carroll plays “I Wanna Be Yours” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” making them, as she does everything, her iconoclastic own. Listen to the winking integration of classical influence, to the reflective retards, complex notations, and utter clarity.
Highlights of the evening:
“As wonderful as she was with ballads, she could also be a very funny broad…she said: If you wanna know what I sing like baby, go home and tear up a rag…I don’t care what anybody does in bed. I just wish they’d do it to me once in awhile.” Jay Leonhart’s rendition of “I Always Say Hello to A Flower” is perfect, deadpan drollery. One forgets how well the consummate bassist can sing. (Tomoko Ohno-Piano)
Barbara Carroll; Carol Woods
Syms, it seems, liked to rescue songs. “Big Fat Heart” was cut from the musical Seesaw. Carol Woods’s version is conversational and expressive. There’s an oomph to her delivery adding geniality. Later we hear “Pick Yourself Up” from this vocalist. It’s kind of preaching, full of infectious brightness and optimism. (Barry Levitt-Piano)
“Despite her impeccable taste in ballads, she would also swing…” At 17, Syms would be snuck into 52nd Street jazz clubs by sympathetic doormen, sequestered in hat check rooms so she could listen and observe. Reed credits her with spontaneously supplying Billie Holiday’s famous gardenia, apparently meant to cover a hole burned in her hair one evening before a show.
Nicolas King swings in with “Looking At Me”/ “That Face”/ “Look At That Face” as polished and robustly rhythmic as a full fledged member of the Rat Pack. The man gets this to his bones. In Act II, King offers “Here’s That Rainy Day” with full, rarely heard verse. The melancholy number emerges meticulously controlled, subtly modulated. A lovely interpretation. King covers the stage, drawing in his audience with awareness and flair. (Jon Weber-Piano)
Nicolas King; Billy Stritch
Accompanied by Tedd Firth, Billy Stritch takes center stage, offering only vocal for a change. “Mountain Greenery” is jacked-up and jazzy. The understated Stritch plays with repetition, octave slides, scat, and rhythm making a virtuoso turn seem easy. Later, at the piano, he sighs “It Amazes Me” leading us to empathize with every surprised and grateful lyric. There’s no doubt the performer could’ve made a career as a vocalist if he so chose.
There are stories about Syms’s 3am telephone calls, her appreciation of gossip, uncensored, sometimes caustic opinions, terrific loyalty, generosity, and of Francis Albert Sinatra’s undying devotion.
The ever vital and savory Marilyn Maye sings “Fifty Percent” with powerful authenticity: I don’t share his name/I don’t wear his ring/There’s no piece of paper saying that he’s mine/But he says he loves me, and I believe it’s true/Doesn’t that make someone belong to you? We believe every dramatic, confessional word. Maye returns with “Anyplace I Hang My Hat is Home,” starting with unexpected a capella, launching into swing with her very own superb grace and brio. (Tedd Firth-Piano)
Marilyn Maye; Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann Hampton Callaway is, for my money, the highpoint of the evening. When this vocalist is on stage, she becomes an additional musical instrument. An originally interpreted Fats Waller medley is propulsive, crisp, and sassy. The artist steps from side to side, shoulders slightly swaying and covers a bit of ground as if she can’t stand still. It’s Happy. Her second contribution is one of the plumiest versions of “Skylark” I’ve ever heard. Tedd Firth caresses the piano; Hampton Callaway embraces lyrical meaning-both swept away romantics. Leonhart’s bass solo is like a bird hitching a ride, backstroking on a breeze. Radiant.
Reed himself sings two heartfelt numbers. The second, “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song” reflects “how I felt about her personally and saying goodbye.” It’s moving.
Before we close, our host has the discernment to play Syms’s own voice for those who are unfamiliar and to remind others. “At the time of her passing, she was planning a new album …” We hear an ardent “I’ll See You Again” (Noel Coward) with almost constant, quiet vibrato, lyrics exiting like smoke rings. Silvia Sym’s portrait looks on smiling.
Also featuring: Joyce Breach, Maud Hixon, Daryl Sherman, Marti Stevens, Sally Mayes, Tom Wopat, Jay Leonhart-Bass; Ray Marchica-Drums
All unattributed quotes are Rex Reed
Opening: Stephen Sorokoff; Other Photos Maryann Lopinto
The Mabel Mercer Foundation presents Saluting Sylvia Syms Hosted by Rex Reed The 27th New York Cabaret Convention Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater October 20, 2016