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
And so they gather once again like migrated birds instinctively drawn to the annual Cabaret Convention, the smorgasbord of an art still beloved. From all over the country, hotels are booked, other shows ticketed. Some out of town attendees meet only once a year on this occasion, while local denizens take the opportunity to greet favorite artists and compare opinions. The 27th edition of the celebratory event boasts a 15 year-old newcomer as well as performers from London and Australia. Buzz is palpable.
KT Sullivan by Maryann Lopinto
Artistic Director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation/Host, KT Sullivan, opens the show with a high, light version of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.” Tonight, she might be singing about the audience or the extraordinary fascinator perched on her chignon. (Piano-Jon Weber, Bass- Steve Doyle, Drums- Rob Garcia)
Next we’re treated to Robert Creighton who must run to the theater where he’s starring in his own co-written musical Cagney. “No matter what your political leanings, sometimes it’s hard to see how great this country is.” Creighton performs George M. Cohan’s “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” unfathomably without dancing. Renditions are easy, slightly nasal, with apt Cagney inflection. (MD/piano- Matt Perri)
Highlights of the evening follow.
Josephine Bianco; Kelly McDonald by Maryann Lopinto
A finalist at both the Metrostar and Michael Feinstein’s Great American Songbook Academy competitions, 15 year-old Josephine Bianco offers Jule Styne/Bob Merrill’s “People” displaying all the right instincts. The performer takes her time, looks into audience faces, and imbues the number with both personal expression and subtle modulations. Someone to watch.
Burgeoning artist, Kelly McDonald, introduces one of the evening’s few contemporary numbers, “Latte Boy” (Marcy Heisler/ Zina Goldrich). Her vocal is lovely, character embodiment innocent and credible. Kudos to the appealing McDonald for taking a risk. (Piano on both-Jon Weber)
Stacy Sullivan; Natalie Douglas by Stephen Sorokoff
From new CD Stranger in a Dream, we hear Stacy Sullivan’s deft, airbrushed “I’m Beginning to See the Light” (Duke Ellington/Don George/Johnny Hodges/ Harry James) and a well rendered swing selection in which the vocalist shifts octaves like an aerialist (MD/piano-Jon Weber).
The surprising opening of Act II is a buoyant “Helpless” (Lin-Manuel Miranda from Hamilton) featuring Karen Oberlin, KT Sullivan, Natalie Douglas as Eliza and Jon Weber- rapping! (MD/piano-Jon Weber). Douglas is then palpably surprised by winning the Donald F. Smith Award endowed by Adela and Larry Elow. Her interpretation of Jerome Kern/ Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” is beautifully understated. (MD/piano- Mark Hartman)
Vivian Reed and Dancers by Stephen Sorokoff
Broadway’s Vivian Reed unleashes “Sweet Georgia Brown” (Ben Bernie/Maceo Pinkard/Kenneth Casey) as a full production number replete with choreographed backup dancers and bebop scat followed by a gospel “Believe” (admirably without overshooting the mark), which visibly courses through her. (MD/Piano-William Foster McDaniel)
Kristoffer Lowe’s jaunty, tandem “A Quarter to Nine” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) and “If You Feel Like Singing, Sing” segues from stylish to infectiously happy. Lowe is old school classy. Making his Convention debut, the immensely elegant, decidedly decadent Kim David Smith captivates in English and pristine German with renditions of “Illusions” and “Eine Kleine…” (Piano-Tracy Stark)
Kristoffer Lowe; Kim David Smith by Maryann Lopinto
Irving Berlin’s “It Only Happens When I Dance With You” is married to Amanda McBroom’s poignant “Dance” by Susan Winter who takes us with her on every emotional journey. Shimmering arrangement by MD/pianist Alex Rybeck. The reliably show-stopping Carole J. Bufford erupts into “St. James Infirmary” with powerful vocal from chest to throat, growl to howl, sinuous moves, and a command of the stage we rarely see. (Matt Baker-piano, Tom Hubbard-bass, Rob Garcia-drums, Charlie Coranics- superior Trumpet)
Maureen McGovern is appreciatively presented this year’s Mabel Mercer Award. The artist then sings two immensely original takes on numbers from The Wizard of Oz (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg): a charming preface of “Optimistic Voices” (You’re out of the woods…) leads to an a capella and acoustic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which one can only call indelible. Showcasing her range, McGovern then delivers an ardent, “Blues in the Night” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) with an entirely different voice. Wow. (MD/Piano-Jeff Harris)
Maureen McGovern by Stephen Sorokoff
Also featuring: Two Randy Newman songs from Karen Oberlin-one appealingly shadowy, the other, a dissonantly paired political ditty (Piano-Jon Weber); T. Oliver Reid’s bubbly “I’m Throwin’ a Ball Tonight” by Cole Porter (MD/Piano-Larry Yurman); A warm Fran Landesman/Alec Wilder number from Barbara Fasano who makes us empathize with every sentiment (Piano-Eric Comstock); Stephan Bednarczyk’s angry take on Noel Coward’s “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs. Worthington” which defangs implicit wit…
Jacob Storms, whose voice is like an articulated hum, chooses two iconic songs on which he unfortunately leaves no personal stamp. (Piano-Jon Weber) Eric Yves Garcia’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “I’m A Gigolo” emerges vocally forced instead of insouciant, though the artist is capable of the latter. It should be noted, to my knowledge, this is the first time superb performer Leslie Hutchenson,“Hutch,” has been mentioned on the Convention stage. If you don’t know his work, I highly recommend research.
Barbara Fasano; Matt Baker by Stephen Sorokoff
Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue” is evocatively performed by Matt Baker including breathy vocal and arrangement that sounds like fine, 1950s jazz. (Bass-Endea Owens, Drums-Darrian Douglas) He’s less successful with an over long, dense interpretation of the theme from The Apartment (Charles Williams.) Crowd pleaser Christina Bianco safely repeats her Kander and Ebb “Cabaret” turn for the umpteenth time, imitating such as Julie Andrews and Judy Garland. The talented vocalist might consider moving on. (Piano-Jon Weber)
Thanks to Steve Doyle and Ron Hubbard, bassists, Rob Garcia-drums.
The evening ran a long 2 ½ hours, but offered many rewarding performances.
For a couple of years Stephen Hanks has been producing a series of New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits; October 7 featured his 14th installment. (Two more of this series will be presented this year at the Metropolitan Room, and eight more are slated for next year.) “Greatest Hits” are not typically for ardent fans – since they will have heard the songs and perhaps the show before – but these are not typical artists or shows. Often the revivals are some months or years gone and, as such, they bring the artist to the fore after a period of further reflection on the material. The result may be better than the original and, at the very least, one can expect the shows will be solid and professional.
Susan Winter had achieved some success as a cabaret performer in the 70’s but took an extended leave to raise a family. She returned to the stage in 2008 after a 30 year hiatus and was promptly gleaning nominations and awards, including the 2009 Bistro Award as outstanding vocalist for her show Love Rolls On (originally launched at the Met Room). And it is Love Rolls On that was reprised on October 7, complete with her original band of Rick Jensen on piano and Tom Hubbard on bass – all of them now more established, mature and mellow.
A review of Winter’s original Love Rolls On included a reference to her “cheerful mezzo.” Whatever the history, now her voice is more of a velvety alto – with a soothing viscosity. Her musicality, vocal placement, articulation and humor (and her joy in performing the show) are all very evident. Winter dispels any cold thoughts her name might conjure with an emotional hug for everyone in the room; yet it is not overly sentimental.
Rick Jensen and Tom Hubbard
Oftentimes a performer is so comfortable in his or her skin, on the stage with the material, that the audience can relax into the show like a comfortable chair. There is no frisson of risk, no sign of nerves. There is a trade off there. The electricity is less, but the ease is greater. Winter has that ease. Even when a key was flubbed, there was a humorous reference and a smooth segue into perfect harmony. And Winter is at an age when one might anticipate some diminution of vocal control; I heard no sign of that. Artists that perform regularly may keep that control for decades more (e.g., Anthony Benedetto); I can hope that Winter will do so. The original material remains fresh, and Winter kept it that way throughout the evening.
Jensen and Hubbard, well known regulars on the cabaret circuit, provided more than background. The accompaniment was musically rich, neither bashful nor overbearing, and a fully significant component of the show – adding as rich a sound as a piano, bass and voice can generate.
The show sprang from Winter’s reflections on the death of her mother and her consequential discovery of a cache of love letters between her parents – the mother she had known and the apparently loquacious father she had only known, to that point, as a man of few words. The show is expressly about relationships (but isn’t all decent literature?); particularly loving relationships, and how they mature in time. Winter’s narrative connected the pieces.
Winter opened with “Moondance” (Van Morrison) in a smooth and mellow arrangement which, upon her introduction by the Met Room, picked up a driving syncopation and a growing dynamic. She moved on to “You’ll See” (Carroll/Coates) in a similar style – after which I wanted a cigarette (if one could still be found.) Winter talked about her home in Florida (under threat from Hurricane Matthew), a small cabin in Pennsylvania and a modest apartment in Manhattan as an intro to “Anyplace I hang My Hat is Home” (Arlen/Mercer). Winter spoke of relationship advice given one of her sons, to “be lucky”, before performing the beautiful “It Amazes Me” (Leigh/Coleman). She next sang “An Older Man is Like an Elegant Wine” (Lee Wing), a very funny song she reported having previously sung at a JCC for the Gesund-ers (men over 60 and capable of enjoying the occasional “lunch”):
. . . And so that’s why the man
with whom I’d like to combine
will be an older man who’s like an elegant wine.
And when I meet him
I’ll enchant him
Hug him, kiss him
Then I’ll decant him
at which every man in the place, she reported, slicked back a cow lick and sat a little taller. Winter can still be a bit of a coquette.
Winter then related the story of having discovered her parents’ letters. Her mother, Lil, the third of nine children, ran off to marry her dad in New Orleans, a few weeks after he had been drafted. They had six weeks together before he shipped out – marking the start of the correspondence. She followed that with “I Can’t be New” (Werner/Paul), a smart and somewhat wistful song about what we can offer as we age, and what we can’t. Winter assured us the she, at least, had never been unfaithful; but, she explained, her memory isn’t what it was.
“I’ve Still Got My Health” (Cole Porter) was upbeat, smart and sassy. With reference once again to her parents’ post elopement correspondence, Winter sang “After Hours” (Parrish/Bruce/Feyne) about longing for an absent lover; and, for the father she only got to know through his letters after her mother’s death, “Isn’t It a Pity” (Gershwin/Gershwin), a poignant reminder of late-discovered opportunity.
Winter performed a more haimish number “I Love the Way You’re Breaking My Heart” (Drake/Alter) with Jeff Stoner, a member of Winter’s wide cabaret family (accompanying on the ukulele).
Winter and Jensen performed a lovely duet/medley of “Old Friend” (Cryer, Ford) and “In Passing Years” (Jensen) – which I would not have thought could be dovetailed, but was. The oddly paired voices were nicely and surprisingly warm toward each other. Additional songs, ending with” Our Love Rolls On” (Frishberg), nicely filled out the evening.
The audience was warm, responsive and enthusiastic. I have no basis to expect this show to be reprised again but you might well benefit by keeping an eye on the Metropolitan Room calendar for later performances by Winter and subsequent editions of the Greatest Hits series.
When vocalist Stacey Kent and husband, musician/writer/arranger Jim Tomlinson, samba into Birdland, the faithful gather with sure knowledge of respite from the world outside. Pulses slow, audiences sway. Kent’s sighing, slightly nasal voice, back of the throat vibrato, and slip/slide octaves pair with Tomlinson’s soulful, as-if-muted alto saxophone and winged flute to deliver a dreamlike evening far from the madding crowd. Tonight joined by Tom Hubbard-bass, Josh Morris-drums, and the extraordinary Art Hirahara on piano, they don’t disappoint.
Tomlinson’s contemporary “Make It Up” (with Cliff Goldmacher) is mid-tempo, upbeat and utterly charming. …If we knew what we were doing/We’d be doing it all wrong/So let’s just make it up as we go along…Hirahara’s piano sounds dappled with sunlight. Kent is infectiously flirty. This and the composer’s quirky, vocally ethereal “Ice Hotel” (with Kazuro Ishiguro), with which I’m familiar, are two of tonight’s highlights. More original material would be appreciated.
Stacey Kent and Jim Tomlinson
Beautifully rendered, non-Brazilian standards include Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You,” sentimentally evoking a lantern-lit country club or USO dance from the 1940s and a palpably savored “That’s All” (Alan Brandt/ Bob Haymes) with pauses between verses that never feel empty. Circling brushes, stroked bass, and delicate piano support Tomlinson’s eloquent sax soliloquy on the second number. The musician effortlessly bends notes and emotions. Kent steps offstage to listen and admire.
“If I’m Lucky” (Josef Myrow/Eddie DeLange) is a tribute to Perry Como of whom Kent is “a huge fan.” If I’m lucky/This will be no light affair/It’s forever/From the start…The ballad floats in sloooow and easy. Kent’s eyes close, one hand holding the microphone stand. Bass shadows, sax is as mellow as it gets, every piano note is pristine whether tripling or barely touched. It’s a hope, a request, a vision, tinged by sad history.
Rodgers and Hammerstein are affectionately represented by “People Will Say We’re In Love” and “Happy Talk,” (Kent on guitar) both with Brazilian arrangements. The vocalist often comes in off the beat, waiting for and sensing currents on which she might hitch, and sometimes from above a note, giving lyrics organic lilt. “Happy Talk” is effervescent- a sky filled with kites at play, circling, darting, tails like airborne doodles.
Jim Tomlinson and Stacey Kent
Among Brazilian numbers, untranslated but for its title (Kent sings in perfect Portuguese and French), “Estrada de Sol” -Street of the Sun (Tom Jobim/Dolores Duran) is lush, grateful, playful. The lovers have made it through a “stormy” night. Marcos Valle’s “The Face I Love” …Just think of things Like a daffodils /And peaceful sheep/ On clover hills/ And morning sun/ On whippoorwills/ And you’ll see the face that I love…emerges in deep melodic, hammock-like scallops. Hubbard’s bass is rhythmic thrum, notes overlapping as if woven. Hirahara’s piano takes off with an untraceable flight plan.
I admit to having heard “So Nice” aka Summer Samba (Marcus Valle/Paulo Sergio Valle/Norman Gimbel), “One Note Samba” (Tom Jobim/Newton Mendonça), and Jobim’s “Aquas de Marco” aka Waters of March perhaps once too often and can only imagine how Kent and Tomlinson feel after hundreds of performances. Time to replace these?
An evocative, romantic evening reminding us something exists besides bad news.
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. A bird sings because it has a song. Chinese proverb
Every year on her birthday, Elizabeth Sullivan, matriarch of the formidably musical family, flies to New York from Oklahoma for a blow out party. The tree from which these talented apples fall not far is herself a songwriter and vocalist. Sullivans from all over gather at a local club-Sunday it was the packed-to-the-gills Metropolitan Room, to share their talents with friends, fans and each other. It’s a love fest.
Ever elegant, Elizabeth, who turned 86 this year and looks well over ten years younger, begins with a group of her own compositions. “You Are the Reason I Sing My Song”/You are the why of it all/Without you listening, it would go so wrong… It drifts down with utter warmth and sincerity. We sway.
Stacy Sullivan, Robin Brooks Sullivan, Elizabeth Sullivan, KT Sullivan
Songs are brief, poetic, personal. If you didn’t know her you might imagine Elizabeth a good actress. The truth is that every lyric grows from her heart like a flower. She seems authentic because she is. Communication and sensitivity more than make up for a wavering word or note not quite reached. ‘Om puttin’ things on the back burner/ Serving up what’s good tonight/’Om thinking soon or maybe later/I’ll hear a tune and get a rhyme…(“Back Burner”) emerges riding a kick-back-and-rock-on-the-porch two step.
Where there never was a box/Then there never was a limit… (“Out of the Box”) is wise yet light. Elizabeth’s voice rises like an upward sigh, a feather on a breeze. She performs “Without a Song” (Vincent Youmans and Edward Eliscu) with depth of investment that makes it feel as if she were the author. For “Song of the Chimes,” (her own) the performer is joined by 6 year-old granddaughter Layla Elizabeth Sullivan, bending down to duet with the very pretty girl at her own level. Some of it is stage-whispered adding to delicacy. They make quite a picture.
Elizabeth Sullivan and Layla Elizabeth Sullivan; Montana Sullivan
KT Sullivan, Artistic Director of The Mabel Mercer Foundation and Elizabeth’s daughter in law, Robin Brooks Sullivan, share one of the writer’s signature songs, “As Long As We Sing.” Written in honor of Mabel Mercer, the number is a moving, cabaret anthem. The ladies harmonize.
KT then offers Elizabeth’s “How Were We To Know?” inspired by her unexpected meeting of husband-to-be, Stephen Downey. (It’s a charming story.) Despite his opening salvo, including somewhat daunting references to his mother and five children, both apparently “knew.” How could we miss/The promise of that thrill/Spinning in our bliss/ Above a world gone still…Lovely. Robin returns on guitar and vocal for Bobby Troup’s “Route 66” which arrives with pith, spit and lively, country twang.
The Sullivans have each chosen his or her own musical path/genre. Robin’s son, young Montana Sullivan, offers “Soul”, a classically tinted piano solo of his own composition. I hear insistence, fluency, spirit…a stream, creek, river, waterfall, the ocean…unstoppable momentum with pauses preparing waves. The piece is evocative and well played.
Granddaughter Savannah Elizabeth Brown who has recently embarked upon her own singing/acting career, has chosen the charming “Bubbly” (Colbie Caillat/Jason Reeves.) “The song is about a lover, but I’m gonna bring it back to my grandma because I think I had my boyfriend sold when I showed him what I’d look like at 86.” Guitar in hand, with backup by her mother, vocalist Stacy Sullivan, and Montana on piano, Savannah exhibits vocal qualities like Elizabeth and Stacy-she can float a melody. Harmony is appealing, the song diaphanous.
Savannah Elizabeth Brown and Stacy Sullivan
Stacy then takes center stage for “Lullaby of Birdland” (George Shearing/B.Y. Foster) accompanied by Jon Weber’s up, UP-tempo jazz piano and Tom Hubbard’s fast-as-hummingbirds’-wings-bass. A performer able to successfully embrace many genres, she delivers both percussive and lyrical verses with finesse. Stacy, Robin, KT and Elizabeth then share the nostalgic “Where My Picture Hangs on the Wall” (Elizabeth Sullivan), a song about home Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz) would’ve treasured.
Elizabeth closes with more of her own material including one of my favorites, the deeply romantic “Not Tonight”, written for her husband’s 70th birthday (Mr. Sullivan passed.) There may be a time when I’ll not want you/But not tonight, not tonight… The room then joins in “Friends” whose partial lyrics adorn a flyer left on tables. Singing or not, every soul in the room feels the love.
The Family (Tom Hubbard on bass-background)
This evening’s concert was accompanied by the superb Tom Hubbard on bass and Musical Director Dennis Buck on piano. Mr. Buck, with whom I am unfamiliar, subtly tailors arrangements in service of both composition and artist. He plays with terrific finesse and an ear to wind change.
Sunday May 22, 2016
Photos by Maryann Lopinto Opening: Elizabeth Sullivan