In the past 20 years, I’ve produced a total of 34 different albums; 16 of them have dealt with Irving Berlin (1888-1989). The newest album in this ongoing Berlin series, "Chip Deffaa’s Irving Berlin: Love Songs and Such"--featuring such gifted artists as Betty Buckley, Karen Mason, Steve Ross, Anita Gillette, Jon Peterson, Natalie Douglas, Jeff Harnar, Sarah Rice, Bobby Belfry, Keith Anderson, Molly Ryan, and Seth Sikes--was the hardest of all the albums to produce. And, for reasons I’ll address in a bit, it took by far the longest time to produce; life is not always easy. But for me, this is the most satisfying album of the bunch. (And as I type these words, I’m happy to note it’s just been nominated for a MAC Award, which is extra gratifying!) I know I’ve made a worthwhile contribution to Berlin’s recorded legacy. [more]
The 92nd St. Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists, one of New York’s leading propagators of the Great American Songbook, featured the witty and sardonic songs of E.Y. “Yip” Harburg in its most recent edition: "E.Y. 'Yip' Harburg: Follow the Fellow Who Follows a Dream." Harburg, famous for writing the lyrics for "The Wizard of Oz" and "Finian’s Rainbow," wrote over 600 songs with many collaborators. The show gracefully explored his oeuvre and his life using the extraordinary talents of five fine singers and a superb band led by Paul Masse who supplied the often surprising orchestrations. They were helped by vivid projections by Dan Scully that showed New York City street scenes, theater marquees, historic programs and posters as well as photos of a genial looking Harburg who tried all his life to defy all the prejudices and inequities of his time and replace them with his complex and colorful lyrics that featured witty rhymes and references. [more]
Writer-performer Bob Martin recycles his sweater-clad disaffected “Man in the Chair” character from his 2006 Broadway musical "The Drowsy Chaperone." The conceit is that he’s a disgruntled Encores! subscriber who has been chosen to pick his selections for inclusion. Mr. Martin addresses the audience to offer commentary, often tells inside jokes and interacts with the cast. Depending on one’s sensibilities, this is either an inspired or an insufferable device. However, it doesn’t mar the actual production. [more]
Ms. Grossman’s three works were all world premieres: “Hallelujah Eva” to the famous Leonard Cohen song, “Beatrice’s Rainbow” to the Yip Harburg/Harold Arlen classic “Over the Rainbow,” and “Variations on a Box” to music by Ms. Grossman’s husband David Homan (who also did the beautiful arrangements of the first two works). Each was a study in relationships and community. [more]
In this centennial of the birth of jazz great Billie Holiday, The New York Pops November concert was devoted to Harlem Renaissance ladies like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington as well as Holiday. Titled "Sophisticated Ladies," the evening was graced by three dynamic guest artists, Montego Glover, Capathia Jenkins and Sy Smith, who have a tremendous affinity with this music, along with music director and conductor Steven Reineke who narrated the story of this spirited and electrifying music. Beginning with Sam Shoup’s orchestral arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and ending in a rousing encore of “Get Happy,” performed by all the artists, the evening brought the audience to its feet. [more]
The debonair Holbrook sang his way down memory lane with his enchanting voice and interesting stories about Astaire that he shared in-between songs, many showing a side to the man that is relatively unknown. This is one of the aspects of the show that makes it intriguing and a must-see for those who appreciate the talents of this widely respected artist.
Most remember Fred Astaire for his singing and dancing, and for his movie roles, but there was much more to the man. [more]