A conversation with beautiful recording and cabaret star
By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
“What was she to do, where was she to go,” sings the voice behind the cartoon introduction of Fran Drescher’s TV series, The Nanny. “She was out on her fanny!” That same singer and songwriter is the inimitable Ann Hampton Callaway – sitting very pretty at the 5th annual presentation of BAY AREA CABARET this Sunday afternoon, beginning at 5:00 at the Marines Memorial. As the classic model for the “girl singer” of the American Songbook, Ann flies way beyond the versatility quotient in the world of enduring popular music. In addition to her featured guest artist appearances at many Carnegie Hall tributes, Ann has appeared with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood. Her success as a Platinum Award winning writer is seen in the number of songs recorded by Barbra Streisand including At the Same Time, I’ve Dreamed of You, and A Christmas Lullaby. Add to that the success of the musical SWING! which won her a Theater World Award and Tony nomination as Best Supporting Actress In A Musical. Today at the Marines Memorial, Ann will be performing selections from her new recording on the Telarc label, AT LAST. She is simply the right girl at the right time for a lazy afternoon in San Francisco. Click here for more information: BAY AREA CABARET
Ann: I’m doing a one woman show, with me at the piano. I’m doing mostly songs from the new CD, AT LAST, some great jazz favorites, some original songs, and then my big signature piece, “The Improvisation”. I’ll be making up a San Francisco love song. The audience will call out words and phrases and we’ll create a very special song just for that audience. Last night I was in L.A. and Florence Henderson came up on stage with me and did an improv. The first night, Michelle Lee did an improv. So, if there’s someone fun and feisty, I invite fellow artists to come up and create the song – which is even more dangerous! And tonight Carol Burnett is coming to the show, so we’ll see she is feeling frisky.
Seán: What’s going on that you find yourself with a new CD and coming to San Francisco?
Ann: I’m doing a west coast tour. I started in Tucson with a big Gala for a wonderful organization called OMA (Opening Minds Through the Arts), then flew to L.A. and opened at the Catalina Jazz Club where I’ll be finishing Saturday night. Then I fly to San Francisco to do this special show for Marilyn Levinson’s Bay Area Cabaret. Then I’ll be driving up to Washington to do a concert and a master class in Seattle. I’ve been traveling all over the world actually, and having a wonderful time. I fell in love. The whole theme of At Last is about love. I think of it as a make-out album. I’m getting a great response, people are giving me this wonderful energy from the love I am feeling. It’s a little sense of celebration that I think people are experiencing in the show. Then, of course, being the special person I am, I’m giving Diva Blessings to the Single and Bitter People. It’s a real draw for some segments of San Francisco’s population.
Seán: Tell me about your background. How do you get to this point?
Ann: I feel honored to be from such a loving and powered family. My mother (Shirley Callaway) is a singer and pianist and one of the top vocal coaches in New York. My dad (John Callaway) is a highly esteemed journalist who has won countless Peabody Awards for his work in television. He was one of the pioneers of all-news radio back in the Chicago CBS days. He’s a great inspiration for me as a writer. He gave me my first rhyming dictionary, taught me to think like a writer, and also gave me my love of jazz and to scat sing around the house. My sister (Liz Callaway) is one of the finest singers in the Broadway world, a fellow Tony-nominated artist. So, growing up with this creative, wonderful, funny, warm, and just the right amount of dysfunction family was a great inspiration for me.
Ann: There was a point when I was thinking about being an opera singer. When I went to college – I like to say, ‘I served two years’ – at the University of Illinois as an Acting Major, it wasn’t the best choice for me or the best environment. The people there were not as nurturing as I needed. So, when I’d had significant enough “pain” I decided to just chuck it all and move to New York and create my own education and start living my dreams. On my third night, my sister joined me. She quit college as well. We went out for our first drink, at this little piano bar, and within a half-hour somebody called out a request that the pianist did not know. I chimed in, “I know that song!” He said, “I can’t play it” and I said, “I can!” – I’m so excited to be in New York. So, I sat down, sang the song, got a standing ovation, and have been singing ever since.
Seán: What was the song?
Ann: It was a song I sang in my wedding band before I moved to New York – “Sometimes When We Touch”. I put so much emotion into that song. I was quickly adopted into the Algonquin, Rex Reed wrote an amazing review about a year later. I made a record and then the company folded. It took me about ten years to get a CD on DRG Records. And I’ve made about 50 CDs altogether, including as a Guest Artist. I have such a fulfilling life as a songwriter, as a singer who believes that music is the most profound way of connecting people with their hearts and with each other. When I travel around the world singing with orchestras, bands, trios, and doing one woman shows like in San Francisco – I feel so very honored to be able to share gorgeous songs that really move and inspire people, and remind them what’s good in life. Another part of my mission, aside from writing – I’m developing a TV series called Singer Spotlight to celebrate the American Songbook and to educate people about the finest singers of our time and to help discover new singers. I have two pilots, both critically acclaimed TV specials – one with Liza Minnelli and the other with Christine Ebersole. Hopefully, it will turn into a TV series once the economy is a little bit more stable and I can get the rest of the financing. The shows were taped in Chicago with WTTW, the same company that produces Soundstage. Now we just have to get the rest of the two million dollars to launch the full series. It’s one of my difficult, but eventually do-able dreams.
Seán: What do you see for the generation coming up that might take the torch from you and carry on what is called the American Songbook?
Ann: I think these songs are so powerful and so beautiful and so important to our culture. They are part of the identity of our nation, and of human beings. I always try to nurture and mentor young singers. I recently met a wonderful jazz singer, Sacha Boutros. I’ve been introducing her to a lot of people and having her sit in on my shows. She is somebody who feels passionately about the American Songbook. As a singer, I give master classes to share the knowledge I have acquired over the many years. But I do have great faith that this music – and not without a lot of work and a lot of vigilance will thrive and will have its place. Just as opera is Europe’s great contribution to the world of music. I think that the American Songbook and Jazz is our contribution to the world of music. I see time and again young people coming into my shows and falling madly in love with these songs and wanting to know where they can hear more. And as long as people like Robert DeNiro – I worked with him on the film, Good Shepherd – when he includes classics from the American Songbook in his movie themes and soundtracks, that helps get more exposure. That’s why I believe my TV show is so important – especially for people who think that singing is only what they see on American Idol. I think that show doesn’t really explore to the depths of what singing is all about nearly enough to my satisfaction.
Seán: As a vocal coach, I understand what my clients mean by the term “finding my voice”. From personal experience, I know there’s always an agenda behind what one does – the songs you choose, where you perform, the arrangements and placement of keys, etc. But there is always something else highly personal behind it. It’s not entertaining to just stand there and lecture about what songs we ought to know from the past. But if I bring myself to the material, then I know how to interpret the songs – in the same vein as did the original and successful artists. So – give me a “Fan Magazine” answer to this question. How does the degree of love and what’s going on in your personal life fuel the spark behind the song, the journey behind the song of something such as “At Last”?
Ann: I only choose songs in my shows and CDs that I need to sing, that express something I feel passionate about – whether it’s a point of view, a story, or an experience. I try to connect as deeply as I can and raise the stakes emotionally and dramatically as high as possible – to give people the most powerful experience of these songs they may know very well or have never heard before. It’s up to me and my imagination and that of the artists I work with, the band members, the arrangers – to find a fresh take on songs that have perhaps been sung many times – that is unique to my sense of style, my sense of story and character. So when I stand up and sing “At Last”, it is definitely my version. One of the things that makes my version unique, I think, is that I’m the only singer who has ever sung the verse to that beautiful song. When I recorded “Landslide”, I was very moved by Stevie Nicks’ story of how she wrote that song and what was going on in her life. In some ways my version of the song is a little slower, a little more bare – perhaps a bit more intimate glimpse into the depths of emotion that she wrote about in that beautiful pop masterpiece. With “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” – I have such a history in my life of what that song means to me. And it continues, even past recording the song – those experiences I’ve had with the song, with people relating to the song. Now all of those people, all of those images are a part of the power and the majesty of standing up in the light and singing from the depths of my heart. I think being a singer is being a vessel – a vessel of love. If you sing from the heart, you’ll reach a heart. And my favorite quote, that I live by, is from Andre Gide who said, “Art is the collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.”
Seán: Perfect! The day I come to your home armed with my camera and see the cloth covered table with the orange juice and the coffee cups, who’s in the background with you?
Ann: My amazing and beautiful partner, Kari Strand, who I fell in love with two and a half years ago and changed my life completely. And then, of course, the furry goddess of the household – Muffin Louise Callaway – the golden Persian, the magnificent beauty. She’s made her show business debut with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. She’s as luxurious as they come. And the three of us have green eyes – the Green Eyed Triumvirate.
Seán: Cats are great opinion-givers. They can give you a look like, “What was that?!”
Ann: Muffin rules the roost, that’s for sure! And she’s my muse. Kari and Muffin are such great listeners and have such amazing energy. Their energy permeates my songwriting. It seems Muffin goes into meditation to help me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Seán: I certainly do! I lived with two very opulent glamour queens who wore their fur as if going to a Hollywood Premiere.
Ann: Exactly! They can teach you how to be a Diva. You can learn everything from a cat if you pay attention – how to relax, how to get comfortable, how to be fabulous.
Seán: Does Kari travel with you?
Ann: Yes, and that’s the real revolutionary thing in my life. I’ve had partners who weren’t in the position to do that or weren’t really comfortable with the public. They loved me, but couldn’t deal with my life. Kari is a huge lover of people. She’s a brilliant photographer, loves adventure, and has traveled the world. She had a hair salon for years – so, she’s my hairdresser, my road manager, and the love of my life. If you think about performers you know, so many of them are alone or the person they love is at home and hardly ever see them. This is a very powerful relationship. People who get to know Kari fall in love with her. We’ve been together two and a half years. She’s the best person I can imagine sharing my life with.
Seán: My partner and I will have been together 23 years come July.
Ann: Congratulations! Wow. If you have imagination and passion and are with the right person then everyday is an adventure. As long as you don’t take your partner for granted and assume you know every single thing about them, every day is a new day with new things to express and share. People change and grow. That’s part of the fun when you find someone you really connect with.
Seán: It also helps that I’m a good cook. How do you take care of your domestic needs when you’re traveling?
Ann: It’s funny. When I get into a hotel I ask for a refrigerator and a coffee maker. I travel with my vitamins. I will immediately go grocery shopping and try to get the things that Kari and I thrive on. We’ll do our research and try to find the best restaurants. Sometimes it’s room service, sometimes take-out. I try to get suites with kitchens when I can. When you have long engagements it makes it so much more enjoyable when you can cook your own food. It’s a challenging life. Being on airplanes all the time, being in so many different environments all the time. One minute you’re at the most glamorous hotel in the world and the next you’re slumming it somewhere. It keeps you humble.
Seán: Where will you be after the engagement at the Marines Memorial?
Ann: We are renting a car and will be enjoying the next five days going up to Seattle. We’re going up the coastline and just enjoying the spectacular beauty. As a songwriter, I just come alive when I’m near the water. Being on the road so much, I have to treat myself like an Olympian athlete – getting enough rest, and water, good food, and a quality replenishment so I can always be at my best.
Seán: What happens to Muffin during your tours?
Ann: Right now it’s a hilarious situation. She’s staying at my sister’s house. She has a golden Persian who looks identical to Muffin and she’s madly in love with him. I’m wondering if they’re going to elope while we’re gone. It will certainly be an inspiration for Muffin’s up-coming CD.
Add these recordings by Ann Hampton Callaway to your American Songbook Library:
AT LAST – Selections include: What Is This Thing Called Love, Lazy Afternoon, Save A Place For Me, Over The Rainbow, Finding Beauty, and more.
BLUES IN THE NIGHT – In addition to the title song by Harold Arlen, selections include: Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, Willow Weep For Me, The Glory of Love, and more.
TO ELLA WITH LOVE – Selections include Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me, How High The Moon, That Old Black Magic, I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), and more.
SIBLING REVELRY – Ann joins sister Liz with: It’s Today (Mame), The Nanny Named Fran, You Must Believe In Spring, My Heart Is So Full Of You, and more.
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Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
VZUME JOB SEEKER SEAN McMAHAN INTEREST: A position as a paralegal in the SF Bay Area.Sean is a recent graduate from the University of Oregon and is looking for a position as a paralegal. He has worked for Charles Schwab and The SF District Attorney’s Office.
INVITE SEAN McMAHAN FOR AN INTERVIEW AT CONTACT@VZUME.COM