A conversation on her new recording of songs by Jacques Brel
By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
This Friday night, April 16th, Amanda McBroom will be appearing in the Empire Ballroom at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. She will be performing songs from her new CD, CHANSON, a song-tribute to popular French composer Jacques Brel. She has been called “the greatest cabaret performer of her generation, an urban poet who writes like an angel and has a voice to match.” Her name swept through the popular music world in 1979 with Bette Midler’s version of Amanda’s composition, “The Rose”, hit #1 on the Top Ten. She took the 1980 Golden Globe for “Best Original Song from a motion picture” and was nominated for a Grammy. Her performance of “The Rose” on The Tonight Show and at the Golden Globes and Grammys ceremonies launched her career as a singer as well as songwriter. Along with Bette Midler, the roster of artists who have recorded her songs include Leanne Rimes, Barry Manilow, Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Anne Murray, Harry Belafonte, Betty Buckley, Stephanie Mills, The Manhattan Transfer, Donny Osmond, the Chipmunks, and the Baby Dinosaurs in Land Before Time. She wrote all the songs for eleven Universal Cartoon videos with longtime collaborator Michele Brourman. But growing audiences worldwide became convinced that the best interpretations of McBroom songs are by Amanda herself. She has performed her material in concert halls around the world including Carnegie Hall in New York, the FORD Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, Wolftrap and Kennedy Center (where she sang with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marvin Hamlisch) in Washington D.C., Angel Recital Hall in Sydney, Meyer Hall in Melbourne where she headlined the Festival of the Arts and Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taiwan and Pizza on the Park in London. At the end of this month, Amanda will be in New York to workshop her new musical, a score based on the 1998 film Dangerous Beauty. We spoke about this project and her long-time journey with the songs of Jacques Brel.
Seán: Will your set be devoted exclusively to songs from the new album, Chanson?
Amanda: It’s going to be a combination. We’re going to do it in two acts – the first part of the show will be a series of my favorite songs on the planet – some by me, Cole Porter, Gershwin, like that. The second half will be all Jacques Brel – in English. People get scared thinking it might all be in French. I found the best translations available when I was making the CD. Brel has been a part of my life since the Marines Memorial Theatre in 1968. I’d come down from Ashland for a two-week vacation. The first national tour of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Living In Paris was in San Francisco. I was totally fried by it and wound up going back about eight times. They were replacing a member of the company – I got in – and have been doing his material ever since.
Seán: I remember that series of performances. As time went by, it seemed like somebody was always doing “Jacques Brel” in San Francisco.
Amanda: Exactly! You know – when you’ve got something people want to see, then keep it open as long as you can! I’m always doing his songs, I love them so much. People were just always on me with, “You’ve just got to record Brel – you’re one of the best women to sing it” – and blah-blah-blah. It was a fantasy that was lurking in the back of my head for the longest time. Then, finally, I thought, “If not now, when?” So, I got together with two dear and brilliant friends of mine – Michele Brourman, who has been my friend for many years and Stephan Oberhoff, a fantastic German musician. They produced the CD, my favorite of everything I’ve ever done. They just got it. I wanted to do Brel – not for 1968, but for 2010. Not compromising him, but to introduce him to everybody who’s never heard him and to make the music itself more contemporary.
Seán: I’ve been listening to the CD over and over. Your voice is simply exquisite. As you were preparing it – what kind of differences do you notice between doing a concert and laying down tracks that will stay around forever?
Amanda: Concerts are so much easier! For the CD – it was first about picking the material. It took me the longest time to pick the most appropriate translations. I searched all over the world. I went to South Africa, England, Belgium. For “Ne me quittez pas”, I kept looking for a translation that came closest to his real thoughts. What he says in French cannot be duplicated in English. God bless Rod McKuen, but “If you go away” is not “Don’t leave me.” I said, “That one I’m going to do in French!”
Amanda: For the rest, I kept trying to find the most perfect translations. One I actually wrote myself. I wound up with 47 songs. Then I got together with Michelle and Stephan and said – “Okaaay… which twelve or thirteen will tell the most complete story?” It was so hard cutting some of them out. And it took a while. I was doing concerts, Michelle was doing concerts. Stephan is often the music director for Melissa Manchester and Brenda Russell. So, he’s traveling all over the world. We demoed things back and forth for a year-and-a-half. It took us maybe two months when we finally went into the studio. We had these astonishing musicians. The most incredible people just kept saying, “If you want to record with my equipment, I’ll do it for free.” There’s a wonderful man named Bruce Botnick – the original engineer for The Doors – says, “Come on down and try-out some of my mics.” And he had these unbelievable Neumanns. So, I worked with him. The gentleman who mastered it, Doug Sachs is The King of the mastering lab. He masters people like Barbra Streisand. He and I have a history because he was the first person to hire me to do a recording – in 1980, for Sheffield Lab. And he said, “Come into my studio” and I said – “OK!”
In the studio with Michele Brourman and Stephan Oberhoff
Seán: Uh, yeah! You assembled a team of wonders. Listening to the CD, I am completely drawn into the beauty of your voice. The sequence of the tracks suggests a story. Knowing we would be talking – it occurred to me to ask if you have a sense of personal biography with the songs.
Amanda: That’s interesting. I picked the songs that resonate most for me. A couple of them are sort-of autobiographical. I picked the ones that touched my heart, which I thought were the most profound, or the most sexy, or the most viable in a woman’s mouth. There are some you just can’t sing. “Amsterdam” is not for a woman to sing. A couple of women have sung it, and godbless’em – but I didn’t feel that was right for my mouth. But there are a couple I really identify with as Life lessons that I have learned.
Seán: What’s coming up after Friday’s gig at the Sir Francis Drake?
Amanda: Michelle and I are the lyricists and composers on a new and hopefully Broadway-bound Musical. It’s having a major workshop in New York at the end of April. The musical is based on a film that came out about ten years ago. It’s really yummy, a really sexy film – Dangerous Beauty. I have a wonderful friend, Susan Dietz, who is a wonderful producer. She got the rights. I went to her and said, “I think this a musical.” She watched it and said, “You are right, this is a musical.” Little did we know we were about to conceive an elephant – with just as long a gestation period. Then in July, I’m going to teach for a week at Yale. And then? Who the hell knows?
Click here to purchase tickets on line: AMANDA McBROOM
FRIDAY, April 16th, 8:00 pm
At the Empire Ballroom, Sir Francis Drake Hotel
450 Powell Street, San Francisco
Click here to order Amanda’s CD on-line: CHANSON – The CD includes these songs by Jacques Brel: Girl In An Armchair • Early Morning Hangers On • Song For Old Lovers • I Loved • My Death • Ca Va • Ne Me Quitte Pas • No, Love, You’re Not Alone • You Don’t Forget The Past • Marieke • Carousel • If We Only Have Love.
Sample or purchase the MP3s on line.
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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.