03.22.17Jazz and Vocal Standards? Mary Foster Conklin Regales WFDU with A Broad Spectrum
March 22, 2017
by Melody Breyer-Grell
For this listener it was either classical, opera, musical theatre or pop-rock. Imagine my delight when I first heard the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald sing Ellington, or June Christy request “Something Cool?"
That aural journey had to be satisfied with creating a CD collection, as the internet did not yet dominate, and the standard bearing WQEW was converted to a Disney station. New Jersey’s public radio jazz station, WBGO’s signal was not as strong as one would have liked, and it did not concentrate on pure vocals.
Then the internet seemed to explode with almost too much content. Between streaming shows and YouTube, what’s a baby boomer to do? We are used to scarcity, or at least having to pick our music from a reasonable selection of what was available. That is why a curator like Mary Foster Conklin and her colleagues on WFDU are so vital. They have the taste and experience that can educate the new listener, and satisfy the more seasoned one.
Mary’s program, A Broad Spectrum, is a delicious double-entendre. Broad as in the reach of artist’s and their repertoire, is it a showcase of broads (er, women). Mary quotes:
“A Broad Spectrum is a jazz-based mix of standards, blues, pop and originals composed and/or with lyrics by women who inspire—you’ll hear both instrumentalists and vocalists (with airplay of male artists too, in the Honorable Men-tion slot)."
I was hooked from the start, hearing women’s voices, both old and new and yes, an occasion dude or instrumentalist.
Does four hours a week seem short? Take a gander…This is just one hour from 1/22/17. The beauty of the whole thing is that the listener can spread the experience out within two weeks (archived) of the initial (Sunday nights 3 p.m.- 7 p.m.) broadcast. Listen, then repeat.
Cynthia Hilts — Jam & Toast/Lyric Fury (2017)/Cynthia Hilts Andrea Claburn — Bird on a Wire (Timeline)/Nightshade (2017)/Pat Matheny and Andrea Claburn Terri Lyne Carrington — Unconditional Love/The Mosaic Project/Geri Allen Irene Kral — Just For Now/Just For Now/Andre Previn and Dori Langdon José James — Dragon (feat. Becca Stevens)/While You Were Sleeping/Becca Stevens Richie Cole — Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most/Richie Cole Plays Ballads & Love Songs (2016)/Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman Suzanne Pittson — True Visions (True Colors)/Out of the Hub: the Music of Freddie Hubbard/Freddie Hubbard, Suzanne, Eric & Evan Pittson Natalie Cressman & Mike Bono — I Look to You/Etchings in Amber (2016)/Natalie Cressman Mark Murphy — Seesaw/Sings Mostly Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman/Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields Harry Allen — The One for You/The Candy Men (2016)/Harry Allen and Judy Carmichael
Mary Foster Conklin, herself, is an award winning singer and recording artist who has been flourishing in the Jazz/Cabaret word for a couple of decades. Writer Terry Teachout singled Mary out for praise in a New York Times Arts section profile and she has been gathering up loyal fans in the highly competitive and specialized world of jazz/cabaret performance. I chatted with her briefly…
MBG: What medium of performance did you start in? Were you in musical theatre?
MFC: I was more a serious actress who sang on the side in bands, rather than a musical theatre person. I moved on to get a job as a vocalist in a big band, which played a big part in getting me more involved with singing jazz. I started to do serious club work in the early 1990’s.
MBG: In what way have you evolved to include radio programming along with your singing?
MFC: Before coming to New York, I was a DJ in college for three years—played everything from Steely Dan, ELP, Frank Zappa and Jethro Tull to Horace Silver and the Sex Pistols. My tastes were all over the map back then, very eclectic. Much later on I got involved with WBAI. David Kenney and I had done a few programs together over the years with me, first as a performer. Then we did a program together that was devoted to The International Women in Jazz, where I functioned more as an interviewer. In March 2015, he was literally barred from doing his show on International Working Women’s Day, so he “volunteered" me to do his show that weekend. I had three days to come up with a program. Then I remembered that I’d performed several evenings of songs composed by/or with lyrics by women under the title of A Broad Spectrum, so I ran with that concept. Did such a good job with that program that David invited me to sub for him. It was a lot of fun to return to radio.
MBG: And WFDU?
MFC: My pal Russ Kassoff had a show on WFDU HD2 called the Jazz Deli on Saturday mornings, and last fall I heard that the station was looking for jazz DJs for the HD2 internet programs. I pitched the concept of A Broad Spectrum which was accepted, so I first went on the air at the end of February, 2016 and have been doing the show ever since. It airs live on Sundays from 3 p.m.-7 p. m., and the shows are archived for two weeks on the website. I call it Music by Women Who Inspire – Composers, Lyricists,Vocalists, Instrumentalists plus the men with the good taste to play them.
07.01.16Jazziz Review of Photographs by Jonathan Widran
July 2016 - Personal Taste
Photographs (MockTurtle) – The veteran jazz and cabaret song stylist brings together the transcendent qualities of both realms on a lush, sultry and swinging collection that showcases her depth and knack for selecting colorful, offbeat set lists – Jonathan Widran, JAZZIZ
05.23.16JazzTimes review of Photographs by Christopher Loudon
JAZZTIMES, June 2016
By Christopher Loudon
MARY FOSTER CONKLIN
PHOTOGRAPHS (Mock Turtle)
“As Mary Foster Conklin explains to Terry Teachout in the liner notes, she not only enjoys being caught in the eternal push-pull of jazz and cabaret but is defined by it. Marrying the spontaneity of jazz to the storytelling verve of cabaret, she plainly states, “I need both to get the job done." Though she has been a vibrant contributor to Manhattan’s music and theatre scenes for two decades, Photographs is only Conklin’s fourth album, arriving a full decade after Blues for Breakfast, her finely crafted tribute to fellow jazz-cabaret hybrid Matt Dennis.
Fronting a stellar septet anchored by pianist-arranger John di Martino, Conklin carves a wide musical path. She wraps her smoky mezzo-soprano around works by Joni Mitchell (“Night and the City"), Oscar Brown Jr. (“Long as You’re Living"), Benny Carter (“Key Largo") and Lennon and McCartney (a noirish “For No One," featuring Houston Person on tenor saxophone). Johnny Mandel’s sultry “Cinnamon and Clove," an obscure show tune (the shimmering “Night Song," from Golden Boy) and two sturdy standards, “Moonglow" and “Autumn Serenade," also figure into the eclectic mix.
But the album’s cornerstone is hipster poet-lyricist Fran Landesman, about whom Conklin recently shaped the tribute show Life is a Bitch. Alongside the familiar “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," she includes the wistful Landesman-Alec Wilder title track and a trio of gems written with Bob Dorough: the exultant “Nothing Like You," desirous “The Winds of Heaven" and wonderfully sly “Small Day Tomorrow."
05.02.16DownBeat review of Photographs by Brian Zimmerman
by Brian Zimmerman
“Conklin lends a sultry self-assurance in moods both hot and cool, swaggering with a sly poet’s percussiveness in Joni Mitchell’s “Night in the City" and crooning with velvety sophistication on “Moonglow."
03.03.16George W. Harris of Jazz Weekly reviews Photographs
"Vocalist Mary Foster Conklin mixes the drama of cabaret with the swing of jazz on this rewarding album of clever covers. She teams up with John diMartino/p, Ed Howard/b, Shinnosuke takahashi/dr, Joel Frahm/ss-ts, Warren Vache/ct, Paul Meyers/g, Nanny Assis/perc and guest Houston Person/ts for a flexible session.
She sounds worldwide throughout, and can deliver a lyric with style along with Frahm’s soprano and some nice cymbal work by Takahashi on “Night in the City," while she sounds luminous with Howard’s bass on “Key Largo." She has a nice feel for the Latin lilt, charming your socks off on “Night Song" while the samba slithers to Meyers’ guitar and Person’s tenor on “For No One." She gets shadowy with Howard on “Small Day Tomorrow" and emotes urgency to diMatino’s piano and Takahashi’s brushes on “Autumn Serenade" while Vache’s muted horn coos out accompaniment. This lady sounds comfortable in her own skin and is inviting on a myriad of moods."
02.28.16A Broad Spectrum returns - New Weekly Radio Show on WFDU 89.1 FM H2
My big return to radio starting Sunday, February 28:
Mary Foster Conklin presents A Broad Spectrum-the Ladies of Jazz on Sundays, 3pm-7pm WFDU-FM 89.1, streaming on their HD2 channel, Jazz and What's More http://wfdu.fm/single/index.php
The program offers up an assortment of music by Women Who Inspire - Writers, Composers, Instrumentalists and Vocalists (and yes, male artists are included as well in the Honorable Men-tion slot). Hosted by NYC vocalist/recording artist Mary Foster Conklin
02.03.16Gina Loves Jazz loves Photographs - new CD review
Mary Foster Conklin -Photographs
review by Matthias Kirsch, ginalovesjazz.com
New York-based vocalist Mary Foster Conklin has just released her fourth CD called “Photographs" (her first since 2006), named after a Fran Landesman song. There is a total of five Landesman songs on the album. The songwriter is probably best-known for her “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most", but Mary also chose to do the lesser known tunes and that seems to be the underlying factor on this fine album, anyway.
The album opens with Joni Mitchell‘s “Night In The City" (from Joni’s 1968 debut album) where Mary is supported by saxophonist Joel Frahm and the many colors of her voice are probably best displayed on this rarely covered Mitchell song – the jazz inflections, the theater storytelling, the twirling around off-center material. But there are also several more familiar tunes here, like Benny Carter‘s “Key Largo", again with superb work by Joel Frahm plus the steadily eloquent rhythm section of John diMartino (piano), Ed Howard (bass), and Shinnosuke Takahashi (drums).
Warren Vaché has a pretty cool solo on “Autumn Serenade" which also boasts some cute piano arrangement; the arrangements are by John diMartino here, all adventurous and imaginative and fierce. Everyone has his favorite interpretation of the songs from the Great American Songbook and/or the standards and my favorite of the afore-mentioned “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" is still the one by Irene Kral (there you go again), but Mary and John come up with a beautiful duo performance and Mary’s “…there’s no mistaking" is so wholeheartedly emphasized that you can’t help but believe the prospects.
A sympathetic touch is added to the Latinized “Cinnamon And Clove" by Johnny Mandel and Alan & Marilyn Bergman: guitarist Paul Meyers underscores the sweetness and Nanny Assis on percussion helps out as well. The subdued, nocturnal flair of “Small Day Tomorrow", another Fran Landesman lyric, a collaboration with the equally legendary beat poet Bob Dorough, is captured with an urgent aplomb. And Lennon/McCartney’s “For No One" is just plain infectious, with the tenor sax of Houston Person.
The well-chosen repertoire also includes “The Winds Of Heaven", a Landesman/Dorough tune sung by Irene Kral on her “You Are There" album, recorded in 1977 (which also includes “Small Day Tomorrow" and “Nothing Like You"), and the title track, written with Alec Wilder, both showcasing an innate intensity and warmth and longing with Mary’s immaculate phrasing and intonation. Her “Night Song" oozes class and soul and includes her reflective"Where do I belong" as an exceptionally vulnerable question.
“I sing ballads for grownups – ballads about reality, about now", says Mary in the liner notes. And the hilariously floating and cool “Long As You’re Living" is the perfect vehicle for closing this abundant 13-song set. If you’re in New York, don’t miss the record release show at Birdland on Thursday at 6pm.
01.05.16Joe Lang of Jersey Jazz reviews Photographs
If there is a singer on the scene today deserving of wider recognition, MARY FOSTER CONKLIN would certainly be a top candidate. She has been singing for 30 years, received constant critical acclaim, and yet Photographs (Mock Turtle Music – 221) is only her fourth album. Like her earlier recordings, this one is full of one magic moment after another. Her distinctive rich and dusky sound is completely captivating, conjuring up images of a film noir femme fatale. She is a supreme storyteller, and chooses songs that provide the kind of lyrics that lend themselves well to her approach. Recently she has performed a show highlighting the lyrics of Fran Landesman. Five songs with Landesman’s lyrics have found their way onto this album, “Small Day Tomorrow," “Photographs," “The Winds of Heaven," “Nothing Like You" and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most." The latter is Landesman’s most well-known lyric, and has been recorded by many top vocalists, most memorably by Carmen McRae on her Bittersweet album. Conkln’s reading here will certainly find its way into the top tier of recorded versions. In addition to finding the right songs for her style, she selects musicians who can enhance her artistry. In this instance, she has pianist/arranger John di Martino, cornetist Warren Vaché, saxophonist Joel Frahm, guitarist Paul Meyers, bassist Ed Howard, drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi and percussionist Nanny Asssis. On the Lennon/McCartney song “For No One," the tenor sax of Houston Person adds his special sound. There is a lot of meat on this album, and it should be digested fully to appreciate it the way that it should be appreciated. Listen carefully, and you will be rewarded!
12.07.15CD review - Mary Foster Conklin - Photographs (MockTurtle Music)
CD Review by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes
As always, jazz stylist Mary Foster Conklin is a unique interpreter of meaningful songs about life. She breathes new life into “Moonglow" (Will Hudson/Irving Mills/ Eddie DeLange) and such rarities as “Key Largo" (Benny Carter/Leah Worth), recalling girl singers of another era. She has that knack for giving these songs wistful, moving treatments. She infuses the Paul McCartney gem, “For No One," with just the right hint of longing and melancholia. With the brilliant John di Martino at the helm, the arrangements and the band are exceptional, showing just enough sensitivity that is never maudlin on the ballads, with perfectly balanced swing on the upbeat tunes. This is particularly so on several Fran Landesman songs, starting with the album’s title cut, “Photographs" (music: Alec Wilder). Here, Conklin is expressive and silky on this song about reflection. She coolly captures the sweet reminiscence of looking back on a love affair that was. The cut is a serious highlight on this must-have disc. Her supple alto is rich and longing on Landesman’s moody “Small Day Tomorrow" (a collaboration with Bob Dorough). She is equally up to a sultry “The Winds of Heaven" and a lively “Nothing Like You" (also collaborations with Dorough).
In an airy arrangement, the Johnny Mandel/Alan and Marilyn Bergman “Cinnamon and Clove" is enticing and she takes you to an unknown rendezvous that is intoxicating—as is Conklin. The philosophically profound “Long as You’re Living"(Julian Preseter/Tommy Turrentine/Oscar Brown, Jr.) wraps a package of optimism in a warm blanket that makes this musical journey the joy it is. This is a timeless disc by an insightful artist, filled with musical interludes that sizzle and with taunting songs about life and the realities we all know. Mary Foster Conklin has always been in a league of her own when it comes to singing about the real deal. Whether it’s with a tear or a sly wink, she seduces like no other. It’s all on this special album.
11.08.15Photographs - New CD release date February 2, 2016
SAVE THE DATE - CD release celebration for Photographs will be on February 4, 2016 at Birdland, NYC at 6pm. Appearing will be John diMartino on piano, Ed Howard on bass, Vince Cherico on drums and Joel Frahm on soprano and tenor sax. Please call (212) 581-3080
09.13.15Playlist for 9.13.2015 Everything Old Is New Again WBAI-FM Broadcast
Many thanks for tuning in. The show will be archived for several weeks.
Go to the link below and select Everything Old is New Again September 13 program - http://www.wbai.org/archive.php
A Job of Work EJ Decker/A Job of Work
Brother Can You Spare A Dime John DiMartino/Turnaround
(Waitress in a Doughnut Shop) Hilary Gardner/The Great City
Hazel’s Hips Giacomo Gates/Everything is Cool
Sunday in New York Dena Derose/We Won’t Forget You
Downtown Train Marissa Mulder/Tom-In His Own Words
My Idea of a Good Time Mark Winkler/Jazz and Other Four Letter Words
Love/Misery Michelle Walker/Love Misery
Water Under Bridges Gregory Porter/Liquid Spirit
Flirting With Disaster Lorraine Feather/Flirting With Disaster
Finally Julian Fleisher/Finally
No Regrets Billy Holiday/Wishing on the Moon
These Foolish Things Cassandra Wilson/Coming Forth By Day
Growlin’ Dan Cecile McLorin Salvant/For One to Love
Kicking the Gong Around Chris Calloway/Live at Espiritu
Rebel Rebel Seu Jorge/The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions
Suffragette City Lea DeLaria/House of David
There Ain’t No Sweet Man etc. Duchess/Duchess
A Case of You Marquee Five/8-Track Throwback
First Train Home Vertical Voices/Fourward
Night in the City Mary Foster Conklin/Photographs
Harvest Moon Kelley Suttenfeld/Among the Stars
Waiting on the Roof Sachal/Slow Motion Miracles
Let’s Face the Music and Dance Kate McGarry & Keith Ganz/Genevieve & Ferdinand
Groove Merchant Russ Kasoff/Bird Fly By
08.16.15Playlist for 8.16.2015 Everything Old Is New Again WBAI-FM Broadcast
G Minor Swing Ian Herman & Sean Harkness - Duet
I’ve Got Just About Everything Bob Dorough/JD Walter - Duets
Your Cat Plays Piano Mark Winkler – Jazz and Other Four Letter Words
Sixteen Tons David Basse – The Hero, et al
Fragile Andy Bey – Tuesdays in Chinatown
Jesus Candle Paul Sachs – Survival is the New Success
My Father’s Island Lenny Sendersky/Tony Romano – Desert Flower (Cleve Douglass-v)
Prelude in E-flat Minor, Op 28, Deanna Witkowski – Raindrop
In April Diane Hubka – Look No Further
Waltz for Debby Tony Bennett/Bill Evans
Time Remembered Kendra Shank – Mosaic
Something to Live For Allan Harris – Love Came
No One Knows Karen Oberlin/Sean Harkness – A Wish
A Flower is a Lovesome Thing Chris McNulty - Eternal
Blue Moon Elvis Presley – The Sun Sessions
June Rose Andrea Wolper – Parallel Lives
Stardust Rob Wasserman/Aaron Neville – Duets
Summer is Gone Judy Wexler – Dreams and Shadows
Travel On By Vertical Voices – Fourward
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover Michelle Walker – Love/Misery
Nothing Lasts Forever Ian Shaw – A Ghost in Every Bar
Show Me the Way to Get Out Mary Foster Conklin – Blues for Breakfast
Thumbs Up Carol Kaye – Thumbs Up
03.08.15MFC on WBAI-FM 99.5 FM on March 8 from 9pm-11pm
I was asked by David Kenney to host a "women in jazz and cabaret" radio broadcast for WBAI-FM 99.5 on Sunday March 8 from 9-11pm for International Women’s Day, so I cooked up 'A Broad Spectrum - Music by Women Who Inspire.' Was it exciting? You bet. Best of all, it has been archived. You can go to http://oldisnew.org and scroll down to where you can hear the archived programs: Visit the WBAI Archives at http://www.wbai.org/server-archive.html to listen to the broadcast. It's under Everything Old Is New Again - March 8.
07.21.14Renegade Cabaret featured in Great Museums PBS documentary on the High Line
For those who missed the PBS documentary on the High Line that featured the Renegade Cabaret, fear not. It is now available to view on YouTube -
The segment on the Renegade Cabaret begins around the 35 minute mark. There is a lovely interview with Patrice at the Wheel, and performances by The Lady in the Green Dress, The Lady in the Red Dress, Barefoot Roger and Amber Ray, the Lady Upstairs.
03.01.14Night in the City - Mark Winkler & Mary Foster Conklin at Vitello's
Mark Winkler and Mary Foster Conklin offered tastes of their current projects mixed with an assortment of other hip and clever material. From Winkler’s Laura Nyro Project came his opener, “Stoned Soul Picnic." Also offering Nyro’s “California Shoeshine Boys" and “Billy’s Blues," he put his unique jazz spin on the songs, yet lost none of Nyro’s uniquely stylish lyrics. His genuine love and enthusiasm for her repertoire was apparent in both his patter and delivery.
New Yorker Mary Foster Conklin effectively captured the pace of her home city with her opener, Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace’s “In a New York Minute," from her Landesman project. Emphasizing the depression that comes with the long New York winters, she also pulled “Nice Weather for Ducks" (Landesman/Tommy Wolf).
These terrific jazz singers work incredibly well together and the hip factor was off the charts. Conklin especially shined with another of her specialties—the songs of Matt Dennis. The spoken verse of his (and Tom Adair’s) “The Night We Called It a Day" led to an almost mystical take on the chorus. Winkler displayed his first-rate songwriting skills with a delightful “Somewhere in Brazil."
Rich Eames led a great group of musicians and Ann Patterson on sax contributed some particularly soulful solos.
March 1, 2013
10.02.13A Poetic Rebel Full of Salt and Vinegar
By STEPHEN HOLDEN, NY TIMES
“Life is a bitch, full of hangups, full of hurt/First love makes you itch, then it dishes you to the dirt." No, it’s not Dorothy Parker. Those words belong to Fran Landesman, a hard-living outspoken cynic, who might be described as the Dorothy Parker of jazz lyrics.
Landesman’s poem, “Life Is a Bitch," reputedly a favorite of Bette Davis, is the title of Mary Foster Conklin’s cabaret show devoted to Landesman’s words, which opened at the Metropolitan Room last Thursday evening. Ms. Conklin, who recites a few of Landesman’s verses and sings more than a dozen of her songs with music by Bob Dorough, Simon Wallace and others, is full of salt and vinegar.
She spits out and growls the words with the intensity and tough humor of someone who might have lived on the bohemian fringe in the late ’40s and ’50s, when the word “hip" meant something and long before “hangups" were itemized disorders in a clinical manual.
Accompanied by John di Martino on piano and Ed Howard on bass, Ms. Conklin threw herself into the role of slangy Beat-era rebel thumbing her nose at the bourgeoisie. The most famous lyrics by Landesman, who died in 2011, are “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men." Both have music by Tommy Wolf, with whom she wrote the short-lived 1959 musical, “The Nervous Set."
“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," Ms. Conklin said, was Landesman’s translation into jazz lingo of the opening of T. S. Eliot’s “Waste Land." (“April is the cruelest month.") “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men," isn’t, as many assume, an evocation of 1950s gay-bar culture but a vision of night life from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl living with an older roué who describes herself in the lyrics as a “tired little girl."
How pertinent are these songs today? Quite. One of the best, “Small Day Tomorrow" (music by Mr. Dorough, who will turn 90 in December), Ms. Conklin called “the anthem of the unemployed."
“I’m a dropout, I’d rather cop out than run with all the sheep," the narrator announces, then tells her companion with an edge of self-loathing, “We can swing till broad daylight/We’ve got a small day tomorrow." In those days, rents were cheap.
03.16.13Life Is a Bitch review by Michael Dale in BroadwayWorld.com
I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of being conceived back when Fran Landesman began writing the lyrics and poetry that would earn her the title of the beat generation’s “poet laureate of lovers and losers." And I’m quite certain the same can be said for Mary Foster Conklin, but in her tribute to the scribe best known for “Ballad of the Sad Young Men" and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" the sly and smoky jazz vocalist creates a mood that one can imagine replicates the feel of low-key cool and coffee house worldliness that accompanied the material when it was a young woman’s reaction to the masculine sensitivity of 1950s Greenwich Village and the hipster side of St. Louis.
Titled Life Is A Bitch after a comically fatalistic poem that was a favorite of Bette Davis, Conklin is joined by music director/pianist John di Martino and bassist Greg Ryan for 90 minutes of wisdom, anecdotes and some ravishing words and music presented with knowing dramatics and warm intelligence.
The trickily rhythmic "Nothing Like You" (music by Bob Dorough) opens the program, followed by the creamy “Never Had The Blues" (also Dorough), setting us up for an evening of flippantness and emotional colors. “In A New York Minute" (Simon Wallace) highlights the jumpy, unexpected rhythms of the city, “Scars" (also Wallace) has Conklin at her most beautifully intimate, assuring a new lover that they can freely expose each other to the evidence of their past wounds (“Don’t be ashamed, everybody’s got scars. / That’s the way we keep score on this planet of ours.) and in “Small Day Tomorrow," her “anthem of the unemployed," the singer lounges in a relaxed playfulness.
That last selection, as Conklin explains, was inspired by an evening where Landesman was left alone in a favorite watering hole because all of her friends had a “big day tomorrow." She quips, “Out came a bar napkin and the rest is history." And “Ballad of the Sad Young Men" (Tommy Wolf), best known as a gay anthem, she explains was actually inspired from the lyricist’s learning that one of her obsessive artist friends was about to marry a 16-year-old girl and she was thinking how someone so young couldn’t possibly be prepared for what she had in store.
The charming between-song patter not only expresses Conklin’s personal appreciation of the songs, but gives a rather thorough history lesson of her subject’s life and career; her open marriage of 61 years to Jay Landesman (founder of the beat lit magazine Neurotica), their years in St. Louis, mingling with the likes of Lenny Bruce and Barbra Streisand at the Crystal Palace, and writing The Nervous Set with Tommy Wolf, the musical about New York’s beatnik culture that was a smash in St. Louis but failed to win over Broadway audiences.
The brief Metropolitan Room run of Life Is A Bitch has sadly concluded, but any future opportunities to hear the perfect match of Landesman’s hip observations and Conklin’s stylish interpretations is certainly worth a listen.
08.12.12Standing in the Rubble of New York's Cocktail Life
Classification is practically a divine endowment. As Genesis says, the Lord breathed existence into being, divided the day into two categories, and called them night and day. Why complicate things with intermediacies such as dawn and twilight?
Fortunately for the musical arts, the current era is not Biblical. The dominant theme of twentieth-century music in all categories is the collapse of categories, as genres, styles, and cultural associations mingle and blur. Musically, we're in the dawn of twilight (or the twilight of dawn, whatever), and I saw the evidence recently in two extraordinary concerts in New York City.
This Thursday, the singers Mary Foster Conklin and John DiPinto did a wonderfully unclassifiable show at the Metropolitan Room, a swanky mid-sized spot in Chelsea. Conklin, a former punk rocker from New Jersey, could sing anything but chooses to sing only what she chooses, and her taste is refined but not parochial. For the past several years, she has been performing, sometimes with DiPinto, in the underground series of “Renegade Cabaret" events staged, initially, on a fire escape by the Highline. In their show at the Metropolitan Room, Conklin and DiPinto, who plays the accordion, of course, presented an unaffectedly varied selection of tunes they love and sing well together. I had never heard half of the songs before, and every one was a pleasure: “Louisiana," a gem from the 1930s by Fats Waller’s colleagues J.C. Johnson and Andy Razaf; “Shut Up and Talk to Me," by the celebrated country tunesmith Guy Clark; and “Without Rhyme or Reason," a deep obscurity by Fran Landesman and Bob Dorough (from a time when Dorough was musical director to the ’60s top-40 group, Spanky and Our Gang); and “Music to Watch Girls By," done with affection and just enough of wink.
However oppressive the days, some of the nights have been good in New York this summer.
08.22.11Tony Sheldon visits North Square and lives to blog about it
Last week's brunch gig at North Square was a blast - many friends and singers in the house. John Dipinto sat in for two numbers each set. A surprise guest was Tony Sheldon from PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, who was kind enough to mention me and John Dipinto in his blog.
10.06.06Blues for Breakfast - Remembering Matt Dennis
Blues for Breakfast: Remembering Matt Dennis
Mary Foster Conklin | Rhombus Records (2006)
By Jack Bowers
I don't review many albums by singers these days, but I couldn't pass up a tribute to Matt Dennis, one of the most talented and sadly neglected songwriters of the Twentieth Century. Before scoffing, remember "Angel Eyes," "Will You Still Be Mine," "Everything Happens to Me," "Violets for Your Furs," "Let's Get Away from It All," "Show Me the Way to Get Out of This World" and "The Night We Called It a Day." All were written by Dennis, who sang them (and others) for many years in nightclubs across the country while accompanying himself at the piano.
To Mary Foster Conklin's credit, she doesn't rest her case on these familiar melodies but has unearthed a cache of other forgotten treasures with lyrics by Sammy Cahn, Bobby Troup, Ted Steele, Jerry Gladstone and Ginny Dennis, and performs a duet with Cuban artist David Oquendo on "Encanto d'Amor," Dennis/David Gillam's "It Wasn't the Stars That Thrilled Me" translated into Spanish by Oquendo. Among the others, Dennis/Steele's "That Tired Routine Called Love" is especially clever, right up there with Rodgers and Hart's "Everything I've Got Belongs to You," Lerner and Loewe's "How Can Love Survive," any Cole Porter lyric, and Dennis/Tom Adair's "Let's Get Away" and "Will You Still Be Mine."
Conklin's midrange voice is sweet and expressive, her articulation clean, and she caresses each lyric with notable warmth and perception. She's not quite as irresistible as Dennis himself, but few singers, no matter how adept, have ever equaled his offhanded charm. The backup group is splendid, with pianist John di Martino doubling as arranger and saxophonist Joel Frahm making brief but welcome appearances on three tracks. Dennis/Troup's "Where Am I to Go?" is a graceful duet with guitarist Tony Romano. Conklin also sings the seldom-heard verses to "Angel Eyes," "Will You Still Be Mine" and (spoken) "The Night We Called It a Day."
Conklin deserves applause for breathing life into such moribund classics as "Before the Show," "Spring Isn't Spring Anymore," "Blues for Breakfast," "Let's Just Pretend," "Learn to Love" and the other songs already cited. The album is worth hearing for them alone, even more so for Conklin's earnest and caring interpretations. Even for those who thought they knew Matt Dennis, it should be a real eye-opener.
Track listing: Before the Show; Spring Isn't Spring Anymore; Show Me the Way to Get Out of This World; Angel Eyes; That Tired Routine Called Love; Encanto d'Amor; Blues for Breakfast; Will You Still Be Mine; Where Am I to Go?; The Night We Called It a Day; Let's Get Away from It All; Let's Just Pretend; Learn to Love; Violets for Your Furs.
Personnel: Mary Foster Conklin: vocals; John di Martino: piano, arranger; Tony Romano: guitar; Sean Smith: bass; Ron Vincent: drums; Joel Frahm (1,3,13): tenor, soprano saxophone; Wilson "Chembo" Corniel (3,6): percussion; Leo Traversa (3,6): electric bass; David Oquendo (6): vocal, lyrics.
09.03.06A Work of Art and Heart
by Scott Johnson
If you're a fan of the great American songbook, you're familiar with at least two or three compositions by Matt Dennis. "Angel Eyes" is one of the highlights of Frank Sinatra's great "Only the Lonely" album. Sinatra's "unusual performance" -- beginning with the release instead of the first verse -- "served to remind us that Dennis was an unusual songwriter," according to Alec Wilder in the last chapter of his influential American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950. "With its tension between driving music and restrained lyrics," Philip Furia writes in Poets of Tin Pan Alley, "'Angel Eyes' is in the tradition of the greatest of all torch songs -- Mercer and Arlen's 'One for My Baby' (1941)."
Ella Fitzgerald also recorded "Angel Eyes" two or three times. Among many others who have given it a beautiful ride are Chet Baker, Nancy Wilson, June Christy, and Mel Torme and Cleo Laine in duet. Most recently, the late bluesman Johnny Adams made it a highlight of his "One Foot in the Blues." Two or three more of Dennis's compositions -- "Violets for Your Furs," "The Night We Called It a Day," "Let's Get Away From It All" -- have attracted a similar panoply of performers. Dennis's work is otherwise more or less forgotten or unknown.
"What else should I know about Matt Dennis?" cabaret/jazz singer Mary Foster Conklin wondered when she discovered June Christy's version of "Angel Eyes" courtesy of her accompanist, John di Martino. Conklin discovered that Dennis had first taught his songs to Sinatra when they both worked in Tommy Dorsey's orchestra and Conklin lit out for -- where else? -- the Library of Congress to take a look for more of Dennis's work.
On "Blues for Breakfast: Remembering Matt Dennis," Conklin shares the fruit of her research -- only there is absolutely nothing archival or musty about the results. Conklin brings the fourteen Dennis compositions on "Blues for Breakfast" to glorious life in superb arrangements anchored mostly by di Martino's piano and Sean Smith's bass. Listen to clips of five songs from "Blues for Breakfast" by clicking on the image of the disc on Conklin's site (linked above on her name).
Judging by "Blues for Breakfast," Mary Foster Conklin is an artist of great talent perfectly suited to bring out the life in the buried treasures she discovered along with the well-known highlights of Dennis's career. "I'm convinced that these tunes wanted to be found," she writes in the recording notes on her site. Having spent the weekend listening to the disc, I would add that these tunes wanted to be found by Mary Foster Conklin.
In his characteristically excellent September 2, 2001 New York Times profile of Conklin, Terry Teachout wrote:
"I don't do all-Gershwin shows, or little stories about wanting to come to New York and be an actress," Ms. Conklin said in a recent interview. "I sing ballads for grownups -- ballads about reality, about now. I mean, I lived in the East Village during the crack years. One of my first gigs was with a punk-rock garage band, with me dressed up in full Cyndi Lauper regalia."
Just as important, she is constantly on the lookout for newer material that meshes with her postmodern approach. "I got frustrated with standard cabaret because my perspective didn't really contain a shred of what you'd call old-movie romance," she said. "One of my acting teachers told me: 'You're playing the part of a cabaret singer. You're dressing up like your mother. Wear pants. Do material that fits your age, your story, your life.' So I started singing songs that were more about sex than romance. Songs about anger. More contemporary stuff, by people like Tom Waits and Dave Cantor. And that was when I started to become myself."
Conklin seems fully to have become herself on "Blues for Breakfast," a labor of love that she has turned into a work of art and heart. Thanks to Conklin's husband, Glenn Bowen, a Power Line reader who sent me the disc on the condition that I promise not to write about it (he relented), and to Chet Baker biographer James Gavin, who wrote the liner notes on which I have drawn for my comments here.
UPDATE: In the post above, I originally credited Ron Vincent with the bass work on the recording. Mary Foster Conklin has written to correct me and give credit where credit is due:
My husband woke me this morning to read me the kind words you posted about "Blues for Breakfast - Remembering Matt Dennis." I thank you for the review - it's clear you are a Matt Dennis fan and I'm so glad you enjoyed the recording.
I need to offer one gentle correction - especially since my musicians deserve credit where credit is due. In your post, you stated: "Conklin brings the fourteen Dennis compositions on 'Blues for Breakfast' to glorious life in superb arrangements anchored mostly by di Martino's piano and Ron Vincent's bass." Ron Vincent is, in fact, my drummer who brings close to 30 years of experience to his chair and is one of my favorite players in New York. My bassist is Sean Smith, also a terrific musician and composer. Without them, along with John di Martino, Tony Romano [on electric guitar] and the rest, I would not have succeeded in bringing Matt's music back to life.
Many thanks again.
Best regards, Mary
I've made the correction and would like to add that the contribution of Joel Frohm on sax on three numbers is also stellar.