Previous Blogger Entries - November 2006 - January 2007
January 8, 2007
The Very Good Shepherd
Although my Hollywood feature film debut happened on December 22nd, I was
reluctant to write about it here as the holiday season was foremost in
everyone's minds and hearts including my own. Now time has passed and
friends and fans have been writing me every day to share their delight in
catching me up there on the silver screen as the "1961 Deer Island Singer".
Pinch me, but it's true. I'm a movie star!
If you don't believe me, buy tickets, a soda, some popcorn and see for
yourself. Three fourths into Robert De Niro's engrossing spy thriller, the
camera pans on yours truly singing in front of a society band in a yellow
gown with "higher the hair, closer to God" hair (thank you, Aqua Net) for
just enough time to make my friends shriek "There's Ann!" to the
consternation of audiences around the country. And during 30 seconds or
less, you can hear me singing "Come Rain or Come Shine" while Angelina Jolie
and Matt Damon are dancing and enduring a marriage that is in more danger
than the country. Can you blame me for wanting my own autograph? I got to
work with the most famous person in the cosmos who, when brought up by "Bob"
to meet me, purred in a breathless voice as she shook my hand, "Hi, I'm
Angie." I'm pleased to report that adoption papers are in the works. It
will be lovely living with Maddox and Zahara.
All silliness aside, it's a film not to be missed. De Niro devoted 11 years
of his life to work on Eric Roth's epic script and bring this gripping true
story of a CIA agent to light. Though the film isn't the blockbuster we all
hoped for, it has made several of the Top Ten lists for Best Movie of the
Year. As a fan of European cinema, I loved all the fine tuned performances,
the gorgeous light and shadow of every shot, and how the intensity of the
story smoldered more slowly and deliberately than any thriller I've seen.
There elegance to this movie that is surprising. And it is unmistakably
Matt Damon's finest acting to date. I just watched him on "Inside the
Actor's Studio" and loved hearing him describe in detail about how working
with Robert De Niro as a director helped him grow and turn in his finest
performance. Having Bob three feet across from him during every shot, he
knew that only the truth will be permitted. No tricks, no acting, just
gritty unmistakable truth.
When I was called by Sandy Park to record the Arlen classic for the
soundtrack, I had no idea that Robert De Niro would be there at the session.
There he was with those deep, soulful eyes and an aura of extraordinary
quiet and gentleness. I was finally meeting one of the greatest actors of
our time, a man I've always held in highest esteem. In between takes, we
talked a bit in the green room about music and I was happy to find out what
a fan he was of American popular standards. It was also fun being a spy and
watching him choose music for other scenes with his producer Jane Rosenthal.
(A wonderful dynamo and the owner of the world's cutest Yorkshire terrier.)
What a challenging assignment this recording was because it was recorded as
an instrumental track. The last minute De Niro decided to use the irony of
the lyrics "I'm gonna love you like nobody's loved you" while the couple was
dancing in anguish on the parquet. Not only did I have to sing the song a
fourth lower than I recorded it on my CD "Easy Living", I had to finesse a
way of singing it to fit exactly to the instrumental melody. There wasn't
an ounce of swing or Ann in this interpretation. So this assignment was to
be a musical puzzle and an acting challenge. De Niro is famous for being a
very detailed and nuanced creator so recording one song lasted much longer
than I was used to, being a one or two take singer in most cases. He wanted
about thirty or so takes so he could find the exact tone, volume and texture
for the action and dialogue taking place. After every other take, he would
walk up to me and whisper an idea about a phrase or inflection. I loved
taking his direction and trying to give him the subtle things he asked for.
What made it especially rewarding was how he would give me a little kiss on
the cheek to encourage me before he walked back to the control room. (I
still haven't washed the left side of my face.)
The next day I got the call that De Niro had decided to put me in the shot
and I had better get myself over to Chelsea at Ann Roth's studio first thing
to be fitted for a gown. What a coup. Ann Roth is everything you want in a
Hollywood designer. Brilliant, quick, instinctive, funny and faaabulous.
And she was a fan, so that added to the fun. After the first fitting, full
of Hollywood anecdotes and Nathan Lane stories, I brought plates of cookies
and sweets over to her wonderful staff because I felt sorry that they had to
make a costume for me with so little time. And, with the inspiration of
chocolate, make it they did.
There I was, finally, whisked off in a town car for the big shoot at The
Brooklyn Armory. It was an unbearably hot day, somewhere in the hundreds.
Air conditioning was prohibited because it was too noisy for the filming.
So in that punishing Hades what was there to do but use a little Uta Hagen
and pretend you were cool to keep your makeup from sliding off your face.
Fortunately, the makeup and hair folks were patient and fun and looked out
for us all every step of the way.
Being someone who loves live performance, it was surreal to be waiting for
hours and hours to do the shoot. I realized I would probably go insane if I
had to be a movie star, with all that waiting (but that's a risk I'm willing
to take.) Finally, when the moment came, I loved being on stage with the
band, some of whom I'd worked with before, as they were directed to pretend
to play their instruments without actually making any sound (really hard for
a drummer). I had memorized several of my takes and the last minute Bob
chose the take that I was to do lip syncing to. I actually sang every take
incredibly softly so it would look believable. In between all the takes it
was fun discreetly joking with some of the actors on the dance floor like
Bill Hurt, who was full of charm and unexpected flattery. Because I was
made to look and sound so different, people were slow to to realize who I
was, so it was nice to eventually discover that many of these New York
actors were familiar with my music.
Watching Matt and Angie give their razor focus with Bob closely monitoring
each shot was fascinating. There was poetry about it all. I felt very
honored to have this bird's eye view of great people creating a medium I
have always loved.
So, in short, this was a dream come true for me. I love movies and I love
when my favorite singers appear in them like Ella, Peggy, Frank and more
recently Dianne Reeves in Good Night, and Good Luck. If brevity is the soul
of wit, I'm glad to contribute a little wit to this mesmerizing drama. Hope
you see it and yell out my name real loud at a Cineplex near you!
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Song In Need
My Uncle Bert has just gotten out of the hospital for a recurring bout of cancer. I haven't seen him in years but I called him on the phone when he was finally able to come home. We had a good talk and at one point he mentioned how in trying to endure the harrowing pain and loneliness in that hospital room, a poem had come to him. I've never known him to write poetry. He wondered if he could send me the poem and if I'd consider writing music to it. I said of course.
I got his poem in the mail today. There was something so powerful about seeing his handwriting and feeling his soul cry out in these words. I immediately took the poem to my piano and soon after music began to come to me. It is a simple song. But I realized I didn't know any songs about this subject that so many people go through. I was so grateful to be able to show my love for my uncle in this way. Nothing so far has seemed adequate.
Afterwards I wrote him that when he is feeling ready, I will call him on the phone and sing it to him. And if he likes it, I will record it for him. Then, I said, when he is even better, I will arrange for him to sing it in a recording studio. I always loved his voice. When he is strong enough to sing these words from his heart I know it will touch anyone in need.
It may not be finished, but here is our song so far:
BE WITH ME, LORD
By Bert Andersen and Ann Hampton Callaway
Be with me, Lord, when the pain is great
Seeing your face, Lord, it's so hard to wait
Being with you, as death draws near
Take from me, Lord, this pain and fear
Be with me, Lord, oh the pain is strong
We've been through a lot, Lord, now it won't be long
Two roads ahead and soon we'll see
Which of these roads you'll choose for me
Be with me, Lord, yes the choice is clear
I've got some serious work to do here
If I do my best under your light
I know ev'rything will turn out right
You told us, keep faith and listen
And you would answer our pray'r
Dear Lord, you know I'm list'ning
Is it to be here or there?
Be with me Lord, as you've always been
I joined you one moment, but came back again
I'll do your work, make this my finest hour
Glory to you, Lord, in your strength and power
Tonight I realize again how songs are true friends. They come to us when we need them. And in times of loneliness and the fear of losing this precious life, boy do we need them.
Monday, January 01, 2007
Happy New Year! It's raining hard here and the raindrops sound like thousands of tiny bells ringing in the New Year.
Ah, January 1. Today is a fresh page, a blank slate, an empty canvas- a chance to make something new and truer of our lives. Here's to the acceptance of who we are right now, the vision of what we can someday be and the inner wisdom that can guide us each day into creating a bridge between the two.
Ana´s Nin said, "I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me." F. M. Knowles said "He who breaks a resolution is a weakling; He who makes one is a fool."
As I get older, I realize how many lofty goals I still haven't reached. No one is a tougher critic than me. This year I want to be as kind to myself as I try to be with others. I want to be as gentle and compassionate as I would be with a child. I never blossomed under mean spirited teachers, so today I am firing those ghosts they left inside me and hiring a new inner staff.
I notice that children rebel when they are not listened to, when they feel discounted. I believe each of us is the same way. This year I am simply going to focus more on listening. Listening to my loved ones and listening to my inner self. By showing that respect, I believe the rest will follow.
It is said that prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening to God. God, you know exactly what I need to do and where I need to be. I pledge to be a better listener and a better friend to you. And I know that by deepening my friendship with you, all my friendships will flourish.
And so, my friends, here's to friendship. Here's to truly listening to each other and cheering each other on. And here's to the joyous songs that will arise when we open our hearts together to the gorgeous possibilities waiting on our doorstep today.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
New Year's Eve
Greetings from my beach retreat on this beautiful last day of 2006. It is a peaceful and sunlit day here by the water and I hope this finds each of you happy, healthy and inspired for the coming year ahead.
As I look back at the numerous unforgettable events of this year, I want thank you for all the many ways you have touched my life. Your support and enthusiasm has spurred me forward every step of the way. Traveling around the country and the world can often be a harrowing experience but to experience your friendship, your great energy at my concerts and your appreciation for my recordings and songs means more than I can express.
2006 brought many artistic thrills. Here are some of the highlights: Kicking off the New Year with a week at The Blue Note with Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra. Recording "Blues in the Night" for my new label Telarc with Diva, Ted Rosenthal, Christian McBride and Lewis Nash. Being called to replace Barbara Cook the last minute with my sister for the annual Desert Aids Project Benefit with Debbie Reynolds, Angela Lansbury and Shirley MacLaine. Singing in a star studded birthday tribute for Tony Bennett in Washington, D.C. Singing with my sister and the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall. Performing in South Africa for the first time at The Melodi Jazz Festival in Sun City with Hugh Masakela and a host of great artists. Getting the green light from PBS to co-produce and host a pilot and gala this coming May 10th for my TV show on singers and singer-songwriters that I have been planning for the last few years (thanks to my brilliant co-producer Fawn Ring and the great people of Chicago's WTTW.) Writing songs and doing pitches for the upcoming movie musical "State of Affairs" directed by Phil McKinley, produced by Dean Zanuck and co-written with Mark Chait and David Zippel. Writing songs on spec for Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand (we wait patiently for their outcome.) Headlining a week of sold-out shows at the Diet Coke Women in Jazz Festival at Dizzy's in New York- (one of the things that made that week so thrilling was singing with surprise guests- my sister Liz Callaway, the divine Barbara Carroll, jazz vocalist Carolyn Leonhart, fellow Telarc recording artist Tony DeSare and one of my heroes, Dianne Reeves.) Doing a masterclass at the Singer's Forum with two of my favorite singers, Janis Siegel and Laurel Masse. Being called in the last minute to replace Tony Bennett at The Kennedy Center for The Monk Competition Finals and singing with Stevie Wonder, Patti Austin, Jane Monheit, Wayne Shorter and a host of jazz luminaries. Singing at a marvelous party hosted by Barbara Walters. Making my Hollywood screen debut this December 22nd in Robert De Niro's critically acclaimed film "The Good Shepherd" (and despite my tiny role as 1961 society singer making the cast lists of The New York Times and Cindy Adams.) Throughout the year, it was a joy singing in so many of the theaters, jazz clubs and concert halls of my favorite cities in America. It was always exciting to see old friends and I was amazed to make a few special new ones. And I don't think I'll ever forget making my Bern, Switzerland debut a few weeks ago at Marian's Jazz Club where upon arrival in this quaint city, I was hit on the head by hundreds of plastic hammers and showered with confetti by complete strangers during the celebration of their annual Onion Festival.
Life is good. So often it whizzes by us so quickly that we don't have the time to digest it all and really let things sink in. I hope in the coming days to take some quiet time for myself to reflect on all my blessings. And I will also be busy plotting and scheming some exciting adventures ahead. I hope you will be a part of them.
Here's to all our great hopes and dreams for 2007. Tonight at midnight, let us raise our glasses to these hopes and dreams and to a brand new chance to make our lives heaven on earth!
Friday, November 24, 2006
The Party's Over
How do you say goodbye to Anita O'Day and Betty Comden? I was stunned by the news that we lost two of the most brilliant women in America's musical history yesterday on Thanksgiving.
Anita O'Day hailed from my home town Chicago and offered the world some of the swingingest performances of the twentieth century along with the brutally honest autobiography "High Times, Hard Times" which spoke of a life ravaged by alcohol and drug abuse, rape, abortions and failed marriages. I last saw her at the Blue Note sharing the bill with my friend Karrin Allyson. She looked and sounded quite feeble that night but there was a spirit in there of sass and ebulliance that glimmered past triumphs.
Betty Comden wrote the wittiest and most sophisticated of lyrics and librettos with her longtime partner Adolph Green. How I love her words in "On the Town," "Wonderful Town," "Bells Are Ringing" and "Peter Pan." And "Singin' In the Rain" continues to be one of my all time favorite movies. I was fortunate to do a private performance with Betty and Adolph at the home of arts patron Marty Granoff several years ago. It was thrilling to share the spotlight with them and experience up close their sparkling company. They later shared their appreciation of my music after several opening night performances of my shows.
I blow them both a kiss goodbye and wish them well in that ever-expanding jam session in the sky.
"Now you must wake up
All dreams must end
Take off your makeup
The party's over
It's all over, my friend."
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Harvest of the Heart
By Ann Hampton Callaway
Written 11/22/06 in honor of Thanksgiving
Gathered around the table
Of this day
Let us celebrate
The harvest of the heart.
In one dance
Hear the horn play its plentitude.
Hear it play Love's ecstatic song
In every heart,
The golden "I am" of existence
Capturing this moment
Of miracle marveling.
Let us be the We
We forget to see.
Hear Love sing:
"I am the hand that gives,
I am the hand that receives,
I am the seed,
I am the rain,
I am the sun,
I am the wheat,
I am the bread,
I am the baker,
I am the Maker!"
Oh, to each and everyone,
To all and everything
Praise this day that joins us
Praise the One who feeds us!
Love, we fill our table
As you fill our hearts-
We are not apart
For we are joined
In the harvest of the heart!