KURT WEILL EVENING WITH WDR BIG BAND

"It was a pure declaration of love to the music of the "hundred year old" Kurt Weill that the WDR Big Band offered the Cologne audience in glowing tones. The cooperative effort by Bill Dobbins as conductor of the Big Band and Roger Kellaway was a huge success. Kellaway is a virtuoso and an outstanding pianist and composer, able to bring these skills to his tasteful arrangements, giving them his personal stamp without at all violating Weill's music.

Music of the Last Years:
The program centered around the music of Weill's last years. Weill, who had emigrated to the USA, adapted to the expectations of his new environment without losing his style, which had caused a sensation with the debut of "The Three Penny Opera" in 1928 in Berlin.

As the seventeen members of the band, expanded by oboes, celli, percussion and accordion, expressed the flavor of the American songs, they were joined by guitarist Robben Ford, drummer Dennis Mackrel, and theater singer Anne Kerry Ford. Mainly in the beginning of the program, in songs like "I'm a Stranger Here Myself"("One Touch of Venus") or "Tschaicowsky" from "Lady in the Dark", she was the one who represented the American style completely with her vocals.

Later in the show, in "Solomon's Song" and "Pirate Jenny", Anne Kerry Ford evoked the feeling and passion of "Three Penny Opera", as these arrangements were less musically stylized and closer to the "German" Weill.

The performers expressed the sentiment of Brecht/Weill with the boldly declared "Surabaya Johnny" ("Happy End") and delved into the wicked satire about the bourgeois in "Song of the Rhineland" from "Where do We Go From Here?", another song with which the performers identified brilliantly. The entire program, along with Ulrich Kurth's moderation, recieved the clearly expected and more than well-deserved ovation."

"Koelner Stadt Anziger"
May 9th, 2000


That's a review of the concert I performed in Germany with The West German Radio Orchestra's Big Band on May 4th, 5th and 6th in celebration of Weill's centenary.

 

Roger Kellaway teaches John a new arrangement

Me and John at The Gardenia in April
In Rehearsal:
Here I am with John Boswell and Roger Kellaway
I returned to The Gardenia at the end of April, this time to "test-run" Roger Kellaway's arrangements of the Weill songs before heading to Germany to sing them with The West German Radio Orchestra's Big Band on May 4th, 5th and 6th in celebration of Weill's centenary. Roger Kellaway ( a celebrated composer and downright brilliant arranger and pianist) was the music director for WDR's tribute to Weill, as he had been ten years ago for Weill's 90th birthday when Katerina Valente was the vocalist.
My husband, the fab guitarist Robben Ford, was also featured on the program (a departure from the rocking blues he is famous for!) and needless to say, I was honored and thrilled to be invited to sing the songs of my very favorite composer with a twenty-eight piece world-class ensemble, and record a CD of the concerts as well!

I sang twelve songs by Weill with the WDR Big Band. The program was two hours long; my sets were the second half of each act, following a set of instrumentals.

Here is my set list:

ACT ONE
1. "I'm A Stranger Here Myself"
2. Medley: "What Good Would The Moon Be?"/ "It Never Was You"
3. "Tschaikowsky"
4. "Lonely House"
5. "Here I'll Stay"


ACT TWO
1. "The Song of The Rhineland"
2. Medley: "Solomon Song"/ "Youkali"
3. "Pirate Jenny"
4. "Surabaya Johnny"
5. "Listen To My Song"

Although I sang some of the German songs that Weill wrote with Brecht, I sang all of the songs "in English (throwing a few German phrases into "Pirate Jenny"...) because we plan to release the CD in the US, and we were told that most of the Germans at the concerts would understand English.

We rehearsed the arrangements here in Ojai beginning last February. Roger would finish an arrangement, then we'd get together with my dear friend, pianist John Boswell so we both could learn them. I don't know anyone but John who could have played arrangements on the piano that were intended for twenty-eight musicians, but he did it in spades. These rehearsals were tremendously helpful for me to learn the arrangements before I even got to Germany.

Robben and I arrived in Cologne, Germany on April 24th, meeting up with Roger there. We had six days of rehearsal in a large recording studio owned by WDR. The concerts were in Düsseldorf (May 4th), Cologne (May 5th), and Liege, Belgium (May 6th). Here is my diary of my experiences, complete with snapshots of the trip.

"The Dom - the magnificent church with the never-ending bells
The building that houses WDR's studios
Me in the studio with Roger conducting
The horn section of WDR's Big Band in the studio
Robben with WDR's guitarist Paul Shigihara, who is wonderful
Roger being goofy in the studio
 
The view from the microphone on stage at Philharmonie Hall in Cologne
 
A kiosk in Cologne featuring our poster
A close-up of our poster
Me and Frank Chastenier, WDR's beautiful pianist
Chris Cluxen, the sound engineer for WDR who taught me German - a good friend!
 
 
A self-portrait in the dressing room mirror in Düsseldorf
The view from the stage at "Tonhalle Düsseldorf"
Roger, me and Robben before the first show
Robben and me
Me with conductors Bill Dobbins and Roger Kellaway
 

DAY ONE.
Tuesday,April 25th.
Still recovering from jet-lag, not too bad thanks to melatonin and a nice nap on the plane. We dropped in on the rehearsal today where Roger was playing the piano and Bill Dobbins was conducting the instrumental part of the show. Met the band, twenty-eight top-notch players. What a sound, all of them together!!! WOW. They rehearse in a recording studio...air conditioned (not great for the voice!) and without windows. Robben and I sat in the back and smiled. This is going to be fun!

DAY TWO
Today is my stuff... unfortunately, I didn't sleep too well last night. It wasn't anxiety that kept me awake, it was that my clock is off. One in the morning and I hear the bells from The Dom (the gigantic and ominous church across the square from the hotel) bonging like mad. I lay there in a zippity-doo-dah frame of mind as they bonged every fifteen minutes until I finally dozed off around three. They have a thing for church bells in this place, I tell ya... Roger joked that he will compose a piece called "Nobody Sleeps In On Sunday", featuring (guess what) BELLS. So, today has a dream-like quality to it as I am both jet-lagged and exhausted. And we arrive at rehearsal to find a photographer there! Boy, I look great!!! Agh!!!

Despite all of this, I'm singing well. We launch into "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" at 10 AM. Tempos seem slow, or maybe that's my perception as I'm pumping adrenaline through a weary body and mind... We rehearse in the WDR building. a short walk from the hotel. It reminds me of a cross between NBC Studios in New York and Juilliard, my alma- mater. Musicians flood the building, chattering and smoking. The floors are wood. Symphonies can be heard through closed doors down the hall. My favorite piece we rehearsed today was "Youkali", which was so eerie and haunting ...it's a beautiful song and Roger's arrangement is just heavenly.

DAY THREE
Thursday the 27th
We are one week away from the first concert in Düsseldorf. Strange, but I feel at home when I walk into the rehearsal room (already!). People have been so supportive. One of the saxophone players told Roger that he didn't understand Kurt Weill until he heard me sing it. Yeah, a K.W. convert! He plays like John Coltrane. I can feel him staring at me as I rip into "Pirate Jenny", which is what we rehearsed today, along with "Surabaya Johnny". I'm wondering if I went too far when I mentioned the weight of the tempos yesterday, because today they seem really fast!!! Middle ground, please? I don't want to lose the imagery of "Surabaya". We worked on "Here I'll Stay", "Listen To My Song" and "Stranger Here Myself" before we called it a day. I'm glad it was only those songs, as I'm very tired and I can feel it in my voice. I have to work on my entrances in the big arrangements like "Here I'll Stay". It's hard to feel the openings with so many instruments playing !!! Chris, the very kind sound engineer, helped me with my German pronunciation of the two lines I speak in "Pirate Jenny". I can't get the German "r" sound that resembles an upset cat. (Am I in over my head, I wonder?) All I can do is start swimming! The weather here today was beautiful. The Germans say it is never this warm and sunny this time of year. Roger says it's because he's doing yoga sun salutations in the mornings.

DAY FOUR
Friday
Our last rehearsal before three days off. Monday is Labor Day here in Germany. I am happy because I got nine uninterrupted hours of sleep, despite any and all church bells. Hooray! Because I feel like a million bucks, I'm not even bothered by the fog that shrouds the city. I'm not due to rehearse until two as they begin with instrumentals, so I'm off to the department store to buy an extra umbrella and some opera gloves.
Later, same day:
Just saw the Philharmonic Hall where we will do our second concert. OH MY GOD... the "walk-on" is SO LONG. It's MILES from the wings to the stage, down slippery stairs ! Eeeeek! I'll be wobbling on my new golden high heels all the way out onto the stage.It's an obstacle course!!! I'll have to practice those stairs! The audience rises up quite steeply to the back row, about a mile up above your head as you look out. It was exciting , no, TERRORIZING, no, EXCITING !!!

DAY SIX
Saturday
No hot water in the hotel, so I'm laying around in my pajamas and it's storming outside, complete with lightning and thunder. It's a day off. Robben has gone to get his guitars worked on. I'm glad to have a rest, good for the voice. I feel a million miles away from home... like I'm living someone else's life at the moment. Here I am, the star of WDR's big band tribute to Kurt Weill!

DAYS SEVEN AND EIGHT.
Went with Roger over to the WDR rehearsal room to go over some tempos. Had lunch in a cafe, the best onion soup ever. Took a two hour walk. Cologne is a gentle, lovely place. I haven't seen one act of aggression since being here. Everyone seems so wonderful, so willing to help. We will seek out "Claudius"... a hot springs "park" with pools and saunas and steam rooms today. I feel like surrounding myself in steam. Tomorrow we record all of Act One. I feel relaxed and ready. It's a great feeling.

DAY NINE
Tuesday, May 2
Back to work this afternoon. We recorded eight songs in a little under four hours. All of them really great. Roger was amazed. The band gets tighter, I continue to relax more.

DAY TEN
Wednesday
This morning we finished recording my songs. We began with "Youkali", perhaps the most difficult song for me vocally. For some reason the "God of Chops" is smiling on me... my pipes are doing pretty good. I sneaked off this afternoon and found a righteous gift for Robben for opening night tomorrow: an onyx box with silver hinges made by the jewelry-maker to the Queen of England in 1925! He will be so surprised...tee hee. Tomorrow is the concert!

DAY ELEVEN
Düsseldorf is a lovely town. We drove at a hair-raising speed from Cologne ( the highways here resemble the Indianapolis 500) and had time for a nice lunch before sound check. Robben and I were given a huge dressing room with a piano in it, upon which we placed Kurt Weill's picture. Sound check went well, again, I'm not nervous (so strange for me!). I hopped into my green dress and before I knew it I was walking out to the vamp of "I'm a Stranger Here Myself". What a great time! The band was in rare form, and besides the tempo of "Youkali" being too fast, I felt like the concert came off without a hitch. Luckily, my pal Amanda McBroom had told me how strange it was where she sang at Carnegie Hall that she could SEE the audience, as classical halls don't lower the house lights, so I wasn't too shocked that I could see everyone as perfectly as they could see me! I tried to sing to the most interested faces in the audience. We were all presented with roses onstage. The curtain calls were messy and we bumped into each other a bit, but other than that, we all felt really good. Back at the hotel, I listened to the tape of the show and am surprised how good it sounds. Tomorrow will be even better in a hall with 2,200 people in the audience! Tomorrow is a big day!

DAY TWELVE
The concert in Cologne's Philharmonie Hall
Philharmonie Hall is their version of Carnegie Hall, complete with a backstage bar and pianos in the dressing rooms, and the looooong entrance ramp I already mentioned. I practiced the entrance at sound check at least a dozen times, wearing the high heels, of course!!! Even for the most experienced Miss America, this would be a challenge to travel down these long avenues of slippery steps and avoiding the gaping cracks in the stage, all while a spot light is blinding you...
There was more of a hype at sound check than the previous day. A gaggle of photographers snapped our photos as we worked. I found myself wishing I'd put lipstick on. I practiced my entrance some more. I feel a flutter in my stomach, but nothing like the nerves that hit me when I'm playing in a small room in L.A. Here, I'm surrounded by the lights and the huge stage and the wall of music and protected by the fact that they think I am a star. So that's what I'll be, I guess...
We have moved right in to our spacious dressing room, with the plug-in teapot and Kurt's photo and my ten tons of lotions and cough drops and makeup. Time warps between sound check and the show and before I know it, I'm wearing the green dress and my sapphire necklace and I'm looking through the "porthole" of the entrance door onto the stage, watching Bill conduct "My Ship", the first song of the evening. Two songs later, Robben goes out for his two solos. I flash on the story of Judy Garland when she played the Palace... right before she made her entrance, she clung to the side of the curtain and screamed (under her breath) "fuck em, fuck em, fuck em!!!" before she hit the stage with a big smile and everyone fell in love with her. So I do my OWN version of "fuck em, fuck em, fuck em" and off I go, making that impossibly long Miss America entrance, doing my "wiggle" before "I'm a Stranger Here Myself". The first act seems flawless (is this possible???) and the audience seems enthusiastic, to say the least. Change into my black "Brecht" dress for Act Two (you gotta wear black to sing "Pirate Jenny"). Roger tells me later that he actually got choked up during "What Good Would The Moon Be?" in Act One because he flashed on us doing this before in another life... it all seemed so right. He had to tell himself not to cry because he couldn't see the score to conduct the band.
The show ended in a blaze of curtain calls and flowers. I really "went for it" with the dramatic stuff tonight... I let "Surabaya Johnny" just rip. Heh, if they don't like it, what can you do? It's not a song to hold back on... Bad news met us right after the concert was over, before we had a chance to bask in any of the glory. One of the video cameras we had hired to shoot the show had broken right before we had started. But that bad news was topped by the heartbreaking realization that Robben's wedding ring was missing...

DAY THIRTEEN
The morning was spent in the agonizing search for Robben's ring. The bellboy from the hotel combed the sidewalk with me, inch by inch at a snail's pace. Robben felt awful... he had tucked the ring into his pants pocket before he went out to play the guitar, as he had done often before. I felt like my heart was made of lead, and certainly couldn't imagine how I would sing at all in Belgium later that day, even though I was only singing three songs in this show. I was also upset about the botched video, although that was a disaster of a different color. There was no time to process all of these varied emotions, which were all happening at one time! A successful concert last night! So many people to meet! A show tonight in Belgium! I have to listen to the tape of last nights show! Lost wedding ring! Should the video people come to Belgium? Will they screw it up again? I still have to wash my hair and our flight is early tomorrow and we aren't packed!!! How does one prioritize all of these things??? (As an aside, I realized how the average Joe doesn't realize how many conditions contribute to a performer having a good show or a terrible show... all of these things affect the performance... you don't just show up in a bubble and open your mouth and deliver the goods!)
LATER:
The ring (thank GOD!) is found! It had been knotted in the bottom of Robben's pants pocket, and although we had both checked the pants 25 times, the ring wasn't discovered until the 26th check. OKAY, now I could concentrate on the show ahead, the music, trying to get a good video, warming up my voice... We are part of a jazz festival in Liege, about one and a half hours from Cologne. Since the program is only an hour long, I'm singing "Stranger", "Lonely House" and "Here I'll Stay". I listen to the tape of last night's show with headphones as we speed in the car toward Belgium. I make notes on the back of an envelope as to which performances I like because Roger will be starting to work on rough mixes tomorrow.

The pile of mail that was waiting at home

THE PLANE TRIP HOME
We are flying to San Francisco because Robben begins a week at Yoshi's Jazz Club on Tuesday, and we can take a day to chill before I go home to meet the pile of mail. The show last night had a good feeling...more casual, more loose. The audience was quite full. Roger gave me a lovely introduction by saying I had "inspired them all" during this project. The success of the show was marred (AGAIN) by the video-idiots who failed to check the lights on the stage, and shot the performance with my face almost entirely in shadow. We ended up paying for the tapes anyway, hoping to make something out of the whole mess when we are back in the States. I keep thinking that the video team should be shot at dawn Anyway, I have a good rant in the street before hopping in the car to drive back to Cologne, we stop for potato chips, and by the time we are back at the hotel I have turned into a normal person again. My thoughts over all: Art is a very worthwhile and difficult undertaking. In a sense, these three concerts were (for me) the cumulative result of three years of work for me on the Weill material, and I really don't know how it was received or what will come of it yet. (They promised to send the reviews...)I'm so grateful for the support of my fellow artists Robben and Roger and that we could all go through this together. I was grateful to be able to RELAX and enjoy the performances of this amazing and powerful music. I delivered my heart and mind completely...whether people liked it or understood it, I just don't know for sure. My appreciation for Roger has flourished. His talent became more and more apparent listening to these arrangements (which continue to play over and over in my head.... like a tea-bag, I'm steeped in this music!) He is a genius, and the fact that a genius would choose me and trust me with this opportunity raises my confidence in my own ability. That trust is invaluable to me as an artist. And as I sit next to Robben on the plane here, my heart swells with affection for him. Not only is he an ace guitarist, he's a fan of mine. I'm a big fan of his, too...




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