I must admit, I get little miffed when I hear some Cabaret singers refer to themselves as Jazz singers. They aren’t. Of course there ARE several…indeed many Jazz artists who do a Cabaret Act…and do it very well. However the stark differences between these 2 genres are such that it takes a Cabaret singer with a great deal of musicality to sing jazz….And it takes a Jazz singer with a great personality to sing Cabaret!
I read an article in the New York Times about a month ago that the Cabaret scene in NYC and LA is fading due to lack of interest or lack of financial support. Many are blaming the economy, others have different ideas, so I thought I’d weigh in on the issue and, at the same time, flush out this notion that Cabaret and Jazz singing are the same. They are NOT!
According to some Cabaret Singers Yahoo groups, the reason for the decline of the art form in major venues like New York and Los Angeles has a multitude of possible reasons:
- Accompanists and musicians are charging more, as well as arrangers and conductors,
- The club owners in both NYC and LA are stealing the singers’ money, refusing to sign contracts in which certain agreements had always been made in the past, i.e. free food and drinks for the night, and otherwise sabotaging the singers’ performances with bad mics, bad amplifiers, and bad lighting.
- The bad economy…people who enjoy the art form just aren’t going out.
Whatever the root cause, it’s a crying shame!
Cabaret is a unique art form that consists of a singer interacting with his/her audience through songs and patter. There may be an accompanist, or the singer could play for him/herself. There may be a large band or combo, but these musicians are there only to supplement the singer’s performance…as background. The focal point is the singer/performer.
This art form is the epitome of ego-gratification, and I don’t say that disparagingly at all. Cabaret is very gratifying and a true form of self-expression, indeed, some of our most revered performers are masters of this genre. You know them; the story-tellers, the spell-weavers, the ones who keep us in their clutch until they let us go…exactly when they feel it’s right.
Masters of Cabaret performance include legends like
- Frank Sinatra,
- Tony Bennett,
- Liza Minelli,
- Elaine Stritch
- Barbara Cook,
- Michael Feinstein, and
- the impeccable Bobby Short.
These are superior story-tellers, and some of them are also jazz singers, while others are not. But it’s important to understand that the audiences for Cabaret are interested MAINLY in the story-telling…and the singer, and not so much in the intricacies of the music lines behind his or her vocals. That pleasure is the purvue of Jazz audiences.
However, in either form, the audience must be engaged! The performance must not be self-involved or awkward.
I recall going to hear Jane Monheit with a student of mine a few years ago. What a voice…what technical excellence…what sweet jazz inflections. But as my friend and I were filing out of the theater, we remarked to each other that if we’d only been able to close our eyes for the entire performance, we would’ve enjoyed it much more. As gorgeous as Jane Monheit is, and as glorious as her vocals are, she’s impossible to watch “live”. You just want to stand up and scream, “For God’s sake, Jane, quit tugging on your dress and sing to ME!”
When Jane Monheit kept checking herself out on stage, she turned her audience off.�
There are Jazz singers who won’t do an entire Cabaret Act because they want it to be all about the music and nothing else. Diana Krall is one of those. Since she also plays the piano in her shows, she doesn’t have to talk too much except to introduce the next tune or a band member to the audience. She’s not exciting, and doesn’t tell stories, but she sings and plays magnificently and understands the collaborative process of a Jazz gig, which is a stark contrast to a Cabaret Act.
In my own opinion, there are performance aspects in both genres, as exemplified by a favorite of mine, Carol Sloane. She is a perfect example of Jazz and Cabaret. You don’t know about her? Oh Well, here is a singer of jazz who will wrap you around her finger until you weep with joy.
She lets you in, by the songs she sings and tells you stories about growing up on the East Coast that pulls you right into her heart. She’ll sing a chorus or two of a song, and then sit down on the stage with her head down while the instrumentalists are taking their turn…so as not to draw any attention to herself while they’re playing. And Carol, now in her 60’s, still sounds fantastic! You can check her samples out at iTunes.
Cabaret singers need to understand that the Jazz genre is a team effort. This is hard sometimes for a some Cabaret artists. Cabaret is all about the solo singer, and a good many Cabaret artists today have not learned the art of collaboration, so it’s kind of easy to fall into becoming self-involved when every number is about you; all the attention is on you, your technique, your clothing, your mannerisms…and your mistakes. That’s a lot of pressure.
Jazz is much more forgiving that way, where mistakes are heard as unique individual expressions and are even celebrated.
Maybe Cabaret could influence a Jazz singer’s performance skills, and Jazz could inform a Cabaret singer’s musicality.
I have spent 50 years singing in posh clubs with 8″ carpets, and in joints with sawdust on the floor…And in all that time, I have learned that when you’re doing a Jazz gig, you play by the rules of that genre, and save your stories for when you do a Cabaret spot.
So, no matter which genre you perform in, singers, make both art forms about the quality of communication to your audience and not just about you.
Here are some Cabaret artists you may wish to check out:
Appearing on iTunes:
- Deanna Dubbin
- Karen Akers
- Bobby Short
- Michael Feinstein
On their own websites:
- Tracy Stark - http://www.myspace.com/tracystark
- Dorothy Loyd - http://www.dorothyloyd.com/
- Trudi Mann - http://www.trudimann.com/cd/index.html
I believe that both of these atmospheres allow for long-hidden self expression for a singer, and both genres seem to welcome those of us who are just a few years beyond the age limit for “American Idol”.
And, as I’ve said often, your stage doesn’t need to be at Radio City Music Hall, or the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Your stage can be in your shower, your living room, your community center, your VFW or Elks Hall…just about anywhere!
There are people out there who want to hear you… And I also want to!
I have space available on my singers’ page. Send me your clips!! Become one of our featured singers! Click HERE to learn how!