As a child I was brought up on a lot of musicals, jazz, classics and a good dollop of The Beatles. I adored My Fair Lady, so when I took up playing the sax and had a growing interest in jazz, my Dad introduced me to André Previn’s version of the score - it was genius. (Have a listen on Spotify by clicking here)
When I was at university, I was playing in the pit band of a production of A Chorus Line. My housemate was in the production playing Diana Morales, who every night got to sing 'What I Did For Love'. During rehearsals, she introduced me to this version of the song by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (from Are a Drag; their album filled with punk rock covers of show tunes) - I also thought this was genius.
'What I Did For Love' - Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
What I love about these two albums is that they take the shows out of their original context, and give the material a broader appeal. Previn highlights Frederick Loewe’s wonderful melodies from My Fair Lady, while The Gimme Gimmes really make you rethink and listen to the lyrics of all the show tunes they cover on the album. I also love that these artists were shared with me by my family and friends.
Bringing show tunes, or any songs for that matter, to an audience who might not otherwise listen to them is one of the things I advocate most. We often hear singers in our choirs saying that some of their friends, colleagues or family have come to one of our concerts as a reluctant hater of musicals or show choirs, but left tapping their feet with all the songs stuck in their head, wanting to come back for more.
'I don’t really do musicals' is a saying that's always rather annoyed me. Historically speaking, musical theatre was the precursor to popular music. The likes of the Gershwins, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin dominated the Tin Pan Alley scene in the 1930s and 40s, successfully straddling both musical theatre and the 'pop' music of its day, which makes me think that it's form, as opposed to content, that influences the 'musical haters' of the world - they'd probably put up with the songs on their own, but when married with the stereotype of jazz hands, fantastical plots and a kick-line on stage, some people get uncomfortable... but that's a whole other blog!
I have always believed that everything we do in art and life should try to do one or all of the following: educate, enlighten or entertain. So last week, we launched 'Song of the Day' on our Facebook and Twitter pages. The idea is that every day we introduce Starling Arts' fans and supporters to a song that we happen to love, and hopefully in doing so, we make them acquainted with a new artist, style, or show.
Today's Song of the Day is 'Climb Ev’ry Mountain' from The Sound of Music, as performed by the Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata (BFO). I discovered their album The Hills Are Alive last year and was hooked. The way they have musically re-imagined The Sound of Music is so refreshing, and a great way for lovers of the show to enjoy the score in a new light, or for newcomers to the musical to be introduced in a way that feels current. I really recommend checking out their mash-up of the Jackson Five’s ABC with 'Do-Re-Mi', and their Gospel 'How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria', which subtly steals from West Side Story's 'Maria' in a glorious musical homage.
'Climb Ev'ry Mountain' - our Song of the Day
At Starling, we try to present a fresh take on songs we love, and not just in the mash-up sense that Glee has made popular. For our most recent show, Summersault, I re-arranged Whigfield’s 'Saturday Night' as an a cappella number which stole from doo-wop, sacred music and, with the help of a beat-boxer, dubstep. Thanks to the talented Jen Green, we also billed a swung version of The Kaiser Chief's 'I Predict a Riot', which would easily be at home on the soundtrack of the 1960s animated Spiderman series.
I love hearing fresh takes on old songs. In researching for Summersault, I discovered Cannoball Adderley’s jazz covers of Fiddler on the Roof and the Avenue Q Swings album, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. I remember buying Jamie Cullum's Twentysomething album after seeing him sing 'I Could Have Danced All Night' on a TV show, and with it discovering his jazz-pop covers of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Buckley and of course, Singin' in the Rain.
Jamie Cullum sings 'I Could Have Danced All Night'
But while musical theatre lends itself to and borrows from jazz, and vice versa, what I love about the BFO and The Gimme Gimmes's albums is their totally new take on show tunes. If Jay-Z can bring Annie to his fans with 'Hard Knock Life', (those lyrics poignantly underscoring his own), then these albums can surely give The Sound of Music, A Chorus Line and even The Phantom of Opera a new audience?
Whatever the answer, I hope that Starling Arts' Song of the Day will keep you entertained, enlightened and educated.