NEW!!! * STEVE ROSS: GOOD THING GOING - THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM (HarbingerRecords)
Steve Ross is an internationally famous interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Time Out New York exclaimed, “The elegant, supremely witty Ross offered a revelatory and restorative take on the songs of Sondheim.”ClassicalSource proclaimed, “There is nobody better qualified than Ross to present the work of Sondheim. His musical taste, like that of Sondheim, is impeccable.” And the London Times enthused, “The debonair Ross conjured an image of Fred Astaire tapping a path down the Great White Way.”
Recorded live in London, this scintillating program presents a wealth of fun/sad/wistful songs by the man who some consider the greatest artist of the American Musical Theatre, Stephen Sondheim.
“You’ll find more Sondheim, and this time with vocals on another Harbinger Records release, Good Thing Going. On this beguiling album, cabaret artist extraordinaire Steve Ross’s perfect phrasing and gorgeous work at the piano lend new colors to some of the great songwriter’s best-known tunes, including “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music and “Broadway Baby” from Follies.” Andy Propst, Broadway Direct
“Pairing the sensitive and sophisticated approach to singing embodied in the style of STEVE ROSS with the magical songwriting genius of Stephen Sondheim is a winning combination, as can be heard on Good Thing Going (Harbinger – 3101). Ross is a superior interpreter of lyrics, and the richness of Sondheim’s words offers him a fertile source for challenging material to address...Ross has done a brilliant job of choosing the material, writing dialogue that unifies the program, and performing each song with his own knowing sensibility.” Joe Lang, New Jersey Jazz Association read full review here
“The suave and urbane pianist-singer Steve Ross, often associated with songwriters such as Noël Coward and Cole Porter, branched out to Sondheim’s work for a concert engagement in London in 2008. Two of those performances were recorded, and the result is this delectable album. Ross’s voice, which often hearkens back to Coward’s, and his talent for mining lyrics, are beautifully suited to all of the material on Good Thing Going, whether it’s a familiar number (“Send in the Clowns”) or one heard less frequently, “Sand” (written for the movie Singing Out Loud).” Andy Propst, Everything Sondheim read full review here
Everything’s Coming Up Ross’s
In the last few years there has been a veritable explosion of cabaret performances (and venues) in London, a style previously little-known here except by a few cognoscenti. But how do the live performances of cabaret artists differ from those of theatre actors or, at the other end of the scale, poplular singers who happen to include this type of material as part of their regular acts and recordings? The answer is a complex mixture of venue, scale, format, arrangements and delivery.
Solo presentations can encompass a wide spectrum. Some artists shine in performances in large packed auditoria, accompanied by full band or orchestra and enjoying slick productions and musical arrangements. Michael Feinstein is a master of these. Others may choose medium-size venues accompanied by just a handful of colleagues including their Musical Director at the piano and, perhaps, bass, drums and sometimes a single reed player.
Most intimate of all though is the cabaret performance in a small well-appointed room with its relaxed (and chatty) audience grouped around individual tables, replete with alcohol and nibbles. This places them only a few feet away from the performers who are on a barely-raised stage, all giving rise to the feeling that the artist is singing 'just for them'.
This is even more the case when the singer and pianist is actually one and the same person. This personal touch is emphasized if, at the conclusion of their set, the artist works the room, moving from table to table to trade pleasantries with their patrons who may well be adoring fans.
Some cabaret singers are former stage actors now adding another string to their bow. These artists often perform also in larger-scale venues and formats. Into this category the names of Barbara Cook and Maria Friedman readily spring to mind.
But there are a small number whose careers haven't followed that trajectory but, instead, have built it entirely around cabaret performances, sometimes coupled with live recordings of their shows. These artists are frequently little-known, even to many regular habitués of musical theatre and the concert hall.
Amongst the finest of these is unquestionably American Steve Ross whose career has been dedicated to cabaret, his repertoire frequently taken from The Great American Songbook with a speciality of the works of Cole Porter.
He hasn't been totally neglected by the media though. In 1990 BBC Radio had the foresight to broadcast a series of his live performances from London's Pizza on the Park, generous highlights of which were issued eight years later as a 2 hour 20 minutes, 41 track 2 CD set entitled Stolen Moments.
The present Sondheim CD under consideration, Good Thing Going - a number not actually on the disc itself - derives from live performances at the same venue in October 2008. Having first tried out the show in February 2007 at London's Jermyn Street Theatre it played at New York's Hotel Algonquin in September of the same year where Mr Sondheim himself saw it and evidently approved.
The show was devised by Ross along with Duncan Knowles (who also directed) and they jointly made the musical arrangements. Numbers are re-thought and re-invented but always in a way that complements the material rather than merely spotlighting the performer and his undoubted talents. They are always intelligent and "clever" in the very best of senses and, most of all, sometimes incredibly moving.
Steve Ross's way with songs is to give them a gentle transformation, thereby making them his very own. But this is often far more than just a "juicing-up" of the harmonies. For example, one might anticipate that a song would progress from a traditional start only for it later to take flight into something different. In "Marry Me a Little" the process is reversed as it opens in an archetypal laid-back cabaret style only for it - two minutes in - to revert to its original form, complete with agitated piano accompaniment, before concluding with moving simplicity. (The packaging would have been more accurate if it had described this number as "not used originally" in Company, rather than just "not used", as it is now the norm for it to close the first Act.
"Pretty Women" becomes a gentle bossa nova while the rhythm of "Being Alive" is changed subtly from 4/4 to a lilting 6/8. The title "Buddy's Blues" might normally be considered something of a misnomer, at least in its musical sense, given that, in its original form, it is rather a frenetic "get-off" number for a vaudeville comedian. Here it truly is a blues, cleverly introduced by a quote from Louise's strip version of "Let Me Entertain You" from Gypsy. We readily recognize these familiar numbers but the overall result is to transform them "into something rich and strange".
Steve is a highly accomplished pianist and his abilities in this field are heard to great effect throughout. Extended piano interludes are sometimes in short supply when a singer employs a separate accompanist as this can leave the former out on a limb with nothing to do, but when an artist combines these roles there's no such problem. A good example of this can be found in "Anyone Can Whistle".
Ross has been playing the circuit for very many years, so it's no surprise that his voice doesn't sound like that of a young man though fine singing is still very much in evidence. I would readliy agree with one commentator who described his delivery as "careworn". The closest comparison that comes to mind is that of Fred Astaire.
His choice of material here is, as always, wide-ranging including such surprises as "One More Kiss" and "Ah! Paris!". Less familiar numbers include "Who Could Be Blue?" which was cut from Follies and the first and unused version of "We're Going to be All Right" from Do I Hear a Waltz (music by Richard Rodgers) which is best known from its inclusion in Side by Side by Sondheim. Also from Waltz is a touching "Take the Moment" which closes his set.
As virtually all of Sondheim's output is now so well-known, it must have been difficult finding real rarities. The only one in this category is "Sand" from the unproduced 1992 film Singing Out Loud. Its inclusion surprised even Sondheim himself. (There is a previous recording of this number on Varese Sarabande's Sondheim at the Movies.)
There are too many felicities to note them all. Suffice to say that Ross makes you feel as if you are hearing well-loved and very familiar songs for the very first time. He provides brief, apposite and frequently witty introductions to his songs, all the while paying due respect to "Mr. Sondheim" himself. No fawning over-familiarity here.
These are live recordings edited from two separate performances. The close miking, along with the inclusion of audience reaction and applause, greatly enhances our feeling of involvement. All that is missing is actually being there in person. Inherent with live performances are the very occasional minor imperfections but these in no way detract from what is a notable achievement. The very last track of the disc is a bonus studio recording (made the following year)og "Good-bye For Now" from the film Reds which provides a touching an apposite conclusion.
The highest compliment that I can pay this CD is that, since the moment it arrived, it has rarely been off my player. I can see it keeping a place near the very top of my pile of solo Sondheim CDs.
A collection of hitherto unrecorded songs ranging from his first published song Baseball Rag to the very last song he ever composed What Has Happened to Charles? Fellow artistes: Jeanne Lehman, Lisa Riegel and Edward Hibbert.
“NOT TO MISS obtaining this very special CD...this noble work of Steve’s should not be missed...with Steve’s well-scripted spoken introduction tracks interspersing the musical items, this CD becomes a little cabaret show in itself, and a dip into musicological history that is genuinely informative and educational.” ~ Dominic Vlasto, Noel Coward Newsletter read full review here
“Good things are worth waiting for. If you're a musical theatre aficionado, and those good things are previously unrecorded numbers by one of the giants of musical theatre—Sir Noël Coward—recorded by those who seem born and bred for the assignment, well, it's a belated bounty of bliss! Well steeped in Coward's oeuvre for many years, Steve Ross is the ideal host: presiding at the piano, singing, accompanying himself or his guests (his own arrangements), including chatty, fact-filled spoken introductions. He projects more warmth and sentiment—and reserve—than Coward's own personality projected in his recordings.” ~ Talkin' Broadway read full review here
“Finally, I will indulge myself by calling your attention to an album that is not jazz, but should appeal to those who love popular song. Sir Noël Coward was one of the few non-Americans who contributed many songs that fit easily beside the classic pop of the Great American Songbook. Like his American counterparts, he wrote much material that never bubbled up to the status of being considered standards, but such was his talent that even his more obscure material usually has those special qualities that catch your ears. Noël Coward Off the Record (Original Cast -1128) is a collection of rare Coward material that was originally gathered together by STEVE ROSS for a concert at Lincoln Center. He called upon three guests, Jeannie Lehman, Lisa Riegel and, for one number, Edward Hibbert, to share with him the pleasure of bringing into the spotlight 22 songs written by Coward, in all cases the lyrics, and for most the music also, that had gone unrecorded and pretty much forgotten. Even the lesser of these songs have that unique brilliance that Coward brought to his work. He was capable of wit, passion and insight, all strengths that are on display here. Who would have thought that Coward would write a lyric about baseball, but the earliest selection here is “Baseball Rag” for which he wrote the lyrics in the 1917-1918 period. Did you know that he once wrote lyrics to a composition by Jerome Kern? Well, he did, and it is called “Morganatic Love,” a truly curious piece. In 1940, he was even moved to put words to a tune by Charles Trenet, and the result is “Why Do You Pass Me By?” Ross provides commentary throughout that puts the songs into their historical and musical contexts. This is a delightful visit to parts of the Coward catalog that have remained sadly dormant for too long. Thanks to Steve Ross and his friends we can now discover their charm. ” ~ Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz
SELECTED AS TOP 10 VOCAL ALBUM OF 2009 by Talkin’ Broadway Sound Advice
“Ross, always a grand interpreter of lyrics, felicitously delivers Lerner’s words. His phrasing is impeccable and listeners can hear the joy that Ross feels when crooning a particularly choice bon mot within a song. As pianist, Ross is equally adept, finding nuance in the melodies of Lerner’s many collaborators.” ~ Andy Propst, TheaterMania read full review here
“He invests such feeling – even reverence – in a lyric that he almost makes you believe you are hearing a standard like If Ever I Would Leave You for the first time. With his elegant piano accompaniments, Ross presents a delightful recital to illustrate the lyricist’s mastery of his craft.” ~ Jim Murphy, The Age read full review here
“Thank your lucky stars that a longtime cabaret star of the caliber of Steve Ross has turned his attentions to one of our great American lyricists, Alan Jay Lerner, as the subject of a generous-length embrace. The very literate Lerner loved words and so does Steve Ross, and he treats them with both respect and relish.” ~ Talkin’ Broadway Sound Advice read full review here
“Pour your favourite beverage, turn off the phone, kick off your shoes and enjoy! Steve traces the many facets of the Alan Jay Lerner mystique. His spoken knowledgeable well-researched intros about him are a joy to behold.” ~ Dan Singer, In Tune International read full review here
“Talk about vacations, Steve Ross has Travels With My Piano, a two disc package which was recorded for BBC radio. No song was written after 1963. It’s a fabulous mix of ballads, up-tempo songs and a few tasty morsels of clever information thrown in for good measure. Porter, Kern, Cohan – are all represented here with much care and obvious affection by Ross. ….the magic is in the lyrical beauty on numbers like Autumn in New York and London Pride. Ross is charming and adorable joking with the audience and accompanying himself on the ivories. It’s a must for every cabaret lover’s collection.” ~ Lesley Alexander’s Cabaret Update
Other recordings on which Steve Ross performs:
*COVER ME - THE SONGS OF BRIAN GARI. Original Cast Record. www.amazon.com. Steve performs “CAN IT BE THIS GOOD”.
*JAMIE DE ROY & FRIENDS, Vol. 5, ANIMAL TRACKS. Harbinger Records. www.HarbingerRecords.com. Steve performs “THE DOLPHIN”.
* WALL-TO-WALL RICHARD RODGERS. Fynsworth Alley. www.fynsworthalley.com. Steve performs “I HAVE DREAMED”.
* BROADWAY BY THE YEAR – 1939. Harbinger Records. www.HarbingerRecords.com. Steve performs “I’VE BEEN TO A MARVELOUS PARTY”.
* RHYTHM DELUXE – with the Paul Lindemeyer Orchestra. Steve sings several songs from the 20’s and 30’s. This record is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.