|A musical career that spans the varieties of vocal expression in rock, cabaret, musical theater, and now the popular American songbook, certainly needs some sort of preliminary introduction. Let Helen Schneider make the introduction herself. “I call myself a singer,” says Schneider. “A singer.” Period. “Details? As a youngster, I was trained in classical music,” she confesses. My entire childhood, I studied classical piano, and always thought that’s what I’d do…until I discovered the blues, and Freedom with a capital ‘F.’ The blues, to me, was all about emotional freedom, heart and soul. From that point on,” she recalls, “my musical life was all about the blues, and that’s been the foundation for almost everything I do.” In the mid 1970’s, Schneider shared tiny nightclub stages with an all-star roster of legendary Chicago bluesmen: Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker. “I was the steady opening act for all these folds,” she remembers, “and I learned so much from them. And that evolved into rock, naturally, with a little sidetrack into the MOR world.”|
As she began to explore different musical genres, Schneider began attracting the notice of music industry movers and shakers. She released her first album “So Close,” in 1976, a dazzling collection of songs and music. The mainstream breakthrough of “So Close” brought Schneider to the illustrious grand stages of Caesar’s palace in Las Vegas, Madison Square Garden, the Westbury Music Fair in New York, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. She also made musical guest appearances on “The Tonight Show,” and daytime TV variety programs hosted by Merv Griffin and Dina Shore.
Success upon success, and a phenomenal following in Germany with her rock band, Kick, led Schneider to explore the outer boundaries of rock’s theatrical elements while working and performing in Germany, fusing monologues and melodies into what eventually became, under the inspiring lights of Laurie Anderson, something called performance art. In 1981, she shared the Golden Europa Award’s “Artist of the Year” honors alongside John Lennon, and the same year was heralded as Best Female Singer by the German music market magazine Musikmarkt.
Soon enough, Helen was attracted to the alluring glow of the footlights, and jumped “with both feet” into stagecraft and musical theatre, starring as Sally Bowles in Berlin’s premiere production of “Cabaret.” She created the title role in the musical drama “Frida” based on the life of artist Frida Kahlo at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, for which she was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. Starred in an award winning one-woman theatrical evening of the songs of Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim which was presented at the Spoleto Festival in June 1995. Months before recording the project you hold here in your hand—her 12th album, if you’re something of a Helen Schneider aficionado—she took the light-hearted role of Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s whimsical “Anything Goes,” setting attendance records at the historic Theater des Westens in Berlin. Months after this recording’s finished, she’s off to Germany again to premiere and portray Norma Desmond, a screen role immortalized by Gloria Swanson, in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s acclaimed musical stage adaptation of “Sunset Boulevard.”
Impressive credentials for somebody who calls herself a singer. Period. Her current musical niche, celebrating the joys of the American songbook and the works of Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and her favorite, Kurt Weill, “somehow represents an amalgam of all these worlds. The standards come from musical theater, jazz and are all blues-based. It all makes sense to me.” As a singer, of course.
“Some things that are serendipitous do happen,” muses Schneider. Following the landmark success of her 1988-89 one-woman show, “A Walk on the Weill Sid” (music from Kurt Weill, later recorded under the same name for the CBS Masterworkds label), she was approached by Wolfgang Hirschmann, director of the WDR Big Band in Koln, Germany. “He came to me with the idea of putting this man named Bob Brookmeyer and I together,” recalls Schneider. “And I just panicked—I’m not in any way a jazz singer—yet somehow he seduced me into accepting the project.”
Brookmeyer, a living legend among the jazz cognoscenti, is internationally renowned as an arranger, composer, and one of the music world’s most accomplished valve trombonists. His career began in the early fifties as a pianist, and he quickly expanded his musical mastery to embrace the elusive valve horn in ensembles led by Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, and Clark Terry. As early as 1953, when Downbeat magazine awarded Brookmeyer its New Star honor, Brookmeyer’s formative greatness was clearly evident.
Throughout the 1980’s, Brookmeyer’s musical emphasis centered on composition, including his seminal 1985 project, “Found Objects,” written for 17 musicians and tape-recorded sounds. After a two-year hiatus from performing and composing at the dawn of the 1990’s, Brookmeyer began collaborating with Hirschmann and the WDR Big Band, a journey that eventually led to his first meeting with Schneider.
“I’d never met anyone quite like him,” enthuses Schneider, who vividly recounts their first afternoon together planning the project that would become “Right as the Rain.” “He’s an extraordinary man. He has an amazing presence, and quietude about him: the kind of man you want to be around, and learn from. And I was so excited after we spent a couple of hours together that I thought, this is a gift from God, or whatever’s up there.”
Brookmeyer’s appearance on “Right as the Rain” signaled the veteran jazz master’s return to vocal arranging as well as performing after an extended leave of absence. Schneider and the listener are enriched by his presence, the graceful company of several guest musicians (trumpeter Tim Hagans, drummer Danny Gottlieb, bassist Mads Vinding) and the talented and versatile 19-piece WDR Big Band. Brookmeyer, in addition to his arranging duties as well as conducting the orchestra, contributes several exquisite and mesmerizing trombone passages to the album, and makes a rare appearance behind the keys of a grand piano for the first time since his duets with the late Bill Evans. Liner notes continue…
|Send in the Clowns|
|Some Cats Know|
|I've Got the World on a String|
|Get Out of Town|
|I Was So Young, You Were So Beautiful|
|I Had Myself a True Love|
|Over the Rainbow|
|Right as the Rain|
|CONDUCTOR, ARRANGER, VALVE TROMBONE|
Tim Hagans, trumpet
Mads Vinding, bass
Frank Chastenier, piano
Milan Lulic, guitar
John Goldsby, bass
Danny Gottlieb, drums
”Over the Rainbow,” arranged by Maria Schneider.
“I Was So Young, You Were So Beautiful,” piano by Bob Brookmeyer