In a fantastically rare opportunity, singer, composer, lyricist, pianist and actor Ann Hampton Callaway plays the newly opened Dino’s Backstage in Glenside next week.
The Tony Award-nominated, platinum-plated vocalist pens her own deliciously dramatic tunes as well as interprets the Tin Pan Alley standard-bearing soundtrack in hallowed venues such as Carnegie Hall (where she just performed with her sister Liz Callaway). She has top-tier songwriting cred (e.g. Patti Lupone, Barbra Streisand, the theme song to the TV series “The Nanny”). Plus, she’s just now celebrating her second anniversary with fellow actor Kari Strand, so it’s a perfect moment for Hampton Callaway, who happened to be in London when we spoke.
PGN: What is your favorite chord progression, the one that signals in your head/mind’s eye that it’s truly time to take off and soar — whether playing or singing, or even writing?
AHC: The chord progression of “All the Things You Are” is the perfect symmetry of joy and longing. Its shape mimics the sublime form of the nautilus shell and other beauties in nature that suggest the rhythms of eternity. If I could write a song with that kind of beauty I’d be thrilled.
PGN: With that, are you entering clubs based on those tags, and — even with all your success — is it tough busting out of those molds?
AHC: Fortunately, I have been able to build bridges between jazz, pop and cabaret with the many kinds of work I do. But now, people who know my work just know me as a singer and songwriter and what kind of experience I create when I perform. I am lucky to have such devoted fans who can inspire me to keep growing and challenging myself.
PGN: You’re just celebrating your marriage of two years; congrats to that. What is so great about marriage, and do you wish the two of you had done it sooner?
AHC: It’s an amazing feeling being a part of history and getting to marry the one I love. It has deepened our sense of commitment and our longing to be the best partners we can be. We got married at the perfect time.
PGN: There’s a lot to process after the presidential election. You seem like an upbeat, glass-half-full sort. Do you see Donald Trump as a hurdle for those in the LBGT community, or is there hope?
AHC: We can’t know yet if a Trump presidency will pose threats to the LGBT community. He’s sent mixed messages through the years. What we do know is that we must stay strong and vigilant as citizens and defend our rights and the rights of all who may be threatened by racism and other forms of prejudice, bullying and injustice.
PGN: How and why did you get the hook-up from Cole Porter’s estate to set music to his “I Gaze in Your Eyes”? With that responsibility, did you consider what he might write and channel him, or did you just feel free to interpret in your manner?
AHC: My friend Bradshaw Smith discovered the lyric in “The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter” and asked me to set them to music. I did ask Cole for a blessing, asking his help in composing the perfect melody to bring his words to life. The song unfolded very naturally. Years later, I sang the song to Ben Bagley who had asked me to sing on his Cole Porter CD. He loved it, insisted we record it and got the song to the Cole Porter estate. At first, they shunned the idea but Ben asked that the “no” come from the head of the estate. He played the song in his car, wept and decided to publish it, making me the only composer ever to collaborate with Cole Porter.
PGN: When you’re writing a song for someone — and there are scores of them like Minnelli and Streisand — what are you looking toward first: inner light, vocal nuance, range?
AHC: Message, tone, range, style, occasion. I love the challenge, and I also welcome feedback from the artist who is recording to make it just right for them.
PGN: How has Philly treated you in the past?
AHC: I’ve played Philadelphia many times, including some great gigs with Peter Nero and the Pops, and it’s always been great. I love that your city has so much to explore. I can’t wait to make my debut at Dino’s.
PGN: What is your motto?
AHC: When I was a child, I came across this quote in my father’s book by the French poet Paul Valery: “Art is the collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” Great words to live by, making art a duet between effort and grace.
Ann Hampton Callaway performs Nov. 25 at Dino’s, 287 N. Keswick Ave. in Glenside. Dinner seating is at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 8 p.m.
She will also perform at 8 and 10 p.m. Dec. 3 at Chris’ Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom St.
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