The three most beautiful names in the jazz lexicon is Ann Hampton Callaway. The self-professed love child of jazz musicians Lionel Hampton and Cab Calloway has returned to L.A. to remind everyone what a talented singer she is. I didn’t discover this lyrical treasure until last year when I listened to her extraordinary CD “Blues in the Night” (Telarc, 2006). Because I was so intrigued by the title, I listened first to ‘The I’m-Too-White-To-Sing-The-Blues Blues,’ track number 6. It was a fun and playful song descriptive of her character. I must have played the CD about three times and was in awe of the beautifully written compositions and emotive music. The best I heard in a long while. There is not one song to skip over. Which is a godsend to music lovers.
She did the impossible in getting permission from the Cole Porter Estate to compose music for the 1940 lyric ‘I Gaze In Your Eyes’ for the song ‘It’s All Right with Me.’ This makes the New York resident the first composer to collaborate with Porter. After discovering this piece of exceptional information, I quickly developed a fierce respect for her. Since we last spoke, she had a role in Roberto DeNiro’s spy thriller “The Good Shepherd” starring Academy Award winners Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, still tweaking her self-penned movie musical “State of Affairs” and can add television personality to her impressive résumé. Last month one of Ann’s dreams at last materialized. She is executive producer and host of “Singer’s Spotlight with Ann Hampton Callaway” taped in Chicago. The half hour show is the musical equivalent to the “Inside the Actors Studio,” but instead of the stuffy connoisseur of acting James Lipton you get the bubbly Ann Hampton Callaway talking and performing with her guests.
“People were just knocked out. We had an incredible response standing ovation throughout the show and two 2 rave reviews from the Chicago Tribune,” said the Chicago native.
Not to knock Lipton’s show, Ann and I like his questions at the end of the show especially, ‘what’s your favorite curse word’. If anything, “Singer’s Spotlight” is a much-needed remedy to the squawking and mediocrity that “American Idol” provides. Ann’s first guest was worldly entertainer Liza Minnelli. The two divas, and I mean that in the sweetest way, sang ‘Stormy Weather’ and “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Ann recalled how the audience sang along at the end. Minnelli’s divorce was finalized a week before the show and Ann said she was in great spirits.
“She looked great, she sounded great she was incredibly articulate. What as a little intense is when she came to the television studio the nigh before we shot the show, and we had spent the entire week working on all the shots and all the programming of the show and the sequences and we talked down to her in her dressing room and she said, ‘No, we should do this song first, then we do this next, and I don’t want to talk until here. So she changed the entire TV show and everything she said was right.
“I realized we think of her as Judy Garland’s daughter but she has a directorial mind like her father Vincente Minnelli that I got to see in action. Everything she said and all the changes she made were absolutely on the money. Fortunately, my experience as an improv person came to the rescue, in the good spirits of the camera people and lighting and director because there was a lot to change very quickly.”
Her wish list of guests include Grammy Award winning artists, Sting, Carole King, Bonnie Raitt, Tony Bennett, Dianne Reeves and 4-time Tony Award winning actress and singer Audra Macdonald. She plans to showcase new discoveries that otherwise wouldn’t have this precious exposure. Her goal is to feature mostly the finer artists who sing with integrity and feeling and originality.
“I do like having a vision and seeing it through and having the support of really talented people and that station is just full of deeply, talented committed people who without big egos are excited about what they do, excited about bringing great art to television and bringing some beauty to the world.”
That leaves Britney Spears and her loopy antics out. I can almost hear Ann breath a sigh of relief. I know I am.
Ann fondly remembers how people were just knocked out by the first episode and gave had a standing ovation. The Chicago Tribune newspaper enthusiastically gave it two rave reviews which Ann quickly posted with pride on her website www.annhamptoncallaway.com. This is proof that “Singer’s Spotlight” must immediately return. All is needed is solid financial support and the show could return by spring of next year. She believes the enthusiasm around it is a good guarantee that it will happen. That’s Ann always the optimist. It even says so on her business card right before singer and songwriter. In the meantime, Ann has other endeavors that will keep her busy before the next show.
She’s leaving her 2-bedroom apartment in glamorous Manhattan for a more spacious home in Westchester. A diva needs her space, you know. She’s committed in writing a theme song for actress and friend Fran Drescher’s non-profit Cancer Schmancer Movement. She will leave for Texas next month to join their sister Broadway star Liz Callaway in her show “Sibling Revelry” And, on top of all that madness, she will head back to the studio to work on her album, tentatively titled “Finding Beauty,” her second disc for Telarc.
“In the wreckage of life in the up and down there are so many moments where you are able to have that lucid moment of recognizing beauty in like moment of grace and in difficult,” she said in reference to the CD’s title.
The only thing she needs to work out is which ones of the 250 songs she will choose. Not to worry, there’s always a singer’s best friend: iTunes. I wondered if she unpacked yet from her performance on ex “View” host Rosie O’Donnell’s annual cruise? And it shouldn’t be too hard in choosing songs from her ample repertoire. Whichever ones she chooses, it will most definitely be fun, sweet, thoughtful and cool. Just like Ann
Don’t miss Ann Hampton Callaway’s final night at the Catalina Bar & Grill, located at 6725 W. Sunset Blvd, in Hollywood is on Thursday, August 30 at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m For reservations call (323) 466-2210 or visit www.catalinajazzclub.comPhotos by Bill Westmoreland