The glory of living here in New York City is that you can hear wonderful singing every night of the week. You can go to Carnegie Hall, The Met or other houses at Lincoln Center, to City Center, BAM, or other venues or churches to hear classical singing from Early Music to modern opera. You can go to Broadway and hear a revival of a traditional music theater show or a new one with rock songs. You can go to Madison Square Garden and hear a rock group. You can go to the Village and hear great jazz in a number of places or go downtown and attend something modern that is hard to define at places like “La Mama”. You can go far out into Brooklyn or Queens to find new undiscovered talent of various ethnicities or you can stumble upon a street singer who just knocks you out. In fact, I heard a guitarist on the subway today who was just fabulous.
We even have a few clubs where it’s possible to see great cabaret although it is very hard to get a license for cabaret now so the number has diminished over the years. All the big elegant clubs are gone, many privatized for big corporate events only and some closed for reasons no one can really explain. Those that are still open, like 54Below, have great talent every night. Most of the performers are from Broadway so the quality is high and runs the gamut from single vocalists to groups, from funny to profound and from young singers to those who have “been around the block” a few times.
I had the great pleasure of hearing sisters Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway last night at 54Below in their act, “Sibling Revelry”. Boy, can those women s i n g. They are great singers, wonderful performers, and literally emit light rays while they are in front of an audience. It’s rare these days to hear such excellent singing but also rare to hear two sisters who maintain their own identities while blending when they choose into a smoothly cohesive whole. Their voices aren’t really alike, but they are so skilled they can match each other as needed. Really, I could go on and on.
Sadly, this kind of singing is going away. There are fewer and fewer singers who have this vocal mastery who are neither fully classical nor only belters. The middle ground, where a singer can go back and forth in all sorts of qualities and styles, particularly in the middle voice, is hard to find these days, especially in this kind of repertoire. If it were up to me I would give these sisters an HBO special once a year. If they come to a town near you, no matter what it costs, just GO!
And, tonight I heard the wonderful Rebecca Pidgeon, singing mostly her own songs while playing guitar and being accompanied by another guitarist who occasionally sings backup. She was at HousingWorks, the not-for-profit that helps those with HIV and AIDS, doing a benefit concert. Her set was about as different as that of the Callaways as ever anything could be, but it was equally special. Rebecca’s voice is sweet, pungent and sometimes ethereal and intimate, but she can be warm and coy and honestly direct. All sorts of wonderful colors come out through her songs and her throat, making them powerful and soothing, gutsy and touching, as she rolls from song to song. You could not possibly compare what Rebecca is doing with what Ann or Liz did, but that’s the beauty part.
Next time you come to NYC, be sure to visit as many “singing spots” as you can. It’s so worth it, folks.