Ann Hampton Callaway wowed a packed house in April at Christopher Newport University’s Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival, performing with the school’s big band. Thursday, she comes to Norfolk for the Jazz for Hope concert at the Granby Theater, and this time, though the theater is larger, the music may be a little more intimate.
“I love the big band thing,” she told me recently, “but a lot of what I do that’s probably the most special is the more intimate music.”
Music like that found on her last CD, Slow, an album that includes the song she wrote for Barbra Streisand to sing at her wedding to James Brolin, “I’ve Dreamed of You.” But she is a multi-faceted entertainer with a three-and-a-half octave range, so there is no telling where the concert may go.
“We’ll be doing a really nice mixed program,” she said, “sort of the best of Ann Hampton Callaway. I’ll be doing some new arrangements of great Cole Porter songs, and Harold Arlen songs, and some new originals. I just wrote a new song with the great Barbara Carroll that we premiered two nights ago and people were just thrilled with it, so I’ll probably sing that. And I wrote a few songs in honor of the Hurricane Katrina crisis, so I’ll be doing probably one of those pieces called ‘Carry On.’
“I felt the need for a song to inspire people to summon their faith that they can keep going in the midst of such a crisis. We seem to be going through so many challenging situations lately, and music is such a great way to remind yourself that you have what it takes to get through anything. That’s what this song is about.”
Ann Hampton Callaway is a versatile singer and songwriter with a big heart and a social conscience. But she is not one to hit you over the head with her politics:
“I really believe that offering the world beauty is one of the biggest contributions that we can make for each other. So when I sing beautiful songs, I sing with a sense of passionate recognition that we’re living in dangerous times, that life feels very precious. Let us be honest, open, loving and reach out to each other and connect as fully as possible. Because this is all we have, this moment; who knows what’s going to happen next? So I have this sense of heightened importance for being the best artist I can be and singing the greatest songs I can sing, and making the deepest connection with my audience I can make.”
It is in that spirit that she’s getting ready to record her next album, her first for the Telarc label.
“I’m going to be recording a brand new CD for Telarc in December,” she said excitedly. “It’s called Swinging Away the Blues. On my business card it says ‘singer/songwriter/optimist.’ I think it’s important to sing the blues and get it off your chest, but I also think it’s important to swing and to feel that spirit. It’s going to be a really fun album of great, great songs. Part of the album will be with Diva, the all-women big band.
“When I was starring in Swing, every night the moment I looked forward to the most was singing ‘Blues in the Night.’ I never recorded that on a solo CD, so we’re going to do that. And I did a really powerful duet on a medley of “Stormy Weather” and “The Sun Comes Out” that I’m going to have Liz, my sister, sing on. Some great fun songs that I think will be uplifting to people, to get to that part of you that’s really happy and hopeful.”
She’s been busy lately, not just performing and preparing for a new recording, but also making her movie debut.
“I got to sing in my first feature film,” she enthused, “a wonderful experience with Robert DeNiro. He’s directing a movie called The Good Shepherd, and I got to sing ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ wearing a fabulous Ann Roth gown. I’m the chick singer in the movie; that’s always been one of my dreams. I loved growing up watching Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and these famous singers in movies, and I thought, ‘when do I get to do that?’
“I also got to sing two beautiful songs---‘Isn’t it Romantic’ and ‘The Nearness of You’---in Queen Latifah’s new movie, which is coming out in January of next year. And I’m meeting with Tom Cruise in a week or two about auditioning for his new movie, called The Eye, starring Renee Zellweger.
“It’s fun. I’ve always loved movies and I’ve always wanted to write songs for movies and sing in them. So this has just been a really lovely surprise for me.”
Ann Hampton Callaway approaches everything with exuberance. (“I love waking up, going, ‘what’s gonna happen today!”) And she is a heck of a songwriter, a rarity among jazz divas. The title song to that last disc, “Slow,” deserves a place in the Great American Songbook, and a song she wrote after the Indian Ocean tsunami last year, “Who Can See the Blue the Same Again?” is drop-dead gorgeous. You’ve probably heard her theme song for the TV show, The Nanny. But she has no desire to abandon the standard jazz vocal repertoire.
“I would never want to do only my own stuff,” she confided. “As a writer, I’m always aspiring to reach that level of songwriting, but I want to keep singing these great songs because I believe they are timeless, and I connect with them so powerfully. It’s America’s great music. The thing about these songs is, the more I live my life, the more I find in them. It’s like a home---the more years you spend in these songs, the more you find a deep, emotional connection.”
If her springtime performance at CNU is any indication, she’ll create a bond with her audience Thursday night at the Granby Theater. She will be accompanied by her longtime pianist, Ted Rosenthal, with local jazz greats Jimmy Masters on bass and Howard Curtis on drums.
“I think it’s important to connect with an audience,” she reiterated, “and let them be a part of the show. They could be at home watching television, but you want them to have an experience they could only have in a live performance.”
copyright © 2005 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.