Oct 16-Oct 18, 2009
Friday - Saturday 8pm & 10pm shows
Sunday 2 pm Kids Matinee
$5 kids, $15 Adult (with Kid), $22 Adult (General)
Sunday 7pm show
Even with birthdays separated by 60 years and 10 days, entertainers Nellie McKay and Doris Day are cut from the same cloth. The two share a passion for animal rights, a sunny gosh-gee-swell positivity and a love for the Great American Songbook—as well as a depth, complexity and progressivism that belies the toothy grins for which both are known.
So it’s probably inevitable that McKay eventually would pay recorded tribute to her longtime heroine, a mainstay of stage, studio and screen for more than three decades. McKay’s Verve Records love letter to the woman born Doris Mary Ann Von Kappelhoff, Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day, features the iconic New York singer/songwriter/actress interpreting songs from Day’s prolific array of recordings—with the smart arrangements and array of crackerjack instrumental contributors listeners have come to expect.
“We were trying to connect with the many time periods in Doris’ life,” McKay explains. “From the big bands to the post-McCarthy era.”
That, McKay and her co-conspirators ably did. The collection spans Day’s unforgettable WWII-homecoming anthem “Sentimental Journey” (made famous during her stint with Les Brown’s Band of Renown) to “Black Hills of Dakota” (from 1953’s Calamity Jane, which Day calls the favorite of all her films) and the jaunty, dreamy ’60s-vintage Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic “Send Me No Flowers.”
While the collection features tasty instrumental flourishes—like Cenovia Cummins’ violin and Jay Berliner’s guitar interplay on “Crazy Rhythm,” and Lawrence Feldman’s slithery flute on the summery bossanova “Meditation”—the centerpiece throughout is McKay’s clear, sublime voice, usually accompanied by her trusty ukelele, and arrangements (the majority also by McKay) that know when to crank it up and when to get out of the way.
“My tendency is not to strip it down, but to lard it up,” she says, laughing. “I just pile on more and more sounds, trying to make it big because you’re in the studio and all of a sudden you have this opportunity you don’t when you play live.”
The proceedings were captured in time-honored fashion, McKay recalls. “James Farber, the engineer, used old mics not just on me, but on the instruments and all the other people, and I think it really shows in the warmth of sound. He did a really loving job with that.”
One song notable by its absence is the one regarded as Day’s musical signature, “Que Sera, Sera.” “I like the philosophy of it—most of the time at least,” McKay observes. “But it seems like it would be hard to do something new with it musically. It felt like her version was the version.”
* * *
So why Doris? What is it about this mid-century star that so captivated a teenager coming of age in northeastern Pennsylvania? “I was initially attracted to her optimism and her gaiety,” McKay says. “Her approach to life is irresistible.”
But as the teenage prodigy continued exploring, she discovered Day’s sunny smiles hid reservoirs of strength, with the star remaining “America’s sweetheart” through a behind-the-scenes horror show: abusive husbands, personal trials and financial calamity. Now, the twentysomething McKay quotes Greta Garbo to summarize Day’s mysterious appeal: “Anyone who has a continuous smile on [her] face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening.”
“Que Sera, Sera” indeed.
Finally, when the precocious performer discovered Day had devoted her post-Hollywood years to animal-rights activism, McKay became one of the world’s most visible “Dayniacs,” even (at age 17) penning a song in tribute—“If I Ever Had A Dream,” a song that makes its first recorded appearance here (and nestles in unobtrusively amongst Hollywood, Broadway and Tin Pan Alley’s finest.)
“It’s really incredible that something on a major label hasn’t been done in tribute to Doris Day before, because she’s made so many records,” McKay marvels. “It seemed like her film career overshadowed her music, and there’s so much there.”
* * *
Since her audacious double-album debut Get Away From Me, Nellie McKay has been a creative dynamo, making her Broadway debut (as Polly Peachum in Threepenny Opera), performing onscreen (in PS, I Love You) and now writing music and lyrics for Election: The Musical, which will bow on the Great White Way sometime prior to 2050.
And since her emergence on the scene, McKay has never been known for being less than outspoken, and anything less than a fierce advocate for animal rights, veganism, feminism and other deeply felt progressive ideals. But at first glance the choice of material on Normal As Blueberry Pie is devoid of pointed statements.
However, as McKay notes, “There are so many ways to be an advocate.” And while the messages are subtle, they’re certainly present. One only has to cast a glance toward Doris Day’s recent work—on everything from animal adoption to pet-friendly hotels—to catch the intended point. It’s a message delivered with a sunny smile, much like McKay’s shows. “The people most in need of Doris Day are the cynics,” McKay observes. “She’s such a breath of fresh air.”
McKay also scoffs at the notion that offering an album of faithfully rendered selections from the American Songbook means that she’s lost her edge. There’s nothing wrong with beauty, she asserts.
“I’d love it to be a kind of lullaby,” she says. “I hope that people will fall asleep to this record because it’s very hard to fall asleep sometimes. We’re so over-stimulated. You don’t want to have to work yourself to exhaustion. You don’t want to have to take some pharmaceutical. I think that’s a form of public service, and I hope that doesn’t sound too arrogant to say.”
Official Website: http://www.yoshis.com/sanfrancisco/jazzclub/artist/show/934
Added by Yoshis on September 28, 2009