Jaz Dorsey Interviews Nashville’s Carolyn German

| August 22, 2014

Carolyn-German-headshotJaz Dorsey: Is There Cabaret in Nashville?
Carolyn German: There isn’t much of what New Yorkers would recognize as “cabaret” here in Music City, though every week there are dozens of “writer’s nights” where our tremendous population of singer/songwriters show up to share their original works, along with anecdotes and patter (and most of these are free, making them an excellent way for Nashvillians and our visitors to tap into the local creative energy.)

But when it comes to shows celebrating the great American songbook, those are few and far between. However, as our community of musical theatre artists increases – in no small part due to the fantastic university training programs – the cabaret pulse is quickening.

One artist who is definitely fueling these fires is the amazing Carolyn German. Carolyn brought a strong cabaret background with  her when she moved to Nashville and she has been a great supporter of local cabaret performers, even creating a “Featured Cabaret Artist” series as part of the agenda for the newly created Centennial Black Box Theatre which she has helped bring about in her position Supervisor of Theatre and Music at Metro Nashville Parks Cultural Arts – a position which, sadly, she will be leaving in September to move on to other things, including serving as the Chair of the Nashville Nashville branch The League of Professional Theatre Women.

JD: I asked Carolyn to tell us about herself, her background in cabaret and her thoughts on Nashville as a “cabaret town” and this is what she has to say:
What is your own personal background in cabaret?
CG: I started my journey into the cabaret art form back in Baltimore.  Sometimes just a 3-song set as part of a fund-raising event or the like.   Then when I was in NYC I really fell in love with the cabaret world.   And I had a great deal of fun both performing in my own act and watching some great talents do their shows.   I began to judge most songs I heard by whether or not I would like to perform them in a cabaret act. (I kinda still do that !)  I have performed in acts that I have put together, as well as in cabaret-style shows that have been created by other entities.  While I was in Washington DC, I had several opportunities to work with the fabulous Howard Breitbart at the piano.  I did two great shows that he musically directed in the “American Song Series” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and later Howard was my accompanist for my own cabaret act in DC.   It was in those performances where I began to hone my skills not just in song selection, but in the creating of the “patter”.   I was also experimenting with interesting medleys, or juxtaposing songs in gently-crafted ways to make this point or that.   Though I moved to Nashville in 1990,  I was in Nashville for a while before I delved into the cabaret scene again.  I performed my show “A Closer Look” at the Basement, and followed it up with “A Holiday Cabaret”.   With the incredible Jeff Lisenby at the keys for those shows, how could it not be a blast?!  There was a bit of a flurry  of cabaret  at that time, ( around 2001 or so) with several great vocalists on the scene, like Ginger Newman, Lynne Rothrock, and Pat Taber.  We were pulling together to try to find the right venue,  energized by each other, and it was an exciting time.  In 2008, my show “Where the Song Leads” was selected for TWTP’s Women’s Work Festival, and it was great fun to perform with the wonderful Steve Kummer.   And most recently  a wonderful chance to work with the stellar Martha Wilkinson in our act ” She Has No Filter”, and on the same night opened with two great vocalists, Melissa Hammans and Robert Wharton, and making the evening perfect was Jeff Lisenby on the keyboard.    I loved it!

JD: What has the Nashville Metro Parks Theater Department done on the cabaret front?
CG: When I got the approval to go ahead and create the Centennial Black Box Theater, I was thrilled.   In Nashville, cabaret as an art form is still relatively new to most of the same people who go to listen to music on a regular basis.  Now we had a chance to bring up the lights on this art form.   The stage of  our small 56-seat space was perfect for the intimate theater experience that is “cabaret”.  I created a program called the Featured Artist Cabaret Series, that we kicked off in February of this year.   It allows for a small stipend to be provided to the Featured Artist, who will provide two shows in one evening.  The first is designed to be an “And Friends” type of thing, where the Featured Artist performs with (or hosts the performances of ) their talented friends, or in some cases, their students , and the second is the Featured Artist as headliner.   We have done a few of these so far, and they have had great response.

JD: Why is cabaret important?
CG: Certainly, in this digital age, the intimacy and immediacy of cabaret is a rare treat indeed.   As a performer I find it very demanding and very easy all at the same time.   Demanding because there is no “hiding”, you have to know what you are communication all the time: in phrasing, in vocals, in patter, in the way you move (or don’t).   Easy because you are choosing material you love, and finding the best way for you to sing it.  It doesn’t have to match anyone else’s interpretation.   It becomes a powerful test for the performer.  And for that matter for the audience too.  You can’t “hide in your cell phone screen”, and you will have to actually listen to the lyric.  The communication between singer and audience is critical.
From the standpoint of the actual music, cabaret is vital to the continual expansion of both the singer’s AND the audience’s repertoire. We don’t want to sing the same songs, in the same way.  We want to discover something new, or uncover something incredible about a piece that is old.   The cabaret singer gets to stretch the boundaries of musical genres in ways the pop singer can’t really do.  We spend hours digging thru old music looking for a gem, and just as many sorting through brand new tunes, hoping to find that one that really “says” what we want it to.

JD: What are your thoughts on Nashville as a town for cabaret?
CG: Its ready!!!  There are more folks now interested in this performance style (think the talented and charming Cori Laemmel and her fellow cohorts) and there is a very “hip” audience made up of all ages and types who are interested in broader ranges of musical and theater styles.  While most venues will still cater to the “singer/songwriter” of the country music scene, there are a growing number of spots that are aching for something a little bit different.   We still are a town of incredible voices, and I see the cabaret scene just getting better and better as the art form finds its way into the mainstream music-lover’s vocabulary.  Ok, maybe not immediately, but I think we are on the verge!

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Category: Cabaret Features, Nashville, Nashville Cabaret Features

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