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A Conversation with Marsha Malamet

| December 26, 2017

A Conversation with Marsha Malamet

December 26, 2017

By Todd Sussman for Cabaret Scenes

Marsha Malamet

Cabaret Scenes spoke with Marsha Malamet, the songwriter extraordinaire whose compositions have been recorded by the biggest names in the business—Barbra Streisand, Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, and Faith Hill…just to name a few. Her poignant ballad, “Love Don’t Need a Reason” (co-written with the late Peter Allen and Michael Callen) became an iconic anthem in the fight against AIDS. Now, at 70, she is still going full throttle. Her latest creations appear on the just-released album by Streisand’s son, Jason Gould [written in collaboration with him and others], entitled Dangerous Man. We began our candid discussion at the footlights.

Todd Sussman You got your start performing on the cabaret scene in the ’70s. What was that like?

Marsha Malamet I played Reno Sweeney, the Grand Finale, S.N.A.F.U., JP’s, and many more of Manhattan’s favorite clubs. As a singer-songwriter, I was a hybrid of the pop and theatrical worlds. At the cabarets, it was just me and a piano, and sometimes my back-up girls, whereas with the pop music rooms, I brought in my band. I felt at home in the cabarets because my singing is more theatrical. There was a freedom. I didn’t have to follow the drum beat or the guitar rhythm. I was free to perform however I wanted within the context of the song.

Todd Your material is still being performed these days in the cabarets of New York.

Marsha I am so grateful when great singers turn to my catalogue. “Love Don’t Need a Reason” keeps going strong. “Crazy Love” is another one on current set lists. In fact, the incredible Marieann Meringolo named her show at the Metropolitan Room after that song. I am thrilled to be represented at this time in my career.  

Todd You sing. You write music. You play the piano. When did you first realize you were a musical person?

Marsha My father bought me a piano when I was 8 years old. I took to it immediately…bingo! That’s when I knew music would be an integral part of my life. I only had lessons for a very short time because I played by ear. I had a talent for picking up tunes and then writing my own. The singing came later, in my teens. Singing was the easiest way for me to tap into my interior life.

Todd Literally 1/3 of Jason’s new album contains your music…4 out of 12 songs! How did that happen?

Marsha We met at a Marianne Williamson lecture in L.A. in 2010. I introduced myself to him and told him his mother recorded my song, “Lessons to Be Learned” [written with Allan Rich and Dorothy Sea Gazeley]. He said, “I know you.” He asked if I would work with him. He wanted me to hear his song ideas and help develop them. We were natural collaborators. I thought his ideas were wonderful. Soon after, I brought in two of my songwriting buddies and my producer. We wrote a batch of songs over a two-year period and did the demos. It was a very productive time. We were in a flow. Four of the songs from that collaboration ended up on Jason’s new record.

Todd Your songs for Jason have a dramatic edge to them. Was that your intent?  

Marsha Yes. As a composer, I try to do the unexpected. I am not a safe pop tunesmith. I write with intensity. The lyrics for some of these new songs cover challenging topics: interpersonal turmoil, unrequited love. My chords and harmonic choices enhance the lyrics. They take a direct route into the emotional landscape of the songs.    

Todd The lyrics of “All’s Forgiven” are quite provocative: “When I was a young boy, I watched you from the sidelines. Was never sure you loved me. Instead I felt you judged me.” Listeners may picture their own relationships and challenges in these words. However, are you willing to “go there” with me now and share your thoughts?  

Marsha I think Jason was very brave to even approach this topic and sing about it. There is something so raw and honest in this piece. Listeners can draw their own conclusions.  

Todd “Dangerous Man” must have been important to Jason…it was chosen as the title song on his new album.

Marsha I was super-excited that this track, which I wrote with Jason and Alan Roy Scott, was chosen for the title cut. It is very meaningful to all of us, especially Jason. In fact, it is not every day you hear a man singing about matters of the heart to another man. 

Todd What does “dangerous” mean to you in this song?

Marsha For me, it’s about not getting your needs met in a relationship, but you hang on anyway. It’s about falling in love with someone who is not available. However, the song takes a surprising turn at the end. I won’t give it away here.

Todd Because you are an out songwriter, I will ask: Did you ever pin your hopes on a dangerous woman?

Marsha Are you kidding me? Of course I did. In fact, if Jason had not recorded this, I would have recorded it myself and called it “Dangerous Girl.” It was a learning experience. The universe always brings you relationships that teach you about yourself.     

Todd Many writers (in any medium – songs, novels, plays) are protective of their work, even overprotective, if you will. What are your thoughts and hopes once you have finished writing a song and then hand it over to the singer?

Marsha I always hope the song is sung and arranged the way we presented it on the demo. But most times, that is not what happens. I have learned to give up the control and enjoy the finished product. 

Todd Many superstars have recorded your music. Were you ever present for the recording sessions and did you offer corrective feedback?

Marsha In all these years, I was only invited once to a recording session of one of my songs.  It was my friend and divine soul, Barbara Cook, when she recorded “Why Did You Promise Me the World?” This was the thrill of a lifetime: A pinch-me moment. Her performance was nothing short of brilliant. I had no notes for her. And why would I? She was the best.

Todd You have been in show business for close to five decades. This has been a banner year for your songwriting and career. Could you have ever imagined this?

Marsha At this age, to have the legendary Quincy Jones produce my songs and have Barbra Streisand’s supremely talented son record them, I feel like I won the lottery. I am also writing a jukebox musical based on my life and songs. It’s exciting to find a new home for my work. In this crazy business —and I’ve had my share of ups and downs—the key is to remain positive and remember you have something to offer. Never give up…never!

For more information, visit www.marshamalamet.com

Todd Sussman is a graduate of Columbia University, where he studied journalism and film. A longtime entertainment writer, he is the author of the Blockbuster Video books, The Greatest Movies of All Time and The Greatest Movies of All Time, Volume 2. He began his writing career as the film critic for The Miami News and soon became the editor of Blockbuster Video Magazine. For his work on the magazine, Todd received an Addy Award for Best In-House Publication, one of several Addy honors he holds. The Walt Disney Company commissioned him to interview their beloved Roger Rabbit (for which Todd wrote the questions as well as the answers, in character as Roger Rabbit) during the promotion of the film and video release, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. More recently, he had the privilege of working on two hit projects for Barbra Streisand: Todd is the liner notes editor for her 11th number one album, Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, and for the tour program from her acclaimed concerts, Barbra: The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic! He is also a contributing writer and editor for the international fan publication, All About Barbra. In 2016, Todd edited the booklet for Capitol Records’ prestigious compilation CD, A Capitol Christmas. This year, he reprised that role for A Capitol Christmas Volume 2.

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Category: Cabaret Features, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Music Features, Music, Music Features, Regional

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