Josephine Sanges: Finding Beauty CD Release

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Josephine Sanges

Finding Beauty CD Release

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, September 15, 2017

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Josephine Sanges
Photo: Bill Westmoreland

“You’ve come a long way, baby” might well be Josephine Sanges’ motto these days. The appealing singer made her cabaret debut in 2014, and has cut a very wide swath since as a solo performer, featured artist, 2015 MetroStar runner-up, and 2017 MAC Award nominee for Female Vocalist. Her latest triumph, feted at this show at Don’t Tell Mama, is the release of an 18-song CD, based on her cabaret show, To Ann, with Love, a celebration of the music of Ann Hampton Callaway. The works, with one exception, are those either written (in whole or in part) by Callaway or recorded by her on her own CDs. All of Sanges’ choices add up to a body of work that well suits her rich, resonant voice as well as her foray into developing her jazz talents. Her rendition of ”Lullaby of Birdland” (George Shearing/George David Weiss) and the vocalese standard, “Twisted” (Wardell Gray/Annie Ross), were splendid examples of fine phrasing and an understanding of the jazz idiom. Likewise, a jazzed-up “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg)—the exception to the Callaway theme—was performed with verve and a wry humor evocative of Ella Fitzgerald’s masterful style.
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What’s noteworthy about Sanges is that she comes from a more classical background, primarily singing in church settings. Her successful transition to popular music has been impressive, with marked growth in her vocalization (range, control, technique) as well as confidence and poise in delivering the material. She not only excels with Callaway’s songs, such as the title song, “Finding Beauty,” as well as “Music” and “Bring Back Romance,” but is an excellent interpreter of standards such as “That Old Black Magic” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) and “In a Mellow Tone” (Duke Ellington/Milt Gabler), making them her own. She’s equally at home with the softer delivery of ballads, with superb storytelling shining through in “I Gaze in Your Eyes,” which Callaway composed set to an “orphan” lyric by Cole Porter, found after his death. 

Sanges’ personality is as warm as her voice. She’s the genuine article—connecting to her audience with a natural ease. It’s apparent she loves where she’s going and loves to sing. That joy comes through in spades. Her music director and pianist, John M. Cook, with his essentially melodic and lush style of playing, provided creative arrangements and other touches (some additional lyrics, singing) to the evening. Bassist Tom Hubbard, who demonstrated his superlative chops on Callaway’s “Hip to Be Happy,” contributed mightily to all three performers being totally in the groove. Deb Berman directed and was responsible for the show’s concept. Kudos to her for talent and superb judgement.
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Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.