Ann Hampton Callaway: Jazz Goes to the Movies

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Ann Hampton Callaway

Jazz Goes to the Movies

Birdland, NYC, October 31, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for CabaretScenes

Ann Hampton Callaway
Photo: Maryann Lopinto

Isn’t it romantic—the silky sound of a stellar jazz quartet playing “The Shadow of Your Smile”? And that’s just the beginning. Enter Ann Hampton Callaway at Birdland with Jazz Goes to the Movies. A first-rate musician, imaginative and sophisticated, Callaway brings her “diva” versatility with its font of creativity to explore how jazz and film join to tell their stories with unique artistry. “We need optimism and beauty more than ever,” she said.

Fitting hand-in-glove with the 1942 film Casablanca is Herman Hupfeld’s 1931 “As Time Goes By.” You can’t think of one without the other. The song received only moderate popularity for nine years before it became the theme for Casablanca and, since then, both have become as enduring a couple as Rick and Ilsa. Callaway gave this classic a light swing, while her full-throated vocal power never avoided the intent of the lyrics, bringing a lusty richness to lines like “Hearts full of passion….”     

Skimming through the film legacy, she chose varied selections and inserted them with the jazz authority she brings to all her music. “How Little We Know” (Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer) from To Have and Have Not embodied a husky supple-and-sly film noir Latin ambiance. Another Carmichael standard, the languid “The Nearness of You” with lyrics by Ned Washington, was a simmering definition of romance. The song is often mistakenly credited to the film Romance in the Dark, but actually it was never even scheduled for the film. With Jimmy Green adding a sensuous sax behind her, Callaway’s rendition was sumptuous and meaningful.


Not a “Deadhead” but admittedly a “Fredhead,” Callaway offered the Fred Astaire classic from Swing Time, “The Way You Look Tonight” (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields). With scat in her swing, she presented a song that is a fit for any problematic era, Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” from Follow the Fleet. Kern with Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the poignant “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” from High, Wide and Handsome. Injecting a tinge of bitter into the poignancy was Callaway’s take on Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s “This Time the Dream’s on Me” from Blues in the Night. She mixed charm with cynicism in “This Can’t Be Love” (Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart used in Jumbo), with a sharp bass turn by Martin Wind. Ted Rosenthal on piano delivered a full and vibrant musical interlude in the luxurious “Long Ago and Far Away” by Kern and Ira Gershwin (Cover Girl).

When she’s romantic, Callaway is idyllic and when’s she’s effervescent, she on fire. Her scat traded off with Green’s sax on George and Ira Gershwin’s “’S Wonderful” from Funny Face and Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” (Jubilee).  

A Grade A quartet added all the moods: pianist Rosenthal, bassist Wind, drummer Tim Horner, and Green on saxophone. With them, Ann Hampton Callaway brought the show to a fired-up finale with Berlin’s “Blue Skies” (The Jazz Singer) and an exuberant swing and scat in “Taking a Chance on Love” from Cabin in the Sky (Vernon Duke/John Latouche/Ted Fetter). ’S Wonderful!

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.