Mary Foster Conklin: A Broad Spectrum – Chapter 2.0: A Woman’s Place Is in the Groove

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Mary Foster Conklin

A Broad Spectrum – Chapter 2.0: A Woman’s Place Is in the Groove

Pangea, NYC, August 5, 2022

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Mary Foster Conklin

Jazz vocalist, historian, and radio host Mary Foster Conklin brought her audience into her living room to share some of her favorite songs that were written in part or entirely by women. Well, she made the small supper club Pangea feel like her living room as she created an atmosphere of intimacy and friendship with her adoring audience. That atmosphere was relaxed, and the music was intense. Conklin is a gifted storyteller, and she eagerly shared her findings about the backstory of her music; she was more like an excited friend than a learned lecturer. She was not above admitting that she had found no information about one songwriter and asked that anyone who knew someone who might know something to contact her.

This warmth and humor helped to link together a show that at times seemed a bit disjointed from because of its lack of a unifying theme beyond that of a random celebration of musical women.
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However, the lack of an emotional build-up was offset by with quality material beautifully delivered. Throughout, her relationship with her instrumental backup of music director/pianist Deanna Witkowski and bassist Tony DePaolis was such that she even provided them a spot to show off their skills. This was in a piece by Mary Lou Williams, of whom Witkowski has recently published a biography, Music for the Soul. The pianist has also released a tribute recording, Force of Nature, from which she Williams’ “Lonely Moments” as an instrumental performed by her and DePaulos that evening. Both musicians proved to be inventive and flexible throughout the wide range of music on display.
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Conklin’s style was often loose and casual, as her body danced through the words in her opener “Just for Now” (André and Dory Langdon Previn), and as she seemed to invent specific lyrics out of the air in the follow-up, “I Wished on the Moon” (Dorothy Parker/Ralph Rainger). She even showed her versatility by channeling singers associated with some of the songs she offered—Billie Holiday for “Them There Eves” (Doris Tauber/Maceo Pinkard/William Tracy) and Cyndi Lauper for “Time After Time” (Lauper/Robert Hyman). But the diva’s sultry and intoxicating “Key Largo” (Leah Worth/Karl Suessdorf/Benny Carter) and her world-weary but wise “Learnin’ the Blues” (Dolores Vicki Silvers) were completely her own. (And no, there was no Sinatra in the latter.)

She balanced the admittedly “very dark” Phoebe Snow opus, “Harpo’s Blues” (Conklin admitted she could be very dark as well), with the emotionally expansive “Nothing Like You (An Extravagant Love Song)” (Fran Landesman/Bob Dorough). Her technical skills in the latter allowed her to create an echo effect without help from her soundman. Throughout, this balance in style made for an enjoyable evening for her audience.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."