Monday, August 4, 2014

Freda Payne 'Come Back To Me Love' album review

Photo:  Alan Mercer

Though best known for her 1970 R&B crossover smash hit ‘Band of Gold,’ Freda Payne has always first and foremost been a jazz singer, dating back to The Jimmy Wilkins Big Band at age 14. Her debut album, ‘After The Lights Go Down Low And Much More!!!’ on Impulse!, in  1963 was arranged by Manny Albam, while a more pop-oriented follow-up entitled ‘How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore’ on MGM in 1966 was helmed by saxophonist/arranger Benny Golson.  Freda performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem alongside Billy Eckstine, backed by Quincy Jones and His Orchestra, comedian Redd Foxx and the dance team Coles & Atkins. She also graced the stage with Duke Ellington for two nights in Pittsburgh, after which he composed ‘Blue Piano’ just for her. Freda Payne’s training and experience render her a rare vocal artist who is stylistically beyond category.

With her honey voice, a touch of sass, legendary and iconic beauty, and impressive vocal control, Freda returns to the recording studio with a big-band recording from Mack Records on its Artistry Music imprint.  Working with a big band complete with strings and arrangements by Grammy Award winner Bill Cunliffe, Freda sings the heart out of 14 songs, ranging from classic standards to a half dozen original pieces from the pen of Gretchen Valade and Tom Robinson.  The original tunes hold up next to the standards quite well.  The arrangements of brass and horns work together with the violins, violas, cellos, and a guitar, vibraphone, and harp.  

Photo:  Raj Naik

We begin the journey with Cole Porters ‘Come Back To Me Love,’ a swinging, scatting, on fire version of Cole Porter’s ‘You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.’  I feel like I’m in a nightclub listening to Freda sing LIVE on stage during this number.  It’s so fresh and Freda’s voice shines.  The second cut, Kenny Rankin’s ‘Haven’t We Met’ blends seamlessly into the mix.  Next we have four of the six original numbers including the wistful and romantic ‘Lately’ and the title track, with its yearning, longing quality.  These songs sound like they were written especially for Freda and she sings them all with passion.   ‘Whatever Happened To Me’ and ‘You Don’t Know’ complete the foursome.

Then we arrive at the gorgeous Buddy Johnson standard, ‘Save Your Love For Me’ best known by Nancy Wilson.  Freda sounds absolutely sumptuous singing lyrics like ‘Have mercy on a fool like me, I'm so unwise but still I plead, darling please… save you love for me.’  Next comes the 1945 Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne poignant classic ‘Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry.’  Once again Freda seems like she was born to sing these lyrics, so full of emotion.  We can add Freda’s version to the list of notable recordings of this song. 
Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote English lyrics for ‘The Island’ to the Brazilian music of Ivan Lins.  Lush, romantic and full of Latin rhythms, the setting perfectly showcases Freda’s versatility as a vocalist.  This cut is definitely an album highlight. 

The next two cuts are the final original songs , ‘I Should Have Told Him’ and ‘I Just Have To Know.’  The last three numbers are all standards that most everyone knows.  ‘Midnight Sun’ was originally an instrumental composed by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke in 1947 until Johnny Mercer wrote the words to the song.  Most of us know the version by Ella Fitzgerald which suits Freda to a tee since she spent the last several years singing a tribute to Ella in concert.  ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ from 1955 is an epic selection.  Freda’s version is full of plaintive emotion and this recording is another highlight from this album.  The album closes with a rollicking version of Lou Rawls ‘I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.’  Perhaps Freda should consider a blues album next.  She definitely has the vocal chops.

I have been listening to the music of Freda Payne for over forty years and she has never sounded better than she does right now…singing jazz.  I hope this album spawns the beginning of a recording renaissance for her.  Both she and her audience deserve that.  ‘Come Back To Me Love’ is a GREAT first outing for the new-era ‘Freda.’  

To learn more about this album or to purchase it please click here

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gene Watson: The Singer's Singer

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

It is difficult to imagine the world of country music without the vast contribution that Gene Watson has made to it.  Between his major label debut on Capitol Records in 1975 and the present day, Gene Watson has excelled with his traditional slant within country music.

Gene Watson is a singer in country music's grand tradition and has the skill to give powerful vocal performances and draw all the emotion from his selected material effortlessly. Gene has remained true to his Texas music roots for the best part of 50 years and is a standard bearer for honest, traditional country music.

Following years of honing his country music craft around Texas, Gene Watson emerged on the American country music scene in July 1975. He immediately earned himself a reputation as one of the best of the new 'real country' singers to emerge on the scene and for adhering to a traditional country sound, characterized by prominent steel guitar and swirling fiddle.

Gene Watson was born in Palestine, Texas, and began his music career in the early 1970s, performing in local clubs at night while working in a Houston auto body shop during the day. He only recorded for a few small, regional record labels until 1974, when Capitol Records picked up his album ‘Love in the Hot Afternoon’ and released it nationally. The title track was released in June 1975 and it quickly reached Number 3 on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart. Gene Watson's national success continued throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, as he recorded several Billboard top-40 hits, including "Where Love Begins," "Paper Rosie," "Should I Go Home (or Should I Go Crazy)," "Nothing Sure Looked Good on You." and "Farewell Party" which was released in 1979 and quickly became Gene's signature song and soon allowed Gene to name his band after the tragic ballad.

Since 1975, Gene Watson has been an artist who has adhered to, and remained faithful to, a 'hard' traditional country sound. Gene Watson is truly a 'Lone Star Hero', not only within the state boundary of Texas but also around the wider country music world.

Gene Watson's 'Beautiful Country' speaks for itself. It is a music of the people, for the people and ultimately by one of the people. His music is part of the very constitution of country music. It is in Gene Watson's recordings that the tradition of heartfelt, country music is preserved for all time.

Gary Gene Watson never intended becoming a professional singer within the country music genre. Apparently, he didn't go searching for music - music found him. For those of us who love traditional country music, we have a lot to be thankful to Gene Watson for.

I had the opportunity to meet up with Gene in Weatherford , Texas when he performed at The Texas Opry.   We took these shots and visited before he went on stage to a sold-out audience. 

AM:  Gene, your newest album, ‘My Heroes Have Always Been Country’ is just fantastic.  How did you come up with this idea to record these classic songs?

GW:  Well the hardest part was picking the songs I recorded. 

AM:  I bet!  There are so many good songs to choose from.

GW:  The object of this recording was to go back and let people know who Gene Watson is, where he came from and why.  I thought what better way than to go back and record some of my favorite songs that were recorded by my favorite artists.  I used to sing these songs back in the day so I could get local bookings.  I never dreamed I’d be an artist at that time.  I would use these songs in all the places I would play.  These songs were recorded by my heroes.  Most of them aren’t even here now.

AM:  Who are some of the artists you covered?

GW:  I covered Marty Robbins, Ray Price, George Jones, Dottie West and Lefty Frizzell.  Like I said, these people are my heroes so if people hear this CD and can’t figure out where I came from, there’s no need in me preaching to them.  These are the songs that made me who I am and this is what keeps me going.  This is the reason I have sustained for fifty-two years.  I don’t want to change too much because something is gotta be going right. 

AM:  I encourage you to keep going.  I’d love a new album of classic covers at least once a year.

GW:  It’s so much fun.  I didn’t think about it at the time, but these are the only sessions that I can ever remember doing, where I didn’t need a lyric sheet in the studio.  I walked in the studio and just sang them right off the top of my head.  I had never sung the Dottie West song, ‘Here Comes My Baby’ in my life.  I thought Dottie West was just fantastic and when she got through, the song had been sung.  All I can do now is let them hear me sing it, which is what I had in mind when I recorded it.

AM:  You also covered another song a few years ago that is hard to cover and that’s Etta James version of ‘At Last.’  You made it yours!

GW:  I think that comes from the love of a song.  I’ve always been privileged and honored to be able to pick and choose the songs I wanted to record.  I’ve always had final say.  I picked that song because I love Etta’s version.  People always ask me what my favorite song is and that’s impossible for me to answer.  I saw something in every song I have ever recorded.  I have never recorded a song that I didn’t think was capable of being a single. 

AM:  I like the songs you sing that have a dark humor to them.  Is that part of you?

GW:  I think so.  A lot of people think that I am an outgoing guy and really I’m not.  The older I get, the more laid back I get, but when I get on stage all that reverses.  I have a great time on stage.  I play off the crowd and I don’t plan a show.  The band has to pay attention to what I say because that’s the only intro they are going to get to these songs.  The crowd helps me more than anything in the world. 

AM:  So your show is completely spontaneous.

GW:  Oh yes.  I’ll start telling a story and the band picks up on it just like that. 

AM:  That keeps it very fresh for you.

GW:  I have to do it that way.  I’ve worked with so many artists that have a planned set and they do it night after night after night.  It gets to be trying on your nerves just doing the same songs for fifty years, but if I can play it loose and do the requests off the top of my head it keeps it fresh for me and the audience.  I decide when is the right time to do a certain song during each show. 

AM:  Do you still get a chance to work on cars?

GW:  (laughing)  I love cars and I’ve got too many.  I love to dabble around with cars, but as far as heavy work, no I don’t have the time.  I’ve dedicated the rest of my road time to the singing business and I’m trying to hang in there as long as I can.  I said this a long time ago and I meant it.  I hope the good Lord grants me the wisdom to hang it up when it’s the right time.  When I can’t walk out there and do it the way I think it should be done then it’s time for me to pack it up and there will be plenty of time to play with cars. 

AM:  How do you maintain your voice?

GW:  I try to get as much rest as I can.  That’s one of the most important things about me maintaining.  When I first started I used to drink and smoke like a freight train.  I haven’t had a drink in 34 years and I haven’t smoked in 24 years.  I’ve really dedicated myself to taking care of my throat.  It’s all I’ve got as far as the music business goes.  When I get through performing I am tired.  I’m older now and been in the business so long so when I get through I like to sit back, relax and get as much sleep as I can.  To me, that’s the key, when I get tired my voice is the first thing to go.  The good Lord blessed me with a voice and I try to take care of it the best I can.  He can take it away anytime he wants to. 

AM:  You also did another difficult thing by re-recording 25 of your best songs a couple years ago.  I’ve heard many artists re-record songs and they didn’t turn out as good, but you changed that concept for me by doing such a phenomenal job.

GW:  That was probably the hardest undertaking I ever went through.  I was real meticulous about it.  My producer, Dirk Johnson and I went back and got every one of the original cuts and took them to the studio.  I re-recorded them all in the same key and tempo.  I tried to create the same feeling.  Some of the players from the originals are playing on the new recordings.  If there was a thought in my mind that it wasn’t as good, I’d go back and play the original and refer back to that.  I had to do that a few times because over the years you evolve and change some things.  We tried to double track the originals as close as they could be.  I’ll say this, I think I did a better job on some of them.  It pushed me, but I wanted to do it so much.  I’m like you, I don’t like covers because they are always lacking. 

AM:  You changed the rules because your covers are not lacking.  Did it take longer than normal to get the recording finished?

GW:  It was more strenuous on me because of myself.  I wanted to get it just like the original. I don’t normally spend a lot of time in the studio.  If a song is for me, I’ll hit it quick.  If I have to work on it, I’ll throw it out. 

AM:  You recorded the last album live with the band didn’t you?

GW:  Oh yes, all my albums are recorded live with the band.  That’s the only way I’ll do it.  I play off that band, even in the studio.  When they hit a lick that turns me on it makes me want to sing that much better and when I sing better they play better.  It’s the only way to do it.

To learn more about Gene Watson, visit his web site

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Frederic Forrest: Chameleon Actor

All Photos:  Alan Mercer        Lighting:  Eric V.

Frederic Forrest, the Oscar-nominated character actor, was born two days before Christmas Day in Waxahachie, Texas, the same home town as director Robert Benton. Frederic had long wanted to be an actor, but he was so nervous that he ran out of auditions for school plays. Later, at Texas Christian University, he took a minor in theater arts while majoring in radio and television studies. His parents opposed his aspirations as a thespian as it was a precarious existence, but he moved on to New York and studied with renowned acting teacher Sanford Meisner. He eventually became an observer at the Actors Studio, where he was tutored by Lee Strasberg. During this time, he supported himself as a page at the NBC Studios in Rockefeller Plaza.

His theatrical debut was in the Off-Broadway production of "Viet-Rock", an anti-war play featuring music. He made his uncredited debut in ‘The Filthy Five’ in 1968, a low-budget movie directed by sexploitation auteur Andy Milligan, but he racked up his first credit in the very bizarre screen adaptation of ‘Futz’ in 1969, a satire about a farmer who falls in love with a hog.

After starring in the off-Broadway play "Silhouettes", Frederic moved with the production to Los Angeles, intent on breaking into movies. While the production ran for three months and was visited by agents bird-dogging new talent, Frederic got no offers and had to support himself as a pizza-baker after the show closed. Eventually, he began auditing classes at Actors Studio West, and director Stuart Millar saw him in a student showcase production and cast him in ‘When Legends Die’ in 1972. He copped a 1973 Golden Globe nomination as "Most Promising Newcomer - Male" for the role. For the first time in his film acting career, Frederic Forrest looked like he was poised for stardom.

A small part in "Godfather" director 
Francis Ford Coppola's ‘The Conversation’ in 1974 would later pay dividends. Except for a small role in the disappointing ‘The Missouri Breaks’ in 1976 and his TV turn as Lee Harvey Oswald in CBS' ‘Ruby and Oswald’ in 1978, Frederic had little to show in the first part of his career. Coppola was about to change that.

Playing "Chef Hicks" in ‘
Apocalypse Now in 1979 garnered Frederic the best notices of his career, and he parlayed that into Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations as Best Supporting Actor for ‘The Rose’ in 1979, his second hit that year. He was named Best Supporting Actor by the National Society of Film Critics for both films, and once again he seemed poised on the verge of stardom. Like the first time, stardom did not come.

His aspirations were to do quality work and play a romantic lead. "I would like to not have to fit into somebody else's story and have my scenes cut because I'm too strong", he told a journalist circa 1980. "And next time, I'd like to get the girl instead of the horse".

He did get the romantic lead he pined for, but it was a case of "Be careful what you wish for, as you might just get it". Coppola, so instrumental in propelling Forrest into the first rank of character actors, cast him as the romantic lead in ‘
One from the Heart’ in 1982, a picture that proved to be one of the great financial debacles of all time. It bankrupted Coppola's studio, American Zoetrope, and engendered a fierce backlash against the director and the film in Hollywood.

In 1983, he played a supporting role in ‘
Valley Girl’ in 1983 in an unmemorable performance, a role that could have been played by any actor, something one couldn't say about his "Chef" in ‘Apocalypse Now.’ Increasingly, Frederic began appearing on television and, by 1987, was in the cast of the series ‘21 Jump Street’ in 1987 on the new Fox TV network, lasting only one season before being ignominiously replaced.  In addition to an appearance in the mini-series ‘Lonesome Dove’ in 1989, Mr. Forrest's fine portrayal of "Lomax" in ‘Die Kinder’ in 1990, showed the ability which has been too often unrealized.

AM:  Frederic  I love how your character talks about Waxahachie when you first appear in the film ‘The Rose.’  Did you do suggest that?

FF:   We wanted a joke for a light moment since the movie was heavy. It was an awkward moment.  Someone had just told me that joke so I asked the director, Mark Rydell about saying it in the film.  People in Waxahachie got a little upset, but it was just a joke.

AM:  When was the last time you were in Texas?

FF: It’s been three or four years now.  I was there in the summer and I’d forgotten how hot it can be.  I remember going to school and playing sports against all the other teams.

AM:  Did you enjoy playing sports?

FF:  It was fun but I wasn’t that good at any of it.

AM:  What sports did you play?

FF:  I played football and ran track.  I enjoyed the spring days and running the track and meeting other guys from other places.  In those days it was more about sportsmanship and the game.  There was less animosity.


AM:  Were you always interested in being an actor?

FF:  Not consciously, but I would act out movies when I was a kid.  All we had was the picture show.  There was no television so we’d go see all the movies.  We had three movie theaters in Waxahachie.  Back in those days, actors would tour with the movies, so we’d get some Cowboy Stars that would come through.   B movies were big in little towns because you had the Saturday matinee.  

AM:  You must have seen all the serial films.

FF: Yes they always kept you hanging.  You couldn’t wait to get back the next week to see how they got out of trouble.  Movies were great back then!  Kids would line up for blocks. 

AM:  So did you struggle to get in movies or did you fall into it?

FF: I fell into movies.  I never thought about it.  I didn’t think I was good at anything.  I didn’t feel like I had a “so called” talent.  I wasn’t good at anything people considered important.  I really didn’t know what I was going to do.  I felt if I could make a living doing something I liked, I’d be very blessed.   I kept going back to acting in Community Theater. 

AM:  So you were acting for fun.

FF:  Yes I thought it was fun, but after I saw James Dean in ‘East of Eden,’ I got the acting bug to go to New York.   I knew he was from a little farming town in Indiana so I identified with that.  Then all I heard about was the Actors Studio.

AM:  What year did you get to New York?

FF:  I got some guys to give me a ride to New York in 1957 for my first visit.  I remember very vividly standing across the street from the Actors Studio thinking I would see Marlon Brando coming in or out.  I was scared to death.  I thought, “What am I doing here?”

AM:  Did you come right back to Texas?

FF: Yes I had to go into the army.  You had to back then.  You could get drafted or choose to join on your own and then only do six months, so I did that.  A lot of guys in college did that just to get it over with and then you had six years in reserve. 

AM: Did you like being in the military?

FF:  While you are in it, it’s so mad.  The army is so full of life.  It’s such a tapestry of human beings.  So many different personalities are everywhere.  You could think you were in a nut house.  It did seem quite surreal, but I did it.  We had to do basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky. 

AM:  So you did your military time before there was a war?

FF:  I was lucky as I got out just before Vietnam started. 

AM:  So after the army you went back into acting?

FF:  Yes I decided I wanted to act more and get my equity card.  I went back to Houston to the Alley Theater after being in New York for a couple of years.  I got a scholarship so I didn’t have to pay them. 

AM:  Did you do a lot of stage work?

FF:  I did as much as I could.  I felt like the more acting I could do the better I would be at it.  I would do anything or any character.  I actually got stranded in Dallas after Kennedy’s assassination.  I would go to the Dallas Theater Center and see all the plays. 

AM:  How did you get back to New York?

FF: I hitched a ride with an antique dealer who went to Boston routinely.  We got to the outskirts of New York City and there was a big snow storm so we couldn’t get in the city.  He had to drive me to Albany and I took a bus back into the City.  My sister met me at the bus station. I had a big black cowboy hat. 

AM:  So it took a while before you made it into films in the middle 70’s.

FF: Oh yes I was old already.

AM:  You look so young in ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘The Rose.’   Did you always look young for your age?

FF: I did.  Hollywood never knew how to peg me.  I had to learn to lie and ask them how old do I look?  They’d tell me I looked 24 so I’d say no I’m 25 and they’d go, “I thought so.”  If I had been honest and said I was 35 they would have told me I was too old.

AM:  You have played a few Native Americans.  Do you know why you have been cast like that?

FF:  I have no idea.  I turned down ‘Lonesome Dove’ three times because it was written as a full blooded Native American.  I knew I could do the character once I read the novel. 

AM:  Is that one of your favorite parts?

FF:  It is one of my favorites.  I got incredible reviews.  Better than anything else I ever did. 

AM:  So you knew you were talented. 

FF:  That part did change my life.  Suddenly I was the new Brando, the new Newman and the new James Dean. 

AM:  You became a household name.

FF:  I was lucky because ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘The Rose’ came out at the same time.  People saw me in both films and I got the National Film Critics Award for both of them.  It was a strange new era where I was wanted for all the movies.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Vivian Reed: Renaissance Woman

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

Vivian Reed is a multi-award winner with two Tony Award nominations, Drama Desk Award, Theatre world Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Dance Education of America Award, NAACP Award and several others. Vivian began formal voice training at the age of eight at the Pittsburgh Musical Institute, later continuing at New York's Juilliard School of Music followed by years of extensive dance training.

 She became a polished performer under the guidance of Honi Coles and Bobby Schiffman of the Apollo Theater. Vivian received critical acclaim for her work in 'Bubbling Brown Sugar' on Broadway and Europe. She captured the attention of Pierre Cardin who booked her into his theater and held her over for several weeks. Through Cardin she went to Japan for the first time and later made her first European TV special. Later she was invited by the Prince and Princess of Monaco to perform in Monte Carlo.

Vivian has appeared on many TV variety and talk shows both nationally and internationally including ‘The Tonight Show,’ ‘The Today Show’ and the ABC-TV daytime drama, ‘One Life To Live.’ She has shared the bill with such notable performers as Bill Cosby, Pattie Labelle, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Elaine Stritch, Alan King, Sammy Davis Jr., Quincy Jones, Ashford and Simpson and Charles Aznavour just to name a few. Her film credits include ‘Heading for Broadway,’ ‘L'Africaine’ with Catherine Deneuve and ‘Le Rumba,’ in which she portrayed Josephine Baker. Recently she produced and starred in a short film ‘What Goes Around’ written by Angela Gibbs.

Vivian has also brought her nightclub act to major gatherings of organizations and dignitaries, including Mercedes Benz, IBM, Top Fashion Designers Gala at the Theatre Champs Elysees and the American Film Festival in Deauville. She appeared at the Festival del Vina in Chile along with other top performers and received the coveted ‘Torch Award,’ an honor bestowed by the mayor and citizens of Vina for only the most exceptional and stirring performances.

Vivian has been featured in the world's most read and influential news and fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Paris Match, People, Ebony, Cover of Jet and Time Magazine. Her personal style and taste for designer clothes have won her a place on Mr. Blackwell's Best Dressed Women List and she was selected by People Magazine as one of the ‘25 Most Intriguing People of the Year.’

Vivian has received critical acclaim in major productions of ‘Sophisticated Ladies,’ ‘Roar of the Greasepaint,’ ‘Smell of the Crowd,’ ‘Blues in the Night,’ ‘Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope,’ ‘High Rollers’ and ‘Show Boat’ in which she portrayed the role of 'Queenie' and Tintypes. Her recent plays include ‘Blues for an Alabama Sky,’ ‘Crumbs from the Table of Joy,’ ‘Pork Pie’ and ‘Cookin' at the Cookery.’ Vivian was featured in the highly anticipated ‘Marie Christine’ at Lincoln Center. She also portrayed Lena Horne in a new piece, ‘More Than A Song’ with the Pittsburgh Ballet Company at the Benedum Theater in Pittsburgh.

Vivian contributed her talents to the Lena Horne Awards Show hosted by Bill Cosby honoring Rosie O'Donnell and Quincy Jones at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in New York. She appeared in ‘Three Mo' Divas,’ the follow-up to ‘Three Mo' Tenors’ at the San Diego Rep. and Arena Stage in Washington, DC and as an actress received critical acclaim for her portrayal as Gloria Franklin in ‘The Second Tosca.’  Vivian has also given back of her talent by teaching nearly three years at Berklee College of Music in Boston where she created a performance class teaching the many aspects of performing and also establishing a yearly concert event called Singer's Night. Recently she presented her nightclub act to two sold out houses and concluded two book musical workshops ‘One For My Baby’ and ‘The Countess Of Storyville.’

Vivian took a few years off from performing to help care fro her elderly parents in their last years. Now she is back to her career full time.  Besides her theatrical career she has made a total of six albums, done voice overs and TV commercials and she is a professional photographer and scarf designer for VJR scarves.  

AM:  Vivian you are what I think of as a Renaissance woman since you do so many things.  How did you get started designing scarves?

VR:  My mother was an incredible seamstress.  She made all our clothes as we were growing up.  Even the gowns for my first concerts.  She taught me how to sew.  I always wanted to design scarves, but because I was taking care of her, my heart just wasn’t in it.  Being the Gemini that I am, I wanted to launch into it with passion and everything.  After she passed, I said I was going to start doing some of the things I really wanted to do.  I took three months off and went to the fabric district and bought a bunch of fabric and started sewing.  I sew every scarf myself.  I painted every one of the 30 inch square scarves.  I like to paint in the abstract and see what comes out.

AM:  So you have a lot of creative energy.

VR:  Yes I do.

AM:  Do you notice if this creative energy has stayed the same all your life or has it increased or decreased?

VR:  The only thing that has decreased is my passion for building things.  I can rival any contractor with power tools.  I have every tool imaginable. I’ve built cabinets.  My father was a Mr. Fix-It person.  I think I got this from him.  When I bought my brownstone up in Harlem, I wanted to build cabinets for my television and things like that.

AM:  How did you even get started learning about building furniture?

VR:  I went out and bought a lot of power tools and read a lot of books until I became very good at it.  That energy has decreased in me because it takes a certain amount of strength when you are dealing with heavy, large pieces of wood.  But that would be the only thing that has decreased.  I’m so creative and I love doing things with my hands.  The scarves and photography will go on for a while.

AM:  You’re an amazing photographer too and I don’t get to say that very often.

VR:  I feel honored that you would say that.  Thank you.

AM:  How did you get started with photography?

VR:  I didn’t start off wanting to be a photographer but I had a bad experience with a photographer in New York.  To this day I didn’t get a photo I can use out of the session.  I had a feeling the photos wouldn’t be right after the session was over and they were not.

AM:  That can actually hurt.

VR:  I got angry and cried because it cost a lot of money.  So I pulled my little camera out of the closet and moved my furniture around.  I started shooting with my remote control and one shot turned out.  I was surprised that it looked good.  So that’s how it started.  Once again I bought lots of books and took thousands of photos.

AM:  That’s how you get good!

VR:  I would bring people over and shoot them for nothing.  At first I didn’t light the background but I learned how important that is so I started lighting it.

AM:  What is your favorite type of photo to take?

VR:  I love dark, creative, dramatic, theatrical lighting.  I understand it because I come from the theater.

AM:  I love that style too.  So did you buy a bunch of photography equipment?

VR:  Yes I did and as you know it is expensive.

AM:  People don’t always realize how expensive photography is.  You have certainly mastered the art of taking portraits.

VR:  Thank you!

AM:  You will always be an amazing singer since that is how I first knew of you.  I know you had an album out before ‘Bubbling Brown Sugar.’

VR:  I had a couple of albums out there.  I don’t even like to talk about my recording career.

AM:  That album on Epic is stellar.

VR:  I was a baby then.  When you look at the cover you can still see the baby fat in my face.

AM:  You make every song on that album your own.  You always do cover songs in a special and unique way.

VR:  When Bobby Schiffman and Honi Coles owned the Apollo Theater and became my managers, I was eighteen and still going to Juilliard.  We talked about when you have music that everyone knows you have to take that piece of music and see how you can put your stamp on it.  Otherwise, why else would you do it?  I teach this same thing to my students now.  Now that I’m doing my show at 54 Below I met with the musicians and one of them said, “Oh I know that song.” and I said, “No you don’t.  You only know the title.”

AM:  Your arrangements and phrasing are always very specific to you.

VR:  Yes I will sometimes work with arrangers to get the right key so it becomes a collaborative work but the phrasing is all me.  Nobody can tell me how to sing it.

AM:  It seems so innate for you.  It’s like it magically happens.

VR:  Well a lot of times it does.  A lot of people believe that if you are African American you can automatically riff and that’s not true.  That is crazy.  I tell my students don’t do what isn’t natural because then it will sound like that.

AM:  One of your most famous songs is ‘God Bless The Child.’

VR:  I put a different stamp on ‘God Bless The Child’ for 'Bubbling Brown Sugar.’  There were some jazz enthusiasts that were upset because I had touched the great Billie Holliday.  I didn't even want to do the song.  It wasn’t my kind of thing.  I didn’t want a bunch of heavy jazz chords, and I like jazz, but just not for that song.  So we changed some of the chords and that’s how my version of ‘God Bless The Child’ came out.  Now I can’t do a show without including it some 30 years later.

AM:  What makes your version different?

VR:  I sing it with a bit of R&B and Gospel so it’s not how people are used to hearing it.  One time a few years ago I did a pre-Grammy show with Merry Clayton and Darlene Love for Clive Davis and I sang 'Wind Beneath My Wings.'  When I was done singing the song, Clive came up to me and told me it was the best arrangement and I made him forget Bette Midler’s version.  I said that was the whole point.  He loved it and I got a standing ovation.

AM:  You can make us forget all other singers when you are singing.

VR:  I think that’s the approach any artist should take if you are doing covers.  I’m all about keeping the integrity of the piece.  That is essential, but you have to find a way to make it yours.     

To learn more about Vivian Reed visit her web site and facebook page

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Two Worlds of Glen Hanson

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

From the runways of Milan, to Animated TV shows, magazine racks, toy stores, book shelves and even the fragrance isle of your local drug store, Glen Hanson's witty, stylish and sexy imagery is everywhere!  Over the course of his multifaceted career, Canadian born Glen Hanson has predominantly divided his time between the two worlds of illustration and animation.

His illustrations have appeared in a variety of publications around the world including BRITISH VOGUE and GQ, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, NEWSWEEK, THE WALL ST. JOURNAL, MAXIM, VARIETY and D.C. COMICS and on book covers for RANDOM HOUSE, KENSINGTON, HARLEQUIN, and most recently, the popular ‘GODDESS GIRLS’ series for SIMON & SCHUSTER.

His roster of advertising clients includes TIMEX, GRAND MARNIER, McDonald's, and SUNSILK shampoo. His development illustrations for MATTEL'S "MONSTER HIGH" dolls set the tone for the brand on packaging, design and the animated spin off. He has created poster images for the Off-Broadway hit musical "ALTAR BOYZ", Seth Rudetsky's "SETH'S BIG FAT BROADWAY SHOW" and the play "MISS ABIGAIL'S GUIDE TO DATING, MATING and MARRIAGE", on CD covers for House Music Label PURPLE MUSIC and BLINK 182's "THE MARK, TOM and TRAVIS SHOW" for which Glen was awarded a certificate of excellence from the AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF GRAPHIC ARTS.

All Illustrations:  Glen Hanson

Throughout North America, Glen's images adorn gift set boxes and print ads for BOD men's and women's fragrance products. They have also appeared on the runways of Milan on a series of t-shirts as part of the spring and fall '05 collections of European men's wear designer, ANDREW MACKENZIE. Ads designed by Glen for those collections were featured in both L'UOMO VOGUE and FLAUNT magazines. REV JEANS Italy as well hired him to create a line of sexy t-shirt images and NYC based designer KARA ROSS has used his fashion illustrations to promote her line of high end accessories.

In Animation, Glen started out by designing characters for TV's BABAR, BEETLEJUICE and DARIA cartoon shows. In 2000 he was nominated for an ANNIE AWARD for his art direction and design on MTV's internationally syndicated SPY GROOVE series. He has since developed shows for NICKELODEON, FILM ROMAN, STUDIO B, and DISNEY. He co-wrote, designed and storyboarded a series of animated promo spots for SOAP NET entitled "CRESCENT HOLLOW" and in 2009 he combined all his talents to direct, design and storyboard the animated music video "GHOST TOWN" for UNIVERSAL MUSIC recording artists SHINY TOY GUNS.

Whatever the medium, Glen brings his unique talent, passion and enthusiasm to everything he creates... writing comics and TV shows, conceptualizing visual merchandise and campaigns for entertainment or corporate clients, or just capturing the likenesses of the famous and the fabulous with his signature style.

AM:  Glen aren’t you originally from Toronto?

GH:  Yes I am.

AM: Did you go to Art School?

GH:  I went to Animation School.  That was the first formal training I got.  As a kid I was obsessed with Disney and Hanna Barbera and comics.  I did a lot of self study.  I drew all the time.  When I was in school I drew, when I was home I drew, when my mother wanted me to go outside and play I was drawing.  In Animation School I got to do life drawing for the first time.  I also got to learn about technical things in animation and drawing.  

AM:  Do you do any animation now?

GH:  I haven’t for a few years but one of the last things I did was to direct a video for Shiny Toy Guns.  The link is on my web site.  I do animation development and character design and art direction.  I’m hoping to do more.  It’s just a matter of finding the right project.

AM:  You have quite a range in your work.  I’ve seen some very adult work from you as well as child friendly.

GH:  Yes, I would probably be a bit more successful had I stayed in one genre or one media, but I love doing everything.  I’ve been working on the covers for a series of tween girl books for Simon & Schuster called ‘Goddess Girls.’  I love mythology and doing covers of kid’s books but I also love doing fashion illustration, caricatures and sexy girls and guys.  That’s all part of me as a person and I want to be able to manifest that creatively.  I would be bored with just one thing.

AM:  What has changed about your profession since you first started?

GH:  It’s gotten much harder, not technically because of digital, but it’s harder now for two reasons.  I find myself discussing this with my peers on a daily basis.  The first reason is the economy and the second is because print is disappearing.  This has really reduced the work for illustrators.

AM:  I remember when everything was illustrated.

GH:  During the first 60 years of the 20th Century all advertising was illustration.  Every ad was illustrated no matter what the product was.  Even into the 90’s there were still illustrated covers on TV Guide.  I was lucky enough to get five illustrations in TV Guide for the final Seinfeld in 1998.  

AM:  That was a legendary issue.

GH:  They don’t use illustration anymore.  The paparazzi has taken over illustration.  Publications aren’t as interested anymore.  I also find that kids who see my work on line have no interest in buying it.  They aren’t interested in originals either.  They always want a print, but a print doesn’t have any value.  Only an original done by the artist has any value.  So we aren’t in the best time now.  All the changes in media have an effect on this too.

AM:  Can you predict the future?

GH:  My prediction, that will happen in our lifetime, is there will be no more cell phones. We will have something implanted in our skin that allows us to think and send the text.  Look how quickly Skype took over.  That was once in the future and now we live with it in our own homes.  We are able to communicate instantaneously all over the world.

AM:  I’ve heard things like this before too.

GH:  I also have concerns about the corporate aspect of how everything has gone and where it will ultimately end up.  I don’t mean to be dire about this, creativity still exists out there but it is becoming more and more difficult to earn a living.

AM:  It’s difficult to recommend anyone get into a creative field these days.

GH:  I don’t think they should even offer a creative degree anymore.  They shouldn’t even offer those courses.  It’s lying to kids to have them graduate from school with this degree and there’s no work.

AM: I have to agree with you.

GH:  I find myself lucky that I knew a period where I could make good money and that I have success.  I know of a 22 year old artist in Texas who is insanely talented and he can hardly get work.  He should be working all the time.  At least I’ve had the chance to experience a period of plenty.

AM:  Do you have favorites among your work?

GH:  Yes I do. Often times it’s not the same things that other people like.  I find that when others respond to an image, it’s not just the image but it’s an emotional response to what it brings up in them.  

AM:  Yes I agree. They love Lucy!

GH:  Exactly!  The Golden Girls image that I did has been tattooed on four people.  That blows my mind.  I think I captured them well but it’s not the best thing I’ve ever done.  There are just certain things like Lucy, Bewitched or Golden Girls that have a cross market appeal and live in peoples hearts and minds.  I know when I’ve done a good job, but I can’t control how people will respond to my work.  You just have to throw things out there and see what sticks.  

AM:  I know you are fortunate to have a lot of projects coming up this summer.  Can you give me a run down of all you have going on?

GH: As for what's coming up this Summer…a whole new line of Glen Hanson t-shirts and tank tops including the ever popular ‘Golden Girls’ caricature, other caricatures and some of my sexy male images, the ‘Paper Doll’ costumes I designed currently in the Lady Gaga ‘Artpop’ tour, a collectible poster for the punk/pop band ‘A Day To Remember’ and some very special ‘Broadway Legend’ merchandise for Broadway Cares coming out this Fall for the Holiday Season. As always, I have color caricature prints available and a whole line of my greeting cards through

So, it's been an exciting year so far and I have a feeling it's only going to get better!

AM:  Glen, you are a good looking hirsute man.  Is body hair coming back?

GH:  It’s not coming back.  It’s back!  I spent the entire decade of the 90‘s getting rid of all mine and that was a huge amount of work.  Now I can be hairy and people love it!  Young guys are into beards now.  They are huge on the runways of Paris, New York and LA.  Anyone who is young and hip is no longer trimming and shaving.  They are very much about natural.  I love the whole mind set that goes with that.  

To learn more about Glen Hanson visit his website

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Kenny Lattimore: Modern Soul Man

All Photos:  Alan Mercer

The music of Grammy-nominated Singer/Songwriter Kenny Lattimore reflects the best of all worlds because he combines the timeless sounds of traditional R&B with his own unique contemporary flair to create a universal sound that transcends boundaries and appeals to audiences of all ages, races and genres. His body of work, which includes hits such as ‘Never Too Busy’ and the Grammy-nominated ‘For You,’ has garnered two Gold-selling albums, the NAACP Image Award For Best New Artist as well as nominations from The Soul Train and Stellar Awards.

The music of Kenny Lattimore powerfully connects with the hearts of women and the minds of men.  Considered a “Modern Soul Man” by the New York Times, Kenny has received rave reviews for his dramatic stage shows, musical sensuality and a vocal agility perfectly coupled with a compelling subtlety. He performed the duet ‘Love Will Find A Way’ With Heather Headley that was featured in ‘The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride.’ He And Chanté Moore recorded the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell Duet ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’ that was chosen as the theme song for the BET show, ‘The Family Crews.’

Much Like John Legend, Lionel Richie, Frank Sinatra And Aaron Neville, his artistically respected music defies categorization and attracts racially mixed audiences in widely varied settings, such as Jazz Festivals, Adult Contemporary Events, R&B Tours and All-American Musical Gatherings. He is currently completing a new album and preparing for a world tour. 

His charismatic personality and powerful presence have also made him an in-demand actor of film, stage and screen and a captivating motivational speaker. He has appeared in movies such as ‘The Seat Filler’ and The Kim Fields-Directed ‘Holiday Love’ and The Gospel Music Channel’s ‘A Cross To Bear.’ His Television credits include ‘The Young And The Restless,’ ‘Moesha,’ ‘The Parkers’ and ‘Abby.’ In his theatrical journey, he has starred alongside reality sensation NeNe Leakes, singer Angie Stone and supermodel Tyson Beckford in the hit play, ‘Loving Him Is Killing Me.’ He joined Vanessa Bell Calloway, Dorien Wilson and Jackee in The Don B. Welch productions of ‘Heavenbound’ and ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’

The single father combines movie-star good looks with a strong sense of family and responsibility. He’s a positive role model for young men of all races and is dedicated to using his life and platform as a tool to inspire others to pursue excellence and focus on the right priorities in life. He is committed to elevating the conversation about art, culture, family and faith.

He is driven by a mission to show the "Strong, But Sensitive And Caring Side Of Black Men." It is a message that isn’t just needed for black men, but for all men who are receiving a barrage of mixed messages in today’s society.

In 2009, he was the spokesman for the ASHE Foundation, which provides shoes and basic necessities to African children. In 2011, he established ‘The Kenny Lattimore Foundation’ to transform the lives of young people through mentoring, education and the Arts. He supports ‘The United Negro College Fund’ and participated in The 2011 UNCF Empower Me Tour. 

His love and music and philosophies of faith and positivity were instilled during his childhood in Washington, D.C., where he grew up singing in the church and talent shows and studying classical and chamber music. He won The Honor Of Maryland Distinguished Scholar For Performing Arts and then studied architecture and planning at Howard University. While in college, he joined the group ‘Maniquin,’ which was signed to Epic Records. 

He launched a solo career with The 1996 Columbia Records self-titled album that contained the hits ‘Never Too Busy’ and ‘For You,’ which remains a staple at weddings around the world. The album achieved Gold Status and an ‘NAACP Image Award’ for Best New Artist. Next came the 1998 popular album, ‘From The Soul Of Man,’ another gold-certified album that received critical acclaim for its classical styling on hits such as ‘Days Like This’ and ‘If I Lose My Woman.’ He received tremendous praise for his cover of George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’

Legendary Music Mogul Clive Davis signed him To Arista Records, where he unveiled a more contemporary sound on the 2001 album, ‘Weekend.’ The title track became an international hit. Two years later, he recorded the duets album, ‘Things That Lovers Do’ with his then-wife Chante’ Moore that contained the hits, ‘Loveable (From Your Head To Your Toes)’ and ‘You Don’t Have To Cry.’ They followed that with the double-CD duets album of Gospel And R&B love songs called ‘Uncovered/Covered’ that spawned hits such as ‘Figure It Out’ and  ‘Make Me Like The Moon.’ The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Gospel Albums Chart and No. 10 On The Billboard R&B Albums Chart.

In 2008, Kenny released ‘Timeless,’ a Verve Records cover album that offered new interpretations of classic songs originally recorded by The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Al Green, Donny Hathaway and others. He has continued to show depth and growth as a recording artist, producer and songwriter.

He launched his own label, SincereSoul Records, in 2012 and is preparing to release his new album in 2014. He has earned the reputation as one of today’s Premier Male Vocalists, as well as a compelling songwriter who passionately explores universal themes and truths in a fresh new way. He makes music from his heart that feeds his listeners’ souls both lyrically and melodically. His music offers a much-needed oasis of depth and substance in a world that is hungry for both.

AM:  Kenny your ‘Soul of a Man’ CD is one of the best R&B albums of all time.

KL:  Thank you, it’s strange that the record company did not understand that album.  Thank God it still sold, but it was never celebrated.  ‘USA Today’ made it one of their Top Ten Albums that year but the label still just let it go.

AM:  That must have been difficult to understand.

KL:  I understood because they were excited about the Lauren Hill album that year.  That’s the way it is when you are with a major label.  They decide who they are going to promote and leave the rest to fend for themselves.  

AM:  Well now is the best time for success anyway.  

KL:  I agree.  I feel like I know what to do with success now.  Now I have an eleven year old son and my life has gone through so many transitions.  I feel very grown and experienced.  I feel like whatever success I am blessed with from this point on will be lasting.  

AM:  I know you have new music coming out this year.  What is the title of your upcoming release?

KL:  The title is ‘Being One.’  The people who have been listening to my music for years know the message is always positive about ‘being one’ with someone else.  The only way to be really strong at ‘being one’ with someone else is to be whole within yourself.  This is an exploration of ‘being one’ by myself since I’m single again.

AM:  Another challenge is to go through a divorce in the public eye.

KL:  The public has seen me go through a lot so I’m healing from all of that.  I’m still talking about what I believe.

AM:  I like that you sing about love in most of your songs.

KL:  Love will always be synonymous with R&B and Pop music.  You have to take the proper steps to give what you didn’t get.  That’s the kind of love it takes to be one.  This is the kind of love I want to exude in my music and in my life.  That is what’s authentic to me.  I’ve been thinking about my community more.  It’s not all about me.

AM:  Thinking about the bigger picture is the way to learn more about yourself too.

KL:  One of the most incredible things I have found is when you are going through hard times, if you give your time and energy to influencing someone’s life in a positive way, you find yourself. 

AM:  Exactly!

KL:  This is about being one with the world.  We live in a super global society with all this technology now.  There is so much information that we tend to feel we are not a part of it all, but we are.  God has allowed me to go through some things in the past few years, like running my own business and losing a lot.  

AM:  That must have been very difficult.

KL:  This is not something people like to talk about.  I’ve lost a lot of money transitioning my life and re-establishing myself.  I’ve had to start my entire life all over again.  I’ve lived very close to the edge rebuilding my life.  In the past year I’ve grown to understand what living from month to month is.  It’s given me more respect for people.  Now my music has taken on a deeper meaning and purpose for me to go out there and share love.

AM:  I like the way you make the effort to be proactive, inspirational and influence others in a positive way on social media and in your music.

KL:  I grew up in the church.  I wanted to be like Bebe and Cece Winans.  A lot of people don’t know that because when I started out in the business there was such a strong emphasis on me being a sex symbol and how I looked.  That was great but I didn’t feel that way on the inside.

AM:  You didn’t relate to being a sex symbol?

KL:  I was never fascinated with that and I never looked at myself that way.  I couldn’t authentically walk in that.  I wanted to keep the message strong and for my grandmother to be proud of me.  I wanted to be able to sing the gospel and not get people confused.

AM:  Did you have to open your mind outside the church?

KL:  I think my influences taught me correctly.  I’m going to separate the church from true Christianity.  I think about who Jesus Christ is and how he gave to people and how he didn’t judge people even though he was judged because he was with people that other religious folks thought he shouldn’t be with.  Jesus was about understanding and influencing the souls of people.  There wasn’t this negativity that exists so heavily today.   

AM:  I think people lose out because they are too judgmental at times.

KL:  It takes effort to be at one where you keep a certain perspective of yourself.  Sometimes people put in the effort and they do things ritualistically.  That’s what I think religion is a lot of the time.  People want a certain image.  I often think, is that who you really are?   

AM:  I think people are born the way they are and you were just born a decent person.

KL:  It’s hard because the same temptations come but now I think about the consequences of everything.  What I do now is going to reflect on my son.  

AM:  Your son was born on your birthday!

KL:   His Mom had a C-section and I remember the doctors telling us they were very sorry but they didn’t have any choices they could give us for a birth date.  The only day they had available was April 10. (Laughter)  I told them I was cool with it but I would have felt really corny if I had asked them for that date.  

AM:  Well it was meant to be then.  Is he a lot like you?

KL:  In some ways, yes.  He started out that way but now I see his Mom’s personality too.  

AM:  Is he a singer?

KL:  He can sing and he wants to be an entertainer.  He likes to act too.  He does all the Christmas plays at his Mom’s church and he likes to take dance classes.  As he gets older and really commits to it I can see him being a part of some really great circles that would help him perfect his talent.  

AM:  I know you’ll be a supportive father.

KL:  I just don’t want to be overbearing like a Soccer Mom or Dad.  

AM:  I hope we get to see some more live performance videos of you.

KL:  Thank you.  I had to really get my team together.  We have a lot coming up.  For years I found myself surrounded by good people but they didn’t always understand how to propel me to the next level.  They didn’t always have vision, but my new manager, Michelle Tafoya has been really phenomenal.  She’s worked with Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Lionel Richie, so I know she has a vision for me.  

AM:  I think you are going to just keep getting better and better.

KL:  Thank you, I feel better.  I feel like I was a good singer and a good recording artist when I started but I was trying to find out who I was.  As much as I was clear on my messages, I wasn’t as clear on my approach and how I wanted to present myself.  Now I’m very comfortable in my skin and I’m comfortable with my voice and my body.  Singing is a physical thing.  I give a lot more.  I know how to emphasis the emotion of a song more effectively now.

To learn more about Kenny Lattimore visit his web site