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BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMott

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BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottAs I was dusting the living room the other day, I picked up the framed photo of Nancy LaMott that has been there for the last 26 years. I looked at the color photo that was the back cover artwork for her CD Listen To My Heart and remembered the photoshoot at Eighty Eights as though it happened last weekend. I remember so many things about the year and a half that we had together. We were good friends, but we didn't have a lot of time together - does anybody ever have enough time with their loved ones? Like many of the people who gravitated toward Nancy, I was devoted to her, and all were destroyed when she died. She was unique, a funny girl with a down to earth outlook on life, a determination to succeed, and an artistic style that had everyone convinced that, had she lived, she would have gone on to great heights in the industry. All Nancy wanted to do was sing, and that's what she did. I admired that about her - she knew what she wanted and she went after it.

Recently, I said the name Nancy LaMott to someone and they didn't know who she was. I thought it time to remind people, to inform people, that there was a Nancy LaMott, and that she was wonderful. I could certainly direct people to the Nancy LaMott Wikipedia PAGE ... but it's better if I just share these photos from our time together and this chapter from my 2014 memoir Lived In Crazy.

This is what I saw, what I heard, and what I remember.

Chick Singer

"I don't know who that is."


My friend was suggesting, strongly, that I get Nancy LaMott to be in The Sweater Book. Since my arrival in New York I had been advised by many about many, and yet there were many that I didn't know. I had led a sheltered life down in Texas and I had no clue about the depth of culture and talent that awaited me in Manhattan. Hardly a day went by that I did not learn a new name and a new talent. I already knew about Ann Hampton Callaway, Andrea Marcovicci and Julie Wilson; but when I started going to cabaret shows and club acts I would discover the beauty of KT Sullivan, Mary Cleere Haran, and Baby Jane Dexter. I went to clubs to see all of the greats perform, people like Sally Mayes, Billy Stritch, Karen Mason, and Amanda McBroom and I bought everyone's CDs. Only, I hadn't heard of Nancy LaMott.


"Nancy LaMott is THE singer of the NYC cabaret world! She is up and coming and everyone LOVES her. She's the sweetheart of the scene!"


Well. That was endorsement enough for me. I found out where to write to her, penned off an invitation for her to wear the sweater and dropped it off at the church where she and about a hundred other nightclub singers were doing a benefit. It wasn't the same as dropping something off at a stage door so I hoped, madly, that she would actually get the letter.


She called the next day.


BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottI was in Footlight Records on East 12th Street to buy a used Nancy LaMott CD. I went into the treasure trove of a shop all the time, looking for rare records and used CDs. I loved finding a new treat or an old friend and taking them home to add to my collection. On this day, though, I was there expressly to pick up a used Nancy LaMott CD. I had a shoot with her the next day and I had never heard her music. It is rude to work with someone and not know what they actually do for a living. Only thing is: there is NO such thing as a used Nancy LaMott CD. That day I learned, once you buy a Nancy LaMott CD, you own it for life. I would have to buy new. Oy. Thirteen dollars? Damn. I only had a twenty. I could only afford one.


I held the three CDs in my hands, trying to judge the book by the cover. All three CDs had vastly different looks - in fact, I couldn't quite tell if the girl in the photos actually was the same girl. So I turned to the song list. Beautiful Baby had GOOD songs on it. Damn! Come Rain or Come Shine had an amazing song list. I hated the cover art for My Foolish Heart. But I LOVED the songs. "Old Devil Moon," did it. That's the song I want to hear. I bought My Foolish Heart, in spite of the beauty queen photo on the cover. I took the CD home and turned it on.


"The night is like a lovely tune Beware my foolish heart."


I had heard enough.


I stopped my housework and sat down on the sofa and listened to every note before moving again.


I was in love.


The doorbell rang and I buzzed Nancy LaMott in. I opened the door to Two-A and stepped into the hallway, there to find a tiny little girl with fluffy yellow hair and possibly the most puckishly mischievous smile I had ever seen, climbing the stairs. I was surprised.


"You're not the girl on the cover of my CD." "Which one do you have?" "My Foolish Heart." "Oh, that's not me. They wanted me to look glamorous. They blow-dried my hair and put lots of eyeliner on me but that's not me. I brought you the real me today, I hope that's ok. I don't want to wear any makeup at all today."


I invited the petite chanteuse into the living room, turned into a studio for the day. She needed no invitation because she had no trouble making herself at home, tossing her bag on the sofa and looking around the room, taking in her surroundings, smiling and chatting. In those days, in an effort to make people feel truly comfortable and safe in the home of the stranger who was going to make their photo, I baked before every shoot.


"I just made some pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. Would you like one?"


"There is NO food I will turn away," she said, touching my arm, lightly, with her fingertips. We were instantaneous friends.

BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMott


During her life, Nancy welcomed me into her world, made me her friend and turned me into an artist. She gave me jobs photographing her CDs and she gave me advice on how to navigate the difficult world of the New York entertainment scene and community. She always knew when I was in the house during a performance and often would sing right to me. We had deep talks and many laughs but we had little time. Nancy was on the verge of great stardom, finally, after years of hard work and toil. She was in demand. She traveled a great deal to perform and when she wasn't performing she went out a lot. She had struggled for many years and now that success was upon her she wasn't going to miss a party, an event, a chance to see and to be seen. She was off and running. It was her moment. There was little time for casual socializing, though we did find the time when we could. Little breakfasts at her house or a quick trip out for lunch. Sometimes her friends would join us but most often it was just she and I.


When Nancy asked me to photograph the cover for the CD Just In Time For Christmas, I said to her "You know that our friendship does not obligate you to hire me to do the CD cover art."


"It never occurred to me that anyone else would do it," she said. "Nobody's ever photographed me the way you do, Stephen."


BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottThe day the CDs arrived from the factory, she called me, excited, to tell me to meet her in an office building downtown. I think she was more excited about showing me my first ever cd cover than about her cd coming out. I came into the office conference room, not really knowing whose office this was or why we were meeting there, to find Nancy standing at a huge glass top table with a medium-sized cardboard box full of CDs. She proudly handed me one off the top, one of the first copies to be given out. I took the disc from her hands, her proud and beaming face anticipating my reaction. It looked good. It reproduced a little warmer than I had anticipated but it gave the cd a nice glow, as though she were sitting by a winter fire. I was happy. BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMott


"They spelled my name wrong." Nancy stopped smiling. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. "What?" "I'm kidding, it's totally spelled right."


She smacked me.


Nancy called herself LaMottski. Tony Bennett called her Chick Singer. I called her my girlfriend. I was so proud of her. When she sang live it was like no other performer I had ever experienced. There was no pretense, no coyness. She was only exactly as she seemed. Sometimes the patter wasn't funny or interesting or clever. She just said what was organically on her mind and what felt natural. And then she sang. When she sang, though, she was always in the pocket. Every emotion was present there was no way to hide it, no way to keep it down. Nancy once told me that if she were singing and went for a big note but didn't make the note, she didn't care. "As long as the emotion is honest, that's all that matters."


Nancy had suffered from ill-health for most of her life. Finally, in her forties, she was feeling good and looking great; and she was having a hell of a good time being successful at her passion for entertaining. All she ever wanted to do was sing. Someone in a position to do so once told her that they would like to see her on a sitcom and she said, no, she didn't want to act, she didn't have the talent or the passion for it. Nancy's career was on the fast track, after years of inching along. She sang at the White House twice for President and Mrs. Clinton and, indeed, they were considered friends. Naturally, with all things going so very well, something bad had to happen. That something bad was cancer.


The phone rang so I answered it. "Hi! What are you doing today?" "I don't know," I answered. "What are we doing today?" "Meet me at this address at two o'clock and bring your camera."


The address was that of the wigmaker to the stars. Kathie Lee Gifford had bought her friend Nancy two wigs: one was human hair and for special occasions, the other was synthetic and for every daywear. Nancy was being fitted for the wigs and, on that day, she was having her hair shaved off so that the fitting would be accurate. I had black and white film in my camera and snapped the shutter release over and over as the owner/wig artist shaved her head, the golden locks falling gently to the floor. Nancy laughed her ass off, the entire time, balancing the barber's brush on her head and playing with the hair that had cascaded into her lap. When they put the first wig on, she looked just like Nicole Kidman in the recent film To Die For. She was beautiful, with or without the hair.

BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMott


Afterward, we walked, arm in arm, to John's Pizzeria for a snack and some girl talk. She talked to me about the course of treatment she was undergoing for the cancer and about balancing being ill with still having to perform. Also, she had a new man in her life. We had spoken a bit about Peter Zapp but not at any kind of length. They had met recently and had a whirlwind romance; it was clear they were in love. It was finally all coming together. She was going to fight and fight hard because, goddammit, it was her time. Listening to her talk about Peter and how well he treated her, how much he loved her, I remarked that he was a good man. Quietly, almost too quietly for me to hear, she said, plainly "You're a good man."


The phone rang so I answered it. I did that in those days. "Are you doing anything today?" "Only what you need me to do." "I have friends coming for Thanksgiving and my kitchen is a wreck. I'm too weak to clean it. Will you help me? Please?" "I'm on my way."


BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottWhen I walked in the door, Nancy had a medium size box of CDs. It was her new release Listen To My Heart. The cover art we had done for the CD was a most fun and memorable shoot. Nancy handed me one, off the top and we hugged, excited about this great work of art (and we knew this cd was a great work of art). Few of the people for whom I have done CD artwork ever did that. Almost every CD that has a Stephen Mosher photo on it is a CD that I have bought for myself. Nancy LaMott and Jennifer Houston always called me to come over as soon as the CDs arrived, while Alix Korey and Baby Jane Dexter dropped a copy in the mail for me, making a nice surprise in my mailbox. It's hard to forget when someone pays you a compliment like that. It makes you feel special, included in the process, visible.


"So Thanksgiving is tomorrow and you're not ready. How can I help? Put a boy to work!"


Nancy sat in a chair in the doorway of the kitchen in her brand new luxury apartment and directed, while I cleaned. We did the kitchen itself but, more importantly, we did the refrigerator. It was cluttered and dirty and, if you have any sense of propriety, you never want a guest in your home to open the fridge and see filth. I pulled everything out and Nancy would declare keep or kill. We threw things away, we wiped them down, we put them back and we made room for the turkey and all the other holiday food that needed housing, some of it yet to be delivered from the grocer. We laughed over the fact that there were five different flavors of ice cream in the freezer "What good is having only one flavor? Every freezer needs at least three!" she cried from the doorway, giggling. We worked, we talked and we listened to John Pizzarelli music. It remains one of my most precious afternoons.


BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottThe CD release party for Nancy's final recording, Listen to My Heart, was packed. There were many celebrities to support the increasingly frail and fragile vocalist and the CD was being played over the PA system. There was very little to say. Everyone knew what was happening, though all were wishing, praying, hoping for something else. We were a collective, in love with the Chick Singer and all happy for this CD, the culminating cd of her life, with full orchestra and arrangements by the legendary Peter Matz. I sat with Nancy for a while, quiet, smiling, holding hands, much love between us but very little chat. I didn't want to tire her; she had many people who would require her attention. I kissed Nancy goodnight and Pat and I went home, each of us with the holiday gift being handed out to attendees: a little glass heart in a little gold box - Pat's was purple, mine was blue. It was a perfect trinket to celebrate the release of Listen to My Heart. I never saw Nancy LaMott again. Peter Zapp married Nancy on December 13th, about an hour before she died. She did not want to die single.

Every Christmas the final ornaments Pat and I hang on our tree are two glass hearts.

BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottBWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMott
BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottBWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMott

BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottBWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottBWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottNancy LaMott with David Friedman, Mark Sendroff and Peter Matz.BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMott

BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottNancy LaMott with Peter Matz and David Friedman.

BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottBWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottNancy LaMott and Peter Matz.

BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMott

BWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMottBWW Feature: Chick Singer - My Memories of Nancy LaMott

All photos by Stephen Mosher



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