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BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway

An interview with the singer/songwriter, Ann Hampton Callaway.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway

Cue bouncy introduction...begin foot tap!

"She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens,

Til her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes,

What was she to do, where was she to go,

She was out on her fanny.

So over the bridge from Flushing to the Sheffield's door,

She was there to sell make-up but the father saw more,

She had style, she had flair, she was there,

That's how she became the Nanny."

Who doesn't love that iconic television theme song? It was written by the multi-talented singer/songwriter/actress/arranger and award-winning performer, Ann Hampton Callaway.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann with the Broadway cast of SWING!

I knew of Ann's arrangements and voice far before I knew who Ann was. My father is an admirer of great singers. I can clearly remember around 1999 him giving me the cd of the Broadway show SWING! to listen to. While the show had many outstanding singers, one voice stood out to me and it happened to be Ann's. From her vocalese scatting in the Duke Ellington song "Bli-Blip" to her luscious tones in "I'll be Seeing You", to the highlight of her full vocal range in "Blues in the Night", Ann's golden musical touch was present all over the arrangements.

Fast forward to 2008, my first year working at Jazz at Lincoln Center. One of the many perks of working at that world-class institution is getting the cover charge waived for you and a guest at JALC's famed nightclub, Dizzy's Club. One of the first shows my wife, Corinna, and I went to see was Ann's show. It was the first time I experienced her asking the audience for a series of words she'd write down and within seconds, like magic, create a song with full accompaniment and witty lyric writing right there on the spot. And there it was in an instant; a ready-to-go-fully-realized-piece-of-musical-brilliance that might take other songwriters weeks to create. It was an incredible evening!

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann with the Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks in
The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center

When things open up and Ann Hampton Callaway comes to your town, or anywhere you can get to see her, do yourself a favor and grab a ticket! She is an outstanding performer and person and we are lucky to have her sharing her music with the world.

NA: Who is your mentor and what would you like to say to your mentor?

AHC: How fortunate I was that my mom, Shirley, was my first mentor as a singer, pianist, and voice teacher. I told her thank you numerous times through my life. Now that she is gone, I sing to her in my shows and think of that as a continued thank you.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann with mom, Shirley and sister, Liz Callaway

NA: What has this business given you and what has it taken away?

AHC: I feel I've been given the chance to share my true self, express what I've learned in this life and what matters to me. Through the years, it's given me a family of extraordinary friends and collaborators which is one of the most important joys for any human being. Making a living doing what I love- it's something I wish for everyone but not everyone is this fortunate. Diving into show business has taken some of my fears away- working past what I thought were limitations. There were challenging times when it took my confidence away- when so many dreams took so long to come true. But my love always carried me past those feelings and kept me focused on learning and doing what matters to me.

NA: What is the hour like before you go on stage?

AHC: Honestly, I have a bit of an edge often if there's not enough time to do things in a relaxed manner. Sometimes, rehearsals/dinner/makeup and hair/show are scheduled perfectly for men but not women. Fortunately, my amazing wife Kari travels with me usually and helps get me ready to look my best and keep me grounded. Before I go on, I set my intention which is always to be an instrument of my higher power. I get very excited to share my music with the audience and dive into the moment with my band or orchestra. When I walk out, I always feel it is a musical love affair.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann with wife Kari Strand

NA: If you could experience one performance over again, which one would it be and why?

AHC: The final show of the Broadway musical "Swing!" was so emotional. The audience clapped so long after each song and when it was over they just didn't stop applauding. It was a lovefest. It's between that show and opening night of The Streisand Songbook with Keith Lockhart and The Boston Pops and there were more standing ovations than I could count. Celebrating Sarah Vaughan at Orchestra Hall in Chicago was an extraordinary night of music with another amazing audience. In these magical nights, I felt a marriage between doing better than my best and having glorious listeners in the house.

NA: What are you most proud of?

AHC: That I've stayed true to myself all these years and never stop growing and feeling a sense of joy and honor in being an artist.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann with Marilyn Maye

NA: What song did you first perform as a child and was it something you sang or played or both?

AHC: I remember singing "I Don't Know How To Love" him as a solo in my Junior High concert in Riverdale, NY and it was a thrill singing my heart on it after listening to the cast album a million times.

NA: What brought you to New York City and at what age?

AHC: I quit college after my sophomore year at the University of Illinois as an acting major to pursue my dreams of being a singer/songwriter/actress in the city I was in love with. I wanted to study with people who were brilliant and not bitter! So happy I made that choice. And delighted that my sister Liz decided to join me- it was a modern-day "Wonderful Town!

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann and Liz at Carnegie Hall

NA: You starred in the Broadway musical, "Swing!". How did you become part of that cast and what is a memory that you cherish from that run?

AHC: They were looking for six months for an "Ann Hampton Callaway type." Finally, someone had the bright idea to call me! All I had to do to get the job was show up and say yes. I loved doing that show every night. I already shared a major highlight, but another favorite moment was one night when Tony Bennett asked to see us all after the show. He spoke to us and said he had loved the show. Then he told me he wanted to sing my arrangement of "Stomping at the Savoy" for which I had written specialty lyrics about the history of the Savoy in Harlem. As a big Bennett fan, I was elated!

NA: Was "The Nanny" theme song something easy for you to write?

AHC: Since I was competing with top Hollywood writers, I wanted to create a competitive edge. The best favor I did for myself was interviewing Fran Drescher on the phone about what she wanted and who her character was. At the end of our conversation, I asked her to tell me, in a nutshell, who Fran Fein was. She paused and said, "She's the lady in red when everyone else is wearing tan." I mean- how perfect a lyric was that? So listening and note-taking made my job easy. And knowing Fran already, having written for her other projects, it helped to feel very connected to her sensibility.

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann with Fran Drescher

NA: You have such an incredible songwriting gift, especially when you take words from a live audience and create a song on the spot. Have you always done that or do you remember the first time you did it for an audience?

AHC: I've made up songs since I was a kid and when I started my career in noisy piano bars in the '80s. I started engaging the audience in improvs and drawing them in so they wouldn't talk over the music. It's grown into a beloved tradition in my shows and doing them in my symphony shows before thousands of people is truly amazing!

NA: What creative element(s) are you working on now?

BWW Interview: SO NOW YOU KNOW with Ann Hampton Callaway

AHC: I'm slowly putting a CD of original songs together with The Chemistry Set- a brilliant production team from LA composing of jazz bassist and arranger, Trey Henry, and principal guitarist for their LA Phil, Paul Viapiano. We've put two beautiful singles out "Look for the Love" and "Hold You In This Song" and a third will soon be released called "Revelation" which is a stunning Robert Frost poem I set to music. I am also into my second year of writing a poem a day which I post on Facebook and Instagram and am gathering a lovely fan base of people who enjoy each day's gift. Each month I create a brand new Livestream show for my series "The Callaway Hideaway." My next two are "Great Divas of Broadway" on 4/10 at 6 PM ET and "The Judy Garland Songbook" on 4/25 at 7 PM ET. Tickets are at https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/annhamptoncallaway/ .


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From This Author Nicholas Adler