Interview: Linda Purl Teases BIG BAND ROMANCE at Birdland

The one-night-only April 1 show celebrates feel good tunes made popular by the big bands

By: Mar. 17, 2024
Interview: Linda Purl Teases BIG BAND ROMANCE at Birdland
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Linda Purl has had a long, storied career, playing iconic roles including Richie Cunningham‘s girlfriend, and Fonzie‘s fiancé on Happy Days, Charlene Matlock on Matlock, and Steve Carell‘s girlfriend on The Office. As a singer, her cabaret career has taken her around the world. On Monday April 1, she’s back at Birdland Jazz Club on W. 44th St. with a one-night only concert called BIG BAND ROMANCE. The show will pay tribute to the big band greats with hit songs including “Pick Yourself Up” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.” (Tickets for the April 1 show are available here.) It will feature Music Direction from Tedd Firth and special guest Nicolas King.

I spoke to Purl about the process of putting together show and what’s coming up next for her.

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming show?

My parents had a very active turntable all through my childhood. As a result, part of the soundtrack of my youth was big band…Count Basie, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman. I fell in love with that robust sound. Nobody captures that gusto better than the extraordinary Diva Jazz Orchestra. I love working with them, as does my Music Director, Tedd Firth... so we’re thrilled to jump in together. As we’re in Women’s History Month right now, it seemed a good time to focus on the legendary girl singers, as they were known, of the big band era. Ella, Rosemary Clooney, Dinah Washington... it's a long, luminous list.  

What, or who, have you been listening to the most right now?

Bach in the mornings. Sets things straight for me.  Kurt Elling is a constant. Irene Kral, Kariin Allyson... both so smart, so pure. Lady Gaga inspires on every front. Oh my... the list is long. Take 6, Dave Brubeck,  Sorry... I’m all over the place. 

How did you plan your set list for this show?

I’m incredibly fortunate to have been working with the very brilliant Deborah Grace Winer and Tedd Firth for over 15 years.  With four albums and I’ve lost count now of how many shows under our collective belts together, we have a shorthand, a patina, a trust. That is a luxurious starting point. Put Diva in the mix and we had a great deal to draw from.  We knew it would be Great American songbook in a jazz feel. We knew the focus would be female vocalists. With that as a launching pad, we culled stories and experiences and eventually, after playing through a list of probably 70 or so tunes, we started to whittle things down. It’s a slow and profoundly joyful process. 

Having done tons of film and TV, what do you love about cabaret?

It’s a remarkable art form. It’s elastic... I mean, just look at all the great, unique talent there is working cabaret right now! Thrilling! At a time when much of life is impersonal, I love that cabaret is intimate, personal. It’s a place to connect... it reminds you of the power of one.  You come away wiser after a night listening to Liz Callaway. Elevated listening to Lorna Dallas. Alive after Nicolas King. Astonished after Christine Andreas. That list goes on...

What keeps you coming back to it?

It’s endlessly interesting to me, challenging too. But for Michael Feinstein, the Great American Songbook could have slipped into a kind of oblivion. He brought it into the 21st century... and lucky for the rest of us that he did. Iconic venues such as Birdland, many other great New York spots ensure the continuum.  Lucky again am I to work with my primary MD Tedd Firth, on occasion the brilliant Billy Stritch, Dave Finck, Ray Marchica, Steve Doyle, Matt Baker... the cream of the crop. Diving in with that talent pool is utterly irresistible. Also, at this stage of life, singing the stories imbedded in the lyrics of the Great American Songbook feels like a spiritual discipline, if that’s not too woo-woo.  There are fabrics of lives in them, life wisdom, reassurances that you can move through tough canyons. 

What’s coming up next for you?

Let’s see…more concerts on the road... Midwest, then far east in Nagoya and Tokyo. 54 Below next October 22 with a new show, California Girls. UK and Italy toward the end of the year.  Over summer I’ll get to do Mame.  Weeee!! Did a film called LA Grit of late that is due out later in the year. Work on my Spanish and, as both my son and partner are golfers, try to learn to actually hit the ball when I attempt to join them on the golf course. Wish me luck.

Who should come to see your show at Birdland?

Anyone who is up for or in need of a good time. Hope to see you there!

For more information on Linda Purl, visit her website at

Tickets to the show are available online at Birdland's website here