JF: And you also did Jeckyll and Hyde with John Cullum. Which version was that?
AKF: I did the "other" J&H. We were on a race to get to Broadway. There was "our" version in New Jersey and "their" version with Linda Eder and company in Texas. It was fun. At that point, I was starting to get a little jaded as an actress and was starting to back out of the business.
JF: Is that why you went into cabaret?
AKF: I went into a two year early retirement at that point. I moved to Ojai, California and I gave up acting altogether. I thought I would be a writer or something. I just had to get away from the huge mess of show biz. There are aspects of it as a business that are just so anti-art. I think that I was balking at the machine; the machine that makes you go in and dress like a lawyer and read those sides and do that screen test. And I just needed to connect with my life. I needed to go plant some roses or something. Do something else for a while. It was very sad. I felt like I was getting a divorce, because I had put so much of my life in my work and I had worked very hard to establish myself and get contacts. I just needed out, and I wasn't sure if I would ever go back to performing again. But I knew I couldn't do it that way any more.
So a couple of years went by. I had always wanted to try doing a club act, and it happened by accident. I sat in with my husband at a local show here, and the people who owned the club asked me to come back and do my own show. That turned into working with Michele Brourman and trying it at The Gardenia in Los Angeles, which was totally terrifying. I thought it was the most terrifying thing I had ever been through in my life.
JF: You're kidding!
AKF: To do a club act? Yeah, because you're YOU! Everybody who is sitting there knows that it's all what you want to say. You're not Annie Oakley, you aren't Louisa from The Fantastiks ...
JF: There's no one else for you to shift the blame on, saying "These aren't my words, I didn't write the script!" or "It's the director's fault!"
AKF: You worry that everybody is sitting there thinking "Why are we here?" I was a wreck! But it was also exhilarating and fulfilling. And one thing led to another and I just kept doing it.
JF: I just find that reaction funny, since you performed at the White House for President Reagan in 1982.
AKF: Yeah, but ... maybe that was my personal hurdle. I had to get in front of people and say "This is what I have to say." I had been acting all my life doing everybody else's plots and telling other people's stories. I think it is a little different when you suddenly have the freedom to do whatever you want. So I started to go a little nuts with it. Throwing in the poetry, throwing in the stand up comedy. I started to write comedy sketches for myself and do them in my shows. It was terrifically liberating because there are no rules. Anybody who thinks that there are, doesn't understand the medium.
JF: What did you sing for Reagan?
AKF: I was doing Annie then, so I was there with the company of Annie.
JF: Is that what you sang for Yizhak Shamir for the 40th birthday of Israel?
AKF: No. We did Jewish and Hebrew folk songs. That was beautiful.
JF: Now I have to digress a bit and ask you what your role was in Days of Our Lives.
AKF: When I got hired for Days of Our Lives, they thought the character wouldn't say anything. That she would wear black and smoke cigarettes. So I wore black and smoked cigarettes for maybe ten episodes. Then I got tired of that; there's only so much smoking you can do! So they started giving me stuff to say. And it was all downhill from there. My love interest left the show, because he got a movie, so then they tied me into the comedy plot. I think they ended up zapping me with a ray gun to kill me and I disintegrated into space. And that's how I left the show! It wasn't their best season. And I can't even remember my character's name! If anybody reading remembers, please e-mail me!
JF: Your first CD, In the Nest of the Moon, was recorded shortly after your reemergence as a cabaret artist.
AKF: I basically recorded most of the stuff from my first show. And my husband was the producer and artistic momentum behind that. He has been in the studio for 25 years, so he knows his way around the sound board. And it was great to go in with that kind of experience behind you. I don't think many singers have that privilege of working with a producer who really knows how to get stuff onto the CD. Your first time recording, you are so concerned with being 'perfect. ' And he kept saying "No, no, no! It's the little nuances, the humanity that people love." If you notice, in the recordings you love, you don't love them because they are perfectly sung, you love them because you can hear the person, you can hear who they are. They may be a little warbly, but that's great, because they are choking up, they are being real.
JF: You just released your second CD, Something Wonderful, which is based on the Hammerstein and Sondheim show that you have been touring throughout the country. Is that the show that you are still performing?
AKF: I'm currently doing a show with my husband, (Robben Ford), and Roger Kellaway.
JF: I have to admit, I am not at all familiar with either of them.
AKF: Most cabaret people aren't. My husband is a renowned blues/jazz guitarist. He played with all the luminaries in the past 25 years. Everybody from George Harrison to Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell to LA Express to Michael MacDonald, Bonny Raitt ... all these people. And now he has his own group. He just put out his sixth solo CD and has been nominated for four Grammy's, and he's a major deal. And the people who know him just love him. And people who don't know him, who don't know that genre of music, they go "Who?"
JF: Do you do a lot of performing with him?
AKF: We're just starting to. What we did last night at The Cinegrill (in Los Angeles), for instance, is what I call a hybrid of what he does influenced by what I do. I am much more lyric oriented, and I think that it is influencing his writing to become more lyric oriented. He did a few things from his new CD, which I think could be sung in cabaret. It's a real departure for him. And the stuff that I did was jazz treatments of songs. Although it wasn't strictly jazz. We did things like a strange version of "Walking After Midnight" or a bizarre poem that led into a Scottish folksong. It was such a hybrid of styles that people had no idea where we were going to go. There was a lot of spoken word, a lot of poetry.
JF: Do you think of what you are doing now as jazz or cabaret?
AKF: I wouldn't call it jazz. I would call it 'the un-Cabaret.' I'm open to doing other styles of music, ones that I never thought that I would be doing.
JF: What would you consider to be the difference between doing jazz or blues and cabaret?
AKF: The approach. Sometimes you do music just because it's great music. Obviously you are always singing something that means something to you. But with cabaret, you're using the music to expose something about yourself, whereas if you are performing in another genre, you might be doing it simply because it's musically interesting.
JF: After this show, what are you going to do next?
AKF: I really have a passion for doing a show of Kurt Weill's music, as uncommercial as that may seem. I'd like to make it more of a theater piece than a concert. But it's a big bite to chew. I started working on the show about a year and a half ago, and then I left it for a while because it was really tearing me up, to tell you the truth. The material really was getting to me. So I still have a passion in the back of my heart to do it. I'd like to return to my Hammerstein/Sondheim show, and maybe put in some new material. I'd like to do another recording. I think it becomes habit forming, going into the studio!
JF: Something to do every two years!
AKF: I need to find somebody with bags of money to pay for it. The money thing is a tricky thing. This is my personal bone to pick, but I think it's just appalling that the United States does not support its performing artists more. Either through the National Endowment for the Arts or personally. I think it's ridiculous. Luckily I never had to do anything outside of the performing arts to make money. But I feel that it's such a sham. That this country has all this wealth of money and talent, and this wealth of commerce, and we can't provide for the performing arts. It seems so off to me, since there are so many European countries that spend so much more of their proportionate income on the arts. And here we are squeezing the NEA into this pea sized organization while we are spending so much on missiles and highways. I feel the values are off. That we should all stop to consider what our lives would be like without the arts. I just live for art, the idea that somebody would have the nerve to paint something because they wanted to communicate something that could only be that painting. That's so brave and fantastic.
I think I'll get off my soapbox now! You got me after I fired off a red hot e-mail to that guy on Politically Incorrect ... what is his name?
JF: Bill Maher.
AKF: He had the nerve one night on one of his shows to say something like "The arts are completely disposable. We don't need them." Boy, did he hear from me! In my e-mail I said "That has to be the stupidest thing I have ever heard anybody say! Can you imagine your life without music or literature or poetry or dance? How can you be such a moron!"
There's a friend of mine who went to the Ballet Academy with me, and he's now the artistic director of a ballet company in the Pacific Northwest. He's also a fabulous dancer. And he said to me that 85-90% of his time is spent looking for money. The rest is spent on creating art. That is completely backwards! I also can't understand why the arts are cut out of the schools. There have been countless tests done that show that children do better academically when they are allowed to draw and paint and sing and do square dancing and all that sort of things. And it keeps getting cut out, while they are doubling funding for athletic programs.
I have a lot of political activist in me, I'm afraid!
JF: I'm going to send you over to the Arts in Politics column after this! Now who are some of your favorite performers?
AKF: I have recently fallen in love with Eva Cassidy. She died of cancer when she was in her early thirties, and she is one of the finest singers I have ever heard in my life.
JF: What kind of singer was she?
AKF: I would say she's a cross between Aretha Franklin and Nancy LaMott. She's stunning. She died about four years ago. I'm also fond of Nancy LaMott. You hear so much of her personal journey in her songs. I just love that. I'm totally fond of Andrea Marcovicci. She's carved such a niche for herself and made cabaret so much more accessible for all of us. She's paved the way and I think she's an amazing performer. I love them all!
JF: I know the feeling! You just have to love anybody who can get up on stage and perform!
AKF: It takes a lot of balls!
JF: Do you see yourself returning to the dramatic stage sometime?
AKF: I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be some acting role that will drop out of the blue. Because once you're an actor, you are always an actor; that's who you are. And I think that if I keep pursuing my own thing, crafting my own work, which incorporates poetry and drama, then the people who see me will see me as an actress, a singing actress. Because what I am doing up there is acting.
JF: Now if I were to wake you up at 2am and ask to you quickly tell me what you are, what would you say? How would you describe yourself?
AKF: (Laughing) a hummingbird! Well, my first thought was to say "I'm a star" but that sounds so egotistical! My husband and I were talking about Patti LuPone's live CD the other night. I just love it, because when you really scrutinize it, she's not singing perfectly on that record. But what's fantastic about it is the enormous amount of courage that she has, this gumption; the balls to stick yourself on the line over and over again. And to me that is a star. Somebody who says "Goddamn it, I'm a Star!" and they keep going for it! They keep flying off that cliff. I'm trying to cultivate that. "Just go for it! You could be dead tomorrow! Just keep working at your craft, but just fly! Take chances" Because that's what it's all about. And that's what I'm going to be working on until I die.
JF: And may that be a long way off! Thank you for visiting us here at Talkin Broadway and I wish you the best of fates on all your ventures.
AKF: Thank you.
Anne Kerry Ford is going to be performing at Blues Alley in Georgetown Station in Washington DC on Thursday May 20 and Friday May 21. Two shows per night at 8pm and 10pm. Cover is $22.50, and reservations can be made by calling 202-337-4141.
She will also be performing in Boston May 25th at 8pm and 10pm at Scullers, 400 Soldier's Field. 617-562-4111 for reservations.
For more information, or to order her CDs, visit her website at http://www.annekerryford.com