It is always fun talking to fellow performers who, like myself, don't live in the traditional cabaret 'hot-spots' (namely New York City or Los Angeles.) Deborah Boiley not only manages to thrive in Houston, not widely regarded as a hotbed of cabaret performing, but takes her cabaret shows all over the world, including that great cabaret Mecca, Paris. I first heard about Deborah when she sent me a copy of her first CD, The Song Remembers When. I was greatly impressed, not only with her voice, but with the fact that she sang many songs I had never heard before, some of them by songwriters I thought I knew pretty well. I managed to get some time in with Deborah before she left for her current European tour.
Jonathan: Welcome to Talkin' Broadway, Deborah. I'm glad I got a chance to talk to you before your whirlwind tour ... you leave pretty soon for the Edinburgh Festival, correct?
Deborah: Yes. I'm going to be performing my show Ce Soir ... Cabaret! there August 4th through the 26th. The show contains many familiar French songs like ones by Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, and in between those I do a few unfamiliar songs ... I just love unknown music. I owe my cabaret career to French songs, actually. Ten years ago, I was asked to be in a cabaret revue and sing a song in French. While I had always loved the language, I never sang in it before. I sang two Piaf songs, it was a big hit, and I found that I really enjoyed performing in French. So I thought, "Why not explore this more?" About that time, I would pick up cassettes by various French singers when I would go to France. I started re-listening to them, and found all these wonderful songs that I wanted to learn. The first cabaret show I put together I called From Piaf to Brel and Beyond. And in between the well known Piaf and Brel songs, I sang songs that we don't know in America because the singers never came over here to perform. Here in America we know Charles Aznavour, Yves Montand, Michel Legrand ... but have never heard of people like Gilbert Becaud, Michel Jonasz, and Serge Lama ... people who are very big in France.
J: You spent a few years performing in Paris, right?
D: Yes. I was in Paris from 1994 to 1996. When I first got there, I auditioned for a little club that was looking for someone to sing '60s songs. So there I was, my first job in Paris, thinking that I'm going to make my living singing all these great French songs that I knew, and nobody wanted to hear them ... they wanted '60s songs! Then I got a nice job singing during cocktail time at a five star hotel on the Rue de la Paix, called The Hotel Westminster. I was asked to sing with the hotel pianist, who was a 75 year old man from Finland named Valto, who knew every song that was ever written ... I never have known anybody who had the repertoire this man had! And he taught me the American standards. I had never sung them before. The songs I knew, besides the French, were songs from musical theater; songs from shows I was in, and songs that are pretty much unknown outside of select areas, like David Friedman's music. I had never really gotten into the music of the Gershwins or Harold Arlen until Valto taught me them.
J: Did you sing them in English or French?
D: In English! I went to France to learn American standards. I would do maybe one or two songs in French every now and then but that was it. I created my own cabaret series at the hotel, and I would do it all: I'd sing songs in French, do some unknown American songs, and throw in some American standards. And I loved finding how a song in English would relate to a similar song in French. I would sing, say, "New Words," by Maury Yeston, followed by an old French lullaby, the connection being two songs in which a parent sings to his/her child. Or "Old Friend" by Gretchen Cryer, and go into a Jacques Brel song which is also about friendship, "Voir un Ami Pleurer" (To See a Friend Cry). And that would be my theme; to show how their music and our music relates.
J: Since France is considered the motherland of cabaret, how did you find the audiences?
D: (Laughing) Very disappointing. There are lots of little clubs, but people will go mainly to hear jazz.
J: So it's not all that different from here then ... how disappointing!
D: Yeah ... they don't go to hear non-jazz music. They like singers like Dee Dee Bridgewater, an American who went over to do Bubbling Brown Sugar, married a Frenchman and made quite a career there. What we call cabaret here in the US doesn't work over there ... People just don't come to hear music unless it's got a jazz feel to it.
J: Well, there go my illusions ...
D: I know!
J: So after that you went to London to live and perform for a while?
D: Yes. And there it's a little bit easier. Cabaret there is similar to what is done here. But the genre is struggling there as well.
D: No. The material was recorded in Houston in the early '90. I recorded two albums and at the time, CDs weren't the only thing people were buying, so I released them as cassettes. I had been wanting to put them on CD for years, and I realized now was the time to do it since I was going to be home for a while. So I took the DATS, picked out what I felt was the best combination of songs, and turned them into a CD.
J: I'm going to include a track from that CD, "D'Aventure en Aventure." Since my French is practically non-existent, would you mind providing me with a translation?
D: No problem!
The words to D'aventure en Aventure are:
It's true I have my habits, I have my ways and others have come along with tender lips, tender hands And yes, I've called their names and caressed their skin, I've even shared in their chills.
It's true from night to early morn, since you I have said "I love you" And others have been there to mark my skin and to find me handsome
It's true I've used my weapons and I've played with their tears Sometimes for fun or for no reason at all And it's true I've whispered again and again all the words that to you I said for the first time but ... From affair to affair, from train to train, from port to port never I swear to you have I forgotten your touch From affair to affair, from train to train, from port to port My wounds have never healed ... I love you still.
J: What a lovely, semi-depressing song! Just my kind of music! (Laughing!)
I read in your press materials that you are going to be recording something in France after the Edinburgh Festival. What is it going to be?
D: I am really good friends with a man in France who records. When Claude retired a few years ago, he decided that he was going to keep himself very busy by recording CDs; not for commercial purposes, but to give as gifts to friends and business acquaintances. He and his wife were at the Hotel Westminster the first night I sang there, and we became friends. About a year later, he asked me if I would be willing to sing duets with him, and so for the past few years I have been going back to France to record two or three songs for his CDs. So that's what I'm going to be doing after the Edinburgh Festival. I'm going to be recording some George Brassens, which I haven't ever done. Have you heard of him?
J: No. I'm not sure if I'm familiar with him.
D: He's very popular in France. He's dead now, and he primarily sang with guitar and was a kind of a folk singer. He sings in a category that the French call 'Chansons de Text' which I guess we would translate as 'strength lies in text or lyric.' I think he was also ... not a protest singer, but somewhat political ... he had lots to say about society and what he believed. Claude is going to do a CD called Brassens Jazz, so he's doing Brassens' songs with a jazz feel, which should be interesting. I'm also going to talk to him about producing another French album for me to sell commercially, which would have a jazz feel ... if I can't beat them, join them, I guess!
J: Well, I'm amazed after hearing all this that you didn't do any French songs on you first CD, The Song Remembers When, which I really enjoy listening to.
D: I was kind of out of my French phase at that point. I had been doing French music for eight or nine years, and I thought it was time to get back into my own music. Almost all of the songs on my first CD were in a cabaret show that I wrote a few years ago called Out on a Limb. It basically described my experience living in Paris; the people I met and the things that happened to me. The center of the show was about the trials and tribulations, some funny in retrospect, of trying to find a job and get work over there, and how hard it was to really fit in.
J: Sounds like a fun show.
D: It was. I did it in London and at Eighty-Eight's in New York a few years ago and I've done it here in Houston, but I'm giving it a rest now. I'm creating a show called True Confessions which is going to be made up of all songs which are intimate stories, revelations or confessions. I'm finding some great funny material and some wonderful serious music. I've been listening to this wonderful Swedish musical called Christina fram Duvamala. It's written by the two Abba guys and it's gorgeous. Gorgeous! Oh my God, Jonathan, you have to get a copy of it. It is so beautiful. There's a song that the lead character sings that is incredible ... of course, I have no idea what she's saying (laughing) so I have got to find somebody to translate it for me.
J: So if anybody out there knows Swedish and would like to translate it ... E-mail ya at dboily@DeborahBoily.com!
D: Exactly! Drop me a line! I want to put it on my next CD. Although I always have to remember not to just do unknown music, you have got to put a few chestnuts on there as well; songs that people can hold on to.
J: You're telling me ... the show I'm currently putting together is almost 100% obscure stuff! It's just more fun, I think. Even as an audience member, I prefer to hear songs I don't know.
D: You can do that easier on stage, I think
J: Speaking of stage ... you are going to be performing in a new work written for you called Piaf in Vienna. Is it a one woman show?
D: No, it has two characters: a woman named Vienna, who stays in her attic and lives out the life of Piaf, one is never certain if she's crazy or not. Her father thinks she is until he hears her sing ... . It's still under development, in re-writes and each time Brad Korbesmeyer sends a new draft, it's better and funnier. But it's going to have about seven or eight Piaf songs in it.
J: You are going to be performing it in New Jersey and Florida, right?
D: Right. It's going to be performed at the New Jersey Repertoire Theater in Long Branch, New Jersey December 7th though December 31st, and then at Riverside Theater in Vero Beach, Florida February 1st through 11th.
J: And you're going to be performing your French Show at The Firebird while you're in New Jersey?
D: Yes. I'll perform it on a dark night or do a late show on a Saturday or something. I'll be doing a few Cabaret shows in New Jersey too.
J: So people should go to your website, www.DeborahBoily.com for more information and future dates.
D: Yes. And e-mail me if they know Swedish!
J: Well, I wish you the best of fates on your trip to Edinburgh, and I hope you have a wonderful time!
D: Thank you!