Interview with Interview with
Maggi Albisani is a native New Yorker now residing in Las Vegas. While the Las Vegas Strip has virtually no cabaret rooms, Maggi is doing something about the local cabaret scene. She has created a cabaret show which she performs several times a week at "Keys", a piano bar just off the Strip. On Monday evenings guest artists pop in and perform, many of whom are performing in shows around Las Vegas. So popular has Maggi become in cabaret circles that her fans asked for a CD. The result is her recently recorded CD "Just In Time."
V.J.: Maggi, welcome to Talkin' Broadway, great to have you here.
Maggi Albisani: It's nice to be here. Thank you V.J.
V.J.: I have to ask you this. I've been listening to you for the last several weeks in Las Vegas, with that big voice of yours. Why Las Vegas, and why not New York?
M.A.: Well, it was kind of by accident that I came here. I was actually doing a lot in Phoenix and Scottsdale. We were doing a lot of work there with a particular band of mine. I had a rhythm section and we were playing all the jazz clubs. I went there for family reasons. There was a death in the family so I went to Phoenix from New York, my very first time out west and I'm talking about ...
V.J.: Hold on there, you just said talkin', do I detect a New York accent? Let me guess. Brooklyn? Flatbush! Fess up, which borough?
M.A.: Yes. Born and raised in Brooklyn. And yes, Flatbush (laughing) It was exciting back then. Everything took place in the streets. We would do little shows; I think I was five years old and I would sing on the stoop.
My mother is the reason I sing today. My mother sang and wanted to get into the Metropolitan Opera House with her cousin. The cousin made it, my mother didn't. But the big thing with me is that my mother taught me how to sing. My mother taught me "O Marie" in the Italian lyrics and she made me do it over and over and then she took me down to the sidewalk to sing it to all the old ladies. And I would sing, and they would clap. And I was never shy after that.
Anyhow, someone said to me "you need to go to Vegas," that kind of thing. I didn't want to go to Vegas. I was very happy in Scottsdale. I was working a lot and we were doing some really nice things, me and my trio. I was supposed to get married and my boyfriend said he was moving to Vegas, so I came here ... and what I found was a lot of commercial music being done. I felt like a fish out of water, but I started to pursue my musical career here because he was here. So, I stayed and I started getting work. And this is at least nine years ago.
M.A.: My New York background was totally theatrical.
V.J.: It was?
M.A.: Yeah. It was. When I started out I did what everyone else did: summer stock, apprenticing, trying to get my Equity card. I did a season of stock at the South Yarmouth Playhouse on Cape Cod and another at the Bellport Playhouse on Long Island.
V.J.: Bellport's really good. They're still going, y'know.
M.A.: It's a wonderful house. We did everything from soup to nuts. I was one of the chorus members in Hair, and then we did Jesus Christ Superstar, George M, No, No, Nannette, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf ... a lot of different things. Prior to musical comedy I was doing dramatic acting so that's how Virginia Wolf got in there. And that's what I really wanted to be, a dramatic actress.
V.J.: Were you singing in those musicals in Bellport? In the chorus, a gypsy?
M.A.: Yes, but not like I am now. My voice has changed. I have changed.
V.J.: Were you a dancer?
M.A.: I was a singer who danced.
V.J.: As opposed to a dancer who sings. How many years did you do the theatre thing?
M.A.: Oh, I would say about fifteen years, maybe even twenty, off and on. You live your private life and you try and work on the same level and do everything in a good way. I did perform Off Broadway and Off Off. I didn't do Broadway but I auditioned for a lot of musical acts like Barry Manilow, got a big call back for that. It was for a European tour. But, I think at the time I was pretty young. I was 18, 19 and I was scattered. We just knew we wanted work. All my friends were into the same thing and there were so many turn downs, and you still have to pay the rent. And I had no parents.
V.J.: Oh. They had died? So, you were on your own?
M.A.: Yes. Totally on my own at 19. I didn't have any help from family, so I worked as a waitress, cocktails, things like that. Lived for a time in Boston and did some theatre there. I was in a production company there in 1969. We did Hair all up and down the east coast to the big, big, old regional theatres.
V.J.: What theatre was that in Boston?
M.A.: We didn't play Boston, we left Boston!
V.J.: (laughing) Okay. Boston is a great city, remember "Kens" on Boylston?
M.A.: Yes. I lived on Beacon Hill and worked at The Jazz Workshop on Boylston. I would go back and forth from New York, depending on where the work was. My performance days back then were not as important to me as it is now ... as it has been in the last fifteen years.
V.J.: Alright, let's roll the clock ahead to Las Vegas. How did you get your start here?
M.A.: When I first came here I auditioned for a show band at the Fremont, and I did get it.
V.J.: On the Strip?
M.A.: Yeah, and I was singing at the Fremont during the day from 12 to 8 and it was so funny ... they wrote an article about me in the Review Journal, they said to the leader of the band, "you're so stupid, you're letting this girl with this voice ... "
V.J.: This big voice I might add.
M.A.: " ... sing two songs every set." And that's what I did. I would sing "You Made Me Love You" and "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina." Those were my two big showstoppers. It was fun and I did that for a year. After that I went with another show band, and after that I decided to get into the jazz rooms around town. The cabaret thing came out of that. As you know there aren't many cabaret rooms around town.
V.J.: Cabaret seems to be catching fire in other cities, but nothing much is happening here, except for "Keys."
V.J.: Tell me how you got this gig.
M.A.: Some of the showrooms on the Strip were touching on cabaret, not very much, so some of the good performers were going back to L.A. so they were going by the wayside. I had heard about "Keys" while I was playing all these jazz rooms which were in hotels like Ballys, the Flamingo, things like that, all in lounge groups. I would always make sure I stood out with whatever I did with a song. I kinda did it my way. And people would say what are you doing here? I'm working! I'm trying to make a dollar.
I think I snuck on myself because in the last two years everything is falling into place. A very dear friend of mine told me about "Keys", a cozy and classy little piano bar where you can have a nice dinner too. So, she told me about it and I just walked in. Tug Wilson was on the piano and I knew I had found a home. They just didn't know it yet. So, I auditioned for Bob Michaels and Rich Rizzo. Bob, at the time was management, and Rich was a choreographer, in his own right, a wonderful artist. Bob is too, a costume designer. I auditioned and I was nervous, and they liked me, and they decided to give me work. And I worked with Tug who is really a Broadway piano player. He has a very grand style, almost a little too big for accompanying, but a wonderful style of his own. And we worked together for a year and a half and then I was working with other piano players. And then I found Rick Warren at another place called "Manhattan." I walked in and sat in with him, and he recorded it, and here it is a year and a half later and we're working together and recording a CD.
V.J.: All because of walking into "Keys."
M.A.: "Keys" has been so important to my career ... because I've met people here who care. They care about me, they're sensitive to what I'm doing. They give you the freedom to try anything new. You can try something on a Monday night, come on with something different on a Tuesday and they'll still be receptive to you.
V.J.: How many nights a week are you working?
M.A.: Three nights and one Sunday brunch which I've been doing for nine months now.
V.J.: And you also have a night where you bring other people up.
M.A.: Yes. We call it Celebrity Night, Monday nights.
V.J.: Right. I saw Kenny Kerr here last week. Isn't he great?
M.A.: Kenny's wonderful. I started it and invited Kenny about five months ago. It's funny, because artistically it was what Kenny was looking for.
V.J.: It's so great to see him, outside of his own show. And I love his impersonation of Eartha Kitt.
M.A.: Oh, I know, it's wonderful. He was a little timid at first.
V.J.: Him? Timid?
M.A. I'm saying "timid" in a good way. He stood back and he saw what we were doing in this intimate musical situation as opposed to his show in a big Vegas showroom. Then he decided to come up, and it's been great. It wasn't that he was timid, he was respectful, didn't come in with any attitude at all, and I just asked him if he'd like to sing.
V.J. And then you have people from other Vegas shows ...
M.A. We've had some of the Platters in here and many others who are in the big shows on the Strip.
V.J.: Well, this is the only cabaret spot in town that I know of.
M.A.: Exactly. They come in because they're comfortable and can do anything they want, with me, or without me. We can do a duet, or they can do two or three numbers on their own. My accompanist is the best so there's no problem there. It's a very casual atmosphere.
V.J.: Do you feel that you're almost a pioneer in trying to get cabaret going in this town?
M.A.: Y'know you pointed that out to me more than I thought that existed.
V.J.: But, you really are doing it, aside from putting on a great show.
M.A.: Thank you. Well, I just felt that I was doing it every night and I just wanted to include a lot of other people. And they are good entertainers in their own right.
V.J.: Wouldn't it be great if they would open a cabaret club in a hotel like New York, New York and it would be your room?
M.A.: That would be wonderful. I'm telling you, I would be very humble because in this business you think this and that is going to happen and it doesn't a lot more times than does. I love that. We need that so desperately. We need to get up out of the lounges and the sounds of the slot machines and put the music where it ought to be, in a small intimate setting where people can really listen and participate.
V.J.: Let's talk about this CD of yours. It's called "Just In Time." How did this whole thing come about? This is a live recording too.
M.A.: Yes. That was the hard part. I knew that we could do it from when I heard Rick at Manhattan. Being sneaky that night, he put a tape in, he had his recorder with him. And he handed it to me after the evening was over and all I was doing was sitting in with him. I went home and listened to it and it came out pretty good. So, two years later I'm working with him and he brings the machine in with him and we just turned it on and let it go. We did that for two months, every night. I took all those tapes and went through them over and over again just to get to the good stuff. And I knew we had an album here.
V.J.: When I listened to the CD, I was hooked from the first number.
M.A.: Get out. Thank you.
V.J.: I dunno. It was like listening to an old friend. You start off with "Where or When" and do fifteen classics, and close with "I'll Be Seeing You." It begins with a hello and ends with a goodbye, if you will. Actually, you could do the whole CD as a cabaret act. It's got a good structure. How are sales going?
M.A.: They're going beautifully. We do get a nice turnover. When we brought it out two months ago they were selling like crazy. Now, it's slowed down but it's still consistently selling. In fact, last night, two fellas came in and asked me to do some charity work for an AIDS benefit and I always say yes to that. They had heard about me and came in to hear me sing. And, of course, they bought a few CD's.
V.J.: How did you choose the songs?
M.A.: I chose them because they're classics. It wasn't actually a conscious thing. They were just the ones we had been doing and the ones we enjoyed the most. There are actually a ton more so we'll probably do another. But, we've decided, and this was kind of a surprise, to do a Christmas CD. We're just starting on that.
V.J: How many times have you been told that you sound a tad like Connie Francis?
M.A.: Well, it would have to be a tad because I don't have that nasal, twangy thing ... I would love to be able to know how to do that. Someone had suggested that they could teach me.
V.J.: There's a little bit there. On the CD you do "Where The Boys Are" and "Who's Sorry Now?"
M.A.: Y'know what it is? I'm Italian, she's Italian, and our look is the same.
V.J.: And y'know, ya all sound alike.
M.A.: (laughing) And we all sound alike. And we're very emotional when we sing, so there's a little connection there.
V.J.: And there's a touch of Garland there.
M.A.: Well, I'm an actress too.
V.J.: On the CD you do "The Man That Got Away" and you pull the stops out on that one. Even the arrangement is great.
M.A.: It's my favorite one. Thank you. It is the exact arrangement from the album she did with her daughter in London at the Palladium. It's the exact key and arrangement. That's why you feel it is so Garland.
V.J.: I love how you introduce it on the CD. You say to your piano player "wanna do one?" What is "one?"
M.A.: What we know in the business is that doing "one" is hitting everybody over the head with the best thing you have, or one of the best things you have. It was one of those nights where two people had just performed so it was time to do "one."
V.J.: There's a little reverb in it.
M.A.: This small room doesn't have a lot of good sound so I like to work with a little reverb. When I'm in a bigger room, I don't need it as much because I have a lot of speakers around, but here we have two little hot spots. Most singers who are worth their weight don't want a lot of reverb. They want to show you they can do it on their own.
V.J.: A friend of mine asked if you can really hit those notes, and I told him "yeah, I've seen her live and she sure can."
M.A.: Tell him to just get over here and see for himself.
V.J.: There ya go. Or he can buy the CD. You produced the CD yourself. A lot of cabaret performers are doing that today, rather than wait for the big label.
M.A.: Exactly. And the label can come later. After all, we know what we want. We know how we need to sound. A lot of record companies, I think, they produce you the way they want you to sound. Or overproduce you like they did with Nat King Cole in the earlier recordings. They'll even tell you how to say words or how to sing something. They even did that with some earlier Sinatra albums ... not that I'm opposed to a record label.
V.J. From your mouth to God's ears. Thanks Maggi.
M.A. My pleasure V.J.
You can email Maggi. Her CD is available at $18.00 plus shipping.