Christiane Noll Brings an Evening of Jazz to Arci's Place
Noll is accompanied each night by jazz pianist David Budway, James Genus on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. The show includes a mix of jazz, swing and Broadway tunes.
On stage, Ms. Noll is best known for originating the role of Emma Carew in Jekyll & Hyde. She recently starred in The Student Prince at The Papermill Playhouse. She was also recently featured on Broadway in Ain't Nothin' But the Blues as well as in last year's Off-Broadway production of Little by Little. Her voice can be heard on over 10 recordings including Warner Bros' animated film "The King and I", as Mrs. Anna, her latest solo album, "Live at the Westbank Cafe, Christiane Noll" (Car-Jam Records) and her first album, "A Broadway Love Story" (Varese Sarabande).
Nancy Rosati spoke with Ms. Noll recently before her show at Arci's Place.
Nancy Rosati: Tell me about life after Jekyll & Hyde. It's been almost two years now. It seems you've been working on a lot of different projects.
Christiane Noll: I've been really busy. I was starting to overbook myself.
NR: Why was that? Because you really wanted to do the projects or because you were afraid of not working?
CN: I have trouble saying "no." If the project sounds interesting to me, I'll think, "I have two days yeah." I was reminded that when you empty a pitcher you've got to take enough time to let it fill back up again before you empty it out. If you just keep emptying it, there's going to be less and less to give. That's very true and I certainly learned that at least I'm trying to learn it. I think I've gotten it, because in the course of the next few weeks with this Arci's project, there have been a number of things that I wanted to take part in and I've actually heard myself saying "If it were September, I would love to, but I'm right in the middle of this and it's going to be too much." I've been saying "no."
NR: What do you enjoy more the concert gigs or the shows?
CN: I really like to be all over the place. I've been doing lots of symphony work thankfully, and doing my own concerts in and around different places, messing around with the music that David (Budway) and I have been creating.
NR: Tell me about David. You met him when you were in school?
CN: I met him in Pittsburgh. He was the jazz pianist in Pittsburgh while I was in school. His sister had a jazz choir that I sang with. He played for us a couple of times. Then my accompanist for my senior recital dropped out. Because we were doing some jazzy stuff, we decided to ask David to come in and play. I went to Carnegie Mellon and he taught at Duquesne, but he came in and played my senior recital because it was not a "typical classical" recital. We had a ball putting that together. A few years ago he decided to make the move to New York. He found my name on a CD I had done for Varese Sarabande and wondered if it was the same person. He finally called and left me a message saying, "It's Budman!" I said, "Oh, my God! We've got to play, we've got to play" so he came over and we started goofing around. We sort of realized, "this is right."
NR: So jazz isn't something new for you. You've been doing this a long time.
CN: It's something I've appreciated for a long time. My chops were a little better tuned when I was in college because when it's something you're doing all the time, you have the confidence. You don't care what comes out. Jazz is so much improvisation and you just have to put that "censorship person" aside and not worry about sounding stupid. You just jump in and go for it. You have to have enough background and enough understanding of the music and the chord changes to be able to just dive in and do it. I'm out of practice now. When you do theater music, everything is very precise. Even singing Frank Wildhorn, he wants you to stretch phrases beyond a typical 1, 2, 3, 4 bar. He wants you to make more interesting phrasing choices, but you're not scatting. There's some precision there. I got to play a little bit with it in It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues - that kind of improvisational thing.
NR: Your first CD was mostly Broadway - were you afraid to do jazz then? Did you just get braver?
CN: Not afraid. It's something I've always loved to do. I did a lot of cabaret when I was in college. There was a pub on campus so I decided it had to be a cabaret pub. (laughing) I was approached by the Genesius Guild. One of the founding people was someone I went to college with. It's an organization of performers, writers and directors that try to put together new works. They encourage cabaret performances, song writing, and it's a great little organization. My friend came to me and said, "Do you want to do twenty minutes? We're doing a little cabaret featuring different artists." I think Paige Price was also there the night that I performed the first time. There were about five of us. I thought, "I don't have an act." (laughs)
NR: When was this?
CN: This would have been 97 or 98. I just threw some stuff together. I understand there has to be some cohesion, so of course I was rationalizing all over the place, but if your patter makes the rationalization make sense, then people all of a sudden think you have a concept. People would say, "Your show is really great. You need to do more of this" and my reaction was, "My show?" I just went through my book and said, "OK, this one's good, this one too. How about this?" So, it kind of went from there.
Starting to play with David, I decided to do more of an evening and we did two things at Peaches. I did something at the China Club and I did West Bank Café.
NR: Which is where your CD was recorded.
CN: Yeah. It just started to grow. I don't know if it means that I'm going to be doing more of these things. I'd love to do Joe's Pub. I'd love to do the Algonquin Room. Obviously after doing a three week gig at Arci's I'm not going to be at either of those places anytime soon. That's sort of over saturation. In a few months, that would be a neat thing. I would like to go back to a Broadway show again, but you go where the opportunities are.
NR: I was thinking that Swing! would be perfect for you.
CN: They initially talked to me, but I fell right into the cracks in terms of my age. I wasn't completely the sweet young thing and I wasn't the seasoned veteran either.
NR: Tell me about the CD and your cabaret show. How did you put these songs together?
CN: From that first five songs I pulled out a whole bunch of things, and David gave me some songs that he had written. We trashed what didn't work and moved things around.
NR: You have a few interesting little medley pieces on the CD.
CN: That's something David and I do. We take two or three things and slap them together. Then we say, "Did it work?" When we're sitting here at the piano, he'll get an idea, and I say, "Wait. What if you....?" and we'll play. They're essentially his arrangements because he's the one sitting at the piano, but they've got my thumbprint on them. It's a nice collaboration.
NR: Is there an overriding theme or a running narrative through the night?
CN: It's not necessarily a narrative. About two months ago we did two performances outside of Woodstock. We were sort of looking at that as a dry run for this. Both shows were completely different. The first show we listed all the things we wanted to do and me and my rationalization patter tried to link them all together. Then it was really long so we rearranged and cut. We put it in a different order and that made it all of a sudden much easier to sing. We started to find out that there were little sections that we were hearing and I wanted to revisit some of the music from my first album. Then we added a couple of songs that are new and we found out how they could work with the pre-existing material so that it would go together. It's still not a theme evening. It still goes all over the place but it's a nice little evening.
NR: You're not just singing your CD? You're piecing things together?
CN: Oh, yeah. There's some music from the first album, there's some music from the second album and there are three new pieces. One of them is another long, interesting compilation. We decided to do a sort of medley on Johnny Mercer. We found this really cool piece that quotes Johnny Mercer tunes all over the place so it was a perfect base to then take "Skylark" and whatever other favorite Johnny Mercer songs we have and stick portions of them into the framework of this other tune.
NR: After this, where do you go next? Do you need a break?
CN: I look at this past year. I started the year with It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues. Next I started doing these Broadway symphony concerts. Then I did Paper Mill Playhouse's Student Prince operetta which is entirely different, and then I went back to my jazz concerts. I went on a three week vacation thank God! I've literally been all over the place - all different kinds of music and all over the world, which has been amazing. If you put it out there that you want to travel again, the next thing you know you're packing your bags to Jerusalem.
I never quite know what's next and some people say, "Maybe the goal isn't quite clear." I have different kinds of goals than other people. I always want to be at the ready. My goal usually is whatever I'm doing right now, to do it to the best of my ability, which will inevitably open up a door to whatever the next thing is. You will gain so much from what you're experiencing now that it will prepare you for the next opportunity. Would I like to come back to New York to do another Broadway show? Certainly. Would I like to do more symphony concerts? Yeah. Would I like to do a straight play? Yeah. Would I like to go and buy a ranch and live in Oregon now? Yeah.
CN: I went on vacation in the Pacific Northwest and I absolutely fell in love with that area. Seattle's wonderful, Portland's cute and laid back. There's much more of a connection to people's environment out there. Those people are more apt to go on a kayak or for a hike and you do find that here in New York, but it's usually the people who grew up with that or are looking for it.
What's next for me? Gosh, I don't know. It could be literally anything. (laughs)
NR: Is there anything else you want to say about the show?
CN: It's a lot of fun. People are saying that it's sort of the culmination of the last few years of the work that I've been doing with this material. We've finally gotten it right. If people have come and seen me perform before, they certainly will see some similar material. There are some new things but we've never quite gotten it so that it gelled and everybody was comfortable performing it. It's always been entertaining but now it's sort of like Tiger Woods going to his coach and saying, "I've got it."
NR: Excellent. I'm looking forward to seeing it. Thanks.
CN: You're welcome.
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