Lightening struck twice and Christmas came early as I had the chance to catch up with multi-platinum selling artist and Tony nominee Ann Hampton Callaway just months after our first interview together! This time around we are talking about her new holiday CD The Hope of Christmas: Ann Hampton Callaway Sings The Songs of William Schermerhorn, a new collection of Christmas songs interpreted by Ann with lyrics by two-time Emmy Award winner William Schermerhorn, and featuring twenty-nine of the world’s best jazz musicians! To purchase The Hope of Christmas click here for iTunes and click here for Amazon!
1. This October, you are releasing a new holiday CD entitled The Hope of Christmas, which features the lyrics of William Schermerhorn plus two original songs composed by you and featuring William's lyrics. How did William come on your radar and after you found out about him, when did you go, "I need to interpret his lyrics"? Then, how long after that did it take for you and him to come up with and record The Hope of Christmas? Bill Schermerhorn, as he is known by those close, has been a dear friend of mine for many years. I have enjoyed singing his songs on projects like The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade when I performed his Emmy winning song "Yes, Virginia (There is a Santa Claus)." One day, Bill took me took me to lunch and discussed his plans for a recording of his holiday songs. At first I advised him to consider having several vocalists record these songs since they were so versatile in style and range. But he said he wanted my voice to deliver them and that they would be tied by the bow of a great producer, Marty Ashby, who envisioned this as a jazz recording. I was surprised because I hadn't heard Bill's songs in jazz settings before and it made me love the idea even more. We soon got together and played through many songs of Bill's with Marty to narrow the list down to what would work best in my voice and on a jazz CD. As each song came up, we came up with ideas of how to do them in fresh ways - new tempos, feels and arrangements. After much work, the CD was completed in full in about a year from that lunch and I am happy to say it has exceeded my expectations.
2. Why did you want to title the CD The Hope of Christmas? Bill chose the title and I agreed that the message of our song was the prevailing spirit of our CD. Ironically, the song advocates the spirit of Christmas lasting throughout the year and this seems like the kind of CD some people might enjoy all through the year. I am known to sing and play Christmas songs on hot July days. Why should we share the spirit of goodwill and brotherhood only in December?
3. After you decided to make this album together, when did you realize that you wanted to take your collaboration one step further and write not one, but two new songs with him? What was the best part about writing your new songs "The Hope of Christmas" and "Fly With The Angels" with William? I'd never written with Bill before and loved both lyrics he gave me to set. It heightened the intimacy of the CD to bring my own musical spirit to these songs and they resonate from my heart in a special way. The message of "The Hope of Christmas" is my underlying philosophy of life so I am grateful to have given it musical expression. Bill and I both got married to our partners last year so he wrote a song to honor Dan and Kari to celebrate being joyous newlyweds. I'll never forget sitting down at the piano at Barnes and Noble's performance space before my Sarah Vaughan CD signing and recording my first improv to "Fly with the Angels." The words evoked so much feeling in that moment that most of the music I improvised became the song. Later, recording it to Marty's exquisite guitar with my trio was a joy. I hope people slow dance to the song and hold each other close - Christmas can be such a romantic time.
4. In addition to William's lyrics, you are also interpreting the music of several great composers including Michael Feinstein, Matthew Sklar, Mary Ehlinger, Milton Delugg, Stephen Fox, and Wesley Whatley. What did you like best about recording their music with William's lyrics? It was wonderful having such a variety of songs to sing. I always say my favorite color is the rainbow. This CD has a spectrum of many moods and each of these fine writers brought a color that enhances the fullness of the listening experience and the experiences we go through at Christmas time. How many holiday CDs have sambas, bossa novas, waltzes, gospel, Dixieland and more?
5. The Hope of Christmas CD also features 29 of the world's best Jazz musicians. What was it like to sing with so many accomplished Jazz musicians? It was like walking in the studio and seeing a tree full of presents every day. I couldn't wait to unwrap the songs and see what these amazing artists would bring to them.
6. What is it about the Jazz genre you like performing? Jazz is about being in the moment. And about people coming together to share that moment with heart, soul and a highly sophisticated language. What I love about jazz is that it's the perfect balance of freedom and form. We had to work hard to prepare the form and then let go in the moment so the freedom could make its magic. It was a lot of fun.
7. Aside from "I Believe," I love and admire that you are releasing an original Christmas CD. What made you want to release a Christmas CD of original music and not feature any mainstream Christmas songs? When I was invited to record this CD for Bill, I was excited to introduce new songs and images to the season. There are hundreds if not thousands of recordings of only a handful of holiday songs. I'd already recorded my CD This Christmas for Angel Records, a holiday CD with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops and numerous guest appearances on other holiday CDs. It was our hope to delight and move people with something fresh and full of surprises. Bill's lyrics tell stories both traditional and contemporary and hopefully some of these songs will touch a chord with mainstream audiences like Bill and Wesley's "I Believe."
8. What made you want to record this CD on the MCG Jazz label? It was Bill's choice to record on this label, and it turned out to be my great fortune. Bill was able to interest MCG in the project and working with Marty Ashby, his brother Jay and the whole team was an absolute dream.
9. All proceeds from The Hope of Christmas CD go directly to support the MCG Jazz program and its mission to preserve, present and promote jazz. What was it like to record this album knowing all the proceeds were going towards this program? This makes me so happy. MCG's philanthropic generosity is in perfect alignment with the spirit of "The Hope of Christmas." The very essence of the title song and this recording is to remind people of the opportunity to give, to love, and to be compassionate to each other all year through. That is exactly what MCG does. If more people and businesses learned from this model, imagine what a lovelier place the world would be.
10. How does The Hope of Christmas represent what Christmas means to Ann Hampton Callaway? The title song I wrote with Bill is the spirit of how I try to live each day of my life. The entire CD reflects gratitude, joy, playfulness, reverence and love - qualities I hold dear - so it feels like a very personal offering from my heart to the hearts of all the people listening.
11. What is your Christmas wish for this holiday season? I hope this CD will bring much happiness to people, I always wish for peace - an elusive goal but one worth trying to attain through consistent acts of kindness and respect. I wish for good health to my family and to all families. It's been a challenging year so the preciousness of life and living it to the fullest is very much on my mind.
12. Christmas in New York is a very special time of year. What is your favorite thing to do during the holiday season here in New York? I love walking through NY and seeing all the great holiday windows at Macy's, Barney's and Saks 5th Ave., seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center and people ice skating in the park. It's lovely to get together with friends, sing, laugh, toast the season. And nothing is better than singing around the piano on Christmas Eve and Day, with Liz and my family as our mom Shirley leads us into classics like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Hallelujah Chorus."
13. What's your favorite holiday foods to have? Our family recipe of oyster stuffing is tops. Oh, and is Veuve Cliquot a food????
Multi-platinum selling & Tony nominated singer/songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway has written over 250 songs, including the theme to the hit TV series The Nanny and multi-Platinum hits for seven of Barbra Streisand's recent CDs. The dynamic vocalist keeps a heavy touring schedule performing at PACs, theatres and jazz festivals all over the world. The past two years, Ann has taken the symphony world by storm with her award-winning tribute to her legendary mentor with The Streisand Songbook, which she premiered with The Boston Pops and continues to tour nationwide, along with her more recent, riveting tribute to the great American vocalist Sarah Vaughn (From Sassy to Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project). Callaway's starring role in the jazz Broadway musical Swing! earned her a Tony nomination and The Theater World Award. Ann was also one of the show’s co-creators. Her music and lyrics have been performed and recorded by Barbra Streisand, Carole King, Liza Minnelli, Patti Lupone, Michael Feinstein, Blossom Dearie, Peter Nero, Karrin Allyson, Donna McKechnie, Harvey Fierstein, Lillias White, Barbara Carroll, Amanda McBroom and Liz Callaway.
The Cole Porter Estate officially recognizes Ann Hampton Callaway as the only composer to have collaborated with Cole Porter, having set her music to his posthumously discovered lyric, "I Gaze In Your Eyes." Callaway's performances have been seen on numerous TV shows including The Today Show, CNN's Larry King Live, The Charlie Rose Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, and ABC News. She starred in Midnight Swing for the PBS television special Live From Lincoln Center and was featured in another PBS special with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops. She has also been a featured performer on the NBC Special Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular and NBC’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Her voice has been heard in numerous TV jingles and voiceovers including spots for Coca Cola, Ethan Allen and State Farm. Ann has also done extensive broadcasting for Sirius Satellite Radio as a performer, DJ and interviewer. She is in discussion about hosting a TV talk/variety show for singers and singer-songwriters. She has garnered an unsurpassed fourteen awards from The Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs, two Backstage Bistro Awards, The 2005 Nightlife Award, The Johnny Mercer Songwriter Award and The Norman Vincent Peale Award For Positive Thinking.
Ann devotes much of her time to philanthropic causes, both as a singer performing in numerous benefits and as a songwriter composing songs in times of need. Ann resides in New York and lives by the creed best expressed in the Andre Gide quote: "Art is the collaboration between God and the artist and the less the artist does, the better."
William Schermerhorn (lyricist) is a two-time Emmy Award-winning songwriter. As VP/Creative Director for Macy's Parade & Entertainment Group, he has developed original material for performers as diverse as Idina Menzel, Kermit The Frog, Audra McDonald, The Charlie Daniels Band, Whoopi Goldberg, Walter Cronkite and The Texas State University Strutters. He won a Daytime Emmy Award for the song "Yes Virginia (There's A Santa Claus)" with composer Wesley Whatley and a second consecutive Daytime Emmy Award for "(Won't You) Join Our Parade" with composer Doug Katsaros. He received "Outstanding Original Song" Daytime Emmy nominations for the Christmas song "I Believe" (Wesley Whatley, music) and "Jolly Dream Pirates"(Michael Feinstein, music).
Past project highlights: a musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street (Wesley Whatley, music); American River Suite, a five-piece musical tone poem (Stephen Flaherty, music); Free to Dream: The Songs of Katsaros & Schermerhorn; My Gift of Thanks, a benefit event for The Actors Fund; "And That's The Way It Is" (Michael Feinstein, music). Current projects: Swing Wings, a WWII musical (Milton Delugg & Mary Ehlinger, music), Macy's Yes, Virginia: The Musical (Wesley Whatley, music).
Bill is a member of The Dramatists Guild, Inc. and a graduate of The College of William & Mary. He was born on the 4th of July.