Monday, December 17, 2018

2018 Interview - Steve Ross

Singer Steve Ross has been knocking 'em dead on the cabaret circuit in New York and other theatre cities for many years. He has released several solo albums. His latest is It's Almost Christmas Eve but features an ensemble of singers. Ross took time from his busy touring schedule to talk to me from Boston about the album and his love of old music.

Are you on tour right now with your Christmas album?

Actually, no. I did the Christmas show a couple of times, but I don't have a Christmas show per se. I'm certainly featuring the recording in my regular show. I'll do my Birdland shows and I'll do songs from it. Everywhere I go, I kind of try to sell it.

 I think you could very easily make a show from this album.

It could be, but of course so much of it is set up for the other voices. Maybe they could do the solos or I could do it with a couple of other people. A Christmas revue...that's an idea.

Maybe you should plan it for next year's holiday season.

Absolutely. I didn't think about that.

Why did you decide at this point in time to do a Christmas album?

I was at a party in LA hosted by performer K T Sullivan two yesrs ago. I had written a melody and at the party I sat down and played it for Kenny Hirsch, a published lyricist in LA.  I told him I just had this instinct. When I played it, he said, "I hear it as a Christmas song." I asked him if he'd be interested in writing a lyric to it. He said, "I would be." That's how it all started. So this song "It's Almost Christmas Eve", which became the title of the album, was born a couple of years ago. And then a singer heard it and said, "I think it should be an album." And then it evolved from there. It was going to be traditional songs. I took out my huge cache of Christmas music that I've collected, all these different genres. We looked at everything and listened...and these are the ones we picked. It becsme more specialized which I thought  might be in a way a relief to the people that due respect, everyone puts out all the same songs. I thought it would be kind of fun since we had dug into the songbook for more obscure things. It would be consonant to what I do. I have a couple of good singers and that's how it evolved into this lesser known stuff. I think there are s couple of gems in there.

I was brought up by an Irish mom who was from a musical family, so I know all these songs, like "Sing a Little Song of Christmss", "Goin' On a Sleigh Ride", "The Wassail Song". I am so happy you are bringing them back for those of us who remember them and for the youngsters out there who need to learn to appreciate that everything old is new again. Then you combine wonderful Broadway tunes like "We Need a Little Christmas" from Mame and "A New Deal for Christmasz' from Annie.

People might be interested if they're searching for lesser known stuff. It would be nice if they downloaded them or buy the CD.

"The Twelve Days After Christmas" is hilarious.

I thought everybody knew that. Did you know that?

No, that's one I have never heard. What a hoot!

When I did it recently in my show, a lot of people didn't know it. It's very clever.

How long have you been doing the cabaret scene?

Are you sitting down? (I laugh) You should lie down. I have been as they say hoodwnking the unsuspecting public for 60 years. Not cabaret, I've been a professional musician for 60 years  Cabaret started basically when I came to New York when I was 30. I found a job in this gay bar on W. 56th Street. One of the pianists was let go. The manager said to me that I was going to have to start singing.We want you to sing and play. We're not hiring two people. I had only sung for a joke. Many voice teachers later, I figured it out. Now I can't imagine not singing. It all started way back when.

You have quite an audience of admirers. Young people, as I said, need to learn to appreciate the old standards you play.

I feel that way if we can only get them to sit in on it. Cabarets are an expensive proposition for the young artist, which is very unfortunate. When I came to town, I was able to sit in at Bobby Short's bar at the Carlyle. He was wonderul and in those days you could go to places fairly reasonably. Now it's out of the reach of most people who should be hearing it. A situation for which I have no solution.

Who is your favorite composer?

Cole Porter. I like his brilliant wordplay.When I started singing, I sang funny songs, songs with words that were amusing. I didn't have the tones that a singer should have. I can do words. I started off doing funny songs, wordy songs, Noel Coward songs. Patter songs from the English music halls, songs that were situationally funny. I love the fact that Porter made sex chique. He was very sexy and sensual and erotic in a way in his lyrics, but he did it with such a genius and with such style that he pulled it off. "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love". We all know what the metaphor is. It made everybody smile and laugh without being crass. He elevated that kind of humor to s very high thing "Brush Uo Your Shakespeare" I love the double entendre thing and that he got away with it. I also love his very deep passion when he wrote his love songs. The longing that is in any good love song he expressed very beautifully."In the Still of the Night" is my favorite song. It's a gem. When he is at his best, he's nonpareil. He represents a life I might have aspired to when I was growing up, a glamorous New York life that he writes about, that I sing about, that a lot of people dream about. He painted a picture, and it's the kind of picture I enjoy looking at and talking about.

What is your honest opinion of today's music?

It's not something I connect to. As I do my revue, I've been revisiting the master classes I used to do. It's been a facinating journey, I must say. I've learned a lot about these songs. We live in a world that is questioning that. Most of my students have been middle age, nonprofessionals. A lady the other day said, "We can't sing "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer'" because it's about bullying.".I looked at her and said, "Yes, but it has a happy ending. He finds a reward from Santa Claus .., and he ends up being a hero". We can only take this so far. It ends up being extreme. Don't you agree?

Absolutely! Did you like Hamilton?

Yes, it's historical and life changing. It has become a favorite with young people. Bully for it! Good for it! They see that Broadway music can be relevant. It brings young people into the theatre, as did the brilliant 1776 and Rent, big life changers.

Let's get back to your CD It's Almost Christmas Eve. What would you tell our readers about it that will really make them want to buy it?

It captures the spirit of Christmas in many different ways with worthy but less known Christmas songs that can touch the heart and tickle the funny bone.

Go to itunes or amazon to purchase the album or visit Steve Ross at:

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