Golden Jubilee for a Hallowed Hall

Posted: July 20, 2012 in Cabaret, Culture, Entertainment, Music, New York City, Nightlife, Performance, Uncategorized

In 1985, cabaret unwittingly found a new fair-haired boy in their midst. Kevin Scott Hall had arrived in New York City from Maine in his early twenties, and seemingly wasted no time in establishing himself  as a permanent and powerful presence in piano bar and on stage. Nearly three decades later, armed with an endless arsenal of tenacity and staying power besides bucketfuls of talent in a variety of areas, Hall has evolved from a vibrant singer and recording artist (including the CDs Live at Middle, New Light Dawning and Holiday Spirit) to a respected university lecturer, vocal coach and teacher (he created the That Singing Feeling workshop), cabaret columnist for EDGENewYork.com, and even a published novelist with his book Off the Charts! Having turned fifty merely two weeks ago from the time of this writing, he also announced what will sadly be his very last cabaret act ever, which premiered at Don’t Tell Mama on Wednesday, July 18th as a birthday celebration and plays its second show on Saturday, July 21st. If the gods are kind, however, someone will convince him that this can’t be the last time. It’s a brilliant presentation beyond words; Hall retains his marvelous pop/rock sensibility as always and simply dazzles. His voice hasn’t lost one micro-ounce of its glorious tenor timbre lo these many years, and clearly he can still wrangle a tune with the best of them, whether Joe Flood’s “I’m In a Hole,” “Come to Me as a Bird” by Julie Gold, Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name,” or “True to Yourself” by Karen Benedetto. He’s aided as always by the spectacular Clare Cooper at the piano as well as Steve Marks on bass, Bernice “Boom-Boom” Brooks on percussion, and Allison Mickelson and Alex Bertrand-Price on background vocals. And the show isn’t without its angst-ridden moments; he recounts making headlines as a stabbing victim in Hell’s Kitchen in 1994. But the show as a whole is a true celebration of the glorious person that is Kevin Scott Hall, and indeed should be witnessed by all who can attend the 6 PM show. He also somehow found the time to grant us an interview in the midst of his busy schedule:

ANDREW MARTIN: We can all assume that when you were growing up in Maine that a career in performance was a focus of yours. But was cabaret something you always wanted to do? What drew you to it?

KEVIN SCOTT HALL: That was actually not true, at first. I was so shy and, frankly, bullied, that I was afraid to get involved in anything at school. I was just biding my time. I was a writer first. However, I did like listening to 45 rpm records and American Top Forty with Casey Kasem every week. And my father played–and still plays–piano, so he gave us an education in standards. There were a lot of parties around that piano, so it was like growing up with a piano bar in the house. I didn’t really have theater aspirations until I was in college and decided to try out for a play, Charley’s Aunt, and got the small but comic role of Brassett, the butler. Then I got the bug. Later, after moving to New York, I was drawn to the piano bars. I guess in some ways it reminded me of home. And I stayed there!

AM: Can you describe what it was like when you first got to New York, and why you almost immediately immersed yourself in cabaret?

KSH: Well, I found the whole auditioning thing to be very lonely. You wait around for hours to sing sixteen bars of a song, and there’s all this fake camaraderie in the hallways. But in cabaret, I could do what I wanted to do, and I was allowed to try and fail and try and fail and sometimes succeed! It’s also very personal and intimate, and that’s more my groove.

AM: Why do you choose the songs you do? You seem to have always had a pop/rock-based sensibility as an artist, but what is that based on?

KSH: Yes, growing up in small New England towns, I did not listen to theater recordings. I had to really catch up on that when I got to New York. My father played standards and I knew some, but I had no idea where they came from. I grew up on radio and, you know, back in the ’70s what was great about radio was that you could have a pop song, a country song, and an R&B song playing on the same station. You don’t find that anymore and, to me, that’s not progress. I still listen to what the kids are listening to, though. There are a few great songs being written and we as cabaret artists can bring them out.

AM: What drew you to start working with Clare Cooper as a musical director?

KSH: Well, when I started working in piano bars–Rose’s Turn, specifically–in 1995, I got stuck with the deadly Saturday happy hour, and there was Clare! She also had a pop-rock sensibility, so we came up with the Rock and Soul Happy Hour. We had a small but very loyal following, and we kept that going for nine years. When you work so closely with someone for that long, it becomes almost like a marriage (I think, I’ve never been married!). We still miss Rose’s Turn. There was no place like it and I’m afraid there never will be again.

AM: Getting stabbed in the chest would clearly be a traumatic experience for anyone. What (excuse the pun) sticks out most in your mind about the experience? And was it simply natural to work that into your cabaret act(s)?

KSH: That was clearly a watershed moment in my life. I was actually on my way home from a piano bar (Eighty Eight’s) when that happened. The psychic wounds of that lasted far longer than the physical ones. I was very angry that here I was, striving to create music from the heart and then I give someone my trust for a moment on the street and he stabs me in the heart. The metaphor of that shook my faith to the core. I was a very angry man for a few years. Anyway, that kind of experience takes you to extreme emotions and I think it lends itself to the act. Don’t try to run and hide from those experiences. Embrace them. Let others learn from them.

AM: How did you make the transition from cabaret artist to teacher? Conversely, how did you make the transition to lecturer on a college level?

KSH: I did a show in the mid-90s and hired a well-known director, and I didn’t feel this person really was able to pull the soul from me. And I was being charged a lot of money. Basically, I thought, I can do this better. And it was a natural fit. I think because I have been through traumatic experiences, I am able to get to the heart of the matter and cut through the BS. I think I have a gentle persistence that can bring honesty out in people. At forty, I decided I’d had enough of the music career. I’d worked at it so long and it was going nowhere. So I went back to school to get my MFA in creative writing (yet another practical choice!). As part of the process, we were given an opportunity to intern as instructors. I was so scared. I’m all about diversity, which is what CUNY is, but I thought, “What are these mostly Black and Hispanic and Asian and Arabic students going to think of this middle-aged White guy?” Well, I discovered that I had changed a lot since being a bullied teenager. I am very real with the kids, and I really use my sense of humor with them. I’m not afraid, I’ll tackle any topic with them. I surely learn more from them than they learn from me.

AM: Where did the inspiration for Off The Charts! come from?

KSH: Off the Charts! is a satiric novel, about the music business, funny but very dark. It was my way of coming to terms with how awful that business can be. But I put it in the dance music world rather than my cabaret world. The business is all about marketing and image and, for my character Sally Testata, trying to keep her sexy even though she’s in her forties. I get angry about what I see in the music business, with some music videos and such. It was hard for me, but it’s very hard on women.

AM: What do you like most about the recording process? What do you like least? Do you think you might do another recording anytime soon?

KSH: I LOVE recording. It’s much more in my comfort zone than live performing, which is all-consuming and still makes me very nervous. Going into a recording booth is very private and intimate and you get to try things several times (although my most successful recorded songs, they tell me, happened to have been done in one or two takes). I have a hundred ideas for recordings and if I could just record without performing live, I would!

AM: Complete this sentence: “In ten years I, Kevin Scott Hall, will be…”

KSH: In ten years I, Kevin Scott Hall, will be teaching a few classes, living on a lake and writing during the summer, and have perhaps a couple more books and recordings under my belt.

It’s safe to say that we all want to take a swim in that lake. The cabaret community wishes Kevin Scott Hall a very happy second half-century, and offers a plea for him to continue delighting all of us as an artist in any and all media.

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Comments
  1. Andrew , what a great writer you are.
    I think you might remember me. Joey b
    Singer ,songwriter , jingles writer,manof
    Many voices, Apollo All Star, How’s by u ?
    I used to at DTs FAT CAT ,Kelly’s , Oh Johnny’s ,Waverly ,Waverly. I hope I refreshed you memory. You were 17.

  2. HOLY SHITE!!! Joey Bolognese!!! Of course I remember you!!! The last time I saw you you were singing “This Bitter Earth!!!” How the hell have you BEEN???

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