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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 16, No. 6, 2017
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Robert J. Lewis
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Nick Catalano
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culture non plus ultra



Nick Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for several journals and is the author of Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, New York Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham and A New Yorker at Sea. His latest book, Tales of a Hamptons Sailor, is now available. For Nick's reviews, visit his website:

Salon -- the term connotes the apotheosis of aesthetic, intellectual, political and social gatherings conducted by aristocracies during post-renaissance Europe. Originally an Italian invention in the 16th century, the Salon flourished in France in the 17th and 18th centuries beginning with Louis XIV and playwrights such as Moliere, Racine and Corneille. The London coffee houses of the 18th century added an intellectual middle class dimension with artists such as Samuel Johnson, John Dryden, Joshua Reynolds, and Addison and Steele. Still, by the 20th century the institution always had an association with European culture. The only American name to appear in Salon scrolls -- Gertrude Stein -- embraced the fashionable exclusivity of the tradition but conducted her sessions at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris.

Although the term has not been associated with New York culture, the city’s aesthetic ambiance presently includes Salon-like convocations where American achievements in the arts are disseminated and shared. In music, the contribution of American creators to Jazz and Pop Standards is legendary and New York is the present-day Paris of these arts which enjoy world-wide popularity. Hence, it stands to reason that there exist gatherings in Gotham where sophisticated and knowledgeable performances and discussions of these arts occur. I attended one conducted in a democratic, egalitarian climate while embracing all of the elements of the old European ‘exclusive’ aesthetic tradition where the term ‘Salon’ is certainly suitable.

The salonniere of the New York Singing Salon is actress/author Barbara Feldon and the bi-weekly assemblages are held in her stylish, east side town house that features a gracious living area hosting a sumptuous Steinway grand. On Salon evenings several musical lions stroll in cheerfully greeting each other as they comfortably nestle around a decorative coffee table offering healthy snacks and beverages. Conversations referencing the latest Trump disaster, New York Times editorial, recent cabaret opening, or Giants football score quickly emanate as the folk warmly exchange feelings and opinions.

After awhile New York native and composer/pianist superieure Art Weiss ambles over to the Steinway and subtly lays down captivating changes that segue into lilting standards. Trained at NY’s prestigious Manhattan School of Music, Art has worked as conductor/accompanist for legions of notable cabaret performers (Julie Budd, Marilyn Maye, Cloris Leachman), served as entertainment director of New York’s Playboy Club, and composed tons of acoustic/electronic themes for the city’s galleries. Art’s effortlessness in instantly transposing keys and stylings for singers is astounding and the comfort he renders them is evident in their smiles and inspired performances.

Up next to perform might be Broadway veteran Jeanne Lehman. Jeanne has one of those miraculous soprano show voices that can cause a casting director to stop her after a brief four bar auditioning phrase and shout “you’re hired.” Indeed, such immediate reaction has no doubt occurred in a career that has included roles in Hello Dolly, Beauty and the Beast, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and countless other hits. Her film and TV career includes featured appearances in everything from soap operas (All my Children) to sitcoms (Kate and Allie) and her numerous recordings (Noel Coward, Skitch Henderson) are hallmarks. She has functioned as vocal instructor for companies world-wide (Hyundai Theater Company, Seoul Korea -- Playwrights Horizons Theater School NYU). Jeanne is a musical aristocrat and when you watch and hear her sing, the experience is truly transforming.

Singer/actor/comic/producer/screenwriter Buddy Mantia is a show business anomaly. His many creative identities epitomize the pedigree of New York show people. Shortly after leaving his home in Dayton, Ohio and possessed of a rich tenor voice, he was headlining in Las Vegas with Jackie Vernon and soon after utilized his musicality as a member of a successful comedy trio -- The Untouchables. The group was in demand on all major variety and TV talk shows (Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin) and headlined in clubs and casinos nationwide. His comedy acting and writing led to his creating notable TV and film scripts and by extension producing (a recent project is The Last Request starring Danny Aiello). His redoubtable singing was also featured in the Broadway show Three from Brooklyn . . . Multi-talented doesn’t begin to describe Buddy Mantia. At the salon when Buddy sings evocations drift from Puccini opera to Cole Porter love songs -- a remarkable repertorial canvas.

During intimate dining and drinking respites from the singing, a fun-filled Q and A occurs where the esoterica associated with this or that song, composer, lyricist, arranger is shared. Despite the veritable Ph.D musical knowledge everyone has, they’re all delighted to discover that such and such a tune was actually composed by so and so when they always thought it was written by X. Anyone listening to this banter can garner a semester’s worth of pop music education in just one evening at the Salon.

Sara Krieger is no less than a renaissance woman in this pantheon of singing dignitaries. Her early jazz and pop success (Blue Note Clubs, Carnegie Hall) catapulted her to prominence with an illustrious vocalese group dubbed The New York Voices. For the uninitiated, vocalese is a penultimate test of singing virtuosity (i.e. try sustaining a B flat when the vocalist to your left is singing a B natural and the one to your right a C natural). Sara’s prescience has led to a career in voiceovers (Citibank, Estée Lauder, Bloomberg Radio) -- a conspicuously American media invention that sports very few eminences. And for the last 13 years of the David Letterman show she served as a ‘skit voice’ during the monologues. Because of her astonishing ear, breathtaking voice, and trailblazing phrasing when Sara sashays up to the piano to sing a love song, she always ensnares our souls.

What is frequently amusing and always instructional when a singer steps up to the plate with a chart for Art is the playful key selection process. On one occasion with Sara, after hearing the title of her tune for the first time and the key she wanted, he instantaneously arpeggioed into A flat major. Seeing a frown on her face, he switched to Bb. Still the frown, so now B major. (If you dare, try your hand at sight or auditory transposition into this difficult key while instantly servicing the vocalist with languorous changes). This time she simply squirmed a bit on her stool. Again an instant arpeggio from Art; she nodded and smiled. “Where are we now,” she queried. “C” he replied and they both chuckled at discovering that the most comfortable key was an elementary one.

Upon serving a cozy repast to her colleagues, Barbara Feldon will move to the Steinway and quietly motion to Art. She then launches herself into a delicious little ditty that is often far from mainstream Tin Pan Alley (Tell me on a Sunday, Please). It can be eerie or enchanting, but always charming. Most often she will follow with a reading from a poem or a scene from a script. This is always extra special. Barbara, long an acclaimed veteran of major films (Michael Richie’s Smile), Broadway shows (Circle in the Square production of Past Tense) and TV ( her co-starring as agent 99 in Get Smart earned her huge celebrity) has served on the board of the Poetry Society of America and written a heralded book of essays Living Alone -- and Loving It. At the Salon, her dramatic readings are magnificent.

All of the artists possess remarkable self-absorption (focus and concentration). Despite the informal, cozy setting they perform as if they were on stage at Carnegie Hall or headlining in a leading Night Club -- their professionalism is omnipresent. And as an audience I am thrilled to have a seat 5th row Center.

The New York Singing Salon is most compelling because it reflects the cultural achievement possibilities available in a free society. No one knows what talent lay in the non-aristocratic populations of the France and Italy of Royal Houses. Egalitarianism is vital if a nation’s full cultural resources are to be tapped. Consider that jazz -- an original American art form -- might never have materialized had not ex-slaves been able to obtain free expression and upward mobility.



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What a braggart-who else could be this esoteric.
Spectacular. Had no idea we still had salons.
This was a great read (more than once).
Said to Peg that Irv would have loved to have read and discussed this with you.

By Nick Catalano:
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Polish Jewry-Importance of Historical Museums
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Inquiry into Constitutional Originalism
Aristotle: Film Critic
The Maw of Deregulated Capitalism
Demagogues: The Rhetoric of Barbarism
The Guns of August
Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue
Manon Lescaut @The Met
An American in Paris
What We Don't Know about Eastern Culture
Black Earth (book review)
Cuban Jazz
HD Opera - Game Changer
Film Treatment of Stolen Art
Stains and Blemishes in Democracy
Intersteller (film review)
Shakespeare, Shelley & Woody Allen
Mystery and Human Sacrifice at the Parthenon
Carol Fredette (Jazz)
Amsterdam (book review)
Vermeer Nation
The Case for Da Vinci's Demons


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