Can Mary Foster Conklin do any wrong?

October 26, 2011

Not from what I can tell from these two videos!

Mary Foster Conklin — Chill Renegade

December 22, 2009

The Renegade Cabaret folks were at it again, particularly the leopard-coated, friend-of-this-blog Mary Foster Conklin.

Renegade Cabaret Coming to an End…

August 6, 2009

A message from that renegade cabaret artist Mary Foster Conklin:

Many thanks to all who made it out to see the performances of the Renegade Cabaret overlooking Highline Park. Every night has been a blast. For those who have not, you have only two more chances before the lanterns on the fire escape go dark for an indefinite period of time. Please join us this Friday and next Tuesday at 9pm at the Highline Park entrance on Tenth Avenue and 20th Street. When the Party Patio Lanterns are lit, you know something is about to happen!
Friday night August 7 at 9pm – The Lady in the Red Dress (yours truly) with Patrice at the Wheel
Tuesday night August 11 at 9pm – a special variety night tribute to Elvis Presley, featuring the Lady in the Red Dress, the Guy with the Hat (John Dipinto), Barefoot Roger and as always, the lovely Patrice at the Wheel
Stay in touch via the Facebook Group or the website at

There are videos galore on YouTube for your viewing pleasure – search for the Renegade Cabaret channel.
Enjoy the Dog Days and try to stay cool.
Best, Mary

Help is on the Way Today Benefit at the Metropolitan Room

July 31, 2009

Saturday night, I got to see an amazing concert at the Metropolitan Room, a benefit for Help is on the Way, a group that assists youth with AIDS.  The concert was organized by Lina Koutrakos and Lennie Watts as part of their Summer in the City cabaret workshop.

The theme of the concert was “Broadway Our Way,” with artists interpreting songs from the Great White Way.  Highlights included Koutrakos’s interpretation of Shall We Dance as a woman debating whetehr a brief sexual encounter was worth her while, Terese Genesco rocking the room with A Lotta Living to Do, K.T. Sullivan’s addled reading of Colored Lights, and Karen Mason poignant pairing of Now I Have Everything and Married.  Moreover, Mary Foster Conklin got me to not hate Something Good and Jenna Esposito found a great audience involvement moment in Down With Love, getting the crowd to shout the “take it away” repeats.

Here’s the line-up — truly a great cabaret sampler:

  • Mary Foster Conklin
    • The Gentleman is a Dope
    • Something Good
  • Jenna Esposito
    • Old Devil Moon
    • Down With Love
  • David Gurland
    • Stay With me / Wait
  • David Gurland & Julie Rayburn
    • Bill / Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe
  • Teresa Genesco
    • A Lotta Living to Do
    • Somebody Loves Me
  • Sidney Meyer
    • I’m a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Man
  • Lina Koutrakos
    • Shall We Dance
  • Lennie Watts
    • Tomorrow
  • Karen Mason
    • Almost Like Being In Love
    • Now I Have Everything /Married
  • K.T. Sullivan
    • My Husband’s First Wife
    • Just Once / Colored Lights

Renegade Cabaret in the Washington Post

July 18, 2009

One of the perils of being on the road is that one misses things close to home.  So it is with apologies that I link to an article from the 7/10 Washington Post about the Renegade Cabaret in Manhattan and the lovely picture above of friend-of-this-blog Mary Foster Conklin.

On the other hand, I hope readers of this blog appreciate the fact that they knew about this WAY BEFORE it appeared in the Post.

Mary Foster Conklin on “Renegade Cabaret”

June 28, 2009

A message from the great Mary Foster Conklin:

Dear Michael –
Hoping that you’re well.  Just wanted to share an article with you about a left of center cabaret venue, featuring an old friend of mine.  The article appeared in yesterday’s NY Times:
Tell your DC pals that if they are up in NYC this summer, to come to the Highline Park at Tenth Avenue and 20th Street around 9pm and definitely check it out.  They’ve got a page on Facebook and a website is coming.  They are looking to expand their performer roster, so don’t be surprised if you hear of a certain singer with a punk past singing the blues on the fire escape very soon.  🙂
Take care.  Best, Mary

And in a later message …

I went last night – it’s truly a New York experience.  Beth is a terrific singer, but also has logged many years as a street performer.  During the Bush years she was part of a group of women called the Missle Dick Chicks, who traveled around the country causing general havoc wherever Republicans roamed free.  This offbeat cabaret venue is the perfect vehicle for her talents.
I’ll be making my debut next Tuesday.  Wish me luck.  mfc

BTW — Thanks also to Alex Tang for sending a copy of this!

Diva 5+1: Mary Foster Conklin

August 29, 2008

Mary Foster Conklin has had a career as varied as cabaret itself.  She started as a punk-rocker/classical actress in the late ’70s and has been evolving since.  (The official bio follows below).

I was really blown away by her recent CD, Blues for Breakfast, a tribute to the songwriter Matt Dennis (Angel Eyes / Let’s Get Away From It All). 

 She’ll be featured in this year’s Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention and is at work on a new show to premier in early 2009.  And she has a MySpace page.  And she still graciously made time to do an interview!!! 


1.  Please describe a “perfect” cabaret experience that you’ve had.

For me, a “perfect” cabaret experience includes the following:  a juicy theme, clean execution with solid musicianship, an element of surprise, and some element of risk.

This summer I reprised Mirrors Revisited, an evening of theatre songs by rock and roll composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller that I’ve presented several times over the last few years.  The songs are dark and dramatic, musically challenging, rich in story and really run the gamut as far as musical styles.  Rather than working within the confines of the original arrangements, my music director and I were exploring new directions to take the music, which required input from all the musicians involved.  I had also added songs to the evening which still needed to be integrated into the existing program.  Fortunately the planets lined up and the show went really well.  There were no train wrecks and the musicians allowed me to take everyone on a wonderful journey.  We did the show in August and I was relieved that people came out to see it and they really got it.  It’s wonderful to be able to work on material that you’ve sat with for a while because it’s really a part of you.

2. What is a recent song you’ve been struggling with?  Have you won yet?

I always keep a pile of material that I tinker with, but I see it more as a process than a battle. Songs are sort of like clothing that either fit or they don’t.  I’m coming off a few years of singing solely one composer, so it’s been a challenge to once again open myself up to new material, especially blues and pop.  I try to stay open and allow myself the permission to explore a new piece.  I think it was Margaret Whiting who said you had to do a song in performance at least three times before you knew whether or not it was right for you and I agree with that.

3. The relationship between a singer and the musical director really is a “cabaret marriage.”  What are the keys to making the marriage work?  And for the times you need to work with a surrogate, what are the steps you take to get quickly on the same page?

While I believe that marriage is monogamous, I feel that in music it’s important to have multiple partners in order to stay flexible and in the moment.  I work with both piano and guitar as my main instrument and each has its own set of challenges.  The key to any successful musical partnership is solid preparation, clear communication and mutual respect.  Really know your music and be prepared to read down a chart for a new pianist.  Know what tempos you like and how to get there.  When I work with musicians in California, I usually mail recordings of the songs that include metronome signatures.  At a certain point in my career, it became essential that I know how to read music and be able bang out the chords in my arrangements – even learn how to write out my own lead sheets, which made it much easier to work with different musicians, because I had learned to speak their language. 

4. What is a particular image that you can rely on to be an effective sense memory when you’re performing?

Everybody’s process is different as far as what works to bring a song to life.  For me, if I can summon up a sense of the place where the song is, that’s enough to center me.  There’s a number from the Mirrors show about the murder of Ramon Navarro that describes his apartment in great detail.  I had a loved one die at home, so I usually focus on remembering the carpet and I’m there.

5. What is the most pressing need the world of cabaret has today?

Artists and club owners need to work more aggressively to present and promote programs that showcase interesting cabaret.  The best example I can think of was the idea that Lennie Watts hatched a few years ago of people singing their favorite record albums called Under the Covers.  I ended up going out to see a lot of people I wouldn’t have normally seen and was fascinated by the choices that were made.  That particular program offered a good mix of standards and contemporary music, which also helped attract more people who were less cabaret-friendly.

+1  Could you please share some thoughts on your mission to mine some of the more obscure gems of the cabaret repertoire? And how do you manage the audience when you are presenting programs packed with songs that most don’t know?

It was never my intention to become such a music geek, but it’s becoming harder and harder to locate sheet music to much of what is the Great American Songbook and even some well known pop composers.  My whole Matt Dennis project began because I’d called one of his publishers for a lead sheet and got some clueless person who said “Well, if Sinatra didn’t record it, why should we even have it on file?”  Since then, I’ve made a point of including at least one lesser known tune in all of my shows because this music is fast disappearing and needs to be heard.  As far as presenting programs of obscure songs, you have to try to size up your audience ahead of time, because you don’t want the evening to come off like homework or medicine.  I’ve found that it’s helpful to mix and match with more familiar material and to use patter to set up the lesser known tunes, like a disk jockey.

                                                                  *     *      *

MARY FOSTER CONKLIN has appeared in theatres and clubs in the metropolitan New York area and throughout the United States and Canada.  A New Jersey native who came to New York to pursue acting, she ended up working more as a vocalist.  Her transformation from actor to jazz singer began when she joined drummer/composer Art Lillard’s 16-piece Heavenly Band and her song selections naturally shifted from show tunes to blues, Latin and bebop. 

As a leader, her choice of songs has always been an eclectic mix of contemporary material and standards, with  a hybrid sound that combines straight ahead jazz with traditional pop and cabaret.  She also has a passion for discovering lesser known standards.  Her recent recording, Blues For Breakfast – Remembering Matt Dennis (Rhombus Records) is a collection of songs by the late Matt Dennis, best known for his hits “Angel Eyes” and “Violets for your Furs”. This award winning album is a culmination of three years research which began at the Library of Congress and has since been performed on both coasts, to critical acclaim. The CD has been hailed by the press as “delightfully dramatic” (Jazz Times) “a work of art and heart” (, and “an overdue reminder of the honored place of Matt Dennis in American music” (Jazz Society of Oregon). 

Conklin’s talents have earned her a place on the stages of The Metropolitan Room, Sweet Rhythm and The Iridium in New York, The Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, and The Cultural Center and Park West in Chicago.  She has been praised by The New York Times as “a highly creative singer whose style blends cabaret and jazz so thoroughly as to defy any easy categorization,” and was awarded a MAC Award for Jazz Vocalist by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs in 1999.  Her debut CD, Crazy Eyes, was listed as one of the ten best CDs of 1998 by In Theatre Magazine, and won a Bistro Award presented by Backstage Magazine for Outstanding RecordingHer second recording, You’d Be Paradise, was released in September 2001 and was a jazz bestseller for two years on  Visit Mary’s website at for more info.

Matt Dennis is lucky to have Mary Foster Conklin

August 20, 2008

Mary Foster Conklin’s new CD, Blues for Breakfast, is up there as one of the best cabaret/jazz CDs I’ve heard this year.

The CD celebrates the work of songwriter Matt Dennis (Let’s Get Away From It All, Angel Eyes).  The tracks are all performed with musical intelligence and amazing heart and warmth.  Conklin’s work veers toward the jazz edge of the cabaret spectrum, but she never sacrifices her passion or storytelling for vocal pyrotechnics or abstract musical notions.  (Actually Ron made the insightful observation that she brilliantly combines fairly straightfoward vocals over strongly jazz instrumentals.)

By presenting the songs of a relatively obscure songwriter, Conklin provides an opportunity to find a treasure trove of material.  That Tired Routine Called Love is a terrifically witty complaint about love, Blues for Breakfast is absolutely haunting, and Conklin makes The Night We Called It a Day an entire film noir epic.  Conklin even excited me so much with her reading of Violets for Her Furs, a song I had always dismissed as rather purple pap, that I immediately thought of a number of people I thought should sing it (are you reading this CJD, BP, BC, and BB ?).

Here are the tracks:

  • Before The Show
  • Spring Isn’t Spring Anymore
  • Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World
  • Angel Eyes
  • That Tired Routine Called Love
  • Encanto d’Amor
  • Blues For Breakfast
  • Will You Still Be Mine
  • Where Am I To Go?
  • The Night We Called It A Day
  • Let’s Get Away From It All
  • Let’s Just Pretend
  • Learn To Love
  • Violets For Your Furs 

Road Report: Summer in the City Part 1

August 8, 2008

I’m having a very 21st Century moment — blogging at a rental computer terminal at a Tasti-D-Lite in the middle of Chelsea in a thunderstorm.

The Lina Koutrakos / Lennie Watts Summer in the City workshop opened tonight with a fasinating panel discussion where the team roped in a fascinating panel of very distinct cabaret personalities to discuss cabaret and take the participants’ questions. Karen Mack (KM)*, Julie Reyburn (JR), Mary Foster Conklin (MF)* and KT Sullivan (KT) were amazing generous and open in their discussion of a lot of issues. Here are my notes:

KT: I only sing songs I love

MF: Cabaret is a room. You make this part for yourself. Cabaret is about lyrics, jazz is the music.

KT: (In Europe I was told) “What’s not Mozart is cabaret.”

KT: We get to sing these wonderful songs from these terrible musicals…you get the best of these shows.

JR: When you are not real it hits the audience hard

MF: Class is a safe place to search

The business of cabaret…

KM: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money

LW: Other than stamps, everything else is negotiable

KT: Take down the address of everyone you meet

LW: “Build it and they will come” does not work for cabaret

LW: You will be depending on your friends aand family (as part of your cabaret audience) until the day you die

LK: Don’t underestimate the people who come to see you again and again

KM: There is no substitute for a great product

KM: Do not cut corners in a way that does not give you value

MFC: Say yes to everything** (performance opportunities)

LK: Part of the craft of performing is believing it

On music directors…

MFC: Marriage is monogomous; music is polygymous

MFC: If you work with different music directors, it teaches you about your music. (And forces you to take more control of your music.)

* It was very humbling to be told by Karen Mack and Mary Foster Conklin that they read this blog

** My beloved mentor said that the only exception was when the question was “Do you mind?”