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Photo courtesy of KT Sullivan

Liza sang it best. “Life is a cabaret, ‘ole chum/Come to the Cabaret.” From Oct. 28-31, you can go to quite a few of them at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center.  That’s where several aspiring and established vocalists will gather for The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s 30th Annual New York Cabaret Convention.

“The event is like a Whitman’s Sampler,” said KT Sullivan, who recently spoke with Manhattan Digest over the phone. “You can experience different singers and if you like them, you can follow them.”

Sullivan, a stalwart in the business, serves as the Artistic Director for the long-running celebration. She assumed the role after founder Donald F. Smith passed away in 2012. Initially, it was held at midtown’s Town Hall but has since moved to its Columbus Circle home.

Audiences can expect a night focusing on the late Dorothy Fields and other great women songwriters, another featuring a tribute to Guys and Dolls composer Frank Loesser, and an evening devoted to Judy Garland. (This year marks the 50th anniversary of her death and the 80th year anniversary of The Wizard of Oz)

Photo courtesy of KT Sullivan

The final night will be hosted by Sullivan and will showcase some up and coming talent. “My night is a night of anything goes,” she said. “I travel around the city throughout the year to listen to acts and if I think they are someone people would like to hear, I have them sing a song.”  She continued to discuss the line-up. “I have a 15-year-old, Anais Reno, who won the Adela and Larry Elow teen scholarship for the American Songbook,  She has the most gorgeous, womanly voice in a young girl’s body. There is another young lady,  Allora Leonard that I found. She’s a little firecracker package!”

Sullivan is fond of the variety the convention offers. “Lots of people from different walks of life who all love the American songbook and we come together to celebrate. People want to communicate with each other and that’s why we do it. It’s more personal than a concert.”

She’s quick to point out that the art form is not an economic boom for anyone. “No one is making a lot of money in this. We do it for love,” she said, “But once you’re exposed to it, you want more of it. I do see a resurgence and if it’s good, people will come back.”

Sullivan performed at the first convention in 1989 and recalled some of the more surprising moments over the 30 years. “One time George Gershwin’s sister fainted onstage. That was scary. Another time, a woman sang, ‘Long John, You Thrill Me when You Drill Me’, and proceeded to make love to the piano. Donald wasn’t crazy about that. Then there was the night someone described his colonoscopy before he sang a ballad.”  

Sullivan spoke a bit about the lady who inspired the convention named. “Mabel Mercer was born in 1900. She performed at a place called Brick Top’s in Paris, which is where Ernest Hemmingway, Cole Porter, and F. Scott Fitzgerald gathered. She was the toast of Paris. In 1938, she came to the United States where Bart Howard (“Fly Me To The Moon”) had written a number of songs for her.  She sang here in New York from her late thirties into her seventies. Sometimes, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Lena Horne would be ringside at her shows. Sinatra said, ‘Everything I know about phrasing I learned from Mabel Mercer.’ ”

“Come hear the music play” at this year’s convention, but leave the GI stories with your doctor.

The New York Cabaret Convention runs October 28 through Oct. 31st at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center. For tickets and information click here

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