Janet Rutland and Friends Bring “A Song is Born” to the Jazz Depot
Although her youthful image and demeanor suggest otherwise, singer Janet Rutland has been a mainstay of the Tulsa-area music scene for decades. And it’s been nearly 10 years since she first branched out into creating and performing cabaret shows, all of which concentrate on a particular composer or musical theme.
For her latest, A Song is Born, Rutland came up with the idea of a show focused on contemporary, living songwriters, taking that route after looking over a list of numbers she’d always wanted to perform in a cabaret setting.
“There were songs in there that I’d never done, because they never seemed to fit in any show I’d had in the past,” she explains. “And when I looked at this list, I realized the common theme was that they were all by living songwriters. I got kind of excited about that.”
Then, when she began putting the concert together, she recruited four musicians to be a part of it: Isaac Eicher, her mandolin-champion son, currently working with his dad (and Janet’s husband), Shelby, in the string-jazz quartet Mischievous Swing; pianist Scott McQuade, her frequent musical partner and a nationally known jazz player; and fellow vocalists Emily Chappell and Alex Walter. Isaac is heard only in the last portion of the two-part show, but, as Janet notes, “There’s only one tune he doesn’t play on in the second half.”
“Scott McQuade is just a dream to work with in this kind of a show, a quick study with great ears,” says Rutland. “You can’t stump him with a chart, and he plays so great.
“I heard Alex in a theater production, I Love You Because, a Playhouse Tulsa show. And I heard Emily in some recordings she’d posted on Facebook. I had quite a list of songs, and I knew it would be a challenge for me to do all that material myself. It’s fun to work with other people, and I thought it would be nice to use some faces and voices that haven’t been seen as much in this type of program. They were great picks — they liked my theme, they liked where I was going with it, and the songs fit their voices well. It just worked very smoothly.”
The show, notes Rutland, includes “some very familiar things — I’ve got Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney. But I also introduce some songwriters whose work I really love, Dave Frishberg and John Pizzarelli.”
She first became a fan of Pizzarelli, a noted jazz guitarist as well as a composer, some 15 years ago. “Shelby brought me an album and said, `I think you’ll like this. It’s all Nat King Cole songs by John Pizarelli,'” she recalls. “Well, now I have everything that he’s ever done.”
Rutland has never liked giving advance notice of specific songs in her shows; she even prefers not to have them listed in concert programs. By way of explanation, she relates a story about Pizzarelli.
“He was doing the Broadway show Swing, with Margaret Whiting, and he didn’t come on until later in the show. He had a big entrance, and when he walked out with his guitar, he saw his mother in the second row – and she looked at him and immediately looked down at her program, like, `Oh, who is this?'”
“I just don’t like doing program listings for a couple of reasons,” she adds. “First of all, you give away all your surprises. Second, you look at the tops of people’s heads, because they’re staring at their programs. I would rather have them get lost in the music, and I’ll tell them everything they need to know about the songs.”
Janet Rutland’s A Song is Born is set to begin at 5:00p.m. Sunday, August 25, at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s Summer Concert Series.