The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #68393   Message #1152913
Posted By: Don Firth
02-Apr-04 - 02:11 PM
Thread Name: BS: Trying to be somebody else?
Subject: RE: BS: Trying to be somebody else?
There's a flip side to all of this.

During the early Sixties, I spent some time studying music at Seattle's Cornish School of the Arts. I was in the student coffee room one afternoon staring out the window at the intersection of Harvard Avenue and Mercer Street and trying to determine if the predominant flavor in the coffee was Old Army Boot or scrapings from the tires of a manure spreader when I heard someone begin to play the grand piano in the lounge next door, and then a voice raised in song.

I wrote it up in the book I'm working on.
        One fall afternoon while sitting in the coffee room at Cornish, I heard a voice lifted in song in the student lounge next door. It was one of the folk songs that Joan Baez had recorded. The accompaniment was piano rather than guitar, but the voice--it was Joan Baez. I got up and went to the door.
        No. It wasn't Joan Baez.
        A tall, slender young woman, one of the new music students, sat at the piano and sang. When the song ended I went in and introduced myself. Her name was Annie Hartz.
        Hesitantly, not knowing how she felt about it, I commented on the amazing resemblance between voices. She acknowledged it ruefully, saying that this resemblance was something of a curse. She loved folk songs and wanted to sing them, but she couldn't open her mouth without someone accusing her of copying Joan Baez. She wasn't trying to copy anybody. That was just the way her voice sounded.
        Annie wanted to sing at the coffeehouses, but the only instrument she felt competent with was the piano. Not folky enough for the times. She and I wound up doing several performances together, with me providing the guitar accompaniment when she sang solo.
        The Queequeg coffeehouse in the University District planned a concert night and Eric Bjornstad, the Queequeg's owner, invited me to perform. Lots of VIPs were going to be there, including some non-folk performers such as Gina Funes and a number of jazz musicians, and a couple newspaper entertainment reviewers indicated they would come. It was intended to be a Big Deal. I told Eric about Annie and he said, by all means, bring her.
        How to handle the Baez thing:   we decided that Annie could use it to her advantage. It would certainly call attention to her fine voice, and rather than fighting the resemblance, she should flaunt it. Once that was out of the way, people might begin to realize that she was a superb singer in her own right, especially when she sang songs that Joan Baez didn't do.
        Annie's Seattle coffeehouse debut at the Queequeg was the time to do our flaunting. Although she would be singing other things, Annie's program would be liberally sprinkled with songs straight off the recordings of Joan Baez. The song we programmed as next to last was Fair Thee Well, from Joan Baez's first LP, which was pure chutzpah on our part. The verses were traditional, but the melody had been written recently and was a real display piece for Joan Baez's voice. To compound the felony, I studied Joan's guitar accompaniment and got it down practically note for note.
        Annie knew and sang Try to Remember, and she wanted to include it in the program. Although I didn't sing the some myself, I had an accompaniment partially worked out already. I added a brief coda to the accompaniment:   the first few notes of "Soon it's going to rain, I can feel it. . . ." It was also from "The Fantasticks."
        I thought the coda was a nice touch. It would give those familiar with other music from "The Fantasticks" the pleasure of recognition, plus indicating that we hadn't just learned the song from somebody's pop record, we knew where it came from. It fit nicely. We decided to end our part of the program with it.
        Between my hard-driving guitar and Annie's strong "achingly pure soprano," we blew them away. The response was outstanding. No matter who she may sound like, it was obvious that Annie was one helluva singer.
        Annie really got into Fair Thee Well and in the headiness brought on by the roar of applause that followed the song, she lost track of where we were in our program. As the applause died away, she whispered to me, "What's the next song?"
        It was our last one.
        "Try to Remember," I muttered back.
        "I am trying," she whispered, perturbed.
        Then suddenly she realized. I don't think the audience had the foggiest notion of why the two of us burst out laughing.
        Try to Remember was a good choice to finish the set with. It eased down from the preceding tour de force and ended on a gentle note. We receive a wonderfully warm ovation for our whole performance.
A year or two later I lost track of Annie, but I ran into her again in 1991 at a coffeehouse reunion bash. She was married and had three kids, and although she hadn't pursued a singing career, she was still singing from time to time and still sounding great.

Don Firth