Friday, April 25, 2008
Nancy LaMott DVD
I don’t usually like music DVDs because to me they’re like watching a play or musical on TV; they feel too distant. I had just the opposite reaction, though, to I’ll Be Here With You, a collection of live performances of my favorite cabaret singer, Nancy LaMott. It spans two decades, starting in 1978 and going until her death, at 43, of uterine cancer in 1995.
I am so grateful to David Friedman for compiling and producing this chance to be with Nancy again. She had sung many of his wonderful songs through the years, works I love so much like “Listen to My Heart,” “We Can Be Kind” and “I’ll Be Here With You.” He promised her she would not be forgotten and that he would get her music out there to a large audience. Her beautiful voice has been blessing my life all these years through four recordings she made and one of unheard performances assembled and brought out by her friends after her death. Now with this DVD of 24 live performances, I can appreciate her extraordinary voice as well as her lovely spirit and playful personality.
I knew a great deal about Nancy’s fascinating, and often painful, life, but the DVD made me feel I knew her personally, and I enjoyed watching her grow and change. It was delightful to see her in the early days as a San Francisco club singer, looking a bit like the young Princess Di with her short bowl haircut and chubby face, and then to see her transform into a bubbly New York cabaret star and finally a slimmed-down, poised, mature singer. At every stage, what is so appreciated is that rich, sensitive voice, captured now forever thanks to footage from appearances at the Algonquin's Oak Room and on "Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee." Songs include "The Waters of March," "The Best Is Yet to Come" and "Moon River." The latter was performed on the "Charles Grodin Show" just nine days before Nancy's death. The DVD also includes a photo montage and a "Broadway Beat" interview conducted with LaMott in 1994.
A TV movie about Nancy’s life is being made, and it was certainly a life that will make a compelling movie. Raised in Midland, Michigan, Nancy began singing as a teenager in her father’s band. Around this time she also developed Crohn's disease, a bowel disorder for which she would endure many surgeries over the years, causing her much financial hardship, and leaving her in pain a great deal of the time. I heard an interview with her brother after her death and he said she was often in so much pain she could barely made it to the stage, but she did, and always walked out with a big smile. He said she often sang her best when she was in the most pain.
Despite the illness, she knew she had to get out of Midland to pursue her dream, so at the age of 19 she and her brother, Brett, who was her drummer, headed out to San Francisco where she became one of the most sought-after cabaret singers in the area. Then, when she felt she was ready to try the big time of New York, she went thanks to a friend who bought her a plane ticket because he believed in her talent so strongly; she was too broke from her medical bills to fund the move. She arrived in NYC with $1,000, borrowed two lawn chairs for furniture and began looking for work as a singer while working as an office clerk during the day.
The success she had found in San Francisco reoccurred in New York. According to nancylamott.com, from which much of this biographical information comes, “Nancy quickly became known in the small circle of the cabaret world as one of the great singers of her time, but her momentum toward success was always interrupted by illness, surgery and the resulting lack of funds. People were captivated not only by Nancy’s talent, but by her simple goodness and beauty of spirit, and she made many good friends, including David Zippel, Mark Sendroff, Bill McGrath and Bob Baker, who were there for her triumphs and helped her through the bad times.”
Up until now, she was a well-kept secret of the cabaret world, but in 1989 she met composer/conductor David Friedman who thought she should be making records and offered to produce them himself. Through her records, Nancy’s popularity spread to a wider circle and she began breaking attendance records at some the most prestigious clubs in New York, including the Chestnut Room at Tavern on the Green and the world famous Oak Room at the Algonquin.
With all this good fortune, Nancy still had to deal with her medical problems and surgeries. Finally, her disease became too serious, and she was forced to have an ileostomy, a life-changing operation. For the first time she felt well and could eat whatever she wanted. With her newfound energy and health, her career really took off.
She began touring extensively and was discovered by WQEW disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz, which led to her being played on 1,000 radio stations all over the country. Kathie Lee Gifford became a huge fan and played an enormous part in promoting Nancy nationally and also in personally supporting her toward the end of her life. During this time Nancy sang twice at the Clinton White House.
It was in March of 1995 that she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She chose to do hormone therapy as opposed to surgery so she could complete the greatest album of her career, Listen To My Heart, with a full orchestra led by the legendary Peter Matz.
Just after her diagnosis, Nancy was in San Francisco doing an AIDS benefit when she was introduced to actor Pete Zapp. They quickly fell in love and began a bicoastal romance.
In July, Nancy was told that the hormone therapy had not worked and that she needed to have a hysterectomy. She postponed it one month so she could play the Algonquin one more time. As soon as that engagement was over, Nancy had the surgery and was told the cancer had spread slightly and she would need chemotherapy. During this period, she kept performing, doing a sold-out week at Tavern on the Green, and even fulfilling concert dates around the country. Then she would have a chemo treatment and spend a week recovering at Kathie and Frank Gifford’s Connecticut estate.
The chemo and the disease began to take their toll, and just a few days after her last performance, on "Charles Grodin," Nancy was taken to the hospital and her friends and family were told that she had just a couple days to live.
Peter Zapp and her family and friends rushed to her side. On Dec. 13, President and Mrs. Clinton phoned her in the hospital to wish her well. David Friedman promised her that the whole world would hear her sing. And that night, in the last hour of her life, Father Stephen Harris performed a bedside wedding ceremony for Nancy and Peter.
Nancy LaMott had it all, if only for 45 minutes. She died with friends and family around her, married for the first time in her life, and knowing she was on her way to far wider recognition.
A public memorial service was held for her on Feb. 11, 1996, at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City, with 1,500 people in attendance, including Margaret Whiting, Tony Bennett, Peter Matz, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
I hope you will order this blessing of a DVD, and please do what I’ve been doing all these years when I listen to that ever-so-special voice, say a prayer for Nancy.