Who's the most unheralded jazz and Broadway vocalist of the past thirty years? Lainie Kazan, I'd say, simply because most of her best LPs are long out-of-print, yet conversely, she remains a popular actress on TV and in film, and still packs them in when she plays the occasional jazz or supper club. Say what? How does that happen?
Some of you may already have a lot of her LP's, and I posted most of them a few years back, but the other day, while searching the Internet, I was shocked by how many Lainie LP postings have seemingly vanished (even from the usual places you'd expect to find them). That ain't right!
So here she is, for those who've never heard of her, and those who might need one or two more of her LP's to add to their collection. There's 7 total. Oh, and the Cheerful Earfull is testing out password-protection from this point on - given the unfortunate calamity that befell this blog last month - but keep calm, the password is easy to remember. It is, drumroll, please: thecheerful
My favorite Lainie LP is the one above, "Love Is Lainie" from 1966. It has all the powerful vocals you'd expect from a Lainie LP, plus "Song Without Words," a spoken-word interval overflowing with late-60's Hollywood schmaltz - a camp classic that grows more delightful with each passing year.
But don't listen to Lainie expecting mere campiness (which, in the case of "Song Without Words," is borne of the time period, not her). She's a hugely accomplished jazz and standards vocalist who made her Broadway debut in the early 1960's and understudied Streisand in "Funny Girl." She subbed for Streisand only twice - and legend has it, the disappointed boos and catcalls that greeted her when she first came onto the stage were completely dissipated by the "thunderous standing ovations" she received by evening's end.
She also earned rave reviews, but understandably, found it just a wee bit difficult to continue working in the chorus of the show (wouldn't you?). She left shortly after and promptly got a record deal. She was off and running.
The New York Times has called her "both a composite of the sock-em'-in-the-gut show business tradition that runs from Sophie Tucker to Judy Garland, and a shameless caricature of it," which just about nails it on the head. Lainie only fueled her fame by appearing in the pages of Playboy. Oh, and get this, her Playboy spread inspired Jack Kirby to create the DC Comic super-hero "Big Barda." See the resemblance?
Unfortunately, Lainie began to get in her own way. "I was difficult," she's said since, "and I didn't have a business head. I went half-cocked into the night." In other words, she was a diva - and not in a good way. Oops.
She was booted from two Broadway shows before they opened, losing the lead role in "Seesaw" to Michelle Lee, and later, she left a revival of "The Women." She wasn't exactly blackballed after that, but no one was banging down her door to hire her, either.
Things got worse. She took hits financially, filing for bankruptcy. Then a blood clot in her leg nearly nearly killed her. The clot, or deep vein thrombosis, moved into her lung and formed a near-lethal blockage. She was in critical care for over a month.
Whatever Lainie thought about or planned while she was in the hospital, it worked. Once out of harm's way, she re-invented herself; the bad businesswoman became a sharp entrepreneur and the diva became a pro. She convinced Hugh Hefner to let her open, book and manage the "Lainie's Room" jazz clubs in Chicago, Manhattan and Los Angeles under the aegis of Playboy. And she wasn't just a figurehead, either.
"I booked talent, ran the clubs and dealt with the agents and managers - all those who wouldn't hire me before - for three and a half years." She performed at the clubs, too. Of course.
There aren't many second acts in show business, but Lainie's been surprisingly resilient. How she wasn't nominated for an Oscar in "My Favorite Year" is any one's guess. "One of the great Jewish mother scenes of screen history," The New York Times said (and it's true) (it's also hilarious).
She's gone on to act in movies and TV, while singing in Vegas and Atlantic City. Me and my Cuban Luvuh saw her at a jazz club in Los Angeles a few years back, and let me tell you, she did not disappoint. She was compelling to watch, and it wasn't only because of the powerhouse voice, though that was part of it. You got the sense that when she's on stage, she's giving you everything she's got - every last drop. It was generous, at times overwhelming, and yes, be assured, she was very much the diva. In a good way.
When does Lainie get her Mama Rose?
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