We caught up with Songbook Foundation board member, Roger Schmelzer, and Songbook Academy alum, Anaïs Reno, as they prepare to debut at Carnegie Hall in The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s “All the Things You Are”/The Music of Jerome Kern. With more than twenty preeminent cabaret vocalists scheduled to celebrate the man whose compositions “turned American popular song into an art form – first on Broadway and then in the movies.”
Learn more about Roger and Anaïs’ involvement in this upcoming show on May 21st in our interview with them below!
Tell us about yourself, your background in music, your involvement with the Great American Songbook Foundation and why you fell in love with the Songbook and enjoy performing it?
Roger: My father introduced our family to the great vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s who were singing what we know today as the “Great American Songbook.” Roles in musical theater gave me a chance to sing some of these songs. Then, Michael Feinstein’s work breathed new life into the Songbook for me and eventually drew me to the GASF. My wife Lucinda, an actor in Indianapolis, encouraged me to pursue cabaret intensive training where we met and became friends with Marilyn Maye. The collaboration with Marilyn has made it possible for me to perform selections from the Songbook at a deep, meaningful level.
Anaïs: I’ve been performing since I was roughly 7, and that passion became directed mainly towards the Songbook when I was 8. Over the years, I’ve dealt with trying to find my place singing older music as a younger person, and I can honestly say that Michael Feinstein’s Songbook Academy really propelled me performance-wise.
I hadn’t even begun to fathom how much I was going to learn from that Academy when I started, and it only multiplied my appreciation for the music ten-fold. There is really something unique about the Great American Songbook, whether it be the messages carried in the songs, or the chord progressions, or the melodic arcs. It’s simply impossible for me to listen to other genres the way I do the Songbook, and Feinstein’s academy helped further open my eyes to how amazing it truly is.
How did you become involved with the Mabel Mercer Foundation and/or this particular tribute, “All The Things You Are: Celebrating Jerome Kern”? Is this your first time at Carnegie Hall? If so, what are you most excited about or looking forward to?
Roger: This is my first time to even be inside Carnegie Hall! I’ve admired the Mabel Mercer Foundation for some time, most recently under the leadership of KT Sullivan, one of the top cabaret performers in the country. She came to a show I did in New York last year and invited me to participate in the Kern tribute. Carnegie is steeped in so much history and tradition; I want to take it all in. And sing well, of course!
Anaïs: I became involved with the Mabel Mercer Foundation and this tribute through KT Sullivan. I met her at Birdland towards the end of last year, and I’m so thankful I did, not only for the opportunities she’s given me, but for her kind and giving soul. This is not my first time at Carnegie Hall. I participated in the Forte Music Competition there when I was 12. Although I’m not a stranger to Carnegie Hall, I am still incredibly excited to get to perform there again, especially in a different, non-competitive environment