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This week we feature CONVERSATIONS with four women who are bringing people together on stage and in the studio - Jeannie Tanner, Cynthia Clarey, Colleen Raye and Sophie Grimm. Lots of great entertainment to look forward to in the weeks ahead in Chicago.




Award-winning vocalist, composer and trumpeter Jeannie Tanner performs and records original music with her band the Jeannie Tanner Quartet, plays at Chicago’s top jazz clubs and has been deemed a “triple-threat” who “probably couldn’t play or write an unmusical phrase if she wanted to,” by Chicago Tribune’s longtime columnist and jazz critic Howard Reich.

Jeannie debuts her latest album next month; a songbook collection of American style music featuring 12 of Chicago’s finest vocalists. “Words and Music,” showcases Jeannie’s breadth of talents as a songwriter and musician and the unique styles of each of the collaborating vocalists. Jeannie joined the CONVERSATION to talk about her latest project and what to expect from the release party.

This is your ninth album. What makes this one stand out from all the others?

This new album stands out from my other records because it focuses on my songwriting, not my singing. Each song is one of my original compositions and the two-disc album features 12 of Chicago’s finest vocalists singing my words and music: Alyssa Allgood, Rose Colella, Elaine Dame, Kimberly Gordon, Paul Marinaro, Tammy McCann, Jeff Meegan, Typhanie Monique, Andy Pratt, Abigail Riccards, Michele Thomas, Amy Yassinger. “Words and Music” is the first album I’ve recorded that I’m not singing on any of the tracks, and there are nineteen songs on two discs. As a composer, it is a dream come true.

How would you classify the style of music on the album?

This new album is a collection of my original songs and the music is an eclectic mix. It ranges from the Great American Songbook to New Orleans-style jazz; bossa nova and retro 1960s Rat Pack Swing to percussive Afro Cuban rhythms, gospel and soulful ballads, to shades of adult contemporary pop.

 Was it difficult to coordinate all of the various artists?

Actually, no. Everyone was super excited to be a part of this project, and really made themselves available for phone calls, prep meetings, recording sessions and now, performing live, in concert, at the upcoming album release. The whole process has been, and continues to be, totally collaborative and really reflective of the supportive nature of Chicago musicians.

 Do you have an “Ah Ha” moment you can share?

I have several “Ah Ha moments”… The first was when Abigail Riccards recorded a rubato version of the song I wrote for her, “Endless Joy” (the tune is about the happiness of having children). It was unrehearsed, and she and Dan Murphy, who played piano on the album, just nailed it in one take. We were all holding our breath as they were recording… and at the end, I was speechless… we all were… because it was so beautiful. So when they were finished, Abby looks at us and says, “Was that okay?” (Like, do we need to do it again?) And we all said, “Uh, no - that was perfect!”

The second was with Typhanie Monique’s tune, “Be Strong.” I wrote it for her, specifically for this album. She mentioned that she had been listening to a lot of early Etta James, and Little Jimmy Scott. So I wrote the tune keeping those artists in mind, and in passing said to Dan Murphy (Music Director, arranger and co-producer on the album - as well as playing piano), “Can you write a string arrangement sort of reminiscent of ‘At Last?’” Just this past week, I listened to the two songs for the first time, back to back and was astounded that we had captured the whole vibe of “At Last.” And, with Typhanie’s amazing vocal performance on “Be Strong,” it really was an “Ah ha” moment of, “Wow, we did it!”

How did the collaboration with these established artists influence the final performances?

By allowing every artist to have the freedom to interpret my music in their own unique style, the heart and soul of every performer can be felt on this album. The songs reflect the true spirit of this project - creative, collaborative energy with a lot of love.

What can the audience expect on February 27th?

The audience can expect to have a great time! February 27th is going to be an exciting evening of entertainment, featuring 12 of Chicago’s finest vocalists, on stage - for one night only. They will be singing my original music, accompanied by a full band with a horn section and a string quartet. It will be a multi-media concert experience, to be enjoyed at one of Chicago’s finest music venues, the City Winery.

Monday, February 27th
City Winery Chicago
1200 W Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60607

Doors Open: 6:30 pm
Show: 7:30 pm

More Information: HERE
Tickets: HERE 
Jeannie Tanner's Website: HERE 



Seasoned entertainers, vocalists and mother daughter duo Colleen Raye and Sophie Grimm take to the stage at Skokie Theatre to salute the First Ladies of Song in the upcoming show, The Best is Yet to Come. Raye and Grimm will be exploring the trail blazing female songwriters from Tin Pan Alley and The Great American Songbook including classics from Ann Ronell (Willow Weep For Me), Billie Holiday (God Bless The Child) and Betty Comden/Green (Just In Time, The Party’s Over, Never Never Land). We caught up with Sophie to hear more about the show and her musical influences.

Sophie joined the CONVERSATION to give us a preview of their upcoming show. 

Music has obviously played a big role in both of your lives. What influence has your mom had on your career?

My mother inspires me every day with her love of life and incredible work ethic. She has a producer's mind with the creative ability to write entire shows that really connect with an audience through laughter and musical magic. You know that magic that happens when you as an audience member feels completely in the present and satisfied with it just by smiling and tapping a toe to someone singing or playing a song FOR YOU? She helps me every day with her presence in my life, whether physical or in her vibrant spirit. As for my career, I love to say that my family is in business with one another (show business) because I find it special and fulfilling, knowing my sister and brothers are living the dream in every day reality (a creative and striving one) - makes me feel they are achieving creativity (and professionally, on top of that!) and that makes me feel they are happy, making me happy.

Has your musical focus always been on Tin Pan Alley and the Great American Songbook?

I have loved the American Songbook my entire life because the art of jazz music meeting story and sung lyrics is something I love to listen to and create myself. Growing up in a musical family, however, has led me to love all music and live entertainment for that matter. The more we can get more people in a room to have a great time with music or live entertainment, the better in my eye.

Who’s the comedian?

I get so much of my humor from my family, but although I believe my mother would definitely say her strength is in the torch song, she can swap jokes with the best of them. If you're talking about who's the clown, now, I can definitely take that title.


Friday, January 27th
Skokie Theatre
7924 Lincoln Ave
Skokie, IL 60077
8 pm

More information: HERE
Tickets: HERE
Sophie Grimm's Website: HERE
Colleen Raye's Website: HERE




Acclaimed opera singer Cynthia Clarey makes her Chicago theater debut at Porchlight Music Theatre in The Scottsboro Boys. Although not singing in this production, her character plays a pivotal role in the true-life story of nine African American teenagers accused and put on trial in Memphis for a crime they did not commit. Cynthia has traveled the world as an opera singer working with such notables as Peter Brook, Trevor Nunn and Sir Simon Rattle while also performing as a Chicago Cabaret Professional at many notable venues including Davenport’s Piano Bar and Monday Night Live at Petterino’s with Denise McGowan Tracy and Beckie Menzie

Tell us about your character and how she fits into the story?

I play The Lady in The Scottsboro Boys. There is no real description of who she is, but she plays a significant role in the civil rights message of the piece.

How does preparing for The Scottsboro Boys differ from your other professional pursuits?

Over the years, I have seen several Porchlight shows and have been very impressed by the professionalism of the company. Since joining the cast for Scottsboro Boys, I realize how much goes into their productions and how wonderfully they schedule and handle the cast, which is a very talented group of actors and singers. The rehearsal period is very compressed for a challenging show like this, so, we are putting a lot into a short amount of time.

How is it all coming together?

I am very excited to be part of this production, particularly right now with what is going on. I grew up in the South, and this piece is a revelation for me. I am really looking forward to the run.

February 3rd – March 12th, 2017
Stage 773
1225 W. Belmont
Chicago, IL 60657

More Information: HERE  
Tickets: HERE 

Check out The Scottsboro Boys First Rehearsal Video: HERE


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