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"Debby Lennon is "I'm All Smiles""







Posted on Thu, Jan. 12, 2006



Debby Lennon is all smiles
Jazz chanteuse gets happy with eclectic new album
BY ROGER SCHLUETER
News-Democrat
BELLEVILLE - Debby Lennon has plenty of reasons to be all smiles these days.

She says she's happily married to a man who baby-sat her 30 years ago. Her career as a jazzy cabaret singer continues to snowball. And, she has just released her first solo CD, titled -- what else? -- "I'm All Smiles."

Even over the phone, you can tell this Webster Groves, Mo., woman has a grin that could put the Cheshire Cat to shame.

"I'm just one of those people who smiles a lot," she said with a warm laugh. "So, that's what I titled my album, because I felt like I had put a lot of my personality into it."

The soprano will try to bring a smile to your face Friday night when she solos on "Mancini, Mercer and More" as part of the St. Paul United Church of Christ Fine Arts Series here.

She should have an easy task. For starters, she'll be singing time-honored favorites -- from "Moon River" and "Charade" to "Skylark" and "The Shadow of Your Smile."

Backed by St. Louis' well-known Carolbeth True Trio, she'll also show off her vocal chops on selections from her eclectic new album, from Jerome Kern's "I'm Old-Fashioned" to the Beatles' "Honey Pie." And there will probably be an offbeat surprise or two.

"For example, we've got this big little jazz hot medley from 'Victor/Victoria,'" Lennon said. "That's kind of fun. So, it should be a wonderful evening of music."

Lennon is not afraid to say that she can do it all. Classically trained, she has performed at The Muny, earned a standing ovation in Carnegie Hall, and was a founding member of Pieces of 8, a highly regarded St. Louis a cappella octet.

For years, she has been in the spotlight at the Queeny Pops as well as small St. Louis nightclubs even while traveling the country to perform with such groups as the Space Coast Pops in Florida. When her CD came out last November, hordes of fans were turned away from her two packed release concerts at Finale.

But she has kept her day job, too, teaching and directing classical and jazz music at Webster University and St. Joseph's Academy. She also maintains a private voice studio.

Look her up on the Internet, and you'll find descriptions ranging from folk balladeer to torch singer. But there's little question where her heart lies: in those old standards she learned literally at her mother's knee.

"She taught me all of these wonderful old torch songs," said Lennon, who grew up in Webster Groves. "You know, a 7-year-old wouldn't have any concept of what she was singing about, but I loved to sing them."

And sing them well. It didn't take long for her family's parish priest to suggest that her talents were going unrecognized in public school and that she transfer to Nerinx Hall. Soon, she was taking private voice lessons, learning art songs and arias and winning lead roles in the school musicals as a sophomore.

"I had a big voice for a little kid," she said.

She admits struggling with the foreign language in those art songs, but not enough to keep her from winning a scholarship to Fontbonne College. She later landed a performance job at Busch Gardens and even studied French music one summer at the L'Ecole Hindemith in Vevey, Switzerland.

One of her biggest breaks came in the fall of 1992 as an already long-time member of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. The group was preparing the Carnegie Hall premiere of William Bolcom's three-hour long "Songs of Innocence and Experience," based on the poems of William Blake.

Bolcom was the symphony's composer-in-residence at the time, and he had written much of the music with his wife, Joan Morris, in mind. But when Morris fell ill, the songs were parceled out to other singers. Lennon was chosen to do the folky "Nurse's Song," but she wanted more.

"I was a little younger back then, but I was real tenacious," Lennon said. "I said, 'You've got to hear me sing this one!' -- and it was 'The Vagabond,' a sultry kind of fox-trot from the show. It was like (Morris') standout number that he wrote for her.

"Well, they gave it to me, so I sang it in Carnegie Hall to a standing ovation. It was wonderful. For a 27-year-old girl at the time, it was amazing. It was a huge turn-around in my career."

Soon, she was a regular in such Muny productions as "Oliver!," "Show Boat," and with Howard Keel in "South Pacific." It was there she met and became fast friends with Carolbeth True, now a fellow instructor at Webster.

She also spent eight years in Charles Mead's Pieces of 8, which took its a cappella stylings to concert halls around the country. And, she became a fixture at St. Louis night spots and appeared with such groups as the Bob Coleman Legacy Big Band.

"A lot of composers call on me to do a lot of their new works," Lennon said. "But I feel most at home with jazz, and I definitely feel at home when Carolbeth sits at the piano."

That partly explains how Lennon wound up doing her first solo CD last year. In 2003, True and Lennon teamed up to do a memorial concert for three former Webster students who had been killed in a 1991 plane crash that took the lives of country singer Reba McEntire's tour manager and seven band members.

Their performance of "Solitude" was such a hit that Mike Parkinson, the chair of Webster's music department, asked them to record it on a compilation CD featuring the school's jazz faculty. Then, when Barry Hufker, the head of the school's recording program, heard them do it, he knew Lennon just had to have an entire CD to herself.

"It's just marvelous," Lennon said of doing the album, which also features songs by Duke Ellington and Carole King. "We've had some wonderful success from it -- and I'm planning, hopefully, to do many more."

It's another way her life has continued to come together since the turn of the century. In November of 2001, she married her former baby sitter, gaining her an instant family of five children -- plus two step-children -- ages 13 to 27. She remains a fixture at such clubs as the Chase and Cookie's and hopes to win performances at such venues as the Missouri Botanical Garden and Jazz at the Bistro. Later this month, she jets off to Florida for another performance with the Space Coast Pops.

"I love it," she said, another big smile in her voice. "I'm just so grateful that every day I can wake up and I can still sing. And, I'll do it as long as I can."

Who: Debby Lennon and the Carolbeth Trio

What: Mancini, Mercer and More

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: St. Paul United Church of Christ, 115 W. B St., Belleville

Admission: Free-will offering.

Information: 233-3303

CD: "I'm All Smiles" is available through Victoria Records (VC4361) at (800) 344-9561 or www.victoriarecords.net




© 2006 Belleville News-Democrat and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.belleville.com - Belleville News Democrat


"Under the Radar"

UNDER THE RADAR

DEBBY LENNON?I'M ALL SMILES ?Victoria Company

Once again, it's a pleasure to report on a singer who sounds confident, at ease and in control even though the album in question is her first. Such is the case with Debby Lennon from St. Louis, who has been singing on her own and in vocal groups for years. She's a member of the group Pieces of Eight which has recorded several albums and she appeared a couple of years ago as soloist guest with The Gay Men's Chorus at Lincoln Center and does other concert work. Also a voice teacher, Debby's musicianship certainly shows on this easy-to-like CD titled I'm All Smiles.
Two Broadway songs by Cole Porter, "It's All Right with Me" and "So in Love," find her comfortable at a brisk pace, dashing through the melodies, tossing off the sharp lyrics along the way without losing her footing. Her strong jazz musicians are a driving force on these two numbers, leading the way and getting generous time on their own. With dexterity and drive, pianist Carolbeth True and drummer Kevin Gianino lead the way with muscle. As jazz excursions, much of the work here is exciting but may not be to the taste of those who generally avoid jazz that isn't "laidback." That being said, nothing here is esoteric or abstract.
Stephen Sondheim's sultry early song, "The Girls of Summer," is especially well done, its tempo and treatment in the mold familiar to those who know of earlier recordings. It demonstrates that Debby can also phrase a lyric with a sense of drama and intelligence. To this end, another song about a season of the year shows how she can excel with sensitive mood-setting phrasing, the lonely ballad "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most." Add to that her creamy, well-rounded tones and this grown-up lament becomes the highlight of the CD. She even takes advantage of the words near the lyric's end, "the party's over," by changing the five notes to quote the famous show tune of the same title from Bells Are Ringing) and then inserting its next line, "the candles flicker and dim," before returning smoothly to "Spring."
The moody Duke Ellington classic "Solitude" also shows her skill at interpreting a formidable piece with a serious and sad lyric. She uses this and another Ellington trademark, "Caravan" to show off her low tones (she has a three-octave range - some high wailing is in evidence, too). However, in both cases she's daringly following in some big footsteps of legendary jazz vocalists of the past. She doesn't quite have that command or majesty, but impresses nonetheless.
Debby's warm take on "I'm All Smiles" is skillful and pleasing, both in her legato glide through the melody and her comfort with Herbert Martin's smart, crisp lyric. The Jerome Kern/ Johnny Mercer movie tune "I'm Old Fashioned" is a breezy romp that may not be old-fashioned in the sentimental sense but is old-fashioned good jazz playing and singing.
Sounds good to me.

?-- Rob Lester
?Make sure to check our list of Upcoming Releases. ?


- Rob Lester


"Pieces of great"

Pieces of great: Debby Lennon is all smiles. And why shouldn't she be? This St. Louis native has performed at Sheldon Hall, Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer Hall and even halls in Switzerland. She is a brassy, jazzy, Bette-meets-Barbra vocalist who has such a handle on perfect pitch that she founded the famous a cappella octet Pieces of 8. On Tuesday, November 8, Lennon will be celebrating the release of her latest recording -- natch, I'm All Smiles -- at lovely local "hall" Finale Music and Dining (8025 Bonhomme Avenue, Clayton; 314-421-4400). With $5 performances at both 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., there's no excuse to miss it. Between the jazz and the consumption of Finale's drool-inducing dessert T-ravs, you'll be all smiles, too. - Riverfront Times


Discography

"I'm All Smiles" produced by Victoria Company VC4361
CD Baby.com or go to debbylennon.com

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

A native of St. Louis, Debby made her Carnagie Hall debut when she was 23 years old in William Bolcom's " Songs of Innocence and Experience. The Boston Globe called Debby, "brassily irresistable" and she received a standing ovation in Carnagie Hall after her rendition of "The Little Vagabond". She made her Lincoln Center debut singing as a guest soloist with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus and was a back-up vocalist for Norweigen born singer 'Sissel" in her American PBS concert debut at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis, Missouri. Debby is also a frequent soloist with the Florida Space Coast Pops.
Debby toured, recorded and was a founding member of the well known a capella octet Pieces of 8 from 1992-1999. She is an active freelance artist in the St. Louis area performing regularly with The Carolbeth True Trio, The Dan Smith Quintet, Bob Coleman's Legacy Big Band and The Steve Schankman Orchestra.
Debby is adjunct professor at Webster University teaching classical and jazz voice and directs the vocal jazz ensemble "The Webster Jazz Singers."