Jan 28, 2012

The Great American Songbook - Interview With Daniel and Laura Curtis

daniel and laura curtis the great american songbook
Daniel & Laura Curtis
AmeriCymru: Hi Dan and Laura and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. What is 'The Great American Songbook' and what inspired the project? 
Dan & Laura: If you were to Google the term ‘The Great American Songbook’ the most common answer you will find is music from Broadway and Hollywood Musicals from 1920 to 1960. For me it far outreaches this, think of a song like Alexander’s Ragtime Band by Irving Berlin that was written back in 1911. Although most people agree that the birth of Rock and Roll ended the era of the Songbook.  

I often get asked why the Great American Songbook is so important to me. It goes back to Sunday afternoons at my grandparent’s house where I used to spend hours watching the great Hollywood Movie Musicals and going through their endless record collection. My grandmother idolised the Italian American Tenor Mario Lanza who did record a large quantity of music from the Great American Songbook and I was first introduced to many of these songs through his recordings. Laura was a chorister in Lincoln Cathedral and she was taught many of the songs during her singing lessons and they were always her favourites. I put an advert out looking for a pianist and didn’t ever realise I would find a wife as well. Such is the power of this great music!

AmeriCymru: Care to tell us a little more about your repertoire? 
Dan & Laura: Our repertoire is quite wide reaching and includes the works of composers such as Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Cole Porter. We also perform many other songs associated with Broadway and Hollywood Musicals.

AmeriCymru: What are your personal favorites? Which songs do you enjoy listening to and performing the most? 

Dan & Laura: This is really one of the hardest questions to answer, there are so many great songs. I think George Gershwins ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ is one of the most fantastic pieces of music ever written. Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife is amazing and also a recording by Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong called the ‘Five Pennies Saints’ that is very funny.  

As far as songs to perform the song ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ written by Irving Berlin is one of our favourities. We also love to perform ‘Well Gather Lillacs’ by Ivor Novello. Other favourties include ‘My Way’, ‘If I Loved You’ and ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’

AmeriCymru: You hold a number of workshops with young people about the Great American Songbook. Care to tell us a little of your experience at these events? 

Dan & Laura: As well as the performance side of things we have been working with young people to try inspire them to listen to the music with the aim of ensuring that it never gets forgotten. We have been holding schools workshops and teaching them songs like ‘I got Rhythm’ which has been a great success. In a World where music has changed so vastly it’s great to see the younger generation perform these great songs. We also tell them stories about the composers which they find really interesting.

AmeriCymru: You also record people's memories of the musical classics you seek to preserve. Any particularly poignant or interesting tales that you can share with us? 

Dan & Laura: For this project we have been going around the country recording the memories of elderly people e.g. the first time they saw Singing in the Rain and talking about their experiences of the music. We are putting together a website and writing a book which will be about our findings so it can be preserved for generations to come.  

We have had some really interesting tales come out of doing the recordings. We spoke to Debbie Reynolds of Singin’ in the Rain when we performed a post show concert for an event she did called Debbie Reynolds in Conversation at the British Film Institute.  

She told us how when she was selected to play the part she had no real dance experience. She spent six months prior to filming learning how to dance and she knew what a perfectionist Gene Kelly was. One day she was just not coping and went and sat underneath a piano in the studio and started crying. Someone walked over and asked if she was ok and that person was the great Fred Astaire. He asked her what was wrong and she explained and he invited her into a usually closed rehearsal that he was doing. She watched for the next three hours as he went through creating his dance sequences pouring with sweat and clearly giving everything he had. Afterwards he walked over to her and said well now kid you realise what it takes to be great! From then on she threw everything she had into practice and the results can be seen on screen for themselves.

AmeriCymru: You have appeared on radio and television many times and given a number of community performances. What has been your proudest moment so far? 

Dan & Laura: We were recently on the BBC One Show with Tony Bennett discussing the importance of preserving  the music. It was fantastic to appear with such a legend. 

We recently received a quote from Nancy Sinatra that we can use for our preservation work, we felt very honoured that she had taken the time to support us. What an amazing lady! 

Appearing at West End Live to 10,000 people at Trafalgar Square in London was just incredible.  

We recently performed at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando and that was a very special concert, it’s always special to come to the US and perform. 

daniel and laura curtis on the bbc one show with tony bennett
Daniel and Laura on the BBC One Show with Tony Bennett

AmeriCymru: Any live shows coming up? 

Dan & Laura: We tour all through the year so lots of great performances coming up this year which will take us all over Wales and England. 
To mention just one. We are very excited about performing at St Fagan’s the National History Museum of Wales on the 27th August. We will be at the Oakdale Workmen’s Insitute in full costume. The Workmen’s Insitute will be transformed back to the 1940s and we will be doing a series of performances throughout the day with someone on hand from the museum explaining about the time and the songs. Very excited about that one.

AmeriCymru: Any plans to visit the U.S.? 

Dan & Laura: We will be visiting New York City at some point later this year or very early next year to do some concerts.  

We are trying to raise some funds/sponosrship at the moment to come and do a mini tour of the U.S. and perform at churches, community groups linked to Wales for free where possible. Would love to make this happen.  

If anybody knows of any places where we could come and perform, please do let us know.

AmeriCymru: Where can people go to hear and/or purchase your recordings online? 
Dan & Laura: Our website is: www.greatamericansongbook.co.uk – there are lots of recordings and video on there. Please feel free to have a look.

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru? 
Dan & Laura: It is always a pleasure hearing from people who are passionate about this inredible collection of music. If anybody has any questions or would just like to have a chat about the music or if you have any stories, please get in touch. Be wonderful to hear from you.  

Interview by Ceri Shaw Home Email

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