Lea DeLaria
(© Ghostlight Records)
Lea DeLaria
(© Ghostlight Records)
One tends to expect Lea DeLaria to march to her own drummer, so it's hardly surprising that on Lea DeLaria: The Live Smoke Sessions (Ghostlight), some very familiar songs sound less than familiar. "I was in the midst of planning my third CD -- which is still coming -- when I read that this jazz critic in Europe said I was afraid to do standards," says DeLaria. "And that just got my shackles up. I wasn't afraid to do them, I just knew I'd want to make them different than anyone else's version. So I decided it was time to do standards, but in a way that captures the unique, creative essence of jazz."

In this case, that means each song got its own particular arrangement. "For 'You Don't Know What Love Is,' we came up with something very spur of the moment, while Maryann McSweeney came up with a really swinging treatment of 'Miss Otis Regrets,' she notes. As for including the CD's one non-standard, Michael John LaChiusa's "Puff" (from Little Fish), DeLaria notes: "I honestly felt that Michael John fits right in the middle of Harold Arlen and Cole Porter."

As the album's title indicates, the CD was recorded live -- over two nights and six sets at the Upper Manhattan jazz club Smoke. "My live performances are so different than my recordings, even though we're all in the same room at the same time when we record them. But they just don't have the same bite," she says. "And when you have a screaming audience in front of you, it really elevates your level of performance, because you can't let those people down."

The result, she says, is something she's thoroughly pleased with -- which is a total rarity. "I couldn't even listen to my first record when it came out; I hated it. I wish I could do On the Town again, because now I know how to make it much funnier. And I never go see one of my own movies. Ultimately, I am my own worst critic," she says. "But I have nothing critical to say about this CD."

That's one reason she's looking forward to performing the CD in concert; she'll be back at Smoke on Mondays, September 29 at 8pm and October 6 at 10pm; singing live (and signing CDs) at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle at 6pm on Friday, October 3; and eventually heading out on an international tour that will include Australia and Mexico. Just don't expect to hear the songs exactly as they are on the CD. "The beauty of jazz is the ability to create the moment, so I can do these songs differently every time," she says.

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Blessed with one of the most beautiful voices on the Great White Way, Jason Danieley could have taken the easy way out and created a solo outing of theatrical ballads -- a route taken by many of his contemporaries. But for Jason Danieley and the Frontier Heroes (PS Classics), the actor decided to put together something far more eclectic. "I'm not ashamed of my Broadway roots, but I wanted to step away from it and show all the types of music I grew up with in St. Louis," he says. "My family had this band that we put together to entertain ourselves -- and occasionally play at church basement pot-luck suppers -- and it was always Americana. And I wanted the CD to be part of that tradition, which is why it includes country, folk, and gospel, as well as theater songs."

Danieley admits that the concept was greeted by some skepticism. "People did wonder how I was going to put all this stuff together, but I think when one hears it, the sound does become cohesive and you get it," he says. "Plus, like me, I think a lot of people like to hear a variety of music, so you can put this CD on rather than shuffling through five different ones on your iPod."

The Frontier Heroes, Danieley points out, is a studio band comprised of mostly working Broadway musicians and singers -- one reason the group hasn't been able to make up a schedule of live performances. (Danieley's own touring schedule with wife Marin Mazzie is another welcome complication.) Almost all of the Heroes' members have some connection to either Danieley or collaborator Dan Lipton. "It's all sort of a family," he notes. "It's one reason why I had to have Theresa McCarthy on the CD. We met doing Floyd Collins and she's become sort of a sister to me. So she's featured on this version of Melissa Etheridge's 'This Moment,' which is technically a duet, but which I think of as her song."

And why doesn't Mazzie have a solo? "She did play a big part in the CD. Dan would come over to the apartment a lot and as we went through the possible repertoire, she would peek her head in and yell 'don't do that one' or 'do it -- but add a high note.' And since we've been married for 11years, I trust her taste implicitly," he says. "But even though she's a closeted rock n' roll singer -- she's really wanted to be kd lang for a long time -- she wanted this to be my project. You can hear Marin at the end of ' Ain't That a Kick in the Head,' and she did ask for a catering credit for all the sandwiches she brought to the recording sessions, but I turned her down."

Danieley is donating 20 percent of his CD's profits to the Alzheimer's Association. "My maternal grandmother suffered it for many years, so I know the effects firsthand, but the real reason is that when I was doing Curtains with David Hyde Pierce, who is the group's national spokesperson, I got involved in some events," he says. "And through those events and through David's passion, I learned so much more about the disease and how the medical community needs to know more how to fight it. By mid-century, it's expected to affect over 75 million people around the world, so this is the least I can do to help fund new treatments and research."