Linda Lavin

Linda LavinIf you’re looking for music to make you smile during these uncertain times, look no further than Linda Lavin’s new album, Love Notes.

Out this Friday via Club44 Records, Love Notes is described as “an elegant and swinging mix of timeless standards, jazz classics and gems of the pop/rock era.” Love Notes will be available from iTunes, Amazon, in stores and all streaming platforms.

In addition to being the winner of a Tony Award and a Golden Globe Award, Lavin is an Emmy Award nominee. The screen and stage legend’s storied career has included the titular role on TV’s Alice, unforgettable guest spots on The Good Wife, Mom, and Madame Secretary, and six Tony Award-nominated performances in Broadway Bound, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Collected Stories, and The Lyons.

To celebrate the album’s release, Lavin and I spoke about the record, her creative process, musical partnership with Billy Stritch, upcoming Off-Broadway musical The Bedwetter (based on Sarah Silverman’s autobiography), and more.

 What inspired you to record Love Notes?

Linda LavinThe desire to record is always with me. I have an act and I’ve had it for several years. We keep changing it and revisiting the stories and rewriting it, restructuring it, and bringing in new songs. At one point, I said to Billy Stritch, my fabulous musical director of 15 years, “I want to do another recording.” This is my second. My first CD we made several years ago and it was called Possibilities. I knew that the show we had put together in August of 2019 was something I wanted very much to share with people and record and put out into perpetuity. So he said, “Good!” and we got the studio and a fantastic executive producer, Wayne Haun, who came to me and we made it a two-record deal through Club44 Records.

Wayne and his partner Joel Lindsey, who is the ANR man, have produced this record and it is gorgeous. Wayne and Joel also wrote a song and sent it to me. It’s called “Stars Would Fall” and we are offering it as a single when people go online and pre-order the album. It’s a gorgeous new love song, and the album has 12 fabulous songs on it of all kinds of different styles. It’s a pop/jazz album and the band is fantastic. The orchestrations were done by Wayne Hahn, the 33-piece orchestra were done in Nashville and they are magnificent. I’m just so proud and so excited about it.

What makes the sophisticated “Stars Would Fall” the perfect choice for the album’s lead single?

When I first heard it, it absolutely brought me to tears. There was something extremely familiar about it. Even though it’s a brand new song, it felt like a song that we’ve always known. It harkened back to the romantic songs of the ‘50s to me, and it sounds like some sort of French classic song. It sounds like “Autumn Leaves.” It sounds like “The Anniversary Waltz.” It sounds like something we should know. There was something so deeply moving about it. I said to the composer, “I think this is the wedding song for the next century!” There’s always that one song that you love and you want it to be repeated at all your loving events, and this is it. It sounds like a song that was written for a romantic movie.

When I heard it, I learned it right away. When I read material and it moves me to laugh and cry, that’s when you know it’s a piece of material you want to share. Billy Stritch wrote the chart on it and Wayne Hahn wrote the orchestrations and it’s magnificent.

As you mentioned, the album consists of an array of standards, classics, pop/rock, and original music. How did you curate the diverse tracklist? And is there a specific narrative you’re looking to tell with the flow of these songs?

People tell me that I should write a book but I don’t want to write a book! I’m not a writer. I always say that if you want to know my story, listen to the songs I sing. The album is curated from the show. As I’ve evolved and want to keep telling my story, the songs change with the stories that I want to tell as I get more self-aware and more detached from the earlier parts of myself. I’ve done this act for 15 years and the act has changed considerably with new perspectives about who I am, who I was and the songs that I want to use in order to say who I am and who I was.

For instance, in my first CD, I did a Steely Dan song called “Walk Between Raindrops,” and it’s a song that told about the story when I met Lenny Bruce when I was a kid working in Miami. That story I don’t tell anymore, but I do love Steely Dan and Donald Fagen. So we do “Black Cow” now, and “Black Cow” is a piece of my story. I don’t have to talk about certain things or write about them because I sing the song and the audience gets the gist, if you know what I mean. I’m telling what happened to me and the song tells the story.

It’s curated by, “Oh, I want to tell this about myself. What song would best do that? What song celebrates my love of music, my background in music, my love affairs, my relationships, my family, my evolution from a young girl who wanted always to perform to the woman that I am now?”

We do “You Must Believe in Spring,” by Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. That really has to do with who I have become in a very simple way in terms of aging, evolving, and simply what really matters in life. And then we burst into “How High the Moon.” So an act is an evolution just as a three-act play is. It comes out of thought: what do you want to say? How do you want to say it? How should it be musicalized? What instrumentation do we do on this?

I have the most brilliant musical director in Billy Stritch, and Aaron Weinstein as a featured player in my act and on this album. He is a virtuoso and an extraordinary young jazz violinist who also plays the mandolin. He and I have become friends. He brought his mandolin over to the apartment one day and we started going through songs and I realized I just wanted to sing with just him and the mandolin. So now we do that together!

Things evolve through friendships and relationships. My husband painted the portrait that’s on page two of the six-page album. To get six pages on an album is just outstanding and thrilling. Each of those pages is filled with personal notes from people who mean a lot to me, and then my notes to those people who have meant a lot to me and supported me in my life and along the way and made this album what it is – which is, I think, just superb.

It gets curated by living and by thought and by putting your writer’s cap on and saying, “What do I want to say? How do we want to do this?” Then Aaron comes in and I say, “I want to do this song, that song, this song, and the other song.” Then he does a chart on it and he and Billy and I get together over the piano with the violin and it’s an arrangement. Then it’s a piece and it needs very little work because we know each other. He knows me, he knows my strengths and weaknesses. He knows where my voice lies. If there’s any changes that get to be made, they get to be made.

Speaking of your musical director and producer Billy Stritch (who also plays piano and is a featured guest vocalist), how did you two come to collaborate on this record and how do you think the album is enhanced by his role on its creative team?

Billy StritchHe just has golden ears. He knows me. We’re very close friends. We met a million years ago and we’ve been playing and singing together since the mid-90s. He matches my musical ambitions with his expertise, and he brings about what I want to hear and then he informs me through what he knows about what it can be and how a song can expand. This album could not have been what it is without him – without his arrangements, his chart, his musicality, his musicianship, his piano playing, his vocalizing.

We do a Bobby Short medley together. We’ve done it in the act for several years now. Bobby was a big influence on me and Billy sings it with me. The way Billy listened to me laying down my voice after the musical tracks and the way he directed the laying of the tracks of the band! I mean, I have an incredible band. Tom Hubbard is an extraordinary bass player. Jeff Barone is an extraordinary guitarist. Daniel Glass, my new and extraordinary drummer, and Aaron’s violin work and Billy’s piano work all together, it just takes your breath away. The engineer was holding his heart. It was a really thrilling experience all the way. It was very emotional and exciting. It’s very rare that this kind of music gets put down anymore, and so I’m feeling very grateful.

When my first copy of the album arrived last week, I fed the dog, took him for a walk, lit the candles, got into the bubble bath and put the album on my boom box and just lay in the tub listening to these songs. This album is just so much fun! It’s moving, it’s emotional, it’s complicated, it’s simple, it’s storytelling with the best possible music around it.

It could not have been done without Billy’s expertise and his organizational skills in terms of gathering musicians and encouraging them to do what they do best. He’s a great musical director. The energy in that studio was electric.

So when you say “why did you do it?” I’m like “Why not? I love doing it!” Also, you don’t have to get dressed up. You can stay in your pajamas. Nobody cares. Put the earphones on and go in there and sing your heart out. When you say “what was his part in it and how does he affect the excellence of it?” he does so by letting me know that something was gorgeous or something did not hit the mark, and so we do it again. Singing is not easy or everybody could do it.

How does your creative process differ when you’re working on a show or album as yourself versus as a scripted character?

Well, it varies from script to script. I never lose myself when I’m playing a character. I don’t see it that way. I don’t see myself hiding behind a character and becoming somebody else. I see myself expanding into whoever that is that’s been written in front of me, that guides me to parts of myself, to expose and express parts of myself – whether it’s the queen of Romania or a homeless person down the street or a mother or grandmother or a child. All the women that live inside me get expressed through the script.

I could not have told you what my first day of recording was going to be, because when we laid tracks for the album, I was just getting over a bronchial infection and so I couldn’t sing really fully. The band was in the studio and I was in another part of the studio recording with them just so they could hear the phrasing. Within a week, I was all healed and better and I went into the studio and sang the song – but I wouldn’t have been able to predict how energized and on top of my game I’d be on that first day of recording this album! I had two friends in the studio with me who are very close to me and both very musical. I just went in there and it was like I was 15-years-old and I just wanted to perform. I wanted to show them how good this was going to be. I wanted it to feel open and free, and it did! I just wanted to go in and sing that song, and the first take was like, “Okay. We’re alright.”

Everything always needs work and everything evolves. Everything gets better or worse or more complicated or you lose it and you find it again. It’s like pushing paint around a canvas. My husband talks about that a lot. Sometimes you just lose it and you have to go back to the beginning. What’s the source here? What’s the reason for doing this? What’s the impetus? What’s the intention? Did I lose it? Did I perform it too much? Did I over-sing it? There’s a lot that goes into it, so I can’t answer that question with one theory or one formula. There’s no one way of working for me.

Next you’ll be starring in The Atlantic Theater Company’s new Off-Broadway musical The Bedwetter, written by Sarah Silverman, Adam Schlesinger, and Joshua Harmon. What can you tell me about your character of Nana and what you’re most excited for audiences to see when this musical opens?

The BedwetterAs Sarah is and as I am, this is a play about New England Jews, not New York Jews. It’s about a family who come from the same part of the world that I come from – Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine. I could feel a certain accent it in the writing, one with a certain cadence, a certain music that was very familiar to me because I come from those people. So I’m excited to find that, to play that music, to find the language of the people and of this character.

Nana is very funny. She’s feisty, she’s got an edge and she’s sarcastic and loving and passionate about these girls. She plays games with them. As I said to you earlier on, when I start reading the script and it makes me laugh and then suddenly it moves me to tears, I start reading it out loud. I want to hear it. It jumps off the page and I jump off with it.

For me, that’s what happened reading this script. I was in LA when I read the script and they offered it to me and sent the script. I went to New York and got to meet Sarah, and it was a love fest in the room. I’m a big fan of hers, and everybody I know is a big fan too. They love her honesty and the way she speaks to us as a woman, as a Jew, and as a performer. She is brilliant and insightful and in touch with her generation and the generation she comes from.

It’s a musical and there’ll be a song or two to learn. They’ve already written me another scene in the second act, I just got it the other day. That’s always nice – although it’s more to learn!

You made your Broadway debut in 1962 and have been consistently featured on the Great White Way ever since. Generally speaking, how do you think Broadway has changed since you were first starting out your career and what changes would you still like to see made?

I’m not a historian and I don’t really know enough about how it’s changed. I don’t go to see everything and I don’t know that it has changed as much as we have changed. I think people change in generations. So the way it has changed is a reflection of who we are as a society and how the young people after us have decided to write what they know.

Certainly Hamilton has changed Broadway. Maybe The Bedwetter is a change too in terms of its tone, its modernity, or it’s being in the moment. But everything changes. You might as well ask me how the architecture of the city of New York has changed, and I can tell you as little as I’m saying about the theater and as much – and that is, it has changed because of who we are as a society. Just look up at the buildings and go, “Oh my God. That’s all glass and that’s all concrete. So who are we?”

Listen to the music and listen to how it’s performed. Listen to the stories that are being told. Is it a different style or a different form? Or are the stories more open, more honest, more complicated? Or are they just as fraught with problems as they always were? Everything isn’t a hit and everything isn’t a flop. Does one story mean more to a group of people than another? Who’s to say, it’s really so personal.

If you were running for President this year, what would your campaign slogan be?

Wow! Well, one of the first people that I supported in this campaign was Marianne Williamson. I think she really raised the bar. She got a lot of flack because of her profession and who she’s been, but I’ve been a devotee of hers for many years. She changed the conversation and I think the most powerful gift and gesture from her was to be seeking the truth and looking at the possibility of love versus the absence of love in the horror that we’re living in. All the insanity that we’re dealing with has brought me to a place of desire for a restoration of sanity. I don’t know what the slogan would be. I’m not a slogan writer. I told you I’m not a writer, but I’ll give you that much.

You’ve accomplished so much in your career. Are there any dream roles or projects that you haven’t had the opportunity to play yet that you’d like to cross off your bucket list?

 No, I’m really very satisfied with what I’m doing right now. I’m working just enough. I have a great life and I work when I want to and I work with wonderful people and wonderful material. There’s nothing beyond what I have right now that I need or that I desire. I’m living the dream. Steve and I have moved to Costa Rica. We have a place there because our family has moved there and my kids have moved there. The expression in Costa Rica is “pura vida,” or “it’s a great life.”

Linda Lavin

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.