Oakton Recordings releases the fourth in their on-going Irving Berlin series by Benjamin Sears & Bradford Conner with a collection of songs drawn from Berlin's four Music Box Revues of 1921-1924, along with other songs from 1921-1925. Joining Sears & Conner for this recording are members of Boston's American Classics: Valerie Anastasio, Leigh Barrett, Peter Carey, Bobbi Carrey, Jeffrey Goldberg, Tim Harbold, Bob Jolly, Mary Ann Lanier, La'Tarsha Long, Merle Perkins, Joei Marshall Perry, Rachel Smith, Margaret Ulmer, and Boston radio personality Ron Della Chiesa.
In 1920, in association with producer Sam Harris, Berlin built his own theatre, the Music Box in which he would present his own shows, the yearly Music Box Revues. The theatre and the Revues opened in 1921, and both were a smash success. The early '20s were also a period of new maturity for Berlin as a songwriter, reflected in the astonishing variety of songs featured on this recording. In the '20s, Berlin often set the standards for popular song rather than adapting to the prevalent style. In this period, and as his own producer, he felt freer to experiment with musical form and use of language. By the time the Music Box Revue series ended in 1924 he had left behind the Ragtime craze and the ethnic songs that were such a part of his - and others' - output throughout the 1910s.
As always with Sears & Conner recordings, Everybody Step features a mix of beloved standards along with rarities and many first-time recordings. From the Revues, Sears & Conner are heard in What'll I Do? (1924), Will She Come From the East? (1922), and give first recordings of Take a Little Wife (1922), At the Court Around the Corner (1921), Alice in Wonderland (1924), The Call of the South (1924), Behind the Fan (1921), Mont Martre (1922, dropped during tryouts), and Unlucky in Love (1924). One track contrasts two versions of the same song from the 1923 Revue: Little Butterfly which was a rewrite of Too Many Sweethearts (in a premiere recording). Drawing from Berlin's non-show songs are Beautiful Faces (1920), Lazy (1924), and a political song, We'll All Go Voting for Al (1924, in a recording premiere, written for the unsuccessful Al Smith campaign).
Ensemble numbers from the Revues on the CD are Eight Little Notes (1921, recording premiere) performed by Valerie Anastasio, Leigh Barrett, Bobbi Carrey, Mary Ann Lanier, La'Tarsha Long, Merle Perkins, Joei Marshall Perry, Rachel Smith, and Margaret Ulmer, piano; Say It With Music (1921) with Valerie Anastasio, Benjamin Sears, and Bradford Conner on piano; All Alone (1924) with Merle Perkins, Benjamin Sears, and Jeffrey Goldberg, piano; Everybody Step (1921) with lead vocal by Valerie Anastasio joined by Benjamin Sears & Bradford Conner, accompanied by pianist Tim Harbold; Dining Out (1921, incorporating In a Cozy Kitchenette Apartment, all in a recording premiere) sung by Leigh Barrett and Benjamin Sears with Peter Carey, Joei Marshall Perry, Bob Jolly, and Bradford Conner on piano; Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil (1922) and Climbing Up the Scale (1923, recording premiere) sung by Benjamin Sears, La'Tarsha Long, Joei Marshall Perry, and Rachel Smith, with Bradford Conner, piano.
Rounding out the CD is the first recording of the 1921 Revue's star turn for Berlin, An Interview. The Eight Little Notes reappeared to interview Berlin, asking him how he "says it with music". He then tells of his life as a songwriter in a medley of snippets from his hits, including The Ragtime Violin, I Want to Be in Dixie, Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, Alexander's Ragtime Band, You'd Be Surprised, and Nobody Knows and Nobody Seems to Care. The interview concludes with Berlin's latest song hit, All By Myself. Also quoted is Say It With Music (sung by the Eight Little Notes) and the introduction is drawn from Tell Me, Little Gypsy. Many of these songs are on earlier Sears & Conner Irving Berlin CDs, giving this release added significance in their series.
Benjamin Sears & Bradford Conner have been called "Boston's favorite song duo" by the Boston Globe and are known throughout the country as entertainers, recording artists, and music historians. Their CD releases of Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, E.Y. Harburg, and a holiday collection, have featured over fifty premiere recordings, including many first-time performances. Billboard saluted how "they dig deep into their catalogs to make even the most knowledgeable aficionados happily surprised."
In their Berlin series, Come On And Hear! - Early Songs by Irving Berlin, was hailed by the Cabaret Hotline as a "little gem [which] will add much to anyone's collection" and Keep On Smiling (covering the period 1915-1918) was featured by Sheridan Morley in BBC Music Magazine. She's So Beautiful, a collection of Berlin songs written for shows produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, drew praise from Jim Bessman of Billboard, "If you're interested in hearing some of the 1,200-plus Irving Berlin songs compiled in the recently published Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin, She's So Beautiful is a good place to start."
Delishious - Lyrics by Ira Gershwin (the only Ira Gershwin release for his 1996 centenary) was listed by The Boston Globe as one of the "Best CDs of 1995", and is cited in The Gershwin Years (Jablonski and Stewart, 1996 edition) saying, "Sears and Conner feature the words in true, Ira Gershwin-approved style: clear, musical, and no tricks". Paired with Delishious for the Gershwin centenaries is Sweet and Low-Down - Songs by George Gershwin. Beyond the Rainbow - Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg is the most comprehensive collection of his songs on record. In 2000 they added two recordings: Noël and Cole - Together with Music with duo Valerie Anastasio & Tim Harbold (an Amazon.com Top 100 in the Cabaret category, and called "a felicitous pairing all around" by Show Music magazine), and their first "live" recording, Rest You Merry - A Holiday Cabaret.
Sears and Conner are the first cabaret act to be featured at Boston's Emerson Majestic Theatre and in 1998 they gave the first concert of the Babson College Concert series at Babson's new Sorenson Art Center. At Boston's Wang Centre for the Performing Arts they revived a show-biz tradition by presenting a pre-show concert of Irving Berlin songs for a showing of Berlin's classic film, White Christmas. For the 2002 Richard Rodgers Centennial, they gave a special performance using Rodgers's own piano at the Dramatist Guild in New York. Sears & Conner were panelists at the Hofstra University conference The Broadway Musical - 1920-2020 where they performed Irving Berlin's Mandy with Doris Eaton Travis, who danced the number in the original 1919 Ziegfeld Follies. Other appearances include Don't Tell Mama (New York), Tom Rolla's Gardenia (Los Angeles), the International Fringe Festival (Orlando, Florida), Cabaret at Windows (Washington, DC), Chicago Public Library, the Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention (Town Hall, New York City), Scullers Jazz Club (Boston), the first Boston Cabaret Festival, the Upstairs at the Pudding Cabaret Series, CabaretFest! (Provincetown and Newburyport, Massachusetts), Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, Massachusetts), and at colleges, concert series, and other venues throughout the Northeast. On radio they appear regularly as performers on Boston and regional stations; and on the nationally syndicated The Connection (WBUR-FM, Boston) they spoke as commentators on the Gershwins, Sir Noël Coward, and Fred Astaire. Sears and Conner are Producing Directors of American Classics and are founding members of the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA), an organization promoting awareness and performance of cabaret in the Boston area. In 1999 they joined forces with voice and piano duo Valerie Anastasio & Tim Harbold to create The Smart Set to tour a Noël Coward centenary program, Noël and Cole - Together With Music, followed by a second show, Fred & Ethel - Great Songs of Astaire and Merman, which was also nominated for a 2001 IRNE (Independent Reviewers of New England) Award.
Their engaging style and expertise on cabaret and popular song led to an invitation to be guest commentators for a special cabaret program of the AEI In-Flight entertainment, Overture, heard on USAirways domestic and international flights during May and June, 1999. In April, 2002, they gave the pre-concert talk for Barbara Cook's Mostly Sondheim at Boston's Symphony Hall for the FleetBoston Celebrity Series.