Deborah Latz’s new album Lifeline opens her up more personally in front of audiences than ever before. The depth of her vocals and the mood of the music reel audiences into her life in a way that her past experiences as a stage actress/singer and her training, which included Afro/Haitian classes with Madonna in attendance, never gave her the opportunity to unleash. Many artists strive to reach a personal best, and Lifeline is one of Deborah Latz’s own as she taps into the grief that she felt over losing her mother.
"Lifeline is dedicated to my mother who died of cancer at the age of fifty-three," she reveals. "I was fifteen at the time and struggled with her loss for many years. And, at the same time, I attacked life with fierce determination. Love of life is the theme for Lifeline."
In the liner notes of Lifeline, Latz states, "Lifeline is a culmination of three years of taking more chances and trusting my intuition. I have lost too many loved ones too early in my lifetime, and it has sent me down some difficult paths. But these recent years, living with music and crafting music, has allowed me to move through sadness to find some resolution. Lifeline is the process and the product of that journey."
She extends, "In recent years I’ve been able to get much more in touch with some of the emotional issues of my life. The songs on Lifeline found me, so to speak, and helped me to ultimately express that emotional journey."
She assesses, "When I played back the tracks, what I was looking for was honesty in my vocals if I felt deep sadness or joy then I knew I was telling the story the way I intended. And for the band as a whole, I was listening for a natural flow, mood, crispness and a solid center."
A highlight of the album is Deborah’s interpretation of three French songs: ’Les Feuilles Mortes,’ ‘Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours,’ and ‘La Vie En Rose’. "These songs are perfect in French," Deborah says. "The meaning of the French translations, which differ from the English, are very deep and beautiful. I’ve always had a good ear for the sound of foreign languages and I have a basic understanding of German and a smattering of French, Italian and Spanish." She extracts, "In my one woman show, Travels With Ma Own Self, I perform songs in five languages. I adore singing in other languages, it makes me re-think the story, feel the words in a different way and make new discoveries about the tunes."
Latz’s small battalion of musicians who join her on the recording include Daniela Schächter on piano, Bob Bowen on bass, Elisabeth Keledjian on drums, and Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone. Each one of them brought out the songs special need to penetrate the listener from a different angle including the melody, "The Sweetest Sounds," which Latz describes, "A few years ago an audience member suggested I sing ‘The Sweetest Sounds’ because he could hear my affinity for dissonance. Daniela Schächter and I wanted to keep the sound sparse and loose to allow the message of the lyrics to come through more clearly. With the repeated motif of the first eight bars, ‘The Sweetest Sounds’ has just the right nuances."
Latz expresses that a handful of artists have influenced her sensibilities for mellifluous sounds, "Betty Carter is a big influence for me she deconstructed familiar songs and put her ‘Betty Carter’ touch on them. Her approach on popular songs, like In ‘The Still Of The Night’ and ‘The Trolley Song’ are definite inspirations."
She recalls, "When I was a teenager singing and performing I was following the ‘rules’ in musical theater, in choir, and I wanted to sound like other artists. However, over the last several years I’ve gotten closer to expressing just who I am. No question, many artists Tony Bennett, Betty Carter, Dave Brubeck, Joe Newman, Sonny Stitt have influenced me, and they are folded into my interpretations."
Before Lifeline, there was Latz’s 2004 debut album Toward Love, which she tells showed a different side to her. "The recording for Toward Love was really fast and efficient. We laid down the tracks in one six hour session, and then did the mix in two days. Although there are advantages in working in a focused way, keeping the costs down among them, for Lifeline, we decided to take our time. The band and I made the recording over two and a half days at Michael Brorby’s, Acoustic Recording studio in Brooklyn, and then I worked with Michael on the mix through multiple sessions over a six month period. Gene Lee at DB Plus mastered which was a big learning experience for me. I was so wound up by the time I hit the first mastering session with Gene, I cried for the first ten minutes. They told me it happens all the time and not to worry because it wasn’t going to hurt one bit. It was so satisfying to craft Lifeline just the way I envisioned it."
She discerns, "With the release of Toward Love in 2004, my ideas and expression were beginning to take root. The album helped me land gigs, and that bandstand experience has been key in my growth as a singer. My debut composition, ‘Jump In’, has given me the confidence to unveil other songs that I’ve written. And, these past four years gigging out have been and continue to be what makes me a better artist. Many of the players I’ve worked with have been my teachers on the stand and sometimes off the stand as well."
Latz’s impetus for making Toward Love was to unveil desires that felt constrained. "After many years of acting and singing, I came to the conclusion that music was my calling. I’d been playing in New York City with Timo Elliston, a gifted pianist/composer, for a couple of years. With his guidance and the confidence he instilled in me to arrange on my own, Timo and I, together with outstanding sidemen, made Toward Love. The songs I chose were all about finding love and moving ‘toward love’ which is my husband, Don Flagg. We all went through a very intense process to flesh out the essence of the album which ultimately gave it flow and meaning."
Touring for Toward Love allowed her to parley her skills as a stage performer to becoming an engaging solo artist in concert. She reflects, "There is nothing like live performance to inspire, electrify, and connect me with the audience. I look forward to going back into the studio; however, live performance is what I crave. In the studio, I am hyper aware of every nuance. There’s a lack of warmth in the studio without an audience, therefore, the images and stories must be very strongly instilled in me so that there’s an honesty and a ‘place’ given to the music. When all is said and done I am looking to honor the music, lyrics, arrangements, the musicians, and to make sure I give 200% to it all."
She remembers one concert on that tour which made a lasting impression on her. "In November 2005, I had my debut in Paris at Sept Lezards with renowned pianist, Alain Jean-Marie. There I was standing in that intimate room with serious French listeners, and during the sets I would surreptitiously look up at the ceiling, which was covered in a collage of famous artists’ portraits, such as Edith Piaf, Ella, Serge Gainsbourg and more, and I couldn’t stop smiling to myself. Throughout the concert I kept thinking, "I’m in Paris!"
She hopes to return to Paris to perform songs from Lifeline. "I would especially love to return to France and play several dates in Paris. And I would be thrilled to book in Japan as well."
Latz learned early on not to give up on her dreams from her father. "My father always told me to ask for everything and that the worst that can happen is the person says no. And then, you go back in later on and ask again. Perseverance."
During his lifetime, Latz’s father was a firm supporter of her talents and gave her a chance to tap into her creative urges as a teenager. "I began my voice lessons with Mrs. Pardini at the age of 14. Both my father and Mrs. Pardini were big supporters, however, if I didn’t keep a B or higher in my French class my father would ‘suspend’ my voice lessons. For Mademoiselle Johnson I did a lot of extra credit, including singing French arias in order to maintain that B! At the same time, my Aunt Barbara introduced me to the San Francisco Opera and my parents took me to the American Conservatory Theater, where I sobbed through A Chorus Line and was mesmerized by The Elephant Man. My life in music and theater had truly begun."
She recounts about her musical training, "At San Francisco State University I concentrated on music and drama and continued to study voice privately with Pamela South, a wonderful teacher and friend, who helped me to begin to find my true voice. The singers I grew up listening to were Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Dorothy Lamour, Fred Astaire, and Ella, I learned so much from them as singers and as performers. All of these great performers had style, class, mystery and a lovely sense of humor."
She encompasses, "Throughout high school, college and beyond I performed in musicals, choirs and plays. I was fortunate to study speech with Edith Skinner at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and concentrated on Shakespeare and the Classics at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England where I studied with Michael Kahn, George Hall, and Ian Wooldridge. In New York City I studied avant-garde theatre with Anne Bogart and at the Actors Space with Alan Langdon. All of my theater training has added immensely to my interpretive instincts as a singer. I approach songs with the ‘who, what, when, where and why’s’ of the acting credo, so that I’m coming from a centered and informed place no matter what direction my vocal line takes."
Her transition from being a pupil to having a life in the arts went smoothly as she chronicles, "I was living on my own in a huge Victorian apartment in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. I was studying acting with Jean Shelton, managing a Double Rainbow ice cream store on Polk Street and dressing like Annie Hall (I still have a terrific collection of ties). But something was missing. I was moving faster than everyone else on the street and actor friends of mine in New York told me that my destiny was in the East. So, during a two week trial in Manhattan, I fell in love with the city’s rambunctious, gritty energy - I flew back to San Francisco, packed my bags and headed for the ‘Great White Way’."
She cites, "Shortly after moving to Manhattan I landed my first acting job as Mary Gushin (a sex starved secretary) in the world premiere of Death in the Organization performed at Theater for the New City in the East Village. From there I danced with two different companies, took Aftro-Haitian classes with Madonna, waited on a lot of tables, auditioned for a lot of plays and musicals, and then started writing my own theater pieces. I performed my one-woman show, Travels With Ma Own Self, at Don’t Tell Mama, 55 Grove Street, Steve McGraws, Second Stage Theater, and The West Side Theater. But something was missing. I realized that my true passion was singing, and I started concentrating on the rich, sophisticated music of jazz. New York University’s Torch Club was where I began to hone my jazz vocal skills and then, when Toward Love came out in 2004, the album became the calling card that helped me book in New York City venues."
She asserts, "New York City allowed me to fully express who I was and who I wanted to be. It’s the perfect city to re-invent oneself. I’ve lived in Harlem, Alphabet City, the Upper West and East sides, Queens and now in Brooklyn. I’ve experienced so many different cultures, seen and heard the crème de la crème both in theater and music, and I met and married the man of my dreams all right here in New York City!"
In the liner notes of Lifeline, Latz writes about her husband Don Flagg, "He is my muse, my toughest critic, my unwavering foundation, and the love of my life. Without him, this album would not be possible."
It is safe to say that her husband has given her one of the biggest breaks of her life, but she notes several other pivotal figures who have provided her with encouragement. "There are a lot of people who have helped me along the way to become a better musician and performer most especially the musicians I’ve worked with over the last six years."
Since the release of her debut album, she has been able to count on several people in the industry to encourage her top press on, "When Toward Love came out I went on-line to see who represented my favorite musicians, and then I called them all. I met with JoAnne Jimenez who books Ron Carter. She listened to my disc and encouraged me to continue, added that it was a long hard road and to ‘get ready’. JoAnne shared amazing stories about her experiences with Betty Carter and Carmen McRae that had me on the edge on my seat, which gave me even more energy to go after my dreams."
Presently, Deborah Latz is looking ahead to performing her new material in front of more audiences. Like many artists who go on tour, life can be lonely so far away from home, but Latz tells that she has found a means to ease such discomfort away. "When I’ve been on the road in the past, I’ve solved missing my husband by asking him to come with me, however, that’s not always possible. The tour I envision for Lifeline will be filled with new musical experiences, new friends, discovering different cuisines and when it gets lonely, there will be Skype and e-mail, books I’ve been meaning to read, and songs to be written. If there’s no time for any of that, then I look forward to some good solid sleep and many concert dates."
There is a recurring pattern in Deborah Latz’s life where the men, like her father and her husband, play a role in strengthening her stamina and the women, like her mother and Betty Carter, have inspired and influenced her melodic sensibilities. Latz acknowledges her lifeline to these people, which has allowed her to indulge in her creative leanings. Her album Lifeline cherishes these folks and the marks that they have made on her, never letting them leave her spirit.