Recently I met with a group of cabaret singers and cabaret enthusiasts at a wonderful home concert on the West Side. One of the guests was a young woman from China who has been in the US for seven years teaching English as a second language. At intermission she came to me and asked me what kind of music had she been listening to for the last hour. She had never seen or heard anything like the performances that evening.
I explained, “This is Cabaret music”. I don’t mean that it’s from the musical of the same name, but Cabaret means songs performed in an intimate setting, with the goal of maintaining a focus between you and the audience.” The music comes from a wide range of sources; mostly what we call jazz and musical comedy standards, written between 1925 and 1970, with occasional pieces from other types of music, like Latin Music, comedy or international songs.
In classical music, performances tend to be more formal. Your artists sing in front of an audience but making the direct emotional connection between you and them is often incidental. You are allowed to speak to your accompanist–as little as possible–but anything else you want to say to the audience should be in the program notes, if you printed any for the audience.
Cabaret performers talk directly to the audience, explain why they chose the song, tell jokes, dance, go into the audience for direct contact, or tell you more about the song, the composers–or themselves. The musical freedom involved in cabaret also means you can perform with a combo-as big or small as you wish-or with just a piano, a guitar, or I’ve even seen people accompany themselves on a ukulele. Of course there are exceptions to any rule, so big name cabaret performers-Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow, etc–do perform in large venues, but the effect is harder to achieve with a larger audience.
As a classically trained singer who also does jazz and cabaret, I love combining the styles together. It is unexpected and a whole lot of fun for me, the audience and the people accompanying me. Check out my version of “Goody Goody” on YouTube: http://youtu.be/-QK-fTSUS8c .