Bill Cooper Sings
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Track List
Anything Goes CD

1. Here's What I'm Here For

2. When the Tall Man Talks

3. Ev'ry Time

4. Anything Goes

5. You're Nearer

6. From This Moment On

7. Why Can't I?

8. Who Knows?

9. I Walk a Little Faster


10. I Had a Ball

11. So Far

12. Sweet Danger

13. I'm Feelin' Like a Million

14. The Hostess with the Mostes' on the Ball

15. Out of This World

16. Too Late Now

17. I Fought Every Step of the Way

18. They Say It's Wonderful

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CD Liner Notes

I first met Bill Cooper seven years ago when, in my capacity as a record and CD dealer, I sold him a rare, shockingly expensive record called Dody Goodman Sings?--which tells you something about Bill, something about me, and maybe even a few things about Dody Goodman.  Since then we have become great friends and had scads of good times together, doing mostly what I would classify as All Things Show-biz, from A to Zzzzzz.  Still, I can’t recall having a better time with him than when I sat through every performance of his two engagements at San Francisco’s Plush Room, when he finally realized his lifelong dream of assembling a solo cabaret act.  This CD, his first, is the outgrowth of those shows.

I won’t pretend that someone else wouldn’t be better qualified than I to talk about the technical aspects of Bill’s singing.  Pitch and tone and timbre and drawing breath across the vocal cords as if you were bowing a string instrument....  Well, as Ann Miller once blithely exclaimed when someone described Death of a Salesman to her, “Whooey!  Not my thing.  Guess I’ll skip it.”  So I’ll skip it and just say that Bill Cooper is a damn good singer with a strong, clear baritone, who knows how to sing out, Louise, and let it go at that.  After all, a technically impressive sound--which Bill Cooper has--is only a small part of what makes a compelling singer.  (Think of, say, Elaine Stritch and Frances Faye, great singers who sound as if they’d go home after a show, kick off their shoes and relax by mixing themselves a tall bleach cocktail.)  The other--and, to me, more interesting--part of what makes a good singer is taste, that oversized umbrella which covers influences, interpretations, choice of material and the musical settings in which a vocalist chooses to showcase himself.
Jazz singers forever seem to be paying homage to “Diz” or “Bird.”  Boy singers, nearly 50 years later, still emulate the cool sound of Sinatra at his Eisenhower-era swingin’-est.  And a whole new generation of female vocalists seems torn between emulating Joni-Mitchell-filtered-through-Ricki-Lee-Jones or post-Stoney End Barbra Streisand.
But unlike any other vocalist I know, male or female, Bill Cooper honors the great “lost” women singers who, from the ‘40s to the ‘60s, operated within the traditions of popular music, the music of Tin Pan Alley and Shubert Alley--singers like Lisa Kirk, Karen Morrow, Susan Johnson (who are all represented here) and Frances Faye, Kay Thompson, and Dolores Gray (who, only by chance, are not).  These larger-than-life, uber-talented girl singers were the standardbearers for the theater and cabaret songs of yesteryear, but are virtually forgotten today except, by some indefinable mystery of life, by gay men.  It’s a phenomenon that warrants a book unto itself, but suffice it to say that we came to instinctively sense--and value--their drama and spirit, their complete command of a song, and the vulnerability beneath it all that sometimes shone through.  The essence of their artistry--great musicality combined with great emotionality--is the essence of Bill Cooper’s singing as well.
Bill, I know, has always appreciated the outward demeanor of these ladies--the glamor, the wit, the abandon, the campy posturings so rooted in time (mostly the ‘50s) and place (mostly nightclubs).  But with the tricks, he learned traditions--the lessons these singers have to teach--and the hardest one of all is how to cut a direct path to the meaning of a lyric and, thereby, to the emotional center of any song, wild or wistful.  His vocal style is simple and straightforward, but brims unabashedly with emotion.  It’s a technique that was fully realized in the heartthrob vocal of Judy Garland (though any one of these vibrant ladies could do a 180° turn on a spiked heel and set about piercing the heart with a ballad).  Not insignificantly, a good half dozen of the songs here were sung by Judy, though you could hardly accuse Bill of raiding her songbook--not with lesser-known songs like “Sweet Danger” (from the ill-fated musical Kean), “Why Can’t I?,” “I’m Feelin’ Like a Million,” and “Here’s What I’m Here For” (from A Star is Born).
Equally important, Bill Cooper has an absolutely unerring ear for a great song.  Here he takes a handful of standards and intersperses them with worthy songs that coulda been contenders had they not been trapped in major flopperoos, or in some cases simply--inexplicably--left to languish by the wayside.  These are songs that immediately draw you into their story or thrill you with their spirit, and none of them deserve to be lost to the ages.
I am thinking especially of “So Far,” a small but breathtaking ballad from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro.  Or the poignant “Who Knows?” introduced by Marilyn Cooper in I Can Get it for You Wholesale.  Or, on a brassier note, the title song from I Had a Ball, which Karen Morrow walloped into the rear balcony for only six months of performances 35 years ago.  Only a rung or two up the ladder of public recognition are the lovely “Ev’ry Time” from Best Foot Forward and “I Walk a Little Faster,” Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s sublime paean to love’s eternal hope.
Then there’s the triumvirate of swell, well, women’s songs--the kind that no female cabaret singer today seems interested in, and no other male cabaret singer would dream of tackling (at least not outside the reflection of his bedroom mirror, alone at night).  “When the Tall Man Talks” was introduced by the phenomenal Susan Johnson in Whoop-Up!, another short-lived musical.  “I Fought Every Step of the Way,” done to a crisp by Rose Marie in Top Banana, gets my nod as one of the all-time great comedy numbers and, hands down, Johnny Mercer’s cleverest lyric. And the hyperkinetic Lisa Kirk rendition of “Anything Goes” might as well be a completely different song from Cole Porter’s, outfitted as it is from top to bottom with outré special lyrics (“When it behooves me, I sleep in just pajama tops / I’m takin’ chances, I suppose....”) in a swank arrangement by Robert Wells and David Saxon.  Speaking of which, Bill, who’s a San Jose hairdresser by day, introduces himself in “Beautician on a Mission”--Irving Berlin’s “Hostess with the Mostes’” with new lyrics by, um...oh, yeah--me!
I have always felt that a good pianist, playing a good arrangement, can provide all the backing a singer needs.  Barry Lloyd, Bill’s accompanist, is closer to a great pianist, playing great arrangements.  His accompaniment serves as an entire orchestra, but Bill has secured the talents of the redoubtable Al Obadinski on bass, for good measure and additional warmth.  Together they create an array of flawless, intimate musical settings to showcase Bill Cooper’s knowing interpretations and sterling instincts.
To paraphrase the late, great Kay Thompson--mmmmm, quel fabuli talent!

 --- Michael Mascioli, All Music Services, San Francisco

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