From the cabaret rooms to the friendly skies, Marieann Meringolo has been making beautiful music for 25 years. Now she is celebrating the release of her new live CD, a collection of lyrics by the legendary Alan & Marilyn Bergman. In a candid interview, Meringolo spoke with Windy City Times about being compared to her idols, paying her dues, and finding the truth in song.
Windy City Times: On your new live album, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: The Songs of Alan & Marilyn Bergman, you perform segments of "The Way We Were" at three different places, each time pairing it with a different Alan & Marilyn song. What a unique approach! How was that idea born?
Marieann Meringolo: It was my director, Will Nunziata, who pitched the idea to me as the "through line" of the showthe thread throughout the "quilt," a connective tissue that makes it a true theatrical piece. I became very excited about that concept, and I was happy to discover how wonderfully it worked with this show.
WCT: Your voice has been compared to Barbra Streisand's. It is well-documented that she prefers recording in the studio rather than performing live. What is your preference?
MM: Well, for different reasons I love both. I love being in the studio, because hours could go by, and it's hard to believe how much time has passed. I love the energy and creativity that being in a recording studio creates. It makes one feel like a true artist. I love the process of recording a take and then listening back to see if we want to do another take or part of the song, to really portray what the message of the song calls for. It's kind of like eavesdropping on yourself. So, in a sense there is less pressure because you know you could always do it again if you're not happy.
Now, with singing for an audience, there is a lot of pressure to perform each number perfectly. I do like that challenge, and it's truly thrilling to feed off the energy of an audience. Performing live is a give and take for all involved, and I just love that.
WCT: In addition to Streisand, your song styling has also been said to evoke k.d. lang. What does it mean to you to evoke the legends?
MM: I would say it's quite an honor and incredible to hear that I evoke the caliber of talent of the legends I've been compared to. It's especially special because I'm a huge fan of both Barbra and k.d. I could go on and on about Barbra because she is my idol and the reason I sing. I do believe I was born a singer, but there was always something about Barbra that stopped me in my tracks to the point where I've said publicly that she changes the molecules in my body. I think I might have an out-of-body experience if I ever met her.
WCT: How would you describe your musical style?
MM: My musical style falls into the category of American popular standards, with a contemporary flare. I do like to put my own spin on what's already out there, but I also like singing original songs as well. The ones I'm most drawn to have an inspirational message or a romantic feel.
WCT: I understand you are the first out artist on your label ( BluJazz ). How does it feel to break new ground here?
MM: FunnyI didn't think of it that way. I've always been out, so it didn't dawn on me that I was the first out artist on the label. Actually, it wasn't brought to my attention until now! BluJazz was just open to who I am. Very cool!
WCT: On your new CD, you have the first recording of "Fifty Percent" sung from one woman to another. Have you always chosen the approach of being open in your singing?
MM: I have always been open, but in a more subtle way. I would choose just not to sing "he" or "him," instead singing "you" or "someone." It's wonderful how everyone just relates to the choice I made with "Fifty Percent." I'd say that's real progress. I'm proud that I feel comfortable enough in my own self that I could honestly express myself in this song. There was no other authentic way for me to sing it. I either embraced it fully or it couldn't have been sung by me if it wasn't to another woman.
WCT: In researching your albums, I discovered you released a studio version of "Something New in My Life" in 2003. You sing it live on the new album. In 15 years, has the meaning changed for you? Are you thinking of someone or something different now when you perform that song?
MM: Yes; I am thinking about someone, and over the last 15 years, that "someone" has changed a few times. Really, the wonderful thing about the [Alan and Marilyn] Bergman lyrics is I feel like I go on a brand new journey every single time I sing one of their songs. Their lyrics are so deep and poignant, so I find that I'm always discovering a new layer to explore...just like life.
WCT: In an interview with another talented M.M. [singer-songwriter Marsha Malamet], she expressed feeling honored that you named one of your cabaret shows after her song "Crazy Love." What made you choose that song as the show's title?
MM: The "Crazy Love" show was very deep for me.
I had just come out of an eight-year relationship and the breakup was very painful. And I remember building the show around what I was feeling at the time. "Crazy Love" summed up the whole show. It had to be the title. At one point, I was literally on my bathroom floor sobbing as I was listening to that song and thinking, "How am I ever going to be able to sing this!" But that deep emotion had to surface so I could really sing with my actual feelings rather than acting the song. I do feel like I'm a good actress but only because I let myself truly feel the depth of what is really going on. I love Marsha Malamet songs so much, and I believe it's because she lets herself feel the emotion of the lyrics, which brings out her emotional melodies. Wow ... she's just amazing, and I'm a huge fan!
WCT: Your most recent show is a tribute to the Bergmans. How did you come to develop an entire show on their lyrics?
MM: My Bergman show had been in the back of my mind for a while. In 2012, I had put together a Michel Legrand show which included many of the Bergman pieces. Well, it came time to figure out what would be next after the "Crazy Love" show. It wasn't until after I sang in the 2015 Cabaret Convention, where KT Sullivan asked me to sing "The Way We Were," that I decided to create an entire show featuring Bergman lyrics. I loved that each of their songs told a story. Then, together with my director, we also discovered that with some of the songs combined, we could tell a more in-depth story than they could tell individually. That concept gave us an exciting entry into the Bergmans' world.
WCT: Have you received feedback from the Bergmans on this show and CD?
MM: Yes, I'm excited to say I have! They wrote to me on the day of my CD-release concert ( May 29, 2018 ), and here is what they said:
Thank you for sending us your beautiful project in the beautiful packaging!
And, you couldn't get a better writer than Will Friedwald to write the liner notes.
We send you the best of luck for your show on the 29th.
We wish we were there tonight to hear this wonderful CD in person. We're sure it will be a terrific night!
All our best,
Alan and Marilyn Bergman
It's so special and I will always treasure what they wrote to me.
WCT: You previously released a tribute CD and DVD, Here's to the Ladies, paying homage to the great women of song. What would you like your audience to take away when they listen to your singing?
MM: I like taking my audience on a journey. I hope my singing takes them out of their everyday routine. I hope it gives them a reason to let themselves imagine and let go of things that get in the way of what's really important in this life, like being in love and being present to all the wonderful gifts life has to offer if we stay in the moment. That's what music can do when it's treated like a gift.
WCT: You have been in show business now for 25 years. A CD with the impeccable performances of your new album does not happen overnight. Do you have a memorable story of "paying your dues" you can share?
MM: I worked for the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, NYC for 15 years as a cocktail waitress from 1988 to 2003. After 15 years, I was done with wanting to take any more cocktail orders. Just at that time when I was done, I had the opportunity to audition with my trio to be the entertainment every Wednesday evening from eight till midnight, in the very same lounge where I was working as a cocktail waitress.
At first, the management said I couldn't audition because it would be a conflict of interest if I was working as a waitress there and then singing another night. So I said, "How about you let me audition, and if you want to hire me, I will quit as a waitress. I didn't come to New York City to serve drinks. I came here to be a singer." I auditioned and got the job, and I haven't taken another cocktail order since! I look back at this story and see it as a lesson to stay positive and never give up on your dreams.
WCT: What other appearances or projects should your fans be aware of?
MM: I'll be featured during the 2018 Cabaret Convention at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Oct. 11, and my annual holiday show will be on Dec. 1 at Feinstein's/54 Below. I'm also in the process of filling in some fall dates to be announced.
WCT: You were a featured artist in the friendly skies … on United Airlines' in-flight playlists. What a great "gig." Did that make you feel like a star?
MM: Yes, that was pretty cool knowing that was happening! A friend of mine told me she heard me on one of her flightsthat was fun! She even brought me the in-flight magazine with my picture and song list in it. I then learned these songs were also chosen to be played on Air Force II. We never know where life will take us. I believe in trusting and never regretting my choices, because life is funny. It seems to always lead us exactly where we are meant to be, and for that I am grateful. Truly, the sky's the limit.
Tune in to Chicago's WDCB Jazz ( 90.9 FM ) and WRRGTriton College ( 88.9 FM ) to hear selections from Marieann's dazzling new CD, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: The Songs of Alan & Marilyn Bergman.
Order a copy of the CD, or download or stream it, at MarieannMeringolo.hearnow.com .