LA Jazz Scene: Tell me about your family, were they interested in music? Were you enthuastic about music at a young age?
Lynn Keller: Yes, the year I was born my Dad, Art Depew was the 1st trumpet player on the Lawrence Welk TV show. He was on the show for 8 years in my early childhood. I was on the Welk Christmas show at 13 months with my Sister, Mother and of course in my Dad’s arms. In the following few years, I went with Dad annually to a special show Welk filmed at Harrah’s. I remember standing in the wings listening to the music and of course I was fascinated by the famous bubble machine. The wonderful Lennon Sisters were teenagers. They were my babysitters and taught me their singing routines. I really hero-worshiped them and vowed at the time that I would be a singer when I grew up.
Dad insisted that I take piano lessons which I did for 5 years and played piano in the school orchestra. I also sang in the church choir to practice reading music. At one point I was the youngest soloist in the choir. It was a lot of fun for me and I adored the sacred music just as much as I liked pop music.
During my teenage years, I went every summer with Dad to Disneyland to hear the big bands and of course enjoy the park. He played with Tex Beneke at Carnation Plaza. It seems that I was listening carefully to many of the female singers, because I have good recollection of many of the swing standards. I often went to other venues with Dad, the Palladium, Elementary schools where he lead an orchestra playing “The History of Jazz.” He would sing and direct the big band. Later Dad conducted the Harry James Orchestra for 18 years. I was often in the audience listening.
I worked a lot in College. During that time, I took classical singing lessons from an opera singer for 2 years. Then I took lessons from another teacher Margaret Rolfe. She had been a singer and manager of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. She taught me to sing standards. After college, I joined the CSUN Masterchorale for 2 years. We did several classical performances. During these middle years, from about my 30’s to early 40’s I didn’t sing very much. In 2000, I quit my job to stay home with my 3 sons. Frankly, I got bored. I asked my Dad how to improve my singing skills. He recommended that I take lessons with Sue Raney which I have been doing ever since. I had no idea that I would accomplish as much as I have with my singing. I just kept putting one foot in front of other.
Sue is a wonderful and supportive teacher. She is also a master singer so I have learned a tremendous amount about singing from her. On the side, I took classes – how to arrange a set list, how to talk to the audiences, basically honing my stand-up skills. My first paying job was singing at a funeral, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I was really proud to be paid to sing. What a thrill after a few of these opportunities, I called myself a professional singer. It seemed to be an important milestone.
Dad continued to encourage me along. He took me to big band rehearsals about 12 years ago and I sang with Woody James Big Band at Valley College. This became a habit I did every week and I’m still singing with band. I’m doing Dad’s arrangements and have accumulated a large library
over 50 female vocals that I can perform. I have also sung with Pat Longo’s Hollywood Big Band, Larry Gillespie’s Big Band, and more recently with the Flight 584 Big Band under the direction of John Mitchell. I really enjoy the big band singing although it’s different than some of the other groups I perform with.
I was the featured Vocalist for 4 years with the 9-piece Jazz Band, Off the Record. The band had a weekly show so I had to learn a lot of material and keep my chops up. During these last 8 years, I have rarely said “no” to a job. I figured that the more I worked the better, so I did a lot of shows.
Dad was an alumni from the University of Auburn. For 4 years in a row we traveled to Alabama to perform in their annual “Auburn Knights” program. Dad or I would sing or we would do duets together with the big bands. This was an entire weekend. Each evening would have the alumni big bands from each decade since the music program began. It started with the 30’s, 40’s and went all the way up to the present band at the university. It was an amazing experience and so wonderful to hear the different sounds of each era.
In 2015 Dad and I started to produce an album together, the title is “Notes From My Father.” It’s a combination of big band arrangements (several of them my Dad’s) and combo selections. This was an amazing experience and was a labor of love for the two of us. I am very grateful that we did this together!
LA Jazz Scene: How and when did you join the Randy Van Horne Singers
Lynn: I wanted to improve my sight-singing skills. I talked to Dad about my interest. He recommended that I join the Randy Van Horne Singers. I have been with the group for least 10 years. Randy’s original group was formed in the 1950’s. It was comprised of many of the best singers in Hollywood, to name a few, Marilyn King, Marnie Nixon and Gene Merlino. The group did album recordings and were featured on a number of TV shows (Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and Mel Torme.)
Around the year 2000, Randy started the group up again. He called-upon professional singers. This is the group I joined. They were all great sight readers. I remember being somewhat shy during rehearsals. The music was difficult to read and many of the singers were excellent. They were also helpful and encouraging. I stuck with it and became quite comfortable with the music and the arrangements. In the beginning, I sang only 1st soprano. Now I sing 1st and 2nd soprano to challenge myself to improve my reading skills. We have also added arrangements from the wonderful conductor Anita Kerr. I obtained her big band arrangements for “Agua de Beber,” and “String of Pearls,” from Woody James’ bands. Randy’s singers have done these arrangements
with big band. This group does not sing in another language. However, just as a side note, I sing in Spanish and French. I learn songs in other languages if the situation warrants. I have sung in Italian, Turkish and Norwegian.
In 2016, I was regularly featured with bands at Viva Rancho Cantina. I got the idea to do a “Randy” show at Viva. I developed the theme for the show and compiled the set list. The shows are a combination of Randy music and solo singing from the many wonderful members of the group. We have done 5-6 shows each year since. Each show features Randy’s music, the music of Anita Kerr and soloists who select music based on the theme of the show. Each show is unique. The shows have been playing to “standing room only” crowds. This is a great way for Randy’s group to collect fans and be seen.
Alan Wilson conducts Randy’s singers. Franny McCartney is the treasurer. Ben Di Tosti and Marty Rosen accompany us on piano. They work tirelessly to help us put the programs together. I produce the shows at Viva Rancho Cantina. First I select a theme like “red, white and blues” for the 4th of July. I research songs and develop a possible song list for all the singers. I arrange the set lists deciding which of Randy’s songs will be done in the show. Then I build the rest of the show around the “Randy” songs we do. The soloists either select their own material or use my list as a resource. I book the room, develop the promotional materials and post the shows on social networks. I emcee the shows and work with the pianist to ensure that all the music is in order. I coordinate logistics like the sound engineer, the equipment for the job and put together material for fund-raising for each show.
LA Jazz Scene: What about the Woody James Band?
Lynn: Woody James is the conductor for his band on Friday afternoons at Viva. Ted Carmelie fills in when Woody can’t make it. There are two featured singers for the band, myself and Dave Berges. Dave does the sound set-up and the band set-up. When a sub is required the members of the band are responsible for finding someone to take their place. This is a rehearsal band. The musicians have been there for some time so they know the drill.
Dave or I will emcee the show. One really beneficial element is that Woody has established a practice of encouraging arrangers to try their material out with the band. This encourages arrangers to stay with the band and gives the band new material to play – which helps them stay interested in coming each week.
LA Jazz Scene: What do I do to relax?
Lynn: I do yoga to relax. It also builds my core strength to improve my singing. My husband and I like to travel. We often go to the Pasadena Ballroom Dancing Association to improve our dancing skills and enjoy the live music.
I’d like to add that since I have been singing these last 18 years, it’s been an amazing experience. My personal motto is “do what you love and others will love what you do!” This is so true about
singing. I enjoy the feeling of touching an audience with a song. It’s all about sharing the beauty of the lyrics and the music. Now, I can’t imagine my life without music. It’s like I’m totally alive when I’m on stage and doing what I was meant to do! https://lynnkellersmusic.com
Franny McCartney’s business card kind of summarizes who she is. She’s shown as a little girl, sitting on a small stool, looking totally content. She has a sweet, impish expression on her face, as though she could be thinking of something special. Her life would take interesting turns. I remember seeing McCartney performing at the Amphitheatre at Universal Studios. The star was Bette Midler, accompanied by a full band and the back-up singers, The Harlettes. They sang, frolicked about the stage, the best they could with mermaid costumes. It was a funny, totally entertaining show, which the audience loved.
McCartney traveled all over the world with Midler to spread the word, get the crowds pumped up, cheering and applauding Midler’s unique talent. McCartney sang, clowned around and traveled wherever fans wanted to hear and see Midler. McCartney recalls long trips with stops along the way until finally arriving in Australia. She has also worked with Bob Dylan, Tanya Tucker, Gene Simmons, and Barbra Streisand. Boy could she write a fascinating memoir!
Today the former Harlette is still singing at local neighborhood celebrations, with church groups and at regular gigs at Viva Cantina in Burbank. She currently sings with the Randy Van Horne Singers, who were famous for all the theme songs they recorded for TV shows such as The Flintstones, The Jetsons and many others. She’s comfortable with her life in a suburb of L.A. As long as she can sing she’s A-OK. She likes being part of a small community, attending meetings to discuss common issues. Her enthusiastic response and sense of humor make her an ideal participant.
Recently I heard McCartney sing with the Woody James Big Band at Viva Cantina for a lunchtime crowd. It was a very hot day and sitting in the backroom at the venue seemed like a smart thing to do. The big band took off with “How High The Moon” for a very cohesive, fast start. The audience was so ready for the band on this hot, muggy day. “Willow Weep For Me” began at a slow, sultry pace by the band. The enthusiastic crowd cheered as the band worked toward the conclusion. The crowd loved the band’s rendition. “Soul Eyes” was a slow, romantic tune that the band finessed to a big finish.
McCartney returned to sing “Taking A Chance On Love” with her big voice. “It Had To Be You” was sweet, swinging with great energy. The band was very supportive. McCartney’s voice was strong to the end. McCartney introduced a Betty Hutton tune, “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in A Hurry.” It was typically McCartney, totally funny. McCartney “sells” every tune with an easy, relaxed style.
The band ended the set with “Basically Basie” which had an infectious beat. This was a tune to dance to at a fast clip. The only female in the band, Laurie Friedman played a baritone sax solo that was terrific. During the second set Dave Burges sang “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me” “Close Your Eyes” and “Ain’t No Use.” with a forceful voice and crisp enunciation.
Franny McCartney is a very entertaining singer and she raises the energy in the room as she banters with band members and laughs at herself. Beneath all the hilarity is a singer who is very respectful of the material, always. She has fun so the audience does too. I left Viva is a very upbeat mood.
The Big Band was especially good on this afternoon and included: Bob Crosby, Dave Weston, Steve Carr, Ted Carnely, Laurie Friedman-saxophones; Paul Litteral, Bobby Mustal, Kendall Wallace-trumpets; Jack Redmond, Brooks West, Sandy Collins, Joe Dvorak-trombones; Rick Hils -piano/keyboard, Jeff Takaguchi- piano/keyboard and Chris Ross-drums.
Viva Cantina is located at the entrance to the Equestrian Center in Burbank with plenty of free parking across the street at the Pickwick bowling alley. Viva Cantina is under new management and the rooms have been repainted a bright red. It looks very festive and fresh now. The Mexican menu is the same and it’s very good . Service is good and of course, the full bar makes delicious margaritas.
Viva Cantina is located at For info/reservations call
(818) 645-2425. Another plus, there’s usually never a cover charge.
P.S. Actor/singer Bill A. Jones informed us that music can be heard at Las Hadas Restaurant in Northridge most Tuesdays at 10:30am. They will be holding a fund raiser for the Suicide Prevention Group in September.
The new album features breathtakingly new reinterpretations of songs by the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Soundgarden, Justin Timberlake and more
Firebrand singer-songwriter and pianist Judith Owen has always imbued her original songs with keen intelligence, acerbic wit and bracing poignancy. On her wonderfully engaging new album, redisCOVERed, released on May 25th on Twanky Records, the Welsh-born musician sets out on a different kind of artistic journey, channeling her wildly idiosyncratic and prodigious skills on a remarkably diverse set of cover tunes, and in the process she leaves her own individual identity on each one.
“Over the years, so many people, whether it be [film producer] Nick Wechsler or audience members who hear the covers I’ve done, have always had the question, ‘Why don’t you make a collection of these things because they’re so unique and unusual?’” Owen says. “And I had to really ask myself why I do these covers and why they bring me so much pleasure.”
The answers are found throughout redisCOVERed. Owen’s choice of material – a pop chestnut from Grease (“Summer Nights”), modern chart hits (Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”), classic rock staples (the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”), and ‘70s dance floor evergreens (Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music”) – exemplifies the spirit of a relentlessly daring and inquisitive artist, one who also, it just so happens, has a pretty mega record collection.
But covering songs means little if you’re not breathing new life into them, and as Owen puts it, “I don’t do karaoke. I don’t perform or sing music unless it means something to me. I knew I had to make these songs matter to me, to have my truth in them.”
Sometimes connections came naturally, as was the case with a pair of Joni Mitchell gems, “Cherokee Louise” and “Ladies’ Man.” Owen was especially struck by a line in the latter song: “Why do you keep trying to make a man out of me?” “I really relate to that because when I met Joni, I realized I knew exactly what she was talking about,” she says. “She is someone who is one of the guys. She does not lead with her sexuality. She leads with her musicianship and her abilities…. She nailed it in that one line and it really touched me.”
Owen had a similar response to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and her mission was to pay tribute to the late Chris Cornell and the message she found within the song. “When I heard it, I thought, ‘This is the best song about depression and being in the darkness that I’ve ever heard,’” she observes. But rather than try to out-grunge a grunge anthem, Owen went a different route, bringing out what she calls a “pompous kind of perkiness to it – which is how I feel when I have my game face on. Like most people who struggle with the ‘black dog,’ they have their daytime face that they go out with so you won’t see what’s going on inside. I liked the idea of doing this almost skipping, ‘Take Five’ version of it, which belies the words.”
Her biggest test on redisCOVERed, however, came from a request she made to her husband, actor Harry Shearer, to “choose the more extreme thing, something contemporary that you would think I couldn’t relate to.” The result is a fully immersive torch song rendering of Drake’s hip-hop jam “Hotline Bling.” Owen clicked with the lyrics immediately because “I’ve been in that place where I was constantly waiting for the phone call that would come from the guy who would call me only when there was no one better to be around. That’s absolutely a woman’s song if ever there was one.”
Aiding Owen on this musical odyssey is Grammy-winning producer/engineer/mixer David Bianco (Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Meghan Trainor), who collaborated with her on the albums Somebody’s Child and Ebb & Flow, as well as two key members of her live band, the legendary bassist Leland Sklar (James Taylor, Carole King) and master percussionist Pedro Segundo.
There are also contributions from such noted players as Paul Beard (Bryan Ferry, James Blunt), George Shelby (Phil Collins, Bette Midler), Snarky Puppy member Michael ‘Maz’ Maher, Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter Nicholas Payton, along with Owen’s dazzling London string players: longtime cellist and collaborator Gabriella Swallow, and violinist Lizzie Ball (Nigel Kennedy, Jeff Beck).
Owen’s adventurous re-interpretations of the dozen tracks on RedisCOVERed are as cathartic as they are entertaining, and they reveal as much about her own artistry as they do the original writers. “This is the thing about music,” she stresses. “We always get a different read from the same song. A song means so many different things to different people, and they’re all true. It’s what it means to you that matters.”
Whether as a headliner or as the handpicked opening act for such as Bryan Ferry’s recent tours of Europe and North America, Owen’s live performances have been wowing listeners and gaining fans like fellow artist Jackson Browne, who said of her onstage prowess: “It’s a masterclass on how a show should be done.”
Judith Owen’s RedisCOVERed is available on all formats on her own Twanky Records. For more information, please visit: http://www.judithowen.net/