By Dawn Lee Wakefield
Just two weeks ago, the great ambassador and preservationist of the Great American Songbook, five-time Grammy nominee Michael Feinstein, welcomed Hollywood royalty for three nights at his newly redesigned “40’s style supper club,” Feinstein’s at Vitello’s. Spotting beloved entertainers Liza Minelli, Dick Van Dyke, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr., Mitzi Gaynor, and Melissa Manchester, audiences enthusiastically took note of a venue they wanted to see for sure. Sold-out audiences have followed ever since the opening.
Continuing the trend, sultry song stylist Kiki Ebsen will debut an all-new jazz show on the 5th of July at Studio City’s Feinstein’s at Vitello’s, designed to stir the souls of those who loved the grandest days of early Hollywood. From Kiki you’ll hear a variety of standards, including several you’ve never heard her sing, designed to transport you back to hot nights and cool, swinging sounds when life was less complicated.
Three special guests join Ebsen to Jazz Up July 5th—Lee Meriwether, Debby Boone, and Grant Geissman. Audiences have loved Lee Meriwether since her Hollywood debut. The elegant, gracious Meriwether, beloved star of stage and screen, continues to shine. She’ll offer one of her favorite songs and reminisce with Kiki about some of the best days of Hollywood.
Ebsen’s longtime friend, Grammy-winner Debby Boone, continues to tour the country today, having created the successful “Reflections of Rosemary” (Clooney), both album and stage tribute. Boone has released 12 studio albums covering American pop, Christian, and country music, all of which began with her 1977 No. 1 Billboard hit, “You Light Up My Life,” pluse “Are You on the Road to Lovin’ Me Again” (on Billboard’s country charts).
World-class, Emmy-nominated composer and guitarist Grant Geissman will pair with Ebsen on “Easy to Love” and the Peggy Lee/Dave Barbour Quartet version of “Why Don’ You Do Right?” and more. Geissman has released 16 albums including his recent jazz trilogy “Say That!, Cool Man Cool, and BOP!, BANG! BOOM! Geissman has recorded with Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Chuck Mangione, and most recently, with Kiki Ebsen on her newest CD, coming soon. Also, for three years, Geissman has been a dynamic part of Kiki’s Joni Mitchell Project tribute band, set to return to the Laguna Arts Festival for their third appearance next month.
A dynamic quartet powers the evening’s offerings: Noted Musical Director/pianist Jeff Colella, bassist Granville “Danny” Young, drummer Kendall Kay, and saxophonist Kim Richmond create the perfect Hollywood jazz bistro experience at Feinstein’s. Audiences can anticipate some great instrumentals from this premier ensemble.
Surprise selections from Feinstein’s favorite “Great American Songbook” are promised, along with “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’” and “You Are My Lucky Star.” Both are from MGM’s musical, “Broadway Melody of 1936.”
In addition to a newly redesigned menu (including more vegan and gluten-free selections) you’ll hear stories from what it was like to grow up in Hollywood, courtesy of three ladies who have fascinating stories to tell.
[Debby Boone, photo by Donavan Freberg]
As a child, Debby’s family lived across the street from Dean Martin’s family, so childhood was definitely in the heart of Beverly Hills, but with very strict parents who maintained extremely watchful eyes on Debby and her three sisters. Debby and her husband were invited to stay at a private bungalow on the estate of Frank Sinatra early in her solo career. If that’s not slightly surreal, it’s at least definitely Hollywood at its best. But, for her, it was just normal life. It’s more about how you react to life that makes it normal or extreme one might project.
[Photo: 2015, Kiki Ebsen, Le Maire (daughter of actor Jack Le Maire), and Debby Boone, after Kiki performed “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen” at a fundraiser for St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal School.]
Reflecting on the music that framed her own life, growing up as the daughter of Pat Boone, Debby recorded “Swing This,” in 2013 as reference to songs that inspired her own singing career. The CD contains beloved standards, such as “I’m Gonna Live till I Die,” “More Than You Know,” and “Everybody Loves Somebody.” On Friday night, Debby will sing that signature Dean Martin tune and talk about growing up and knowing their family.
Kiki Ebsen began life on Hutton Drive in Beverly Hills, where the family babysitter was James Brolin (nee Bruderlin), whose family lived right up the street. When the family moved to Newport Beach to follow her father Buddy’s love of the sea, the family quickly embraced all water sports. Yet, by her teens, the family had relocated even further away from Hollywood, where Kiki found one of her passions. It was in the beauty of nature, the mystery and mystique of the Santa Monica Mountains, backing up to the western sets of 20th Century Fox and Paramount Ranch.
One invitation for a backyard barbeque included riding on horseback to the Reagan Ranch, of family friend (future Governor and President) Ronald Reagan. They’d also ride over to Rex Allen’s ranch for an afternoon visit. Hollywood in the Old West. Kiki loved nature, but the call of her love of music was stronger.
Sadly, both iconic film villages were destroyed last November by the Woolsey Fire. Fortunately, Kiki remembers the excitement of her own experiences at her ranch, where family guests were many contemporaries of her dad’s Western film career. Today in her spare time she continues to operate her nonprofit Healing Equine Ranch, where she teaches workshops to help empower and enlighten people through natural interaction with horses. Recently, Lee Meriwether, her daughter Lesley Aletter and dear friend, the late Linda Rand, were regular visitors to Kiki’s ranch when she added four young rescues to her herd. That’s just one more facet of her busy world.
[Photos courtesy of The Healing Equine Ranch]
Choosing California Institute of the Arts to study classical piano and voice offered Ebsen a Disney-backed educational institution. Degree in hand, Kiki chose a career as a keyboard player and background vocalist, touring internationally in support of Grammy-winning, Platinum-selling rock musicians including Al Jarreau, Tracy Chapman, Michael McDonald, and Boz Scaggs among many others.
The prolific singer-songwriter released six albums in between touring the world, her first “Red” featuring the talents of drummer Kendall Kay and sax player Boney James (the future four-time Grammy nominee who’d been part of one of Kiki’s earliest bands in Los Angeles). With each CD release, Kiki expanded her genres from pop and rock to country, the Great American Songbook, squarely landing on her new home base—jazz.
All the while, she recalled that her father had told her decades earlier that she should sing jazz, advice that went gently ignored until six years ago, when Kiki began a journey to (re)discover her father and his career.
From that journey, Kiki found acclaim and new fans among audiences who loved her recording “Scarecrow Sessions,” an album comprised of exquisite jazz standards that were taken from movies and stage roles that defined Ebsen’s seven-decade entertainment career, including his composition, “Missing You,” cowritten with his writing partner Zeke Manners.
[Photo: Kiki, Lee Meriwether, and Lesley Aletter at Catalina Jazz Club, after “To Dad with Love,” Father’s Day, 2016]
Inspired by the excitement the album generated, Kiki created a cabaret show, which now takes flight in its Hollywood debut as a full stage show at Theatre West this fall, “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen” will showcase a deeply personal story about daughter and father that revels in heart and reveals heartache experienced growing up in a Hollywood aura. It’s not as easy as it appears, but the music is magical.
[Kiki admiring her father’s star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, June 19, 2016, Photo TCV Media]
Lee Meriwether has her own memories and stories to share, stemming from a young beauty crowned Miss America who quickly became a household favorite on the “Today Show” with Dave Garroway. Although television roles on “Barnaby Jones” (with Buddy Ebsen), “The Time Tunnel” and “All My Children” made her seem a household name, a film role as Catwoman in
“Batman’ earned her bona fides that still attract today’s generations, who greet her with awe at Comic Cons she attends.
[Lee Meriwether and Kiki Ebsen visit following Theatre West’s Jan. 2018 tribute, “Love Letters to Lee,” photo courtesy of Theatre West]
No greater home, however, does Lee find than the warmth and comfort of live theatre, especially at Theatre West in the heart of Hollywood. For decades now, Lee joined with Betty Garrett, Linda Rand, and other beloved Hollywood actors in producing, writing and starring in productions that have sustained Theatre West as the oldest continuously operating theatre in Hollywood.
In addition to marvelous music and Hollywood friends meeting to celebrate the newly redesigned Feinstein’s at Vitello’s, the event offers music lovers a chance to revisit a gentler time where friends met up for an evening on the town, building memories to last a lifetime, all with a fantastic soundtrack. You’re invited to come and be a part of a “once-in-a-lifetime” evening you’ll remember for years to come.
Prices for Kiki Ebsen’s Jazzing Up the 5th of July range from $25 to $40 (for VIP Seating) and are available online. Doors open at 6:30 pm and show at 8:00 pm. Click here for tickets.
Feinstein’s at Vitello’s
4349 Tujunga Ave.
Studio City, C