Clifford Bell’s Excellent Venture: Music Empresario Celebrates 40 Years on LA Scene
by Dawn Lee Wakefield
Leave it to Clifford Bell, the L.A. entertainment scene’s “host with the most” to know where, when and how to throw a good party. Bell’s musical evenings of joy and jazz deserve a category of their own—Cabarabia. The name stems from Bell’s life motto: “Life is a cabaret, ol’ chum…” Then, when a wise friend bestowed on him the compliment, “Well, you’re just a regular Lawrence of Cabarabia,” the moniker said it all and has ever since. Who else has their own music genre?
On August 18, Bell is presenting an evening at Rockwell’s showcasing around why he’s been “livin’ in LA and lovin’ it” since 1979. Bell explains, “For the last ten years or so, I have spent a lot of time venturing over to the Jazz world.” Producing events for Cabarabia “has given me the opportunity to befriend and present some of the tastiest musicians on the scene.”
Cabarabia is often a themed assembly of musical talent that Bell selects for various programs. It might be a show at Rockwell’s, or he could gather a group to celebrate Barbra Streisand’s birthday, or he’s inevitably in the midst of preparing a program to benefit Project Angel Food, his longtime favorite nonprofit to which he has devoted countless hours to raise funds.
So, after 40 years of living in Los Angeles, Bell said, “This anniversary has made me want to make this show sort of a retrospective of what forty years in Los Angeles has given me. It’s not a comprehensive overview of all the milestones but it is a roster of the people who I am currently most proud to call my circle of professional colleagues and all performers that I am eager to share with the August 18th audience.”
“One of the professional friendships I have made that has been exceptionally meaningful to Clifford is with legendary Composer/Arranger/Producer Artie Butler, who (with collaborator Phyllis Jean Molinary) wrote one of the most enduring modern classics, “Here’s to Life.” As Butler shares with others, the song took him about twenty minutes to write because he was inspired by entertainer George Burns’ outlook on the “second half” of his life. It’s rare for Clifford to perform at his own shows, but when he does, this may well be the song he chooses because the lyrics chose him.
“There is no ‘yes’ in yesterday
And who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away
As long as I’m still in the game I want to play
For last, for life, for love
So here’s to life
And every joy it brings
Here’s to life
To dreamers and their dreams”
Bell met Butler socially many years ago, but says, “It wasn’t until I began doing my podcast, ‘Cabarabia,’ on Global Voice Broadcasting (www.gvbstudios.com/show/cabarabia) that I really became friendly with him. After he did an hour-long interview with me, he began making appearances in my live variety shows, which to me remain a career highlight.” This week marks the sixth year of Bell’s Cabarabia podcast.
The magic of Butler’s song goes beyond a poignant melody with lovely lyrics. Bell has a way of spotting talent, even if the people he sees it in don’t see it in themselves at first. Often, Clifford sees courage over talent, willingness to learn over natural skill, and an appreciation for the opportunity exhibited by natural talents who’ve been looking for someone to open a door. And so with each show you’ll see some performers who fit each category, although he’s never going to share with you who is from which grouping. He just calls friends, assembles his show and then lifts up each performer in his own inimitable style, and then goes forth to program unforgettable fun evenings.
Bell is excited about the lineup for August 18. “We’ll have Catte Adams and Marc Hugenberger, two of the most celebrated music makers in my community.” Adams is a familiar name to many, from her earliest days as the Grand Champion winner of “Star Search,” season 2 with Ed McMahon. In Los Angeles, Adams often performs with Marc Hugenberger (piano), Al Garcia (bass) and Tom Bowe (drums) in Cabarabia events. Here is Adams singing “Some Other Time.” Hugenberger has composed for TV shows including “Desperate Housewives” and “General Hospital” and he’s toured with Chaka Khan, Wilson Phillips and Go West, in addition to his studio work with many jazz artists.
Bell notes, “We also have Black Market Reverie, a new Jazz duo featuring the highly acclaimed bass player Lyman Medeiros and Renee Myara.” Medeiros, of course, doubles as Musical Director for vocalist Steve Tyrell, who travels the country with sold-out jazz shows. Myara is a singer-songwriter proficient in Americana, hip hop, French pop and jazz.
Here’s a sample of Black Market Reverie from a 2018 Cabarabia special event, singing “After You’ve Gone”:
Bell continues, “We also are delighted to have powerhouse vocalist Mary Bogue, who received the Living Jazz Legend award in 2015, performing in our showcase.” Mary is both song stylist and jazz reviewer, a frequent contributor to highly regarded publications. Bogue’s performance deliver sexy and sassy renditions of steaming blues and cool jazz tunes, so no matter what she sings, expect a dynamo.
Here’s a sample of Mary Bogue’s “Sneakin’ Around” in a Bell-organized Cabarabia event to benefit Project Angel Food last year:
When it comes to Kiki Ebsen, Clifford has much to say: ‘Probably the most recent professional friendship with someone who will be performing on August 18 is with the multi-talented and multi-faceted Kiki Ebsen. I met Kiki about four years ago when she was recommended to me to perform at one of my charitable benefits and I seriously can’t remember the last time that I was so gobsmacked by someone. Although sometimes identified as the daughter of the iconic actor and song and dance man Buddy Ebsen, Kiki is so much more than that. In addition to being a very distinctive beauty with the long angular grace of her father, she is a consummate musician who is masterful at a variety of genres and has an extensive resume singing background and playing in some of the biggest bands of the last several decades – Al Jarreau, Tracy Chapman, and the weekend before our show, she’ll perform with Wilson Phillips.”
Kiki is also an accomplished Singer/Songwriter with seven CDs of originals and covers to her credit. “I crossed paths with Kiki when she was embarking on a turn towards “Jazz,” which coincided with her labor of love project dedicated to her father ‘TO DAD WITH LOVE.’ Kiki had released a CD of exquisite Jazz influenced arrangements of songs associated with her Father’s long career from Vaudeville to Broadway to Hollywood. She followed the CD with one of the best one-person shows I’ve ever seen. I came onboard in the early days of Kiki’s emergence as a Jazz singer and introduced her to the premium clubs in Los Angeles, which immediate became Sell Out /Return Engagements for her.”
Bell continues, “I’m so thrilled that Kiki will be joining me on August 18 since her dance card is so full. She recently played a Sold-Out Tribute to Classic Hollywood show at the newly branded Feinstein’s at Vitello’s and next month has a three-weekend engagement at the prestigious Theatre West with an expanded theatrical version of To Dad With Love.” Here’s Kiki singing her father’s song, “Missing You,” in Cabarabia:
Ilene Graff and Ben Lanzarone are two names familiar from music and television. You know Ilene Graff as a Broadway actress who successfully transitioned to TV on “Hart of Dixie” and “Mr. Belvedere,” among numerous other roles. As entertainers, Bell says, “I refer to this duo as Show Business Royalty, having been celebrated on Broadway and on TV for decades, from the original production of ‘Grease’ to ‘Mr. Belvedere’ and through decades of TV orchestrations.”
Ben Lanzarone is the brilliant musician who scored at least twelve episodes of “Dynasty,” surrounding the unforgettable Bill Conti opening theme. Yes, the same gorgeous Aaron Spelling serial featuring Joan Collins and Linda Evans fighting over Blake Carrington, aka John Forsythe, or Wednesday nights on ABC.
For a preview of Ilene and Ben, check out “Love Revolution” here:
Bell explains, “As I made the decisions about who I wanted to feature in this evening, I was forced to keep the program at around two hours, which is so difficult for me because I have the blessing of many, many talented friends. Ultimately I decided to focus on a group of people who have consistently showed up for me, time and time again, bringing their large followings along when I reached out to them to support my main fundraising effort for Project Angel Food, www.angelfood.org.
Clifford noted he was pleased that Kirsten Holly Smith will be part of the evening as well, she having starred as Dusty Springfield in concerts, cabaret and off Broadway shows. The blonde beauty will surprise you, shown here in a recording session for “Seth Speaks” for Sirius radio:
As a final note, Clifford laughs as he explains, “Audiences will be thrilled to know that the show will be precisely two hours as Rockwell’s built in a penalty clause if he goes one minute over!” Seriously, when the empresario of showcases gets rolling, if you don’t have an agreed-on stop time, you might just very well party all night.
Other performers include Eileen Barnett, Cabaret performer and accomplished theatre actress, with two CDs showcasing her talents, “Live at the Cinegrill” and “Broadway with a Beat.”
Cheryl Crandall with William Sigismondi, award-winning Latin American cinematic composer, producer and pianist. Check out their EPK here.
Musical Directors David Scott Cohen and Michael Collum are delighted to have Mitch Kaplan on piano, Kirsh on bass, Tom Bowe on drums, and Julie Sax on, of course, sax!
Tickets are only $20 per person for the 7:30 pm downbeat on Sunday, Aug. 18. You can get your tickets here. Rockwell Table & Stage is located at 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles 90027. You’re invited to join the crowd for the fun parties that are always part and parcel of Clifford Bell’s world of Cabarabia, where the music begins at the corner of jazz and cabaret.