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With Sweet Despair

Liner Notes

My sister and I grew up in New York City with our mother and stepfather, and in Venice, California with our father. Summers were always spent in Venice. We went to the beach on weekends, and each weekday we would accompany our father to Paramount Studios, where he filmed the television series, “Brothers”. We sat together and watched countless rehearsals and the weekly tapings, followed by after-parties at the Improv in Hollywood. It was all an eyeful for two little girls -- and indescribably thrilling.

The summer when I was thirteen and Fiona was eleven, my father began bringing us along every Sunday evening to the nearby Venice home of his friend, the songwriter Marshall Barer – just a short walk from our house. Marshall called these evenings his “Sunday Soirees”, and Fiona and I had not yet experienced an eyeful quite like it. The house itself was designed in somewhat of a Soho loft style: a large, high-ceilinged open space with a few rooms and small corridors off to the sides. It was like walking into a hallucination of color, mirrors, smells as yet unidentifiable to us, colorful, joyful people (some of them local Venice homeless, strolling in for h’or d’oeuvres), and most of all, music. The soirees were attended mostly by actors and singers and songwriters all filling the evening with an endless stream of music around Marshall’s white grand piano. On most evenings David Ross was at the keys. Squeezed in with Fiona in Marshall’s rabbit fur-covered chain-suspended swing chair, I heard the voices of both Michael Feinstein and Andrea Marcovicci for the first time. Fiona played the first songs she ever wrote there. This recording is filled with songs which came to me as a result of those soirees.

“Beyond Compare” is a song I will always associate with Michael Feinstein-- for obvious reasons, and I will never forget the blissful transfixion I felt from the swing chair, as he played and sang that song -- its writers, Marshall Barer and David Ross standing nearby.

My father took me to Tom Rolla’s The Gardenia (the famous Hollywood cabaret where I would eventually make my debut) for the first time when I was seventeen to see Andrea Marcovicci. I had met her years before at the soirees, and had already worn out my tape of her album "What Is Love". But I had no idea such startling beauty and artistry could exist onstage. On that night, among sixty or so others, I witnessed it firsthand. It was a beautiful revelation.

I have spent much time studying the American popular songs of the nineteen-twenties. One of my favorites is Sir Noel Coward’s “Someday I’ll Find You”. Written in 1929, it also marks the beginning of the Great Depression.

My father was born in Tennessee in 1933 - at the height of the Great Depression in the United States. Songwriting during that era was what good popular songwriting should be: reflective of harsh realities, but not limited to them. For example, “Remember My Forgotten Man”, written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren for the film “Golddiggers of 1933”, is a statement about the plight of the “forgotten” World War I veteran. At the same time, love songs like Cole Porter’s “Night And Day” and Ned Washington and George Bassman’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” were top radio hits.

“Happy Days Are Here Again”, written by Jack Yellen and Milton Ager, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Presidential campaign song in 1932 - a powerful choice for hope in such a dark time. My father’s birth in 1933 is my personal connection to “Happy Days Are Here Again”. He and my mother brought me life, brothers and sisters, and a musical legacy.

And of course the soirees.

Maude Maggart