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Callaway's 'Signature'
Arizona Daily Star; Tucson, Ariz.; Mar 8, 2002; Cathalena E. Burch;
She sings her heroes' tunes on new CD

Ann Hampton Callaway knew going in that she faced a tall order: etch your signature on the signature songs of some of jazz music's giants.

Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday - Callaway's heroes, and artists whose music made an indelible imprint on the genre and on the veteran jazz singer-songwriter.

"It was a very ambitious project, and I'm so encouraged by the response I've had," Callaway said from home in New York City a few days before her new CD, "Signature," was released last month. "There's something special about this CD. There's a lot of love in it, and a lot of variety. There's a lot of me."

Callaway, who plays three concerts at the Berger Center tonight and Saturday, put her tiny signature next to the giant signatures left by Nat King Cole on "Route 66," Vaughan on "Tenderly" and Mel Torme on "Pick Yourself Up."

But she is the first to admit it's hard to tamper with near perfection, and she rates the jazz greats she covers on the album as the closest you can get.

"Signature" is the latest road stop in Callaway's musical journey, which led her from a small New York piano bar in the late 1970s to Broadway and some of the major theaters in the world.

Surrounded by music as a child, the daughter of prominent Broadway voice coach Shirley Callaway and CBS News correspondent John Callaway said she and her sister, Liz, were destined for entertainment futures.

Callaway ventured into music while her sister struck out for acting when they landed in New York City from their native Chicago in 1979.

Unlike most struggling artists, Callaway skipped the waitressing gig and chanced into a singing job at a little piano bar three days into her journey.

"There was a man at the piano playing, and somebody called out a request that he didn't know. I said, 'I know that song,' " Callaway recalled. "I was 21 years old and just full of excitement to be in New York."

She sat at the piano and sang "Sometimes When We Touch," a sappy pop song that she played at weddings with a band back home.

"I put so much feeling in it that the whole audience was screaming. I immediately started working there. I had six hours a night," she said.

"I didn't think it was going to happen that way. I didn't think I was going to suddenly get a job and be thrust into the thick of it."

Over the next dozen years, she went on to play larger venues and clubs, making a comfortable living but not much of a dent beyond the club circuit. Her act earned critical acclaim and audience adoration for her uncanny ability to let her fans shout out lyrics that she would improvise into a song.

After several failed attempts, Callaway finally landed a recording deal in 1991. She put out her debut album the following year.

Since then, she's recorded six albums, including a duets effort with her sister. Barbra Streisand recorded two of Callaway's songs, and she wrote and sang "The Nanny Named Fran," the theme song of Fran Drescher's "The Nanny" sitcom. She also ventured onto the Broadway stage, snagging a Tony nomination for her role in the play "Swing."

Some people have asked Callaway if she is bitter, looking back on the time it took her to break through. Reflectively, she points to the philosophy that has kept her committed to herself and her vocation all these years.

"I don't really believe there are any fairy tales," she said. "Everyone has their own pace, their own story, their own way the plot unfolds. I've loved every minute of my plot. I keep turning the pages, being delighted by what's next.

"I'm living proof that if you just hang in there and do what you love with a sense of fun and commitment, a lot is possible."

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.