Welcome! Fridays are the day when we at the McElrath Cabaret Blog are going to present blog posts in our Cabaret Through Time series. We are going to present historical cabaret singers, entertainers, venues, writers, and musicians, and will begin to compile a cabaret timeline. We hope that you find it informative, and that you enjoy it!
Wallowitch and Ross–Fixtures of The New York Cabaret Scene
I had the great good pleasure of watching a wonderful documentary that was filmed in 1998 of two of New York’s premiere cabaret entertainers: John Wallowitch and Bertram Ross, whose lives and work were detailed in the documentary entitled Wallowitch and Ross: This Moment. This video is available on Netflix, as well as at the Wallowitch and Ross website.
There is further information about John Wallowitch from an interview conducted by Jonathan Frank on the Talkin’ Broadway website, a Wikipedia entry, an article from the New York Times, as well as the biographical information included on the Wallowitch and Ross website. Bertram Ross biographical information is contained at the aforementioned Wallowitch and Ross site, an Encyclopedia Britannica entry, as well as mentions in the New York Times and The Guardian newspapers. There are also a few You Tubes available that feature these talented men. The Wikipedia entry also lists in the references section that there is a collection of John Wallowitch noncommercial video at the New York Public Library, as well as the Rogers and Hammerstein Archive at Lincoln Center, but I was not able to access this information for this post; however, if you are in New York, it would be worth looking at. While my post today is not intended to be an exhaustive examination of this duo’s work, it is instead an overview of the parts that particularly caught my attention, most particularly in reference to cabaret entertainment and their lives, and thus that is what I have focused on. I am new to their work as soloists and as a duo, but am now a huge fan! To my knowledge, there have not been comprehensive biographies written about either of these amazing men; we will have to content ourselves for now with the great video documentary of their lives.
Bertram Ross with Martha Graham
Mr. Wallowitch and Mr. Ross had solo careers in entertainment before they teamed up in both their personal as well as professional lives to create a memorable cabaret duo. John Wallowitch was a concert pianist, who played at Carnegie Hall as well as in concerts in Europe. Bertram Ross was a dancer who was Martha Graham’s dance partner for decades. As young men, both served in the Army.
Bertram Ross, for nearly 25 years, was Martha Graham’s dance partner, choreographer as well as co-director of her famous dance company. Ms. Graham said, “I am a thief and I am not ashamed. I steal from the best, wherever it happens to me – Plato, Picasso and Bertram Ross.”
Before working with Graham, the Encyclopedia Britannica entry states that “He had previously established his own modern dance company, and he choreographed for it and other companies and taught at many top dance schools.” According to the New York Times, “Mr. Ross choreographed for his own and other modern-dance companies. He also taught for many years at the Graham Center, the Mary Anthony Studio, Juilliard and New York University.” You get to see Mr. Ross teaching dance classes in the documentary This Moment, as well as beautiful dance sequences from when he danced with Graham.
Ross had notable performances with the Graham dance troupe in:
- Saint Michael in “Seraphic Dialogue”
- Agamemnon and Orestes in “Clytemnestra”
- Adam in “Embattled Garden”
- Oedipus in “Night Journey”
- the Preacher in “Appalachian Spring”
Here is the first part of Appalachian Spring, featuring Bertram Ross. All four parts are available on You Tube:
In addition to dancing, Mr. Ross also enjoyed painting.
From the interview with Talkin’ Broadway, we learn that Wallowitch grew up in South Philadelphia and moved to New York to study piano at Julliard. Wallowitch said that he coached singers to make money while studying, and the singers blossomed under his care, which led to his becoming more involved with songwriting, which he had pursued off and on since age 7. Wallowitch wrote both music and lyrics, although he also enjoyed writing the lyrics alone, and then working with other composers, some of whom included Tony Scibetta and Gary Schocker. According to the New York Times, Wallowitch wrote over 2,700 songs, while in his biographical information it says that he wrote over 1,000, most of which were unpublished. Wallowitch also wrote musicals that had performances in New York and other parts of the country.
Twenty songs by John Wallowitch are included in the songbook entitled Songs From Manhattan. The names of some of the songs that he wrote include:
- This Moment
- Tiny World
- There Used To Be
- My Love Went To London (written right after he had met Ross, and Ross had to leave to work in London)
- If You Don’t Love Me
- After All
- Did Anyone Ever Really Know Joan?
- Come A Little Closer
- Frog and Toad
- It’s Never Too Late
- I’m Only Happy, That’s All
- I See The World Through Your Eyes
- Old Friends
If you love witty, sophisticated, urbane lyrics in your cabaret songs, then you will love the work of John Wallowitch. His work has be likened to that of Noel Coward and Cole Porter, and after listening to his music and lyrics, you will understand why–he is a master storyteller in song, and notably often, a humorous one as well.
Albums by John Wallowitch include (from the Wikipedia entry):
- 1964: This Is John Wallowitch!!!, LP features cover artwork by Andy Warhol (Serenus Records SEP 2005)
- 1965: This Is The Other Side Of John Wallowitch!!!, LP features cover artwork by Andy Warhol (Serenus Records SEP 2006)
- 197?: Now appearing at Dreamland Memory Ballroom, LP (Serenus Records SEPS 22015)
- 1984: Back On The Town [LIVE] (DRG Label)
- 1993: My Manhattan, featuring Bertram Ross & Dixie Carter (DRG Label)
- 2002: Wallowitch & Ross, John Wallowitch & Bertram Ross.
- 2008: Miracle On 71st Street, (13 Stories Records) (iTunes)
Wallowitch and Ross worked together as a cabaret duo during the 1980s and 90s.
Nightclubs where Wallowitch, either by himself or with Ross, performed include:
- Pizza on the Park, London
- The Ballroom, New York City
- The Duplex, New York City
- Danny’s Skylight Room, New York City
- appearances in San Francisco
- Palm Beach
- Los Angeles
- The Wallowitchery Show at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, New York City
Wallowitch performed around the world with his cabaret revue, entitled The World of Wallowitch.
John Wallowitch also hosted a cabaret show on television. According to his biography:
Wallowitch’s bi-monthly cable show, “John’s Cabaret”, on which he presents special performers and sings (preferably the unknown songs of the 20th century), has become a Manhattan cult fixture. The shows are ensconced in the prestigious Rodgers and Hammerstein Archive at Lincoln Center.
Part of the documentary I loved was Wallowitch’s telling of how he used to go and stand in front of the home of Irving Berlin on Christmas Eve and sing “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Loving You Always,” and Mr. Berlin was inside and heard them singing. This went on for several years, and then in 1983 Mr. Berlin invited Wallowitch and his friends who were singing outside the window into the home, at which time Berlin, who was well into his 90s, declared that it was the “nicest Christmas present he ever got!”
What can the cabaret entertainer of today learn from these masters of the art? I think it is to be yourself, be witty, find the humor in the moment, be honest, and love your audience.
A trailer for Wallowitch and Ross: This Moment documentary:
A clip from John Wallowitch’s cabaret show on New York Public Access television, where Wallowitch took song requests over the phone!
Blossom Dearie sings John Wallowitch’s song, “Bruce”–just wonderful Stephen Holden in the New York Times describes the lyrics as “facetious tips to a clueless drag queen”!:
Cynthia Crane: Wallowitch’s My Broadway:
Cynthia Crane, saloon-singing it up with Wallowitch’s “I’m 27″:
What are your favorite songs written by John Wallowitch, or performed by Wallowitch and Ross? Did you have opportunity to see Wallowitch and Ross perform, either as soloists or together? Do you have a memory of Wallowitch and Ross? Please leave a comment below and tell us about it–I would love to hear from you!
ps–The Cabaret Soiree Link Party will begin anew on Monday–you can visit anytime to click on the links and see what others have posted, or you can share your own recent cabaret blog or now website link every Monday through Thursday. Link is below.
Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Thursdays: Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time