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Quinn Lemley

The 1940s and 1950s are fondly remembered for many reasons. Two of the main ones are the great movies that were made and the great jazz that was featured in them. In addition to brilliant composition and some of the best players that ever lived, those movies also had great singers. Some of the actors, it turns out, were not actually singing. The studios used great voices to make those melodies unforgettable. Such was the case with Rita Hayworth, star of Gilda and widely acknowledged goddess of love.

In a new hit musical about Rita's life, vocalist Quinn Lemley (who bears a striking resemblance to Ms. Hayworth) celebrates Rita Hayworth’s life, loves, and the songs of her movies that were highlights of her career.

Ms. Lemley is an accomplished jazz singer with five CDs to her credit and a vibrant performance career in the United States, Europe, and the Far East.

JAZZREVIEW: Hello Quinn.

QUINN: Hello Jerry.

JAZZREVIEW: Are you in New York?

QUINN: Yes, I'm in New York.

JAZZREVIEW: Where is The Heat Is On playing in New York?

QUINN: We're debuting our new version of Rita Hayworth, The Heat Is On , A Life in Concert with an eleven-piece big band at BB Kings on July 25th at 8:00pm. BB Kings is at 243 West 42nd Street, between 8th and Broadway, so it’s on the Great White Way.

JAZZREVIEW: I know the area well. Now, you're doing this show and you're a singer, but Rita wasn't.

QUINN: Yes. I’m singing, and Rita actually wasn’t a singer. When I was first putting this show together, it started as a little cabaret act with just a piano. Anita Ellis, the voice of Rita, came to see it. She was the quintessential voice, the one that people heard in Gilda and lot of Rita’s later films. That was really magical to have her there.

JAZZREVIEW: Did you have the opportunity to speak with her?

QUINN: Oh, yes! Anita Ellis sat right in the front row and came up on the stage afterwards and spoke to me. She said I just brought back a lot of she was in the beginning of Alzheimer’s, but she was so lucid that night. She said "Oh my God! You captured Rita's personality both private and public." She told me all these stories [and] she remembered all the songs. It was just a really moving experience to have her there. Rita Hayworth, they say, could sing, but Harry Cohn who was the head of Columbia Pictures would always dub her because it was cheaper for him. She was such a good lip syncer, nobody knew it wasn't her voice until many years later.

JAZZREVIEW: Oh well, you have to get those movies out under budget.

QUINN: I know, I know.

JAZZREVIEW: But do you dance?

QUINN: I do. I'm more of a singer than I am a dancer, but I dance in the show and do a lot of the numbers like "Amado Mio" and "Put the Blame on Mame." The choreography is derivative from the films.

JAZZREVIEW: Are you going to be coming back to the West Coast any time soon?

QUINN: I'm going to be at the Casino Regina in Western Canada on September 8 and then I'm going to be traveling. I'm trying to get some more dates in California again because I've been playing out there a lot lately. I did a show with Gogie Grant at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs. It was the music of Ira Gershwin and that was really fun. We will get out there this year. I just don't know when yet.

JAZZREVIEW: When you were doing the Gershwin show, who were you playing with?

QUINN: Wayne O'Bravenall and his band. Do you remember Gogie Grant? She had that hit "The Wayward Wind."

JAZZREVIEW: I know the song.

QUINN: She was a big band singer and that was her big hit.

JAZZREVIEW: Yes. It says in your press kit that in between shows of The Heat Is On, you do jazz and cabaret gigs. What kind of jazz gigs do you do in general?

QUINN: I do. I'm actually going back for the third time to the Half Note in Athens, Greece. I usually play that gig with my quintet. That show has been turned into a live CD, Quinn Lemley Live [at the Half Note Athens, Greece].

JAZZREVIEW: Now, are they the guys who are on the CD that you sent me?

QUINN: Cocktails with a Twist. No. Now I play with either Tedd Firth or David Epstein on piano. Karl Spicer is my bass player and Peter Retzlaff, who plays with Diane Schuur, is my drummer. I also play with an alto saxman Mark McDonald, and Warren Chaisson. He [Warren] is a vibraphonist. He's played with Chet Baker and with a lot of the jazz greats. Warren is Canadian.

JAZZREVIEW: Canada currently has an exciting jazz scene.

QUINN: Oh, it has got a great jazz scene!

JAZZREVIEW: So you'll be up there in September?

QUINN: I'm going to be playing in two casinos. The Heat is On is just a very glamorous show and what's nice is there is a lot of humor. There is also a lot of pathos because it’s not just about Rita Hayworth, it’s about the concept of the public persona of Rita Hayworth, the star and then Margarita Cansino [Rita Hayworth’s real name] who was a shy, tender woman who really just wanted to be loved and have a quiet home life. People thought that she would always be what her image was.

JAZZREVIEW: I've seen some of the costumes that you wear in the show. This is real movie star glamour.

QUINN: Yes.

JAZZREVIEW: So how does it feel to be a movie star?

QUINN: Oh my goodness, I can't wait ‘til it's absolutely real. It’s really fun to be able to play Rita. I was doing this show in January, in Palm Desert, with a five piece band. It was so wonderful because I knew I had the audience believing I was Rita when I talked about Gilda and about later films like Separate Tables or Pal Joey. I'd say, "When I did Pal Joey " and the audience applauded. It was great.

JAZZREVIEW: Do you find yourself staying in role or coming out of role? How does that work when you're doing this?

QUINN: When I'm doing the show, I feel like I mean, it’s a theater piece and I'm an actress so when I'm doing the show and rehearsing it, I go into that place. I think there's a lot in the character that I'm playing. Rita Hayworth, that is naturally me. I think whenever you approach any kind of a role, you find those aspects of yourself so that you can live up to the role that you're portraying. That’s always how I approach the role.

JAZZREVIEW: So this is not an impersonation act?

QUINN: No, it’s a theater piece. It’s a musical journey.

JAZZREVIEW: Carter Inskeep who wrote this, did you collaborate with him in the writing?

QUINN: Yes.

JAZZREVIEW: When you're doing the show, is there much ad libbing? Does the show change from night-to-night?

QUINN: Every live theater is always different. Every night is different. The songs are the same. It is a scripted show, a book musical. If you have someone in the audience sometimes the best moments in theater happen because something happens and you react to it, but in this particular show, there is a journey, there is a script.

Carter is an absolutely fabulous writer to work with. He did the show Always Patsy Cline that was off Broadway. It traveled all over the country.

JAZZREVIEW: When you went to NYU, did you study theater or music there?

QUINN: Oh, yes. I was at Tisch School of the Arts. I was at the Lee Strasberg Institute, which is one of their studios, and the Michael Chekhov Studio. Then I also studied film and television production. That's a really great film school.

JAZZREVIEW: You are an actress and you've got this performance going. Looking down the road, what do you see yourself doing?

QUINN: Well, I really would like to do a television series or to do some feature films.

JAZZREVIEW: What kind of films or TV are you interested in?

QUINN: I like all kinds of things; I like thrillers, and romantic comedies. I love romantic comedies! I love the New Mission Impossible; I thought that was fabulous and was quite suspenseful.

JAZZREVIEW: What do you think of Film Noir?

QUINN: Oh, in that genre I love the one with Kim Basinger, Hollywood Confidential. But those kinds of things, I think I would do really well. And then, I'd like to do some screwball comedy kind of things, which I think would be really fun--like a remake of Bringing Up Baby or something like that. Or, what was the one Gladys Glover? It Should Happen to You with Judy Holliday.

JAZZREVIEW: The Heat Is On is it a one-person show?

QUINN: It’s a one-person show and it’s 90 minutes and has an 11-piece big band. I do five on-stage costume changes while I'm singing or talking.

JAZZREVIEW: How do you do on-stage costume changes?

QUINN: It's magic. (Laughs) I can't tell my secrets. No, I'm teasing, but it really flies by. It’s about her whole life, even the Alzheimer's.

JAZZREVIEW: How do you do that?

QUINN: Well, the concept of the show is that she is in this nightclub on an afterlife stage and that was it. We had a couple of issues that were challenges for us writing the show. One was why she is there and how does the young woman encompass the whole life and tell the whole life story. So we thought that it gave us the most flexibility by having her not being in a physical plane.

JAZZREVIEW: You play the ghost of Rita?

QUINN: Yes, I'm Rita Hayworth's ghost.

JAZZREVIEW: Well, that's cool.

QUINN: In Technicolor.

JAZZREVIEW: Yes, well that's even better. Now is your hair naturally red?

QUINN: Of course!

JAZZREVIEW: Oh great. Hers wasn't.

QUINN: It is now, thanks to AKS Salon!

JAZZREVIEW: It’s so interesting what she went through to become the Love Goddess.

QUINN: Well, her first husband Ed Judson was her manager. He was in his late 40's and she was 18 years old when she married him. She was a Spanish dancer and she [her name] was Margarita Cansino. He was the one that changed her hairline with the electrolysis. He raised it an inch and a half. It was very painful. It took a year and a half to do it and then he had her take her mother's maiden name, played up the Irish in her and dyed her hair red. And that made her Rita Hayworth.

JAZZREVIEW: And it worked.

QUINN: It did, it worked.

JAZZREVIEW: Let's see, she started off in about 1935 and ended in about 1972. Was it that she stopped working? She had done about 65 movies.

QUINN: I believe so because she was I think it was the Grapes of Wrath with Frank Langella. I believe [that] was her last film or one of the last. She was developing Alzheimer’s disease and she just couldn't remember. I found an interview with Frank and he was talking about how difficult it had gotten because she couldn't even remember through a line. What they would do, they'd lay on the set on the floor and they'd hold cue cards up. She'd look down and then look up and deliver the line and they'd have to be really short lines. It got to be very frustrating and she stopped working.

JAZZREVIEW: I saw in your press package. You received some very grateful press from the Alzheimer's Association.

QUINN: We've raised over $25,000 for a Chapter in Indiana. I'm actually from Indiana.

JAZZREVIEW: Where in Indiana?

QUINN: Columbus, Indiana, near Bloomington, near IU--big music school. I probably should have gone to IU, but I wanted to come to New York so badly, I couldn't wait.

JAZZREVIEW: Oh okay, and so far it has been all-good.

QUINN: Oh, it has been fantastic, but I go home a lot. My parents are in Columbus, Indiana.

JAZZREVIEW: Have they seen the show?

QUINN: Yes, well, they've seen it in different stages. You know how shows develop, so they saw it early and then when I was in Palm Springs. I did two runs at the Jocelyn Theater in Palm Desert and we went back two weeks last year. Then this year, they had us for a week’s return engagement. We were sold out and got standing ovations every night. It was so exciting. The best part was having my mother and one of her best friends there. They flew all the way out from Indiana, so I was really excited to have them there.

JAZZREVIEW: How big a theater do you think this piece is optimal for?

QUINN: Before when I was doing it, it was with only four musicians so I was playing smaller venues. Now with our big BB King show on July 25th, it’s now putting us in major performing arts centers. We're booked at Ruth Eckerd Hall, which is over 2,000 seats in Clearwater, Florida and we're going to be at the Kravitz Center in March 2007 We're playing anywhere from 500 to 2,000 seat theaters from now on.

JAZZREVIEW: That's great.

QUINN: Yeah, I'm really excited and then I still do my jazz stuff. That I'll do in smaller clubs like the Half Note in Greece. It’s about 200 people seated, but with the standing room it’s about 400. This is going to be our third year going back; we sell out before we even begin every time we go there, so they always add "matinees" at 8pm!

JAZZREVIEW: Where in Athens?

QUINN: We're right by the temple of Zeus.

JAZZREVIEW: Has he stopped over to see the show?

QUINN: Well, you know I keep inviting him, but he's so busy with all his other mythological people. He can't come by, but I think Prometheus, comes by and hangs out, and Apollo.

JAZZREVIEW: Oh okay, they're pretty high up there.

QUINN: And definitely Aphrodite because when I do my jazz show, it’s called SIRENS. I do all music that was inspired by screen sirens and the great recorded female vocalists like Peggy Lee, Julie London, Eartha Kitt, Ann Margret, even Marilyn Monroe. I take their material and do the song so it’s still about glamour, sensuality, love, romance, and dreams, but it’s in that kind of 50's, 60's jazz idiom.

JAZZREVIEW: And now you've released that also as a CD.

QUINN: Well that I have. Its called Sirens: Songs of the Silver Screen. That was when I was doing more cabaret, but when I do my nightclub act, I'm still calling it SIRENS. Now, we're doing more jazz than cabaret. The Cocktails with a Twist that I sent you that's an Eartha Kitt song and

JAZZREVIEW: I was listening to you sing. I wasn't thinking jazz singer so much as I was thinking Broadway stage singer. You don't scat.

QUINN: Interesting. No, I don't scat. Peggy Lee didn't scat.

JAZZREVIEW: But now when you see jazz singers, it’s almost a law. You have scat. I was listening to your CD and I thought, this reminds me more of a Broadway stage voice. I love that type of singing. So someone coming out of that genre and singing jazz, well you are going to develop a unique voice in today’s music.

QUINN: I spent my whole life listening, as I grew up in Indiana with my grandmother, who lived in an apartment building across the street from my house. I'd spend every day with her and we'd listen to all the great female vocalists. I think that's how I got inspired as a kid, with my Barbie dolls and playing with all of these great singers, Peggy Lee and Julie London and Ella. I love the music of that period.

JAZZREVIEW: Well, I've kept you on the phone for...

QUINN: This has been great. I've had so much fun talking to you.

JAZZREVIEW: Well, thank you. I really enjoy talking with people who are creating music and this is an exciting thing. The Heat is On is a great concept that is keeping alive part of the American culture that is slipping away. Rita Hayworth started acting 70 years ago. Most people can't remember music and film from last year, let alone 70 years ago. For you to bring her to life is a wonderful thing.

QUINN: Well, thank you. The show is a real tribute to her, you know. Even though we do talk about the difficulties of some of her marriages and the Alzheimers, its really an image and loving tribute. When I'm in Greece or I'm in Paris and I say, "I'm going to sing the song from Gilda, it’s so funny because they [the audience] says "Amado Mio." It’s amazing, they're such nostalgia buffs, even young people in their twenties or thirties. You wouldn't think they would know who this classic screen siren is, but everybody knows because they love classic American movies.

JAZZREVIEW: They still love Louis Armstrong. When I first went to Paris, people were shocked that I didn't know the entire Louis Armstrong catalog. I said I knew some of it, but they didn’t understand how I could not know everything he's ever done and Jerry Lewis, I mean they love Jerry Lewis.

QUINN: I know, I know.

JAZZREVIEW: Have you played in Paris?

QUINN: I haven't played in Paris, but I plan to. I've played in Greece and I've played in Switzerland.

JAZZREVIEW: Where in Switzerland?

QUINN: In Geneva, at a club called La Boehm and another club called L'Insolite. I'm dying to go back and I'm dying to play in Paris because I think that the Rita Hayworth show--they would just love it because it’s such a blend of big band jazz, cinema nostalgia and glamour. I think they'd just love it. I speak French, so I could probably do the show in French.

JAZZREVIEW: Do you have a website for people who would be interested in finding out more about you your music and your career?

QUINN: If your readers would like to find out more about me or where they can get my CDs, they can find me on the at www.quinnlemley.com

JAZZREVIEW: On that note, I’m going to let you go. This has been a true pleasure and I thank you.

QUINN: You’re welcome.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Quinn Lemley
  • Interview Date: July 25,2006 8:00pm
  • Subtitle: The Heat is On... Quinn Lemley's Musical Journey as Rita Hayworth
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