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Ron Kaplan: Singing the Great American Songbook

Vocalist Ron Kaplan says his dream is to “create a national foundation” and raise $25 million to protect and promote “the zenith of American songwriting” under the banner of his not-for-profit American Songbook Preservation Society. Well, excuse the cynicism, but it seems fair to argue that the Great American Songbook has already been superlatively preserved, thanks to shelves full of albums by dozens of artists extending from Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra to Diana Krall and Dianne Reeves.

And, as long as we’re being cynical, the wealth of standards from Ella, Frank and such are eminently better testament to Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, the Gershwins and all their Tin Pan Alley compatriots than anything the pleasant but uninspired Kaplan delivers on this live recording, captured two years ago during a benefit concert in Santa Cruz. Better is a Society-produced DVD (available to those who make a donation), with the vocal talent base expanded beyond Kaplan to include the likes of Mark Winkler, Denise Donatelli and Pinky Winters. (Oh, and if preservation is the aim, try to get the songwriters’ names right: It’s Andy Razaf and Richard Rodgers-not, as appears on the DVD, Razof and Rogers.)

In fairness, it should be noted that one of the ASPS’s goals is to provide funding for performers to record and tour, a decidedly noble intention. Indeed, if Kaplan were to slightly shift focus and create the American Jazz Singing Preservation Society, worrying less about the material itself and more about the performances, then it would be well worth opening our checkbooks.

Originally Published