Janis Ian – American Songbook Series

 

Janis Ian
By Marcina Zaccaria

 

 

Janis Ian breezed through the American Songbook Series at Lincoln Center.

A renegade voice of her generation, Ian shared popular songs like “Society’s Child.” There’s something careless about her performance. Ian explains how she got her start in music industry, struggling with being famous and not famous throughout her teens. It was a charmed career. “Society’s Child,” won a Grammy nomination, and set folks ablaze for featuring an interracial romance. In 1975, she took her first Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Seventeen.” At the Appel Room, it still sounds light and effortless.

With short grey hair and a long, glittery black blazer (with a nod more to blues tradition), Ian’s performance is reliable and practiced. Her light blue sandals have traveled a long way. There is a good deal of spoken word in the performance, with personal reflection. Now, living in Nashville, Ian mentions her female partner. Having gotten married in Canada in 2003, Ian offers her spin on the whirlwind of the changing times. Married, single, then married again, her songs now offer humor to larger, previously troubling issues. “Love where you can” is part of her credo now, even if she’s a threat to the “National Security.”

A singer like Janis Ian conjures memories of her politically charged era – it’s an important part of the American Songbook series. On a beautiful stage with glass windows overlooking the speeding cars off of 60th Street and Columbus Circle, the room held its magic. “I’m Still Standing” looks and sounds great at The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall.

Ian’s vocal texture isn’t raspy or tarnished by age. She offers a smooth sound with a percussive sense of the guitar. She strikes at it, and stomps her feet, letting the emotion in the body resound through the room. It’s a fine departure. She isn’t afraid of the lower part of her vocal register, too, belting through the evening’s program.

Ian also maintains her songwriting creed – playing songs later recorded by Bette Midler and John Mellencamp. She is as comfortable at the grand piano as at the guitar. Though appearing more in her element at the guitar, Ian allows theme in each song to resonate. The songs allow the audience to drift and appreciate a sense of gratitude of living through the years. “Through the Years” feels a bit like a rallying cry.

Ian provided the audience with CDs of her latest work. These days, she doesn’t want a record label – she is fine to keep things as they are. Joining with the audience to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the purple lights moved over the audience, providing an encore that brought connection to the room.

American Songbook is a celebration of the popular American song. It continues at the Appel Room at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall through February 26th. Janis Ian performed on February 5th.

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