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Tracy Stark - Shades Of Beautiful

   For Years, Tracy Stark has led a hectic career as one of the most in-demand musical directors and pianists in cabaret. She jumps effortlessly from pop-rock to soul to Broadway to jazz. Tracy's home in Jersey City, New Jersey holds a slew of honors, including (to date) eight MAC Awards (from the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) and one Bistro Award. Her job, she says, is "bliss. Playing with vocalists can be such intimate conversation."
   But that role has kept her mostly outside the spotlight-not that Tracy has ever fought to claim it. Songwriting has been a quiet pursuit of hers since her teens. Her two solo CDs of originals, Canvas of Dreams and Feast for the Heart, are expressions of bittersweet yet determined optimism. This is a woman who has known much sadness, but chooses not to live in it.

   Now comes an album that draws upon all her talents-accompanying, arranging, singing, and songwriting. Its producer is Richard Barone, a longtime beacon among New York's downtown indie rock musicians and a respected freelance producer. His bio lists associations with Pete Seeger, Quincy Jones, Donovan, Tony Visconti, Moby, and Tiny Tim.

   "Tracy surprised me at our first meeting to plan the album:' he says, "by stating, `I don't want to sing on this one, This came only a few years after I'd produced Feast for the Heart, on which she sang beautifully and engagingly on every song." He convinced her to sing on two tracks; the other songs, says Richard, "are sung by artists whom she has accompanied in cabarets, clubs, and concert halls all over the world, or who have touched her creative heart in some way"

   In his hands, Tracy's eclecticism flowers. "Richard is so multitalented and full of ideas; she says. "You always know he has your back." Each track has its own creative touches-the stately female choir on "Find My Strength''; the cluster of acoustic guitars on "Camera"; the ghoulish vocal distortion effect on "Greatest Nightmare" Call it cabaret if you like. "Cabaret used to be a genre: the Great American Songbook, show tunes, standards;' says Tracy. "In the present world, I see it as a giant umbrella of any genre, as long as you can create a sense of intimacy."

Tracy's flair for doing that may cone from the fact that she spent much of her early life making music alone. As a classical piano student, she says, "I had not been given permission to play anything that wasn't already written down:' In the middle of the night, she would sneak to the piano in the basement of her family home in Northeast Philadelphia. There she worked out songs she had heard on AM radio. "This other type of music came so naturally, and I could sing my heart out. I assumed I was doing something naughty."

   As a "brooding, artistic teenager," she wallowed in her mother's LPs of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Laura Nyro, Janis Ian, and most of all Joni Mitchell. "She was an extremely important influence on me, because every album was completely different from the one before. She was my introduction to the concept that artists do not have to stay in one genre:"

   A few years later, after writing a pile of "heavy" originals, Tracy graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. During a three-month vacation in Europe, she began playing for a touring production of On the Town. Club and cruise-ship gigs poured in, and she wound up staying abroad for almost four years.

   By 1997, she was ready for a change. Joined by her future husband, a Norwegian, Tracy moved to New York. She was well-trained for the endurance test that followed: years of playing and singing at the Five Oaks, the Duplex, Don't Tell Mama, and other piano bar/cabarets where she served as a human jukebox. She transitioned into the more fulfilling role of musical director. "This is not a cookie-cutter job;' she says. "All artists approach their craft differently. As a collaborator, I try to tune into what everyone needs to highlight their strengths."

   Nearly all the songs on this album have their own brand of hope. Sometimes it's a smile through tears; elsewhere the joy is unreserved. "I am not a naturally optimistic person, although many people have accused me of that! I do believe that no matter what happens, there is a way to find the positive. It helps that I love what I do, and I get to play music every day of my life. But I absolutely do not come by optimism naturally. I work on it daily."

   Asked where she would like her career to head, Tracy responds: "I don't really have a plan to conquer the world. I just want to keep playing, and keep getting better as an artist, and work on interesting and wonderful projects. As a musician, I want to collaborate with as many great artists as I can. As a songwriter, I would love for my songs to be sung by as many people as humanly possible!"

-James Gavin, New York, 2016

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