Forget writer’s block. For top globetrotting jazz, Broadway and pop songstress and lyricist Ann Hampton Callaway, there’s no such thing.
So as she has done at concerts through the years, she will improvise a tune on the spot for up to 1,100 people Saturday at the Judson Erne Auditorium with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.
She will do so by patchworking off-the-cuff ideas and concepts suggested by audience members.
No pressure or anything, of course, for the season’s Johnson Distinguished Guest Artist.
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“That’s part of where jazz (training) comes in,” said Callaway, speaking by phone from her home about an hour north of New York City. “There’s a real sense of trusting the moment, of being in the moment and maintaining a sense of playfulness.”
That will all be part of her performance, “Diva Power!,” featuring songs she has written for longtime friend Barbra Streisand, plus covers of tunes from artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and others.
Streisand alone has put Callaway’s songs on seven of her releases.
One of those numbers, “I’ve Dreamed of You,” made it to Streisand in 1998 only hours before the artist’s marriage to actor James Brolin. Streisand ended up singing it at the wedding reception. So the work has become a favorite among what are now known as Ann-dards.
Her 16-song performance locally also will include “Blues in the Night” from the Tony Award-nominated Broadway show, “Swing!,” in which she appeared from 1999 to 2001.
“That song changed my life,” the 58-year-old Callaway said. “And it’s a big highlight people always ask for.”
Callaway has written for television, including the theme song for the hit show “The Nanny,” and also has appeared in “The Good Shepherd” with Robert DeNiro on the big screen.
Her accolades, accomplishments and awards stretch broadly. She has appeared with 30 of the world’s top orchestras.
Callaway admires the work of others such as recent Nobel Prize for Literature winner Bob Dylan, whom she has covered with a jazzed-up rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
“I think it’s wonderful that a songwriter is being honored,” she said. “Because songwriters often are not taken as seriously as novelists.”
Callaway is taken pretty seriously by some as a impish impressionist, frequently throwing in her quick, mischievous bits on performers ranging from Dylan to Streisand. Blame it on a tape recorder she got as a childhood Christmas present.
“The first thing I remember was trying to imitate nearly every sound I could think of and every person I could think of,” she said.
Janie Gordon, Columbus North High School choral director and a longtime local pop and musical theater vocalist, was stunned when she heard from Philharmonic music director David Bowden that Callaway would perform with the ensemble.
“I was blown away,” Gordon said, highlighting the artist as among her favorites for years. “I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
Gordon saw Callaway perform on Broadway in “Swing!”
“I had such a newfound appreciation of her,” Gordon said. “Of all the improvisational scat singers I’ve heard over the years, she’s got to be the best.”
Even apart from jazz, her life is filled with artistry. She regularly writes poetry and pursues photography.
She chuckled upon hearing that the orchestra’s Bowden still has occasionally been known to shoot hoops.
In her younger years, the 5-foot-10 Callaway often competed against boys on playgrounds and maintains a basketball goal at her home.
“Who knows?” she said of the maestro. “I may have to challenge him.”
Who: Internationally touring jazz, pop, and ex-Broadway star Ann Hampton Callaway performing with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Musically Speaking at 6:45 p.m. features a conversation between Callaway and Philharmonic music director David Bowden about the evening’s program.
Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.
Tickets: $10 to $55, available at 812-376-2638 or thecip.org.