photo: John Griffeth

I was lucky enough…

…to catch up with Deana Martin for a phone chat the Sunday before Thanksgiving. This was a VS bucket list event for me, and Deana turned out to be every bit as lovely and charming in person as she appears on stage!

Deana was packing for a trip to LA to visit family and to kick off her holiday tour at the Catalina Jazz Club the day after Thanksgiving; she was nice enough to carve an hour out of her very busy schedule for an interview that was both a great deal of fun and informative.

Did I mention Deana is a busy lady? Following the Catalina gig, Deana whirlwinded her way through tour stops in Florida and Ohio, and this week makes her way to Las Vegas for a guest appearance in The Dennis Bono Show on Thursday (12/13) at South Point Casino followed by two nights headlining at The Smith Center (14th & 15th).

But before she hit the road…

… we talked about: her dad Dean (of course), the holidays, Christmas music and recording “White Christmas” with Andy Williams (sadly what turned out to be Andy’s final recording), Deana’s interesting career path, food, Uncles Frank & Sammy, growing up in a Rat Pack/Hollywood styled  “Camelot”, her exhausting performance schedule … we covered a lot of ground!

With Christmas fast upon us, and the special poignancy of the Christmas holiday in Deana’s life — especially this year — I thought I’d offer up the holiday portion of my conversation with Ms. Martin for your seasonal reading pleasure. So grab something mulled or ‘noggy and join me for my chat with Deana Martin!

 We broke the ice…

…with a brief exchange about Deana’s tour schedule and perspective on performing for an audience:

VocalStandards: I really appreciate you guys taking some time out your getaway Sunday right before travel. I know how much fun it is on the day before jetting out.

Deana Martin: Yes, I’m up and down. I’m packing, unpacking, gathering music together…

VS: I do appreciate your time. You guys are headed out to the Catalina Jazz Club?

DM: That is correct, yes, the day after Thanksgiving.

VS: You’re going to do the whole week out there? Thanksgiving and everything?

DM: Yes, we have family out there and a brand new granddaughter.

VS: That’ll be fun. You have one heck of a touring schedule. I was looking on your site. It looks like between now and the end of the year you’re going to hit almost all four corners of the country … LA, Florida, Ohio, and Vegas with your Christmas show. You must really enjoy performing for an audience.

DM: I love performing for an audience. That is the most fun. You get that immediate response. There’s a show I’m doing at Catalina’s on Friday, the 23rd, the day after Thanksgiving, I’m going to have a quintet. It’s either quartet or a quintet. I’m not sure if I’ll have vibes this time, but it’s piano, bass, drum, guitar. It’s an intimate atmosphere and you’re right there with the audience. It’s a whole different feeling but so much fun for me. It’s not in a big venue where there’re thousands of people. It’s maybe 100 or 200 people. It’s a whole difficult experience.

When I found out that Tony Bennett gave away all his big band charts and was just going out with a trio, I thought, “Wow, that’s very cool. I’ll have to try that.”

VS: Looking at your crazy performance schedule … you’re in high demand that’s for sure.

DM: Yes. It’s so hard!  It’s fun but it’s so much hard work. My dad always made it look so easy. I had no idea it was this tough, but it is so rewarding. Choosing the songs and then figuring out how you want to have the arrangements for the show, and the traveling … going through security and packing my beaded gowns! It’s not as glamorous as it appears to be, but I have to say it’s all worth it for that hour and a half or two hours you’re on stage. There’s no feeling like it … bringing joy to so many people. It’s all worth it.

It fills me with joy. When I’m on stage and singing these songs, especially if I have a big band behind me … it’s just, it’s hard to explain. For me, when I walk into the audience after a show to sign autographs, CDs, or something, and the people tell me how much they enjoyed the show and how much they appreciate that I’m keeping this alive, it’s just so touching to me.

The Holidays, White Christmas, Andy Williams and Christmas Day…

As I mentioned in my promo for this interview, Deana Martin’s White Christmas album release (2011) has become an instant American Songbook classic and is fast becoming one of my favorite holiday LPs — right up there with the best from Frank and her dad.

Deana, beautifully rendering that wonderful song selection — so reminiscent of her father’s best holiday fare — a duet with Andy Williams, Charlie Calello’s masterful charts and that amazing 42 piece orchestra … what’s not to like!

Back to the conversation with Deana…

VS: I wanted to ask you about your inspiration for your White Christmas holiday album. Frank had a great catalog of Christmas songs, and Sammy had a nice little catalog with “Jingle Bells” and “Christmas Time All Over The World”, but your dad was the best of the bunch … I don’t want to say by far, but I think Dean owned Christmas as far

© Michael Ochs

as The Rat Pack goes. His recordings were amazing. Was that part of the inspiration for you to do a holiday album?

DM: Well, of course, yes. First of all, when I think about Christmas I think about my dad, and then, of course, we’ll get to Andy Williams, “Mr. Christmas”, also. Christmas time around the Martin household was always so much fun. Of course, doing the Christmas shows on the Dean Martin Show — it was just more fun than I can express. Actually, that one fabulous show when it was the Martins and the Sinatras all together … it was a truly magical, magical show.

(Speaking of the Sinatra’s and Martin’s … take a little break and watch Dean and Frank sing “Marshmallow World”! It’s great stuff … Deana and I will wait for you ;-))

DM: Of course, now I’m doing shows. I do shows all year long, and then around Christmas time … right around Thanksgiving people always want to hear Christmas songs. I thought, “I have to do a Christmas show”, so now I have the Deana Martin Christmas Show. It’s a lot of fun! Of course, I had the inspiration from my dad, and as I say, from Andy Williams.

VS: I wanted to ask you about singing with Andy. Since his passing last summer it’s bittersweet to listen to that beautiful “White Christmas” duet that you do with Andy. You’ve got Irving Berlin and Charley Calello’s arrangements … then you add Andy’s fabulous vocals. My … when I read Jim’s [Raposa] liner notes now, I mist up just getting through them. How was it working with Andy in the studio on that number?

photo: John Griffeth

DM: So wonderful. He was just the best human being ever. First of all, he was so funny, and then that gorgeous, gorgeous voice he had, still until the very, very end. As I say, he had such a great sense of humor and he was smart and he was kind. He was all for it when we asked him if he would record a duet with me. He said, “What song would you like to do?” Of course, I thought, “White Christmas,” and he said “ok”. It was just truly inspirational to me. When I hear it now … and of course, I do sing the song in my Christmas show … I sing the duet with Andy on stage. This is year is going to be very, very difficult for me because of his passing. When we get to the part at the very end, which is so gorgeous, where I say, “Merry Christmas, Andy,” and he says, “Merry Christmas, Deana.” … I melt.

VS: I can imagine.

DM: It’s going to be very tough, but what a beautiful, beautiful song … to have him on my Christmas album and to know that that was the last recording that he did. I can’t tell you what it means. It’s just overwhelming for me.

VS: I reviewed your album [White Christmas]on the website last year about this time, and I was re-listening to it a day or so ago as I was getting ready to ring you up for this chat. So I’m listening to that duet and I’m reaching for the Kleenex. It was killing me. It sounded so good. What’s great about it, besides the fact that you guys got a chance to work together on a song that was so meaningful for Andy … for both you, was that he kicked it! I mean, that was an awesome performance.

DM: He did! He sounded great. He sounded great in all of his shows when he was here. My husband and I bought a home here in Branson a few years ago. I look out my kitchen window and there’s Andy’s house. He lives right across the street from me. For me, now for the rest of my life I will look across the first fairway there and see his home and I will never ever forget Andy Williams. We have this beautiful music of his that will last for all time.

“White Christmas” – Deana Martin (with Andy Williams)*

DM: Actually, listening to the album again as I was getting ready to do my Christmas show, it just reminded me how incredible the whole album is with those beautiful arrangements. I’m thinking “How wonderful that this album can come out every year, people can pull it out every year and decorate their house and sing along to all the songs … it brings joy to so many people”. It’s just amazing for me.

VS: You should be really proud. It’s a fabulous album. Sadly because of your duet and Andy’s passing it has a more poignant kind of impact now and forever. At some point, it’ll be less bittersweet and more sweet.

DM: Exactly, exactly …it’s the same thing with my dad and all of his incredible Christmas music. The thing is he passed away on Christmas day.

VS: I know, I know.

DM: In 1995. I don’t know if you or your readers know, but my grandmother, his mother Angela Crocetti, she passed away at three o’clock in the morning — same time my dad did — on Christmas morning 30 years ago.

VS: Oh wow, no kidding.

Probably my favorite Dean & Deana pic

DM: Yes, it’s strange to me. It’s almost like my dad knew that was the time for him to go; and that we could all remember him at Christmas time. Not that we would not think about him every other day of the year, but it was very, very special and poignant to me. Christmas means … well aside from Christmas being Christmas, …that these two events have happened is just spectacular.

VS: That’s just wild. Knowing your dad passed on Christmas, I wanted to ask how that has affected Christmas for you, but I never knew that Dean’s mother passed on Christmas too. Wow, all of the sudden, the relevance of that has so much more impact.

DM: It’s quite remarkable, and at the same TIME on Christmas, three o’clock in the morning. We have no idea what is beyond this life.

VS: Exactly.

DM: That was just wondrous and magical.

Deana has such a beautiful perspective on life…

Look for more from my conversation with Deana Martin just after the holidays. We talk about how she made her way to the American Songbook, her upcoming album release, the duet she’s doing with her dad, growing up in “Rat Pack Camelot” and much more.

Also keep an eye out for a DiningwithTheRatPack piece on her dad’s favorite dish — grandmother Angela’s Pasta Fagioli — and Deana’s toe-to-toe joust with Sophia Loren on it’s proper preparation!

BTW, I made the dish last night for dinner and it was wonderfully simple to prepare … pure comfort food yet complex and delicious on the pallet … a combination that says so much about Dino Crocetti and the man he became for all of us — Dean Martin.

[* Please remember that all songs streamed here are for REVIEW PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT intended as a substitute for properly purchased original record company product. Give a listen and then please support the artists via iTunes, Amazon or your favorite music store. Artists/Record Labels — NO DOWNLOADS ARE SUPPORTED on this site; please contact me directly regarding the removal of any potentially infringing material.]