Crossing Borders

A 1930s- and ’40s-themed concert at World Café Live will help fund Nicki Jaine’s volunteer trip to Germany and Poland.

By: Anthony Stoeckert
   Every performance is important to Nicki Jaine, but her date at World Café Live in Philadelphia May 20 carries additional meaning for the cabaret performer.
   Not only is the show giving her the opportunity to play with area musicians she admires, it’s also helping her raise money for a trip to Germany and Poland she’s making for Amizade, a Pittsburgh-based humanitarian organization. Ms. Jaine’s trip will involve volunteering at the Auschwitz Museum, learning about the Holocaust and meeting survivors. Amizade’s executive director, Michael Sandy, will speak at the show.
   "One of the really significant contributions that the volunteers are making… is gaining that knowledge and making it a real part of our lives," Ms. Jaine says. She adds that after doing some reading in preparation for the trip, she’s realized that the number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling, which has added to her sense of responsibility.
   "It’s more important than ever that the people of younger generations dialogue with these people… and make it a part of their lives so that it’s not forgotten," she says.
   A special cause deserves a special concert, and Ms. Jaine is excited about the night she’s helped organize. A variety of acts from a full band to solo performers will take the stage to perform songs from the 1930s and ’40s.
   "One of the things that I love about the show is that there will be just a really wonderfully eclectic group of performers," Ms. Jaine says. "Some of these people, like my voice teacher Rosemary Ostrowski, have been performing professionally and internationally for 20 years, and others are her students who are just starting on their careers. So it’s a really great variety of artists at different points in their careers from different backgrounds."
   Ms. Jaine will be performing with Philadelphia-area musicians Chris Shepherd and Mary Bichner. That’s a little different from her usual act, which consists of her singing and playing acoustic guitar and some piano. That’s the style listeners can experience with her new album, Nicki Jaine Live, to be released in June.
   "This is going to be my first show performing with Chris and with Mary, which I’m so excited about because I’ve known both of them for a while and have wanted to perform with both of them for quite some time," says Ms. Jaine, a native of Asbury Park who lives in Langhorne, Pa. "Up until now, I’ve most frequently performed solo, and I’m just really happy to have the opportunity to play with the two of them."
   The chance to play songs she loves from another era is something else Ms. Jaine is excited about. She began her performing career by playing her original compositions, and started adding older songs in recent years.
   "Ever since I was a kid, when I’d hear (older music) there was something about it that really strongly appealed to me," Ms. Jaine says. "Surprisingly, it was fairly recently when I started incorporating this music into my performances. Now I absolutely love it."
   Her regular act consists of a mix of her originals and the old songs she holds so dear, and somehow they all work together as indicated on her new album.
   "It’s interesting, it really does kind of flow," Ms. Jaine says. "And I’m so happy that it all worked out. There’s just some sort of unifying feeling to all of it. So I was really happy when putting the live album together everything did seem to kind of flow together."
   Her admiration of old songs can lead to her performing selections the audience may be familiar with, though not as songs from the 1930s and ’40s. Her live album features a performance of "The Alabama Song," which was written by Kurt Weill in 1930, but is familiar to rock fans because of the version by The Doors.
   "Depending on where you are and who the audience is, a lot of people comment, ‘Oh, The Doors’ song,’" she says, adding that Jim Morrison’s decision to sing it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, because some of The Doors’ songs, including "Queen of the Highway," actually have a ’30s and ’40s sound to them. It’s also worth noting that while Ms. Jaine’s rendition of the song will be perfectly recognizable to Doors’ fans, it’s based more on the recording by Lotte Lenya, Weill’s wife.
   Ms. Jaine will sing some songs in German during her performance. She’s been studying the language, and says she has a general understanding of German songs, if not every word and how they work together.
   "It’s exciting and I’m really enjoying the language," she says. "Learning to sing all these songs in German has made the experience of learning German different. I can probably sing in German more than I can speak it."
   Ms. Jaine usually accompanies herself with an acoustic guitar (and occasionally with piano), which gives some of the songs a much different feel than what the audience might be used to. One of the most noticeable differences comes when she performs "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," which she says was most famously performed by the Andrews Sisters.
   "The recording of them singing it is a wonderful production with horns and everything, and my version is more stripped-down with just a musician alone. I think it’s an interesting contrast to the version most people are accustomed to hearing," she says. "I always appreciate it when I like a song and someone can take a totally new spin on it, and make you hear it in a whole different way, so I’m really happy to be incorporating that into my music."
   The decision to add a particular song to her repertoire can come after listening to the many recordings of these songs in her collection. Ms. Jaine says a particular song may jump at her as something she’ll want to perform, then she thinks about how she would play it and how the song makes her feel.
   "I usually just start singing it, and by that point I have an idea in my head of how I would like to present the song," she says. "Then the guitar is added and it all comes together."
   On May 20, it will all come together for a cause that’s close to Ms. Jaine’s heart. In putting together a photo narrative of her family’s history with her grandmother, Charlotte Kruman, Ms. Jaine was struck by the stories of her relatives who lived in Europe during World War II. Ms. Kruman was born in the U.S. and worked as a model and actress, and Ms. Jaine realized things could have been very different if her great-grandparents hadn’t come to America in the 1920s.
   That’s why she’s taking her trip this summer. It’s fitting too, because her grandmother helped her develop a love for the arts by taking her to museums, theater and concerts.
   "From a very, very young age, she instilled a real appreciation in the arts for me," Ms. Jaine says. "I definitely attribute some of my passion for performing and the arts to the time she spent making me aware of these things since I was very young."
Nicki Jaine will perform at World Café Live, 3025 Walnut St., Phila., May 20, 6 p.m. Tickets cost $15, $13 advance. For information, call (215) 222-1400. World Café Live on the Web: Nicki Jaine on the Web: