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Joan Ellison releases second album, "Retrophonic Gershwin"

The second album by singer Joan Ellison, "Retrophonic Gershwin," also features Mark Flanders and duo-pianists Jason Aquila and Jodie Ricci. Joan and Mark discuss the album on the day of its release with Bill O'Connell. 


CLEVELAND — Singer Joan Ellison, called a “rare combination of artist, archivist, and arranger” by Michael Feinstein, will release her second album, “Retrophonic Gershwin,” on July 21, 2015.  The album also features singer Mark Flanders and duo-pianists Jason Aquila & Jodie Ricci.  Authentic and unique arrangements based on original recordings of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s were recorded on an RCA-44 reproduction microphone and a pair of 9-foot Steinways at Oberlin Conservatory’s Clonick Hall, then mixed and mastered by Grammy-winning audio engineer Robert Friedrich of Five/Four Productions, Ltd. 

Joan and Mark’s historically-informed approach is the product of many years of immersion in original recordings of classic American popular songs.  Using their knowledge of vintage vocal styles combined with years of stage experience, their intention is to take the audience back to the music, rather than modernizing the music for 21st-century ears.  To bring the songs back to life, Joan spent hundreds of hours transcribing the accompaniments note-for-note from vintage recordings where such recordings existed, and then imagining what other songs might sound like if played and sung by a specific artist in a specific time, so that  each song has its own story. 

The songs on “Retrophonic Gershwin” are, in essence, a cast recording of a theatrical concert called Gershwin On the Air, which Mark & Joan created and have been performing live with Jason & Jodie since 2011. The fact that five of the Gershwins’ Broadway shows in the 1920s featured duo-pianists (in this case, Phil Ohman & Victor Arden) in the orchestra pit, as did the MGM orchestra and many radio orchestras in the ‘30s and ‘40s, was the impetus for including a second piano.  Despite the obvious logistical difficulties, they felt that the sound of two pianos evokes the era in an unmistakeable way, and also allows for a much more orchestral approach to the arrangements, not to mention more pianistic fireworks.  

Tracks (Music by George Gershwin, Lyrics by Ira Gershwin):

1. Syncopated City Overture

2. I Got Rhythm 

3. Where’s the Boy? Here’s the Girl!

4. Who Cares?

5. Boy! What Love Has Done to Me!

6. Treat Me Rough

7. But Not For Me

8. Do-Do-Do

9. A Foggy Day

10. The Man I Love

11. They All Laughed

12. They Can’t Take That Away from Me


The album is available on Amazon and iTunes. 




Joan Ellison has been praised for her "vocal prowess....[and] organic grasp of the classic songs" by Michael Feinstein, and described as bringing “a keen blend of vocal splendor and verbal crispness to every musical moment” and “possess[ing] a crystalline voice that never stops” (Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer).

Upcoming symphonic appearances include Get Happy! Judy Garland in Hollywood with the Wheaton Symphony, three summer concerts with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, and a return to the Lakeside Symphony as the soloist in a concert commemorating World War II.  In February 2016, Joan will play the role of Judy Garland opposite Broadway veteran Larry Alexander in The Boy From Oz at TheatreZone in Naples, Florida, and also perform her three-person show, Love Finds Judy Garland as part of their season.  

Recent past symphonic appearances have included the Cleveland Pops Orchestra’s “Songwriting Giants of Broadway” concert; Judy Garland in Hollywood with the Lakeside Symphony, Tuscarawas Philharmonic, and Cleveland Women’s Orchestra, “The Music of Richard Rodgers” with the Erie Philharmonic; and a return engagement with the Erie Philharmonic for their Holiday Pops concerts. In 2005 she made her Severance Hall debut with the Cleveland Pops and Carl Topilow, opposite Broadway baritone William Michals, and has since sung more than a dozen times with the ensemble in repertoire ranging from The King and I to Wicked.

In addition to touring the country with the retro-radio-style shows Love Finds Judy Garland and Gershwin On the Air, Joan has trod the boards as Julie in Carousel, Nellie in South Pacific, Lizzie in 110 in the Shade, Eliza in My Fair Lady (in concert), and Claudia in Nine.  In 2010, Joan released her debut album, “A Date With Judy! Joan Ellison Sings Judy Garland.”

She earned an M.M.T. and a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and currently serves as Teacher of Popular Voice at The Cleveland Institute of Music and Visiting Guest Artist with the CWRU/Cleveland Play House M.F.A. Acting Program. She is a member of Actors’ Equity Association. www.joanellison.com

Mark Flanders’ performance as a 1940s radio announcer has been described thus: “The ghost of Fred Astaire happens to be present in the vocal grace and friendly appeal that Flanders applies to his buoyant responsibilities” ( The Plain Dealer). 

He graduated with a degree in theatre from Miami University and was getting a Master's degree in dance at George Washington University when he saw a Fred Astaire film festival at the Kennedy Center.  This inspired him to scour London and New York City for what remained of the previous era of tap dance.  This came full circle when he tap-danced in a production of The Boys From Syracuse under choreographer Donald Saddler at the Ohio Theater in Cleveland, Ohio — the same stage on which Fred and Adele Astaire performed Lady, Be Good! in 1925.  In the audience was the original Boys From Syracuse director, George Abbott, a centenarian who had seen the original Lady be Good! on Broadway.  Mark also played numerous roles in musical theatre: Frederick Egerman in A Little Night Music, Juan Peron in Evita,  Joey, in Pal Joey, Mayer Rothschild in The Rothschilds, Dr. Carrasco in Man of La Mancha, Antipholus in The Boys From Syracuse,  Young Ben in Follies, and his most favorite, Tulsa in Gypsy with choreographer Janet Watson and director Fran Soeder.

He had a parallel life and fascination with Shakespeare with Great Lakes Theatre Festival and with Shakespeare & Company in Washington D.C., playing Biron in  Love's Labors Lost, Feste in Twelfth Night, Touchstone in As You Like It, and Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet.  Then in a production of Grand Hotel he played the roll of broken WWI vet, Dr. Von Otternschlag and met the conductor, a recent Oberlin Conservatory grad named Joan Ellison.  He pitched her the idea of teaming up to present songs from the Golden Age of American Popular Song in historically accurate styles, put her in a pair of deluxe tap shoes, popped Easter Parade with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland in the VHS machine and the result, after many years, is Love Finds Judy Garland and Gershwin On the Air.  It's been a lovely journey.

Pianist Jason Aquila holds a Master of Music degree in Collaborative Piano and Chamber Music from the Cleveland Institute of Music. He was recently appointed Opera Coach at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, where he also teaches, coaches chamber music, and is on the accompanying staff. He recently served as collaborative keyboardist for the Baroque Performance Institute at Oberlin Conservatory, and was the assistant music director for Baldwin Wallace's production of La Boheme with conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos.  For ten years he was Coordinator of Accompanying at Western Illinois University and has also presented concerts throughout the midwest region and in Florida. 

Pianist Jodie Ricci’s experience includes music direction at Cain Park ( Sweeney Todd, Harold and Maude, Oliver, and Kiss Me Kate) and the Beck Center for the Arts ( Grey Gardens). Jodie has performed as a rehearsal accompanist and orchestra member at the McLeod Theater Company, Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Berea Summer Theater, The North Star Players and the Butler Musical Theater Guild. Her teaching experience includes instruction in piano and music theory at Baldwin Wallace. She is currently a member of the performing arts faculty at Hawken School in Lyndhurst, Ohio.