| Anna Danes Has Found Her Wings
Imagine if you will for a moment living in three different countries by the time you are eleven years old and having to escape the first one under the guise of a vacation. Then you achieve scholastic excellence in your new found home, begin a promising career as an attorney, give it all up for love and move to a fourth country. As a single parent you think you are giving your child a gift by providing her with singing lessons, she stubbornly refuses to take part in them and then magic, at the suggestion of the vocal coach you take the rest of the lessons and you launch a career as a Jazz singer, topped off by recording your most recent album in the very same studio where Frank Sinatra once recorded. It sounds a little farfetched I know, except all of this really happened and it could not possibly have happened to a more deserving person than the warm and gracious Jazz singer Anna Danes, who now makes her home in San Diego, California. This is only part of Anna Danes’ story, read further and you will discover a courageous lady who is always looking forward, who does not dwell on the disappointments of the past and who just released her second album.
Anna Danes’ story begins in Gdansk, Poland, “Life (in Poland) was certainly very, very different than it is here, especially on the economic side of things and with personal freedoms, because there were none. It was the time of the communist regime in Poland and so things were scarce and you had to fight to survive every day. You couldn’t leave the country, unless the government gave you permission to leave the country. You couldn’t speak your mind and if you could speak your mind it could backfire and it would affect your career, your family and life sometimes. It was living in hiding in a way. It could put great limitations on your potential.”
Anna Danes says that she was quite aware as a child in Poland of the environment she was living in, “because my parents told me what was going on and they were extremely anti-communist. They were privately so and not outspoken, because they did not want to jeopardize our family life. I was aware of their discontent and their desire for a better life, but it took them a while to figure out how to do it and back then the only way to do it was to escape, which is what we did. At the same time I was a kid. I was ten when we left and I remember all of those years, essentially, because of the hardship. It was a pretty normal upbringing. I had friends, family and neighbors. I played outside every day until dusk. I lay out at the beach in the summers at the Baltic coast. I (experienced) the same joys and ups and downs.
We left Poland under the guise of a vacation visa, which allowed us two weeks to travel in Sweden. We then had guarantors sign the documents for the government saying that we would come back. Of course we didn’t. That was always the plan my parents told me, but they didn’t even tell me that we were leaving until I was on that ferry boat (she laughs lightly) with our little car packed with essential belongings. My dad knew we were not coming back.”
The next stop was Sweden, and the stay in Sweden ended in what could have been a catastrophe for a family fleeing a communist country. Danes explains why, “We were in Sweden for about a year. We chose Sweden, because it was close to Poland and it was Europe. We got there and unfortunately after the application process to (obtain) political asylum we were denied, so we had to look for a home elsewhere. We applied to Canada. Canada needed engineers and my dad was an engineer. They accepted us pretty quickly after an interview at the embassy in Stockholm. We ended up being sponsored by the Canadian government and we settled in Ottawa. My dad got a job right away and we started to finally settle.
I didn’t speak Swedish when we moved there (Canada), so I had to learn
that fairly quickly and I did. By the end of the fifth grade in Sweden I
was talking to my friends in Swedish. When we moved to Canada it was the
same thing, not a word of English or French. I was in Ottawa, so both
languages were at school. It was culture shock times two, maybe even
three (she laughs lightly again).
I let go of my Swedish as soon as I started to fill my brain with English and French. I do understand French to this day. I am not fluent in it, because it is not something that I use every day, but I do sing in it. I do understand what people say. I still speak Polish.”
It was while living in Poland and in Sweden that Anna Danes’ first musical influences came to bear, “In Europe you can hear everything and anything that is good from every genre on the radio and on TV. It is very, very diverse and open minded and more so I have to say than it is in North America. The exposure was wide. I got to hear music from all around the world on everyday radio, because that’s how Polish radio works. I have a very open mind to what is out there and not just in my genre, because that is how I grew up.
There was Boney M. and “By the Rivers of Babylon.” Oh my gosh, I adore them and I would do anything to meet them. (She laughs) ABBA was my ultimate favorite. That is how it was in my house. Everybody adored ABBA. I am talking kids through grandparents. It was great for the times. It was great for the seventies and it was great for where we were at politically, because times were tough and then you hear this happy, chirpy music that makes you want to dance. It was great,” she says.
Then there was the time, as a child that the Pope was her audience.
Anna Danes recalls, “I got to sing for the Pope once. I was about eleven then and it was a private audience with him when he came to Ottawa. It was with my Polish church choir. It was just a bunch of kids really. We had to wait outside in the dark until the pope showed up. He finally came out, we sang a couple of songs, he blessed us and that was it.”
In school, she was always at or near the top of the class. “I was always a bit of a keener when it came to school even in Poland. I was always the top of the class. I was also a bit of a loner growing up and I was an only child with parents who are deep thinkers. My mom was always reading. I became that kid that liked being with adults more than kids and I guess that helped me academically.
When it came to going off to university in Canada I had a scholarship in place and I had good grades. I always excelled academically. I am so glad that I did. I don’t know how I did it,” says Danes.
There are not a lot of singers out there who begin their careers as lawyers, but Anna Danes did.
“The first career that I had was as an attorney and that was right after finishing law school in Canada. I went straight into practicing law. It was a traditional practice, a small boutique firm in downtown Toronto, where we had to learn almost everything about anything that came our way. We had a partner who did commercial law and we had one who did real estate. I did a little bit of family law, but I had to learn about all of the other ones too, because sometimes they overlapped. It was a traditional small practice,” she says.
Then something else happened, “About two or three years into my practice, I was happy as could be, but I met a gentleman online, not a dating site, we met randomly. He was from San Diego and we started chatting. We decided that we had a lot in common, so we met in Chicago. We were pretty sure that was it for us, after one weekend. A couple of months later I moved to La Jolla to be with him and I closed down my law practice.”
Whether you want to attribute it to fate, good timing or the stubbornness of Anna Danes’ daughter, Danes got her start as a singer later in life and that story looks pretty good now from where this journalist sits.
While laughing, Anna Danes explains, “It is a combination of all of those. I think someone was looking out for me to give me an outlet at a time when I really needed it and I didn’t even know how badly I needed it. Things were not so stellar personally. My marriage was pretty much done. We were still living together and miserable. My daughter was taking music lessons and she was only seven and after her third or fourth lessons she decided she was bored and done with it. Of course I dragged her to the last one, saying we are not going to waste this money and she still refused to sing, so I stepped up to the microphone and I belted out something like “Summertime.” The teacher was astounded and so was I. I wasn’t sure what was really happening, but I liked it, so she invited me back for another lesson and then put me in with other teachers who would be a better fit. One of them became my long time mentor Larry White and he produced my first album Longing.”
We could not resist that segue, so we asked Anna Danes about the album Longing.
“Once I was into the lessons I was really enjoying myself, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with this. Why am I doing this? What is the ultimate goal? Larry suggested that I just record a couple of demos to see what my voice sounded like when recorded. Of course I was all over that one. It was so far out there as far as that idea. I never imagined I would be inside of a recording studio in my entire life, but once you are in there it is like a drug. The creative juices start flowing and you are so in the moment. To hear your (voice) played back is amazing. I was naturally hooked and as soon as we walked out I think I told Larry okay let’s do this, let’s make an album (she giggles).
I liked everything about Longing, because it was mine. It was my first venture outside of being in a certain place for the first time in twelve or thirteen years. I was married and a mom and all of that. It (Longing) was my baby. The fact that I had so much creative input and I was basically the executive producer gave me so much confidence.
I picked songs based on what felt good to me emotionally at that time in my life and a lot of those songs speak to what I was going through at the time. They are songs about longing, loneliness, wanting someone and missing someone, which I was.”
The musicians that played on Longing included, Mark Chosak (guitar), upright bass players Bob Magnusson and Rob Thorsen, drummer Kevin Koch, percussionist Monette Marino, trumpeter Scott Hecker and multi-instrumentalists John Rekevicks (tenor saxophone, flutes, clarinet) and the Heart Strings Quartet (violins, viola, cello).
Fast forward to October 2016 and the release of Anna Danes’ second album Find Your Wings.
Danes talks about the new album, “Find Your Wings was recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. It was incredible. What an experience! I dreamt it up and it actually happened. There is something magical about those walls. They have seen a lot of history. They have witnessed a lot of incredible music recorded there. My team knew how gung-ho I was about the whole experience and the Sinatra thing. It happened to be the centennial year of Sinatra’s birth. They really played up that angle. They took out Frank’s microphones and they created in studio A, which is the big room. There was a recording booth in the middle of the floor, with a floating microphone over my head, which is the way that Sinatra used to record. I was just blown away by the whole thing. It was so iconic. I think that was my secret intention to be somehow attached to the icons and history and legends.
My intention was to make a very classic album that is easy on the ears and that you can listen to for years and years without getting tired of it. Unlike Longing, which was richer in texture musically I wanted the second one to be more about my vocals, the storytelling and that the music should sound timeless.”
For the song “Mr. OMG,” Anna Danes collaborated with Mary Harris (Ambrosia) and she takes a look at a past experience and puts a playful twist on it, while using her sultry vocals to their full extent.
“Like all of the other songs that are on this album that I wrote it is kind of autobiographical. I went to see Mary Harris and she had part of that melody already developed. She played it for me and I loved it. I try and get a sense of the emotion and where could I put that in my own life and my experience when I am working with music. A lot of memories came floating back when I heard (the melody). It is like a bar song. It sounded to me like something Frank (Sinatra) would do, having one last cocktail before the bar closes, as he sang into his drink, while someone is playing the piano in the back.
“Mr. OMG,” is what I call my bar song about a woman’s perspective on love and being jilted, meeting someone, somewhere and then having your heart broken pretty bad, but then to say, you know what it is alright. I will have another cocktail and what is your name? (She is really laughing now)
“Mr. OMG,” is still in my life and we are still friends. He is nervous as heck about what will come of this when it is released and he hasn’t heard the song yet. I did have my heartbroken by “Mr. OMG,” but it was so short-lived that I have to laugh about it and that is why this song is so cute and tongue and cheek. We have all been there and we have all had that one person that you think oh my God this is awesome and then he disappears or she disappears from your life really fast. You have been charmed and swept off of your feet and the timing was wrong between you. It happens and you go on. Then it becomes almost comical. Oh my God, how could I have been so silly two days into it? It was almost teenager like. It happens. That’s the thing when this happened to me, I was forty-four or forty-five and it was the same level of being mesmerized by someone, as it would have been when I was sixteen. That never goes away and we are just built like that as humans. Love can take over your life. It doesn’t stop at a certain age and in fact I think that you appreciate love and its real meaning and purpose in our lives more as you get older.”
The title song “Find Your Wings,” is beautifully phrased by Anna Danes
and she is elegantly accompanied by pianist Rich Ruttenberg. The song
was co-written by Danes and Cindy Alexander.
Anna Danes describes “Find Your Wings,” as being, “an anthem to believing in yourself, letting go of doubts and other things that may hold you back from living life with full purpose. It’s about leaving the cage of self-doubt and flying!
I’m a very late bloomer in life. For the majority of my life, I’ve either had little confidence or have drafted off the confidence of other people and floated under their wings. Well, no more of that, thank goodness. I have found my own wings!
This was the second song that I had ever written and it was with Cindy Alexander at the helm. I (was at) her home once again, to write. We still did not really know each other. We had introductions through our mutual production team, but that was it. Somehow, our guys, Niels and Dave, figured out that we would work well together and they were right.
Cindy asked me what I wanted to write about. I told her about my story post-divorce and how I had found my voice and confidence through music. Bam! That’s all that was needed to start the creative process. Cindy sat down at her piano and started playing with different chords. We toyed with lyrics; dragons, queens, moons, angels, love, and of course, wings. And it worked!
What was supposed to be a song about finding hope, turned into an anthem about finding yourself. I still laugh when I call this my Disney Princess Song, but that is exactly what it is.
The third song on the album Find Your Wings, is the Artie Butler and Sammy Cahn tune “It’s Crazy,” and this song is very well sung by Anna Danes and seems tailor-made for her both vocally and because she can draw upon her life’s experiences to put herself in the moment, while bringing these lyrics to life.
“This is a song that I discovered on my many drives to Los Angeles over the last two years. One day this song came on and it was sung by the Dutch singer Laura Fyga. I loved her rendition of it. I never heard of her and I never heard of the song until then. I looked her up and she immediately appealed to me. She is that grand, diva type of singer in an old school way. She is elegant and dresses beautifully and the way she sang (“It’s Crazy”) was just exquisite, so I have to say that I was very much inspired by her. It appealed to me, because it shared an emotion that we are all familiar with and that is how crazy love can make you feel. That’s a good crazy, but sometimes it is impossible to believe that things can be that good when you are in love,” she says.
Alan Brandt and Bob Haymes wrote the song “That’s All,” in 1952 and surely somewhere out there in the universe they must have big smiles while listening to the absolutely gorgeous duet of Anna Danes and Richard Shelton performing their song. Both singers sing a love song the way it is meant to be sung, to make the listener relive those moments when they were so in love that all they wanted in the world was their lover.
“Richard Shelton is a British singer and actor currently residing in L.A. He is wonderful and again Sinatra came as the angel into our lives and brought us together. I went to see Richard in San Diego when he was performing the role of Sinatra in a show that he produced with some of Sinatra’s original musicians. I introduced myself afterwards and we have been friends since. When it was time to record a duet, I had another idea for a duet. I thought I was going to go to an aging rocker, as I called it for contrast. None of the aging rockers that I was looking to were available. They were busy or some other thing and I thought well, maybe that’s not the direction that I should be going in. I reached out to Richard and he was available. He is extremely elegant and debonair and has that very rich baritone. It was so easy to get that song done and he brought out everything that I wanted in it. He was sexy and has rich deep tones that are beautiful. It is one of my favorites. I think he loves it just as much as I do,” she says.
Danes also recorded the Michel Legrand / Alan and Marilyn Bergman song “I Will Wait For You,” for the album, a song that that Danes refers to as being, “impossible to get out of your head once it is in there.”
She goes on to say, “Everybody knows that melody and I was just naturally drawn to it. Of course it is a very passionate song about waiting until the bitter end for the one that you love. I so love that idea that there can be love like that out there. You see couples holding hands and older couples walking on the beach. That is kind of what I envision for that kind of love for myself and for others as well. The song captures that.”
“Cry Me A River,” and “I Want To Be Around,” an Arthur Hamilton song were recorded as a medley.
Anna Danes refers to the medley as, “my revenge medley because it is the same theme in both songs about being scorned again, recovering and wishing for karma to come back and nip the guilty party at some point in their lives, so they can experience what you just did. I love it and I think it is kind of tongue and cheek. I am a very happy person and I would never wish any harm on any of my ex loves, but darn it feels good to sing about it sometimes. It is in the hope that someday they will learn and not to hurt them. I just want those that scorn me to learn that this is what it feels like. I think in a moment of quiet, maybe months or years down the road it (may) pop back in their head like oh shit maybe I wasn’t so nice.”
“Long Distance,” was co-written by Anna Danes and her co-producer Dave Darling. It is another relationship song, inspired once again by real life events.
She explains, “My feelings called for a nostalgic song about a different kind of heartbreak, regret. It is haunting, romantic and sad at the same time. Again, it is autobiographical. I was just fresh into a new relationship, four months into it and I could feel that the gentleman that I was with was not as fully into it as I was and I was ready to go full throttle on him, but something was holding him back. I never brought it up, because I did not think it would be cool, so early on. The feelings came to the surface in this song. I recognized that we were not quite together, together. Strangely enough, we ended up being together for two years and he did breakup with me, like I knew he would. The dynamic wasn’t there from the beginning, but I so wanted it to work out that I hung in. It was fine. In many other respects it was great. It’s just it wasn’t that big love that I was hoping it would be. It was long distance. It was San Diego to L.A. almost every week.”
Drummer John Ferraro and bassist Trey Henry also play on Find Your Wings.
The summer of 2016 came with a lot of challenges for Anna Danes. “This was an interesting summer after the heartbreak of the long distance relationship, two weeks later I found out that I had early stage breast cancer. It was a very tough summer, but you know me, now I have a name, Ms. Teflon. Apparently I can recover from anything fairly quickly and do so with a smile on my face. Not that there weren’t tears, because there were tears, but I moved past the tears fairly quickly. I gather my strength, I gather my army, and I gather my support system. I try to figure it all out and that is what I tried to do with cancer. Right away I jumped into all of the tests, diagnoses and treatment options and second opinions. By the end of the summer, not only did I have a plan, but I was also cancer free. As it turned out I got lucky and whatever I had was removed during the elective surgery when it was first discovered. It was just pure, pure luck and it woke me up to the bigger picture. I was potentially at death’s door. Now what are you going to do with your life? It made me want to sing even more.”
And what does her young daughter think of her singing career?
“She is so used to it now and she takes full credit for all of it I think. At the same time she is extremely proud of me and supportive. She loves to hear the stories of what I am doing. It’s at the point (now) where she says oh mom is in this magazine this month and she just rolls her eyes (she laughs heartily). It means nothing to her now, it’s just what mom does and I love that. It’s not a big deal. I am giddier than she is. She keeps my feet on the ground. That is how it should be.
I know that she is seeing in front of her a strong role model. I know she likes the music, because I have actually found she has been playing it when I am not around. She is growing up experiencing something beautiful in front of her and how wonderful it is to have music in the house and to be sung American Songbook songs before you go to bed. She knows all of them by now,” says Anna Danes.
We began by talking about the qualities of Anna Danes and we are going to end the same way. What you hear in these songs, some of which you have heard recorded by other artists and originals that you have never heard before, is you hear the heart of a woman who truly has found her wings. Anna Danes is not only a good role model for her daughter, but she is someone that inspires all of us women and men.
Bottom Photo by Aaron Naugle Photography protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved
This interview by Joe Montague published October 28, 2016 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.
Except where indicated photos are the the property of Anna Danes and
protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved.
This interview by Joe Montague published October 28, 2016 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved. Except where indicated photos are the the property of Anna Danes and are
protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved.