Jim Speake, actor-singer jim@jimspeake.com

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Jim Speake

Sweet Life

(Vera Susan Productions)

January 31, 2016

Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes


Cabaret singer Jim Speake has a promising theme for his new CD, Sweet Life: songs about life and wanderlust in which all roads eventually back lead home.

Surrounded by a smart creative team and great arrangements, he and his musical partners have put together a potpourri of songs that reflect a life. In fact, one of the album’s finer cuts is an overlooked beauty from Barnum called “The Colors of My Life.” As the story song unfolds, colors flow like a rainbow and tidbits of a life unwind. And, it all comes from the heart. Based on that alone, this album ranks with some of the better to come along in a while. The reason: truth. One of the best qualities a singer can have is being a truth-teller. Speake knows his strengths and constraints. This is not a cutesy show-off singer. Nor would he be a threat to Bocelli. Instead, he is an intelligent, vocally warm gentleman capable of turning in an ingratiating delivery on songs that have real meaning to life—and to him. Those results rank him up there in a crowded field of singers (many of whom just sing for the applause). Period.

In terms of honesty and musical production, this is a well-crafted album. Among the standout cuts are homespun readings of “It Amazes Me” (Coleman/Leigh), “Crazy for You” (Bettis/Lind) and “It Might Be You” (Grusin/the Bergmans). These cuts are well-told tales that have meaning. Speake’s simple, sometimes overzealous, delivery makes them effective. He sings from his heart and that is what matters here. This is most evident on the album’s best cut, “You Don’t Know Me” (Walker/Arnold). With Peter Calo’s gently haunting guitar, Speake wistfully offers this in a confessional mien as an ode to a lonely heart. Maintaining a steady narrative of longing, he treats this with loving care and tenderly wraps himself inside the lyric in a way that is compelling. This cut alone is the best example of his honesty that shines on the CD. Neil Sedaka’s “A Lonely Christmas in New York” and Peter Allen/Dean Pitchford’s “Not the Boy Next Door” are treats that are handled well. “Here’s to Life” (Butler/Molinary) ties up this collage of sweet songs by an honest storyteller who is in touch with himself.

Sweet Life marks a ten-year collaboration with Lennie Watts (Artistic Director/arrangements) and Steven Ray Watkins (Musical Director/piano/arrangements). Collectively, they have put out a CD to be proud of. The rest of the team consists of some exceptional musicians, including the aforementioned Calo, Donna Kelly (drums), Matt Scharfglass (bass), Kevin Kuhn (guitar/banjo), Bud Burridge (trumpet), Ken Dybisz (sax), Yoed Nir (cello), Dave Fields (steel guitar). Tom Kochan provided the orchestrations and Paul Rolnick produced the CD.


 Quotes about  Jim Speake sings Cy Coleman,  “I’m A Brass Band”

By Kevin Scott Hall of the Bistro Awards


“His persona is kind of like Mister Rogers with an easy southern drawl….. his simple, honest delivery brought a lump to the throat….…..Jim Speake’s heart is clearly in the right place and we came to appreciate the songs in his more understated style. And that is the point of cabaret—bigger isn’t always better.”


Three quotes about "Jim Speake Sings 'Til the Cows Come Home"

 If charm counts for a lot, the soft-spoken Alabama transplant wins extra points for aw-shucks amiable personality and entrenched Southern gentleman manner that bring a refreshing modesty. 

Rob Lester - Cabaret Scenes


Jim Speake invites you to join him for an hour of true bliss and entertainment... Entertain he does, in spades, in this gem of a show that will play games with your emotions - comic to serious. 

Stu Hamstra - Cabaret Hotline


...dapper and poised... optimistic and smooth...

Jim Speake truly did sing “’til the cows came home” ...communicating his joy with every number... 

Joel Benjamin- TheaterScene.net 


SPEAKING OF JIM A Conversation with Jim Speake

By Daryl Glenn

 How long exactly does it take to become a cabaret performer in big bad NYC?  Well, I suppose the question is extraordinarily open to interpretation, especially if you take a good look around at the great variety of newbies at the gate each and every year!  But in general, most folks try their luck at some point earlier than their 60th birthday.  Not so with folksy, friendly and fascinating entertainer Jim Speake. A week or so ago Mr. Speake and I sat for a chat on the steps of a statue in Madison Square Park, and he filled me in on how this unusual turn of events took place.

It isn’t as if he didn’t have some theatrical aspirations as a youth in Decatur, Alabama, but they were not particularly championed by his parents. Not unusual for the time, and doubtless not so unusual today, unless perhaps "American Idol" comes calling! So, off to school he went where he obtained degrees from both the University of Alabama (Business) and the University of Georgia (Landscaping & Architecture), which eventually led to the creation of his own extremely successful company specializing in outdoor furniture. Still, Speake always had a passion for showbiz in his blood, which he fed by singing with the choruses at both of the institutions he attended. It was in Atlanta at the tender age of 48, that Mr. Speake began serious voice lessons and he finally decided to take that leap of faith, landing in the Big Apple in 2000. Right from the start he had the good fortune to participate in classes at the renowned HB Studios with esteemed teachers such as KT Sullivan and guest teacher Eric Michael Gillett, as well as voice instruction from Broadway star David Sabella (Chicago) and well known cabaret performer Patrick DeGenarro. All of this led, eventually, to his fortuitous enrollment in the popular and long running, Summer in the City seminar series taught by cabaret royalty Lennie Watts and Lina Koutrakos. The lessons learned and friendships made there eventually led to what was to be Speake’s NY debut show (0 to 60 in a NY Minute) which played at the  now defunct room “Mama Rose’s.”  The show was intensely autobiographical, tracing Speake’s journey in song to his current state. Speaking of states, Speakes tells me he was overwhelmed and thrilled with the turnout. “I had people from Alabama, Georgia, Washington DC…about 55 people were from out of town.” And to make extra sure his entrance into the NY cabaret society was complete, two gals from Alabama arrived with suitcases filled with cheese straws for the tables. After all, “Mother always said it’s not a good party unless you have cheese straws!”

When the time rolled around to formulate his latest endeavor, Mr. Speake took his cue from an arrangement class (with Watts and always ingenious musical director Steven Ray Watkins) where he performed a highly successful entwining of the classic tunes "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "You are My Sunshine." “I enjoyed it so much and performed it a couple times and people seemed to love it. I thought, I love that music that I grew up with, let’s do a show around it!” And that’s exactly what he did, creating a new  revue, still very personal and yet incorporating (and limited to) familiar and fondly recalled (at least to Mr. Speake and me!) melodies from the '60s and '70s pop canon. This fresh, popular concoction was titled Jim Speake Sings My Generation, which also became the moniker of his recently released debut recording.  Working  on the new evening with Watts and Watkins, Mr. Speake found ever so clever ways to relate the interesting story of his life through the rings and rhymes of popular artists as diverse as Carly Simon, James Taylor, Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney and more! The show has already had several successful runs at fabled and famous Times Square cabaret club Don’t Tell Mama, where it will return Saturday, October 9th at 5:30pm to celebrate the release of the CD! Attendees will receive a copy of the disc as part of the cover and who knows, we can always close our eyes and wish real hard for one of those cheese straws.  Odder things have happened, like suddenly becoming a very well liked and respected NY cabaret performer in your 60's! Cheers!

Nite Life Exchange.com

NEW CD OF THE WEEK - October 30, 2010




CDs come in many "flavors". The first CD we covered in this series was a "compilation" CD, created by Christine Lavin that featured Holiday Songs called "Just One Angel" and featured 22 songs by 21 artists. The songs were recorded individually, and probably in several studio locations. Last Saturday we covered John Barr's "All I Am", which was a "studio" recording, featuring one artist and recorded in a professional recording studio. This week (by accident, not design) we're going to write about a third type: the live recording. In cabaret circles that means a recording of an actual live performance in a cabaret room before a real audience. Sometimes 2 or 3 performances are recorded, and the best tracks of each show are spliced together for the final CD.

Jim Speake's debut CD "Jim Speake Sings My Generation" was recorded at DON'T TELL MAMA in October of 2009, and was released just a few weeks ago. I happened to receive my copy in the mail on Thursday. I immediately popped it into my iMac and loaded it into iTunes - then downloaded it into my iPod for listening. Naturally, the sound quality of a "live" recording in an actual cabaret room (with a live audience) is not the same as a pristine studio recording, which allows instant re-takes and dubbing. But this is more than made up for by the "real" feeling of a "real" cabaret performance. The reactions and applause of the audience to each of the songs is documented. This show, which I actually saw "live" twice and might even have been in the audience when it was recorded, lends itself easily to this type of CD. It's a "laid back" kind of show, by a "laid back" kind of guy. It's a collection of songs from "Jim's generation", the 1960s and 70s.

If you're over 40 you'll love this CD - and under 40's will certainly get a great taste of the songs their parents enjoyed in High School & college. Songs like "Up, Up and Away", "Up on the Roof", "The Long and Winding Road", "It's Not Unusual". Jim is joined by back-up singers Wendy A. Russell and Lennie Watts (who directed and appeared in the cabaret performances). Musical director is Steven Ray Watkins, with Jerry Smith on drums and Dan Fabricatore on bass. There's even a "bonus track" of Jim performing at the age of 4!

The songs are all performed with no frills, bringing back memories of those days we sang in the back of the bus on the way home from High School, or to the 8-track in the car headed for the beach. True un-adult-erated fun, a CD you will listen to often (and a great gift for folks of Jim's generation)

The CD is available at http://www.jimspeake.com/ and other outlets where quality CDs are sold, including iTunes.

Stu Hamstra



By Sherri Rase,

(Q)on Stage New York’s Performance & Arts Reviews


Jim Speake certainly has a way with a song. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his brand-new CD "My Generation." On the CD, subtitled "Songs of the 1960s and 1970s," Jim does a diverse range of hits that will have you tapping your foot along with him, if not actively singing along. But don't sing with him until you've really given him a listen.
Including songs like "Up, Up and Away" and, of course, "My Generation"-with a bit of a twist-this is a live album gleaned from his hit cabaret show, under the direction of Lennie Watts and musical direction of Steven Ray Watkins.

It is difficult for me to listen to a live album and not wish that I had been there. Jim covers ballads like Jim Croce's "I Got A Name," and hits like "Up On The Roof," "Last Night I Didn't Get to Sleep at All," and a song that seems like it might be an anthem for him, "I Believe in Love."

Whether it's his Chicago medley, or "I've Got the Music in Me," there's something for everyone. I have to say, however, that my favorite cut on the album is the bonus track-a recording of Jim at four years old, singing "Shanghai Lil" and already showing the verve and charm he has in such abundance today. He's really tapped the zeitgeist of people in all generations.


CD of Jim Speake sings My Generation is available at CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/speakejim and iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/jim-speake/id380601898. 


Jim Speake Sings My Generation

By: Joel Benjamin at  TheaterScene.net

 Jim Speake, the affable singer, brought his autobiographical show, Jim Speake Sings My Generation to the cabaret mecca, Don’t Tell Mama. All eighteen songs were decidedly of Seventies’ vintage and all of them were familiar to those of us in our late forties and beyond. It was smart to use material that automatically induced ready-made feelings and images in his audience. Mr. Speake cleverly sang arrangements--by his Music Director Steven Ray Watkins--that kept the essence of these songs as we remember them, yet brought out Mr. Speake’s special persona, which includes a fine, deliciously rough-edged tenor and a boyishness that bordered on the shy. He is a slender, handsome man with graying hair, who projects pleasantness to the n-th degree.

Interspersed between the songs Mr. Speake spoke of his upbringing in Alabama, his parents, Annie Lucille & Otto—“spelled the same backwards and forwards!”—and his unavoidable decision to go out on his own, winding up in New York City where he has had a reasonably successful career as a singer/actor. Casually dressed in a black blazer, jeans and white shirt, he presented a gimmick-free program that opened with “Up Up and Away” and finished with “I’ve Got the Music In Me.” At first he seemed a bit stilted in his movements, but opened up both vocally and physically with Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” to which he added a mini-medley of other songs. Once warmed up, he still moved about minimally, but seemed more full-bodied and connected with the material. By the time he sang the last three songs, “Solitaire,” by Neil Sedaka, Billy Joel’s “My Life” and the afore-mentioned “I’ve Got the Music In Me,” by Bias Boshell, he was firmly committed to the sub-texts of the songs and their meanings and My Generation became a fulfilling expression of both his strong vocal instrument and his life story.

 His back-up singers, Wendy A. Russell and Lennie Watts (who doubled as the show’s director) were remarkable in their ease and comraderie. Along with Mr. Watkins on the keyboard were the terrific musicians Jerry Smith on the drums and Dan Fabricatore on the bass guitar who let Mr. Speake shine in his own right while keeping the musical standards high.


December 14th 2009 at 7:30 PM

Don’t Tell Mama

343 West 46th St.

New York, NY

Information & Reservations: 212-757-0788 & www.DontTellMamaNYC.com

Contact Jim Speake at www.jimspeake.com

Contact Joel at TheaterScene.net




“ When I saw Jim Speake’s cabaret show “I’m A Brass Band”, I had sort of a revelation. It realizes the three “C”s of the genre: connection to song, connection to self, connection to audience. Mr Speake is a natural for cabaret.”


Stu Hamstra, Cabaret Hotline Online, 23 April 2007

Jim Speake - Jan Wallman Review

 Friday, 19 September 2008 14:06

 At 2:30 PM on a Saturday afternoon, the houselights dimmed and plunged the Metropolitan Room into darkness to allow Jim Speake and his musicians to get in place on the stage to present I’m a Brass Band, a tribute to songwriter Cy Coleman. When the stage lights came up, they centered on Speake sitting on the piano!  I have always disapproved of this use of a defenseless musical instrument.  My first thought was, "How did you get yourself trapped into this assignment, Jan? You're going to hate this show!"  But after a few bars, this completely- unknown-to-me---  but very attractive and well-dressed --- man climbed down from his perch on the Yamaha, greeted his audience and proceeded to deliver one of the best programs of its kind that this reviewer has seen in a long while! All the elements  came into play: There’s the comfortable venue, the inspired Steven Ray Watkins Trio (with Fred Kennedy drums, and Matt Wigton on bass), those great Cy Coleman hit tunes written with some of the cleverest lyricists of their day (Dorothy Fields, Carolyn Leigh, to name a couple), lights and sound by Michael Barbieri, direction by Lennie Watts and this ingratiating performer- what more can an audience ask for?

 With a minimum of talk, most of it utterly charming and to the point, Speake, a captivating Southern gentleman who has morphed into a sophisticated urbane New Yorker, gave us a show to remember. Culled from Coleman's best songs written over several decades, first for his own jazz trio, and pop/jazz singers (think Sinatra and "Witchcraft") to a string of Broadway shows in later years, notably Sweet Charity and Barnum.  These songs celebrated the career of one of the high priest composers of the Great American Song Book.

 Speake has a strong emotional connection to this material, all of it top drawer. High points were the Carolyn Leigh section where he sang the lesser known but utterly delightful "I Walk A Little Faster" and, for me, a definitive version of "The Rules of the Road," a number that has been done a lot, but never better.  Then, he moved on to Dorothy Fields (Sweet Charity): a rousing exercise of "I'm a Brass Band" and entreated us to "Come Follow the Band" written with Mike Stewart for Barnum.  I swear to you that if the trio led by Jim Speake had marched off the stage playing this stirring piece, the entire audience would have marched along out to West 22 Street with him.  This was truly exhilarating Cabaret and we can hope to see and hear more of Jim Speake. (Editor’s Note: Well, folks, now you can!  See dates above.)

 Don’t Tell Mama, where the act is seen this October, is on Restaurant Row, 343 West 46 Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.  Phone number for reservations is 212-757-0788.  There is a $15 cover charge and a two-drink minimum.  MAC/AEA/Cabaret Hotline discounts apply to cover charge.  Cash only.  More on this singer at www.JimSpeake.com

 Nite Life Exchange.com


Kim Grogg & Jim Speake

It Takes Two – Letters to Santa
From Sondheim to Sedaka
with a Sprinkling of Santa

Metropolitan Room
New York, NY
One would think that a couple of board members from the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) would be pretty competent singers and you’d be right.  The third performance of the four-night run was the charm for Kim Grogg and Jim Speake when they happily took the stage for a show to benefit the U.S. Postal Service’s Letters to Santa Program.

The sub-title of the fun performance, From Sondheim to Sedaka with a Sprinkling of Santa,did, in fact, have a song or two from Sondheim, including “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy, although his lyrics were nowhere to be found under the banner “Ethel’s Turn,” as in Ethel Mertz, Lucy’s long-suffering sidekick in  I Love Lucy.  On the other hand, Sedaka’s words were there for all to hear in “Lonely Christmas in New York,” doing double duty as part of a holiday set.  The well-diversified program ranged from Irving Berlin to Carole King to Barry Manilow to Ned Washington and numerous others in between.

Grogg, who has an expressive and seasoned voice which occasionally reflects Amanda McBroom, is an Indiana native with over 100 theater productions to her credit and five different cabaret shows over the past five years.  She did a particularly effective job with King’s “Tapestry,” one of the biggest hits of the early 1970s. Speake grew up on a cotton farm in Alabama and sounds it, if only slightly.  But, with several years of theater training on his resume, he reminds one more of John Denver than Randy Owen.  His renditions of songs such as “Sweet Life” (Barry Manilow) and “Crazy for You” (John Bettis and Jon Lind) conveyed a voice that was friendly, mellow and warm.  Their singing styles fit the program perfectly, especially on the duets with Grogg and the trios, whenever their Musical Director Steven Ray Watkins joined in.  The harmonies on “Elephant Fly” (Oliver Wallace and Ned Washington), “Wink and a Smile” (Marc Shaiman and Ramsey McLean) and “Count Your Blessings” (Berlin) were marvelous.

A highlight of the evening was a sparkling duet/trio for “White Christmas Movie Medley,” with Speake assuming the Bing Crosby part while Grogg channeled Rosemary Clooney.  “White Christmas” was the centerpiece, of course, although there were snatches of “Blue Skies,” “Sisters” and “Mandy” making their presence known by way of Watkins’ piano flourishes.  Superb support was provided by Tim Lykins (drums) and Julie Danielson (bass), enhancing every moment of the entire show.

The delighted audience had essentially gotten an old-fashioned song and dance team – a bit of vaudeville, some soft shoe and perhaps even a little clean burlesque.  As directed by Lennie Watts, Kim Grogg and Jim Speake welcomed in the holiday season with a lot of charm, spirit and pizzazz.

Jerry Osterberg
Cabaret Scenes
December 10, 2011