Lee Lessack Sings Songs of Love
BY Winston Gieseke
August 09 2011 1:45 PM ET
Lee Lessack grew up wanting to perform. “I always wanted to be in theater,” says the award-winning vocalist, whose seventh album, Chanteur, is available today. “My mom was an opera singer, so we were surrounded by music. She got us involved in community theater as kids. I loved it.”
Chanteur, Lessack’s first recording since his critically lauded 2005 duets album In Good Company (which featured pairings with Michael Feinstein, "The Rose" songwriter Amanda McBroom, Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz, and ’70s songstress Maureen McGovern) is “an homage to the great French songbook from an American perspective.”
The album was born out of a concert of the same name that Lessack’s good friend and colleague, former soap star (All My Children, Another World) and Tony Award–nominated Broadway actor (Big River, Starmites) Brian Lane Green, created for him. Featuring songs penned by French composers like Michel Legrand, Jacques Brel, Gilbert Bécaud, and Charles Aznavour, Lessack and Green tested the show in Los Angeles, then embarked on a sold-out engagement in London before going on to Paris.
“Most of the songs are from that show, but we’ve added a few as well,” Lessack says of the album, which includes a cover of Edith Piaf’s “Hymne à l’Amour,” “If We Only Have Love” (from Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris), and “I Will Wait For You” (from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). “Plus the arrangements [on the record] are very different. The show is very French, very in-your-face and bold, but that wasn’t the listening experience I wanted to create. The album is more mellow. It’s just piano, vocal, and guitar. With a little bass. It’s probably the simplest recording I’ve ever done.”
While onstage, Lessack has been called a “towering presence” and praised for his “gentle charisma with his audience,” over conversation he admits he was a late bloomer whose uniqueness didn’t emerge until his late 20s.
He was living in L.A. and had been working for nearly six years as a personal assistant to actor Henry Winkler and his wife. He says the experience was a good one (“They paid well and they gave me nice gifts—Armani suits and stuff”), but he was eager to jump-start his own career—whatever that might be. “I was taking voice lessons, and one day I was in the in the shower doing my voice exercises and something shifted. Suddenly I heard a tone that I thought was really special and unique. It was at that moment that I made the connection that the voice is an instrument you can play.”
He eventually gave his notice to the Winklers, with whom he remains close. “I said to his wife, ‘You’re never going to promote me to Henry, so I need to find a career for myself.’ And that was the beginning for me.”