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Ute Lemper

Germany's Ute Lemper is internationally renowned as a singer, songwriter, dancer, and actress. Her 1986 debut, Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill, established her as a primary interpreter of Weimar Germany's cabaret song tradition. 1989's Crimes of the Heart, showcased her as a pop singer. In 1993, she issued the international best-seller Illusions with authoritative interpretations of the French chanson tradition. She collaborated with Stephen Sondheim on 1995's City of Strangers. 2000's Punishing Kiss offered songs written for her by modern songwriters. She paid tribute on 2015's Forever: The Love Poems of Pablo Neruda and to novelist Paulo Coelho whom she collaborated with on 2016's, The Nine Secrets. In 2020, Lemper honored Marlene Dietrich on Rendezvous with Marlene. 2023's all-original Time Traveler balanced privately recorded original songs from previous decades with newly composed material. Lemper was born in Münster on July 4, 1963. After beginning piano and dance at age nine, she turned to the stage while attending the Max Reinhardt Seminary in Vienna, completing her musical studies in Salzburg, Cologne, and Berlin. After starring in the Viennese production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats in 1983, Lemper essayed the title role in the musical comedy Peter Pan two years later. She portrayed Sally Bowles in a European revival of Cabaret in 1986, winning a Molière award for her performance at Paris' Théâtre Mogador. Upon completing her work in an international tour paying homage to the life and repertoire of Kurt Weill, Lemper turned to film, appearing in Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books and Robert Altman's Ready to Wear. As a recording artist, her albums included the 1991 pop showcase Crimes of the Heart; a collaboration with Michael Nyman titled Songbook; and tributes to Weill, Berthold Brecht and Edith Piaf, and Marlene Dietrich. In 1998, she also starred in the West End production of Chicago; The Punishing Kiss followed in the spring of 2000. Written especially for her by contemporary songwriters -- Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, Neil Hannon, Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, and Scott Walker -- it broke the mold of her previous recordings and liberated her self-perception as an artist. Deeply inspired by the album and its tour, she felt she could begin composing her own tunes. In (future husband) Todd Turkisher's New York recording studio, she wrote on paper, composed on a piano, and committed her ideas to analog tape. Though some appeared on 2002's But One Day... the balance were relegated to her in-laws' basement. She composed more material for 2008's Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, but none of those early songs were included. Lemper signed to Steinway & Sons for the release of 2012's Paris Days, Berlin Nights, a collection of songs by Astor Piazzolla, Chava Alberstein, Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Jacques Brel. After another world tour, Lemper took on the role of composer as well as vocalist in collaboration with Argentine bandoneón player/composer Marcelo Nisinman; Forever: The Love Poems of Pablo Neruda was a series of tango-inspired songs to accompany the Chilean poet's works. Still inspired as a songwriter, Lemper began working with Brazilian author (and former hit songwriter in '70s Brazil) Paulo Coelho. She composed and produced a song cycle set to selections from his novel Manuscript Found in Accra. Played by her own road band and a cast of international musicians, with wind, reed and brass arrangements by Gil Goldstein and Middle Eastern string charts by Jamshied Sharifi, The 9 Secrets was released in February 2016. Coelho guested on two of the album's tracks. Lemper furthered her commitment to the legend of Dietrich with a 2019 stage revue entitled Rendezvous with Marlene. She later recorded and produced the music in a studio with an orchestra for Jazzhaus. The collection, issued during the summer of 2020, was based on a three-hour phone conversation between the two singers in 1988, and contained a number of songs associated with her. The set also included a bilingual version of Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" sung in German and English. As chance would have it, the shelved material from 2000 was rediscovered in her in-laws' basement in 2021 alongside a backup cassette copy. Lemper and Turkisher had the original tapes restored and digitized. She realized that some selections were simply too dated to rework, while others held enough of a contemporary spark for reinvention. The couple's production tweaks included juxtaposing bits of her youthful voice with lyrics re-sung by the artist currently atop modern grooves. Seized by an impulse to write, she began scratching on paper then composing at the piano. Time Traveler's title track was the first song to emerge in what is ultimately a musical encounter between the mature artist and her younger self. Time Traveler was released by Jazzhaus in June 2023.
© Jason Ankeny & Thom Jurek /TiVo


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