Russ Lorenson: gay singer's new album, years in the making

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday February 27, 2024
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Singer Russ Lorenson<br>(photo: courtesy Russ Lorenson)
Singer Russ Lorenson
(photo: courtesy Russ Lorenson)

Russ Lorenson is an old-fashioned crooner. A well-known cabaret artist, his style is very much in the vein of Tony Bennett and other singers of the Great American Songbook. Lorenson's voice is smooth, cool, and quite pleasing to the ear. Over the years he has enjoyed a prolific career in musical theater as well as building up a strong following in clubs. He has performed extensively in New York and in his former home, San Francisco.

In 2021, Lorenson's performing career came to a screeching halt when he was diagnosed with HPV-positive tonsil cancer. He endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and is now cancer-free. But there was a tragic after effect to his illness; he lost his ability to sing.

Undaunted, he has released a new album anyway. "Standard Time: Live in New York" is a live album, recorded at the Metropolitan Room in New York City in October 2008. It's his fourth album, and likely his last.

"Now I could sit around and be depressed about that," Lorenson said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "But I choose to be grateful because I survived. Plus, I realize that cancer may have stolen my ability to sing, but it hasn't stolen my voice and I still have some things to say."

Lorenson's immediate plans are to write a book, an origin story for the Christmas tune "Jingles, the Christmas Cat," a song he was enchanted by when he heard Freddy Cole, Nat King Cole's brother, perform it at Feinstein's. His own rendition of the song can be heard on his 2015 holiday album "In the Holiday Spirit."

"All the time I've known this song, I've always thought that Jingles should have an origin story, just like Rudolph and Frosty," he said. "So, I decided to write it myself. We're aiming to have the book out in time for Christmas this year. Besides the book about Jingles, we have two others in the early stages, and I hope those will be successful."

Lorenson has also been asked by several singers to help craft their shows and to provide direction, among other projects.

"So, I don't think I'm done by any means," he said.

Russ Lorenson at a concert at Feinstein's at the Nikko
(photo: courtesy Russ Lorenson)  

Great songs
His new album is a very simple concept, that the Great American Songbook didn't stop being written in 1959. When he first put the show together in 2007, he decided to perform songs that had been written over the previous twenty years or so, albeit songs that were written in the Songbook style.

"I really wanted to celebrate the songwriters who are keeping the Songbook alive," he said. "And a lot of the songs on the album were, not coincidentally, written by great singers of the classic Songbook. People like Harry Connick Jr, John Pizzarelli, Peter Cincotti, and, of course, our spiritual leader Michael Feinstein. And you know what? It wasn't hard to find songs. The challenge was limiting the set list so that the show wasn't four hours long."

Lorenson is well aware that people's listening habits have changed over the years. Most people don't sit down and listen to an album, they pick and choose individual tracks to stream.

"So the route we took was to release two different versions of the album," Lorenson said. "One with a lot of live patter included that gives the listener a 'you are there' experience of the show."

The other version is what Lorenson refers to as a "radio edit," with most of the patter stripped out so that the tracks are better suited to streaming playlists.

Lorenson now lives in Alicante, Spain with his husband. He recalls his time in the City by the Bay with great fondness.

"We have a great life here with a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean, but we are still very connected to San Francisco," he said. "Thanks to the miracle of VPN technology, my local 5pm news is still from San Francisco, except that it's on at 2am in Spain. And, of course, I still subscribe online to the Chronicle and the Bay Area Reporter. We do miss things about San Francisco, drag at Oasis, cabaret at Martuni's and Feinstein's, jazz at SF Jazz, but mostly we miss friends. We've been fortunate to have had many friends from San Francisco come to visit, including Carly Ozard and Sister Roma. We're hoping that many more will come to see us."

'Russ Lorenson, Standard Time: Live in New York,' available as radio edit or live version, $9.49, MP3 with Music Unlimited.

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