By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Boston/Watertown – Now serving a second term as president of the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA), vocalist Jim Keating is committed to helping professional and aspiring singers find their voice through cabaret. A few years after BACA was founded in 1995, Keating joined the organization and served as its president from 2003 to 2007. His current term began in the spring of 2018.
He became fascinated with cabaret in the 1990s while performing in a song-and-dance troupe known as the Bay Statesmen under the direction of John O’Neil, an accomplished cabaret artist and producer. Working with O’Neil prompted Keating to explore additional performance options.
“I joined BACA to get more in touch with the cabaret community and for more singing opportunities,” Keating noted. “I also wanted to support furthering this wonderful art form of self-expression. BACA has always been a very supportive community of people developing their skills, no matter what their level of experience is.”
BACA members include singers, songwriters, music educators, producers and cabaret patrons. Both BACA members and non-members are invited to participate in its open mic, typically scheduled the third Wednesday of each month at the First Parish of Watertown, 35 Church St., in Watertown. The venue hall features concert acoustics and a Steinway B piano. Socializing and sign-up begins at 6:45 p.m. The open mic is 7 to 9:30 p.m.
“Our monthly open mic continues to serve as our flagship event,” Keating said. “We hire a rotating staff of really fine accompanists who sight-read music and know an extensive library of songs. We like to say that the cabaret music we appreciate is ‘genre agnostic.’ It can be Great American Songbook, Broadway, standards, jazz, country, opera and more. Open mic is all about giving singers a chance to open up their self-expression and hone their delivery. We’re also getting more folks showing up to just listen.”
BACA has presented performer showcases at various venues including Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham and Torch Light Tiny Theatre in Arlington. In 2019, BACA offered two master classes instructed by Carol O’Shaughnessy and Sharon McKnight, each Lifetime Achievement Award honorees at Provincetown CabaretFest in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
“Someone who was unfamiliar with cabaret came to a master class and thoroughly enjoyed it,” Keating relayed. “He said that it was almost like a method acting class, the way he got deep into a personal connection with the lyrics. That’s what I love about cabaret. It’s the lyrics that touches me the most when performing.”
While a number of Boston cabarets and piano bars have closed, Club Café at 209 Columbus Ave. continues to evolve and thrive since its opening in 1983. Keating credits Club Café for revitalizing the spirit of the city’s entertainment venues of yesteryear such as the Napoleon Club, a piano bar in Bay Village since the 1950s with a second-floor disco called Josephine’s before its closing in 1998.
“When Club Café decided to wall-off some of their restaurant space and make it a piano bar, they named it the Napoleon Room as an homage to the Napoleon Club,” Keating explained. “John O’Neil had been producing a series of shows in Club Café’s Napoleon Room and he rebranded it as Josephine’s. To my knowledge, Club Café is Boston’s only dedicated multi-night space for cabaret and open mic. They’re very supportive to all our BACA members.”
Keating wants to share his love for cabaret with future generations.
“We hope to recruit some new BACA board members soon,” he said. “A lot of our board and audience are over 50, so to sustain BACA we’re looking for ways to recruit younger folks. When younger people do join us, they latch onto the richness of the music because cabaret is timeless.”
Find information about BACA including its open mic schedule and quarterly newsletter at bostoncabaret.org.