Linda Lavin’s Fine “Farewell” Returns

Linda Lavin’s “Second Farewell Concert” comes to Birdland on July 24. | BILL WESTMORELAND

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | From cutting her teeth in the cabaret rooms of bygone Gotham to achieving sitcom icon status to her work as a commanding presence on Broadway, Linda Lavin’s career has given rise to more stories than a Midtown megatower — but she won’t be serving up that dish in beach-read form. Jazz and cocktails are this summer’s only available delivery system. Which suits her, and us, just fine.

“I don’t want to write a book,” Lavin declared during our conversation in anticipation of a July 24 show at Birdland. “If you want to know me, listen to the songs; songs that are attached to the story of me. That’s what I want to present.”

Afternoon binge viewers and channel-flipping insomniacs who’ve landed on the Logo network lately have come to know (or happily rediscover) Lavin as the “new girl in town” — a widowed mother and aspiring singer en route to LA, whose car broke down in front of a greasy spoon in Phoenix with a “Waitress Wanted” sign in the window. Slyly conveying a strength just about to be discovered and tapped, Lavin’s vocals (once described by Hal Prince as “wonderfully unique”) begin each episode of “Alice,” whose catchy and efficient theme song takes just under a minute to evolve the character from “sad” and “shy” to insisting, “Things are great when you stand on your own two feet.”

Coming full circle to tell tales of an arc not yet complete

“I think it’s great whenever ‘Alice’ can come back and remind people… I mean, she’s a very real person. She’s represented by 80 percent of all women who work in this country,” Lavin said, when asked about the 1976-1985 show’s new national profile. “She’s still looking for healthcare and benefits, and she’s still making 69, 70s cents to the dollar that a man makes for that same quality of work.” These days, various reports put that figure in the 79 to 83-cent range. “But it’s taken since the ‘70s,” Lavin noted, “for it to move up a couple of pennies.”

Lavin returns to the networks this fall in “9JKL” on CBS, as a doting and occasionally smothering mother. “It’s the best time I’ve had in this format in a very long time,” she said of the sitcom that reunites her with Mark Feuerstein, whom she also mothered in the 1998 sitcom “Conrad Bloom.” Whether karma or coincidence, it’s one of the many full-circle moments that came up during our conversation, such as the title of that Birdland gig: “My Second Farewell Concert.”

“I’ve been doing this show for close to a dozen years,” Lavin noted. “I began under the tutelage of the great Jim Caruso. He helped me write this act.” (Caruso, host of Birdland’s fizzy and fabulous “Cast Party” open mic night, gets an “Inspired by” credit on “Possibilities,” Lavin’s eclectic 2011 debut CD of 12 covers spanning everything from Richard Rogers to Cy Coleman to Donald Fagen.) “He’s my papa,” Lavin said of Caruso. “He’s the entrepreneur who gives me the room when he can, and I wanted it now, because I want to try out this new material.”

Over time, the show (once dubbed “My First Farewell Concert”) has “changed and grown,” Lavin said, to further realize “my dream to become more of a jazz singer and to really focus on the American Songbook as it applies to my history.” That history began in a house where there was always music in the air (her mother was “a great musician, a great opera singer who gave up a career”), and found an early public outlet in 1960s New York. “Jan Wallman was a great entrepreneur of cabaret,” Lavin said, of the legendary proprietor of various rooms on Grove, Cornelia, and West 44th Streets. “She was such a champion of singers and storytellers and instrumentalists. All I could afford at the time was a pianist. Now I have five great pieces behind me and around me and alongside me — and great arrangements done by [pianist and “Cast Party” cohort] Billy Stritch and [jazz violinist] Aaron Weinstein… I’ll speak about some of the shows that I was in, some of the people I’ve met along the way, some of the loves that I’ve had, and some of the disappointments, some of the losses; and where I am now. It’s a real personal exposé of me, as if you were all in my living room and I was just standing there entertaining you.”

LINDA LAVIN | “My Second Farewell Concert” | Birdland Jazz Club, 315 W. 44th St. | Jul. 24 at 7 p.m. | $35-$45, with $10 food/ drink minimum | or 212-581-3080