Ariana Savalas is a provocative chanteuse. She went from one-time jazz singer inspired by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Julie London to one of the most sought-after cabaret performers whose burlesque and vaudeville showmanship never fails to generate buzz.
An ongoing collaboration with Post Modern Jukebox, the hip outpost founded by Scott Bradlee that spins popular modern music into passionate vintage fair, further keeps her in the public eye.
Daughter of the late Telly Savalas (The Dirty Dozen, Kojak), she headlines AIDS Assistance Program – Food Samaritans’ empowering Oct. 8 event at a lush, private estate in Palm Springs. The Jeannette Rockefeller Angel Program is AAP’s main fundraising drive, which allows the nonprofit to provide ongoing monthly food vouchers to its low-income clients living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses. (There is no admission fee; attendance implies an intention to participate in the AAP – Food Samaritans Angel Program. RSVP by Sept. 29.)
Savalas, a onetime valley resident, will perform a mix of standards from the Great American Songbook and Rat Pack–era gems — tossing in some risqué elements for good measure. She tells Palm Springs Life about the importance of raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and living your dreams.
PSL: Your creative world rocks. So why is it important for you to be a part of AAP’s kickoff celebration?
Ariana Savalas: People who have been responsible for raising the awareness of and also de-stigmatizing HIV/AIDS and providing help to people in need are some of the greatest champions in our society; 20, 30 years ago, it was something we could barely talk about. I have friends living with HIV and other illnesses that affect people whom AAP provides service for. HIV is still a very serious illness and a huge struggle for many people. But the stigma of it is slowly dissipating, which is a wonderful thing, because if we can talk about it and raise awareness about it, and it’s not something that terrifies people, the more we can help those who need our assistance. I love when shows are able to support something that has such a noble and just cause.
PSL: Your music arrangements are unique. What drew you toward the Gatsby era?
AS: Well, you know, I wanted to make millions of dollars being a cabaret and burlesque performer. [Laughs]
PSL: Exactly why people become writers.
AS: Right. [Laughs] Well, I grew up admiring Bob Fosse’s work. I was in theater and musicals. And my father was much older — he was 65 when he had me and was very good friends with a lot of the Rat Pack, so I always listened to that kind of music. My grandparents also had affection for true showmanship. There was something about over-the-top showmanship that I absolutely loved.
PSL: Your father had a strong Palm Springs connection. How was it for you here?
AS: He died when I was 7 and, obviously, my memories of him are a bit fragmented, but some of the best childhood times I had are of when we lived in Palm Springs. It was serene and beautiful. We lived on the golf course [Morningside in Rancho Mirage] and the ducks would come in and chill in the kitchen. Palm Springs was also very diverse and funny, with different types of people who got together with a common interest of enjoying life.
PSL: After your father died in 1994, the family moved to Minnesota and you went to school in a … convent?
AS: An all-girls Catholic school with nuns. Of course, I always wore makeup and was a glamour-puss. Going there shaped a lot of what I do. There was a lot of the institutionalized aspect of the faith — for the religious practices more than the faith itself. It really challenged me in a lot of ways. When I came to L.A. after coming out of that homogenous period, I met every kind of person imaginable — and that was the moment you really realize whether you have faith or not.
PSL: So, what has been one of the biggest leaps of faith you ever made?
AS: Believing in what I wanted to do enough to actually do it.
PSL: And some of the best advice you’ve ever received about life?
AS: Everything I’ve ever learned about living a happy, meaningful life came from my parents. When something is too hard, it’s probably wrong. The world is a very mysterious place. There is an energy — whether you want to call it God or whatever — and you are giving something that is in peace with the world. It works through you. Doesn’t mean you won’t have challenges. But when you are doing what you are supposed to be doing — committed to the right thing — there is a general ease that comes with it. When it’s too hard, pay attention. Because there is an energy that flows with you when things are right.
Ariana Savalas, AIDS Assistance Program – Food Samaritan’s Jeanette Rockefeller Angel Program Kickoff Celebration, 6 p.m. Oct. 8 at a private estate in Palm Springs. 760-325-8481; aidsassistance.org
Keep track of Ariana Savalas at arianasavalas.com.