In Loving Memory of Rick Jensen (10/6/58 – 3/24/21)


Cabaret Hotspot and the entire cabaret community is deeply saddened by the passing of one of the industry’s most beloved music directors; arranger, songwriter and performer, Rick Jensen.

Personally, both David and Sue cherish the memory of recently working with Rick. Sue has four brand new arrangements that she cannot wait to perform, and David will soon debut Rick’s latest arranging masterpiece as part of his Covid Creations set.

This is how we keep an arranger and songwriter’s memory alive…we sing their music and perform their arrangements! We are blessed to have known this man and to have such a great last memory of our time with him…he in the studio and us singing with him live on JamKazam. – David Sabella & Sue Matsuki 

In honor of our beloved friend and colleague, Rick Jensen, Cabaret Hotspot is proud to share the words of just a few of the artists and singers Rick worked most closely with every day of his life, for decades.

A long ever-changing, creative, successful, joyful, tragic, complicated, compassionate, personal relationship is a gift. It is clearly one I got from Rick Jensen. We were one person for awhile – as a creative “team” we created and executed some stunning and magical moments- most of them finding their way to the stage. We had a thousand lifetimes together, from learning how to teach, to becoming accomplished master teachers. From songwriters with the germ of an idea to the recording studio. We birthed an extraordinary cabaret show together called “Torch”. He was in my R&R band and I was in his.We became part of each others biological families and lived through the first plague of our generation together- him behind the piano, me behind a mic.and both of us in the the the trenches. We were “survivors”. We survived the 80’s and often acknowledged that gratefully and bittersweetly together. He often said to be silly “Just because I brought it up doesn’t mean I want to talk about it” and I -being as ethnic as I am- exhausted him talking through every uncomfortable detail to a fault. When that dynamic didn’t make us laugh- it was a hard place for us to be. We traveled together. We loved it and got to see the world together because of music. He had a lot of magnificent “Divas” in his life one being our mutual friend Nancy LaMott and I took her place a bit when she died. Rick also stepped in as my “second husband” after Dick Gallagher passed away a few years later- right there at the funeral actually and he became an even better, closer friend then he’d already been to me for over a decade. I’ve just noticed how many pictures of me there are with my head on his shoulder. Never really saw that before. Both of us had our demons which we shared courageously with each other. They crossed paths enough throughout the years for the empathy between us to be real and powerful- both good and bad. When we were both committed to ourselves -as you might expect- we were stunning together. We could look into each others eyes and say things like “We did good”, “It’s gonna be alright” and “thank you”. We fought. We fessed up. We apologized and we carried on making music. In all the incarnations of our years and friendship I have my favorite moments of course and they are happily coming back to me now. Doing the workshop “Soul” ,while trying to get the work done, we ended up just playing one R&B tune after another and singing at the top of our lungs like we were in the basement after school not the pros we had become. As song writers we confessed (only to each other) that one of our favorite lines ever written was “Some stupid with a flare gun”, how hard I would laugh when he’d sneak in a little something from the song “Fifty Percent” on the piano while working with mutual clients that only I would catch. Singing on a long car trip “Go you Chicken Fat Go’ with Robert Preston. The way we both loved Bruce and how we both wanted to be him. Our true and mutual love of rock and roll, the memories of all the people we met and loved together. And what I read that he once said about me in an interview. He was a solo songwriter but he said he liked writing with me because I “followed through on things and held his feet to the fire.” It would end up being the thing he would wish I would stop doing, “holding his feet to the fire”, along with me not remembering that just cuz he brought it up didn’t mean he wanted to talk about it. Complicated. He was beyond blessed with a natural talent.He took that talent and turned himself into an accomplished arranger (among other things). His voice and songwriting chops were stellar but what he could do to and with a song as an arranger was never ending and fantastic. He was so so good. I remember telling him he was indeed “replaceable” but I would have to bring in 6 people to do 1/2 of what he could do. On top of all that he was so very very loved. It’s obvious now in his passing but it was just as clear while he was here. He gathered love without even trying. He stood in the middle of it and like most of us very human people didn’t see it. I know he sees it now. I know he is finally at peace. Our struggles and demons our gifts and our desires our shame and our glory all collide, if we are lucky enough to live out loud, they collide. Sometimes it’s fireworks, sometimes a fire, most times both. Rest, rest, rest , rest in peace my dear, long-time, ever changing, creative, successful, joyful, tragic, complicated, compassionate, gifted, Huckleberry friend.Lina Koutrakos

Oh, Uncle Rick. Where do I begin? So much of my life was inspired by you. One of my earliest memories was hiding under Grandma D’s piano while you busted out Walkin’ in Memphis. It’s a dusty memory like sunshine bursting through a window making it hard to see. But I see your hands hitting the keys and can feel the sound wrapping around me. I saw my family staring back at you; beaming. I was mesmerized. Honestly? You were the coolest fucking thing I knew. Uncle Rick. My famous uncle from the infamous New York City. What could be cooler than that? I made my mom re-tell stories of how she first met you. You were playing in a piano bar and desperate for tea. I always thought it was cool she knew you before she knew my dad. You were there the night they fell in love. I make up the scene in my head like a movie. (I’ll leave that story for mom to tell — it’s classic.) As a kiddo, I would run to the phone when you and Felix would call. You would have Frida the bird sing to me and I just loved that. I’ll never forget the time you lead the Gay Men’s Chorus on National Television. At the time, I was too young to realize how fucking sensational it was that you were singing “On the Street Where You Live” OUTSIDE SENATOR JESSIE HELMS HOME!!! But that is the first time I realized you were gay…and Felix was not your just roommate 🙂 We were all so damn proud of you. I feel like that moment shaped me in a lot of ways. I spent most of today going down memory lane. And remembering how you were there for me at every huge life-defining moment in my life. My first plane ride at 16 to New York City to sing Amanda Sang with you at the Firebird Cafe. Picking me up at 18 and getting me all set up in my dorm for my first day of school! That first year in NYC is brutal and you made sure I was always taken care of. Dinners, doctors, shows. You name it. You were there. My friends loved, adored — and got such a kick out of you. I remember you were so happy we hung that Gay Pride Pace flag in our apartment. You were tickled we could be so out and proud. From my City Hall wedding to the birth of my son — you didn’t miss a beat. Oh, especially Ethan. You were such a big part of his first year and that always brought me such joy. Earlier I was mad knowing that Ethan won’t be able to remember you. But now I am feeling more comforted knowing that I have the chance to share all of these special memories and photos with him. In a few years, he will start asking who this guy is in all his baby pictures is. And I will be reminded of your greatness and have simply-the-best stories to share with him. I’m envious of all the people who got to play and sing with you. I never got to sing all your songs, Uncle Rick. You once told me it was painful — in a good way — to accept the kind of love I had for you. I know now it is no longer painful for you. When I was 18 I stole the sheet music to your song, “In Passing Years” from you. I didn’t quite “get” the song then, but I knew it meant something to me. A few years later, I stole this picture of you playing the piano in your college days. If my first memory of you was a picture, this would be close to it. There are a million more things I wish I could say, but I think this is good for now. You’ll forever be my idol. My New York. My Uncle Rick. – Tina Jensen

There are people that come into your life and give you more than they know, more than you could ever give back. People who teach you by their dreams and flaws, their highs and lows, triumphs and total fails on both sides. They’re with you in the big and small memories that you had no idea would end up all being big. They show you things to admire and aspire to, and things to run fast & far away from. They try not to show you the parts that are rickety and make them afraid, but you see them anyway, because that’s as much a part of why you’re friends as anything. They talk about what they love and why they love it, and you realize you could probably ease up on the brakes & let yourself love things a little more. You go stretches without being able to connect, and then you pick up right where you left off, and you never tire of the stories because just when you think you’ve heard them all, there’s a new one (or a new version of an old one), and you catch a glimpse of all the “new” that’s still to come in a very old, treasured friendship. My heart goes out to all the people missing Rick Jensen, especially to the extended family through the years that saw with deep love all he was & all he wasn’t. We had a bond that I couldn’t put a label on if I tried. At the very heart of it, he was talented, kind, funny, and beautiful in so many ways (which is supposed to be uplifting, but just hurts like a mean,hard slap today.) I don’t think I’ll ever hear the word “honey”, or any Rickie Lee Jones song, or talking parrots without hearing his voice. He wrote songs I love to sing, made excellent coffee, and no one has ever made more of a star turn out of catching the garter at a wedding. I will miss him every day.Karen Mack


I don’t really have the words yet. So, instead, I’ll just share some of my favorite moments with you. 1) Before the Cabaret Conference in Chicago. We’d spent the entire afternoon goofing off like idiots (classic). 2) Backstage at my first show at Birdland. Dorian was ironing my shirt (also classic), and you were being a dork. 3) In your recording studio, recording a demo of music you’d written. We were listening back to the track and goofing off like we always did. I miss you terribly. RIP my dear friend, Rick. Love you so much, Dicky DooAri Axelrod

I woke up this morning full of so much emotions. I just spent 3 days filming season 2 of my series on Broadway On Demand “Doris Dear’s Gurl Talk”. Doris has become an important part of my musical career formed when my mother Taffy passed from Alzheimer’s. I met with Rick Jensen after I was given his name by a colleague to discuss what I wanted to do. He immediately got it. We spent 5 years working together. I had never done “cabaret” shows. He helped me create something that is now my most important journey. He brought my director Lina Koutrakos into my life. He brought music and mayhem into my life. Rick was complicated, caring, crazy and immensely talented. We laughed, we cried, we argued, we fought but we created art together. There is a hole in hearts of many today. You left a legacy. You will be missed. Fly free of pain and play loudly. 💝Ray DeForest

Please watch Ray’s beautiful tribute here:

I am still trying to process this devastating loss especially to our cabaret community. I don’t know if I can find all of the words to express my love and gratitude to my incredible friend Rick Jensen I was One of the lucky ones who had the opportunity to work with this musical genius! Rick was the kindest, funniest and most generous friend around. He was my Musical “husband” and seriously one of my biggest cheerleaders. He always had my back on stage and boy did we have some fun and crazy times together! So many incredible memories I will cherish forever. I am most proud of our Jersey Girl show, especially those ridiculous Rick Jensen signature arrangements! My heart breaks that we will no longer get to make music together. What a freakin’ honor to get to sing his beautiful music. It is one sad day today and my heart is broken into a million pieces! I will miss you my friend! Rest Well and please know you were loved by SO many! 💔 – Lisa Yeager

The cabaret community lost someone very dear yesterday. Rick Jensen impacted the lives of thousands of people on his journey. Seeing the tributes and the outpouring of love ,and of deep sadness, has kept me in tears for the last 24 hours. A gifted singer/songwriter and my music director since 1998, Rick quickly became a close friend and one of my favorite people on the planet. To those unfamiliar with his immense talent, just listen to his album, Spring Harvest ~ It’s hauntingly beautiful. I loved singing his songs. Rick played for everyone at one time or another. Ubiquitous was generally used to describe him in reviews… He WAS everywhere. Personally, this is a profound loss. I’m grateful for our friendship, the years we worked together, you held my hand every step of the way. I loved spending Saturday mornings with you and Lina ~ for years I watched you spread out your breakfast buffet and graze the entire 3 hours. You always gave us a good giggle. So many memories. We had adventures in San Francisco, Austin, and our special nights out in Greece. Our trip to Santorini and Athens will remain one of my favorites. Rick had a wicked sense of humor, combine that with his Mid western sensibilities and his Minnesota accent, well… No one could make me laugh more. Thinking of his family and friends impacted by this unimaginable loss. I’m filled with gratitude that we were on this journey together. I miss you, honey and will always love you. ❤️Diane D’Angelo

To those who traveled to Greece to study with Lina Koutrakos and Rick, this image is one you will surely remember, and cherish, (Rick’s morning “hairdo” – and this was on a good day!)

Rick came home with me to Anaconda, MT in 2016 where we performed Straight Outta ‘Conda. Afterwards my uncle Lloyd walked up to us, nodded at Rick, looked me in the eye and said, “Well honey, you sure sound good when he sings with you!” Yes. Yes, I did. Thank you, my friend, for the songs, the laughs and for sharing your enormous gifts. The music will be sweeter wherever you are singing. May your soul find harmony. You were loved and you will be missed. – Mary Sue Daniels


I am thankful that you knew how much we loved you, Rick. We’ll never forget you, Piano Man. Rest in eternal peace. Chet Whye Jr. & Katie McGrath

Here is a video of their wonderful memory of working with Rick:


To say our hearts are broken is an understatement…we can hardly catch our breath. We are deeply touched by the loss of our Rick. Our relationship began in 1997 when Jeanne MacDonald started to work with Rick Jensen as her musical director. Watching the two of them work together preparing for a new show was incredible… the passion and the collaboration was like watching a beautiful dance. Rick with his talent and love of his art brought Jeanne to wonderful new heights. Together they built a new career and a beautiful friendship. I personally looked at Rick like a younger brother. He was kind, intelligent, sensitive, perhaps too sensitive for this world, and a gentle soul. He produced Jeanne’s first CD “Company” and wrote all the arrangements… he arranged and played for all of the songs on her second CD “Live at the BRADSTAN”, He arranged all the music for all of Jeanne’s shows for ten years. He was Jeanne’s rock when she needed one, her mentor and a loving and dear friend to both of us. Rick wrote the song”Amanda Sang” for One of Jeanne’s shows, it became one of Jeanne’s signature songs and is on her CD. So we thought that it would be appropriate to share this with you… it was at Brandy’s in 2018… the last time Jeanne sang with Rick❤️😊– Diane Trinkis & Jeanne MacDonald

One of Rick’s longest working relationships was with long time collaborator and muse, Jeanne MacDonald, here singing Rick’s gorgeous song, written for her, “Amanda Sang.”

And here, please enjoy Rick himself performing his award winning song “Long Cold Fall,” as part of the 2017 ASCAP winner’s telecast, courtesy of Jamie DeRoy. The song was also recorded on “If I Sing – The Songwriters Album,” produced by Jaime DeRoy and Friends.

Rick’s life was rich in art and love. He made an imprint on so many hearts. He will never be forgotten.  Cabaret Hotspot sends you off with all our love, Rick.To post your own memories or to read all the beautiful tributes to this beloved man, please go to:

This week, WBAI’s Everything Old is New Again pays tribute to Rick featuring the music of Phillip Officer, 4x “Send In The Clowns”, Rebecca Luker & Sally Wilfert, Karen Mason & We Honor Rick Jensen

Sunday 10:00 PM(ET) over WBAI 99.5 FM New York