Robert Davi : Singer & Actor

If the Renaissance happened again in our times, in our America the performing arts would be the premiere medium. Particularly the art of music is a constant companion to the greatest audience. To seek the great names of America’s New Renaissance music would lead us to genius performers like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin just to name a very few. It would not be a finished search, though, until we found Robert Davi.

“Robert Davi?” You ask? Who doesn’t know the amazing actor from his television and big screen appearances? His is a broad repertoire of talent from which to draw. Robert Davi has walked the Silver screen and raised a golden voice for the performing arts. To hear his voice is to slip through the fingers of time and find oneself in the golden age of crooners. In Davi’s abum “The Road to Romance” he sings those remarkable songs popularized by Frank Sinatra. The impeccable production of this work, by Phil Ramone, renders it top shelf art of the Americas.

Robert Davi isn’t just sounding out the melodies from history. He lives the American Songbook. His knowledge of the music is an art in and of itself. In this gallery of great thoughts we peruse the ideas and experiences of the great Robert Davi. Long live the arts! -D. Buckner

Frank Sinatra, Jr. – Singer, Songwriter, Recording Artist, Conductor & Entertainer

Music is definitely in Frank Sinatra, Jr.’s blood.  Like his legendary father, Frank Sinatra, Mr. Sinatra is a singer, performer and recording artist.  He is also a conductor and songwriter.

You will find Frank Sinatra, Jr. to be a wealth of information, a very interesting and passionate man as well as a lover of the Great American Songbook, those songs written in the early half of the 20th century.  I would describe Frank Sinatra, Jr. as knowledgeable, honest and passionate.

Despite the fame of the Sinatra family name, Frank Sinatra, Jr. calls himself a “homespun boy at heart,” going on to describe himself as follows:  “Frank Sinatra, Jr. today is an old man who tells people that he was never famous he just has a famous name, and as it happens the only thing that justified his life is that he practiced what he believed.”

What do you think?

 FRANK SINATRA JR

Transcribed by Rosalind Winton

 Our special guest is a singer, songwriter, conductor and recording artist. Ladies and gentlemen it’s an honor to introduce Mr. Frank Sinatra, Jr. It’s a great pleasure.

 Well, the pleasure is mine. Surprised, last time we spoke, you had told me that you are fairly young, and I’m surprised that someone your age is interested in this kind of music.

There are some of us out there. (Paul laughs)
Yes, there are, all too few.

I want to go back a little bit.  What are your most vivid memories of music you heard as a child?Most vivid memories today, looking back at those memories from the wrong side of 70, the only thing I can say is, that they’re  kind of blurry, going way back, it’s been a long time since I was a child, but that was the best music, popular music that was ever made in America.

And was music playing around the house a lot?
Oh yes, the point is in order to be considered a person who made music, at least professionally in those days, the people who made that music were musicians.  Something that probably, a great majority of people who claim to make music today are not.

And, by that you mean there are lots of musicians who are making music on computers, but they don’t have a proficiency in an instrument
That’s what they say and they don’t know anything about music and the whole story about that kind of person, years ago there used to be classes in certain schools  in a subject that was known as musicology and they would give people degrees in what was called musicology.  They would become musicologists, and there used to be a joke around the working musician community: a musicologist is a person who can read music, but can’t hear it, and today, most of what you hear, when you hear things on the radio that are current, and it has spilled over into television, there are, when I watch sports events on TV for example…there are commercials that are the most annoying, camp-made sounds in the world and they’re made by what we call in the trade today, garage bands, a few of these people, who get together in a garage somewhere with a few amplified instruments and they consider themselves to be musicians.  They press a few buttons and a program comes out, which they use, it might have harmonic changes, or something, and this they consider making music and it’s unfortunate because all it is, is formulated nonsense. The louder and the more distortive, the better the auditory scientists refer to it as vibratory insult and this is regretfully the state of the art, if you want to call it art, where we are today.  The industry has been taken over, has been taken away from the professionals and given to the garage bands and as it happens the business of being a real musician and dedicating one’s life to it has gone out of style and when I think back to the question you asked me about “what was it like when I was a child?” It was the greatest music that was ever made in America.

When did you start to realize that you were a very musical person?

I began to receive, personally, training at the age of 3 or 4.  This goes back to the 1940s and because of my father’s work in those days, he always had guests in our home, who were great composers, lyricists, songwriters, orchestrators, and as it happens they, by degrees, began to tutor me. I can remember when I was 3 or 4, one of my uncles who was the head of the music department at Colombia Pictures in those days, back when each studio had a music department, and he gave me a book about the instruments in the symphony orchestra and I could look at the pictures that he would point to and identify each one of the symphonic instruments.  At the age of 5 I was started on piano lessons, and in that situation I continued on all the way through college, I had once, had the desire to be a composer and a pianist.

 

You just mentioned “composer.” Can you recall when you first learned that you had the ability to write songs?

Well I had been writing melodies, much to the chagrin of my piano teacher when I was a boy, rather than practicing the lessons that she had given to me.  I would be spending my time at the piano composing little melodies and little things of myself and after a time, something else happened, which was really quite remarkable.  I could hear a piece of orchestral music on a recording, hopefully not too complicated a piece of orchestral music and by listening to it I could then play it with the correct harmonic changes on the piano and this as they say, by ear, and at that point in time it occurred to me maybe this was what I was meant to be, which is why after high school, when I went into college, I began to study on musical things and composing things and the like.  In music school there are many, many compositions that one must write, some stress melody, some stress harmony. The classes for those things are called “composition.” Then there’s another one called “counterpoint” in which how do you write a counter melody to match a melody and so on, and then of course there is orchestration, there is rhythm and all the different components of writing music that make up the curriculum of someone who really wants to get into this.

 

What do you believe is more important, the lyrics or the melody?

Oh no, they’re equally important.  They, um, one must compliment the other, they must be in great exactitude of purpose,.  If you consider , now you seem to be very familiar with what they call today “The Great American Song Book.”

I try to be (Paul laughs).

Okay, no doubt you are aware of a great, great song, written in the early 1940s by the great Johnny Mercer and there’s a song called – let’s just use this as an example – “The Blues In The Night.”

Yes.

Okay.  The melody of that song cause ordinarily the melody always comes first, the lyric comes later. The melody of ‘Blues In The Night’ could only be a blues song. The melody is lonely, it has the blues harmonic changes, it is just by it’s very nature sad, and Johnny Mercer’s lyric is absolutely reflective of that state of mine and it matches, it marries to that melody perfectly.

And that melody was by Harold Arlen.

Harold Arlen, another one of our more important songwriters through the years.  Mr. Arlen who just was absolutely incredible.  I wish I could have met him, he was just magnificent, at the time when he would write some of these great, great songs, a lady by the name of Lena Horne, very popular in those days and she said that Harold Arlen was the blackest white songwriter she had ever listened to, because he understood the blues idiom so perfectly.

Fascinating.

Well when you consider, when I was a boy, Mr. Leslie, understand, when I was a boy, radio stations, which routinely played people like Billy Eckstine, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole. People who played Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five. P eople who played these records, the ones who played Jimmy Witherspoon and Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb and Sarah Vaughan and Duke Ellington, were often times accused of playing “racial records” as they were called.

 

Who was the first person to record or perform a song that you wrote?

The first person and the only person has been me.  My songs I regret to tell you are not in demand and never have been.  I’m the only one that ever did anything with them.

 

Aside from the songwriting, you’ve recorded albums. You’ve performed. You’ve conducted.  What part of music would you say you’re the most passionate about?

Well, it has to be all of them. You cannot take favorites. They all demand great concentration, great attention, it is like any other practice like that. An attorney who walks into a law case, a surgeon who goes into the operating theatre, anything like that, you must clear your mind of everything other than the job at hand and it is so vital to do this.  This is how things of this nature have to be handled and I have never really picked a favorite.

 

You told me, the last phone conversation we had that you also hosted a radio program. What did you find that experience to be like?

I had had an idea for many years that people at night, bearing in mind that the average American family works of course, five days a week usually and that now is changing and the average American family has a certain routine.  All of us, I think are married to such a thing, we get up in the morning and we have our breakfast, we kiss our spouses and our children goodbye and go off and work and we come home in the late afternoon and then there’s dinner and spending time with the kids, perhaps doing homework or whatever it is and then, as the hour goes late, when the children are in bed it is time then for the parents to have just a little bit of relaxation time, usually that comes in the form of television, obviously, but I had an idea that perhaps, since…. you remember no doubt, the great three words that would come up at nine o clock, nine thirty, ten o clock and ten thirty, “film at eleven.”’ The news would be the last thing they would see at eleven pm before they would switch off the TV set and go to sleep and I watched this year after year and having traveled the United States, all the states over and over and over again, it occurred to me that the story about the newscast today is quite correct, they say the newscaster on late night television, the newscaster opens up the hour by saying to you “good evening” and then spends the next 60 minutes informing you why it isn’t. (Paul laughs). This is of course, you know a flippant statement.  It occurred to me some time ago that maybe somebody would like to have a little bit of relaxation that would prepare them to go to sleep, so I created a radio program that was not to be run before 10:00 at night, 10:30 at night, it would run for an hour, less commercials and then it would gradually get down and down into the music, more gentle more loving, so that when the time came to turn off the radio and go to sleep, it would be the last thing people would hear at night and it was to be a kind of a electro-acoustical  tranquilizer and this was the theme of my radio program.

What was it called?
It was called “Radiance.”

 “Radiance.” In keeping with nighttime.  It seems like so many of the songs from the American Songbook had the word “moon” and so many of them included the idea of nighttime, I mean just if you want to take the example of songs Frank Sinatra recorded: “Moon River,” my goodness “Fly Me To The Moon,” he did that entire album of songs with moon in the title.
There was an album, his Producer Sonny Burke created a record called “Moonlight Sinatra,” but they did not include “Moon River” or “Fly Me To The Moon.” “Moon River” was a very famous motion picture song, which won the Academy Award that year in 1961 and “Fly Me To The Moon” is actually a misnomer. The name of that song is “In Other Words.” Everybody just calls it “Fly Me To The Moon.”
Aaaaahhh..
And that song had also an interesting situation, when the astronauts aboard Apollo 11 went out in 1969 to land on the moon for the first time, the NASA beamed “Fly Me To The Moon” to the boys in the capsule–to Collins and Armstrong and Aldrin.

Very interesting.  Of the albums that you recorded, do you have a favorite of yours?
Gee, I wouldn’t know what to say. My albums never did get any attention. My first album, when I was singing with the Sam Donahue Band that was not a favorite, that was in 1965 and I’d just become 21 years old.  I didn’t make another record album again after that until 1971 and that was my first album with Nelson Riddle, with the great Nelson Riddle who was my music teacher and that album was called “Spice” and that was a pretty good record. Afterwards there was another album in ’72 and from that I didn’t have a third album, a fourth album rather until 1977 and at that point in time, the big thing in the music world was Country music. Country music had been around for decades, but now, everybody was making Country albums and they sent me, the people I was working for at the time, they sent me to Nashville in 1977 and we made an album called “It’s Alright,” that was a pretty good record. After that I had no album until 1996.  As you can see, my records were not exactly best sellers, they were not really in demand.

The one in ’96, was that “As I Remember It”?
That was “As I Remember It.”

I happen to like that album a great deal. What inspired you to record it?
There is a great theatrical producer in New York City, a man who I worked for many times, his name is John Schreiber and he’s a marvelous show producer. John Schreiber, in 1995, became aware of the fact that Frank Sinatra, who was very much alive then, was becoming 80 years of age and he decided to have a 3-night music festival in New York City—3 concerts. Each night would begin with 80 minutes, followed by a 20 minute intermission and then 80 more minutes, and this 3 nights in a row and it was a salute to the music of Frank Sinatra and he invited Linda Ronstadt  who was the youngest.  He invited Rosemary Clooney.  He invited Jack Jones, Big Joe Williams was there, all the people who make this kind of music were invited to perform and when it got to the final 80 minutes on the final night, he gave me the entire 80 minutes and I was singing and conducting the same orchestra that I had conducted for Sinatra prior to his retirement.  So here I was sitting on a music stool at a music stand with the music in front of me, a symphony behind me with Frank Sinatra’s rhythm section and we’re in Carnegie Hall and I told people stories in the audience about where some of these great songs had come from and they were absolutely taken by this and then we would do these numbers and the reaction was quite severe and when the evening was over, I returned to my dressing room and I was introduced to a man who gave me his business card.  He was the President of the Capitol Records EMI Record Group and he said “you know, what you did down there would make just a dandy little record album” and I said “whenever you’re ready.” Now this was in the summer of 1995. In September I got called by that same gentleman and he said “we want to put you on our Angel label, which is primarily our classic label,” with this album. So we went back to New York, I hired the same orchestra who had been with me at the concert.  They were the same musicians who had played  Sinatra for year after year after year and we went and we made that album and that probably comes closer to being something of a success than any record I’ve ever made, Mr. Leslie. The record qualifies to be put in the category with movies like “Citizen Kane” and many years later “The Manchurian  Candidate,” movies that at the time of their initial release mean absolutely nothing.  Nobody even pays attention to them.  Only years later did they become famous, they call such an entity “a sleeper.” well, as I remember it, is a sleeper, today, somebody told me recently that record is for sale on eBay for $185 dollars a copy, if it can be found.

I have seen it for even more.
Well, the only thing I can tell you is, it was a great effort.  We put it together, we had the finest people in the New York music community.  Half of our strings, our French Horns and people like that were right out of the New York Philharmonic.  We had the best people, all of whom who had played Sinatra music with Sinatra through the years and we put it together with the interspersel of underscore as you’ve heard, since you seem familiar with the album and when we were finished in New York recording it, everybody in the orchestra was talking about the underscore we were doing.  There were, for example a woodwind ensemble of ‘I’m a Fool….. um… “Wee Small Hours” rather, then we had a brass choir of “I’m A Fool To Want You,” then we had a cello quartet of “My Way” and the musicians just ate it up alive.  They were just so magnificent and they wondered what all of this was about and on the last day, in the last session I said “listen everyone,  you’ve worked so hard on this and I really believe when it’s all put together and you finally get to hear it in it’s entirety, you’re going to be really happy you were a part of this.” They didn’t know what was coming in the sense of the linkage. After the music was recorded in New York, then the master tapes went out to Los Angeles to Capitol Records and I went into a little booth with the underscore coming through ear phones and at that point all the songs on that album were selected with the most total commitment.  Everything was scrupulously prepared in terms of pacing, but then I began to listen to the underscore and I started to speak my personal memories, nothing was written down, nothing was prepared.  If you are to listen to that record and you hear the narration in between the songs, that is exactly as you hear it, that is exactly as it sounds.  There was nothing prepared for that.  Nothing was written down, because as I told everybody when they said “you mean you’re going todo this off the cuff like that?”  I said “absolutely, it has to be conversational, not institutional, if we get some fool reading the Gettysburg Address, that’s exactly what it’s going to sound like, it has to be one person speaking intimately to another” and when you listen to the narration on that record there are mistakes in it, things like. that.. and I said “no, no, leave it that way.” You cannot point your finger at somebody’s head and say “prepare to be spontaneous” (Paul laughs) it is absolutely impossible, the idea was to be spontaneous and just let it flow, so that people would know they’re being talked to, not talked at, that was the theme of that album and what made it very powerful.  My sister Nancy, on her downlink radio show on XM Sinatra Channel, periodically she gets that album out and plays the entire 71 minutes and change, without interruption and they get a sensational reaction from that.

Our special guest is Frank Sinatra, Jr. The album that followed the record you just mentioned, the one that followed, “As I Remember It,” is “That Face” that came out in 2006. One of the musicians who appeared on that album, the jazz pianist, the late Bill Miller. What are your recollections of your time with him?
Bill Miller, who was the greatest accompanist that any singer has ever had, came on board in Frank Sinatra’s career way back in 1951. Frank Sinatra at that time, as still as a young man, still in his 30s and in the worst period in his career, had been hired to play in Las Vegas and he was there working and late at night he would go into the show lounge and here he would see this little jazz group playing.  They still had jazz groups in Las Vegas in those days, and here was this pianist who he had met actually, pianist from Bensonhurst, New York—from Brooklyn who had played with Charlie Barnet’s big band during the big band era and he liked the way this man played in such a minimalistic fashion and they got together and they put their heads together and they found out that they liked each other.  Bill Miller came on board with Sinatra at that point.  I was in knee pants and I can remember him at the record dates and I was already at that point in my life taking piano lessons and I was absolutely in awe of the man.  He was so beautiful, in terms of the beautiful things that he would make on the piano, and, another quality he had, he had as we say, he could read an anthill and make music out of it.  He could read anything that was put in front of him and it was absolutely incredible and I grew up with him.  I used to watch him, I used to stand by him during the Sinatra record dates year after year, and the next thing that happened, is that suddenly came 1995, a lifetime had passed, Frank Sinatra retired and Bill Miller went into retirement and some years after that, in 1998 Frank Sinatra died. For me, it was a great loss of this great talent the world knew as Frank Sinatra, but for me it was my Father.  My Father had died, always a painful experience and we were on our way to play my show just a few months after his death, at Atlantic City, New Jersey and coincidentally, it happened to be in the same hotel/casino that Frank Sinatra had appeared in when he was still working Atlantic City and I was conducting his orchestra.  So I got the idea, the real, typical idea, remember, the Wile E Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons would try to find some way to catch the Road Runner and you’d see him walk and he’d stop, hold up one finger and a light bulb would go on over his head?

Yeah.

I had an epiphanal idea, like that, one morning, when we go to the Sands Hotel, Atlantic City.  We’re going to take the whole orchestra, the strings, the horns, everything and then I got on the telephone and I called out to Burbank, California and I got Bill Miller on the phone, who had been in retirement for three years and I said “Bill, I have an idea and I wonder what you think of it, would you be interested in participating” and he said “not only would I be interested, but I’ll tell you now I’ll do it.”  So in October of 1998 we went to the Sands Hotel, Atlantic City and I came out as I always did in a tuxedo, I did 3 or 4 songs and then walked off the stage leaving the audience with the orchestra and they couldn’t figure out what was happening.  Suddenly, the orchestra began to play a very lonely  – here’s that word “mood” again you mentioned earlier Mr. Leslie – a very modal, down, unhappy, grey sky, darkness piece of music of the strings and one symphonic clarinet playing over it and through the hall came a voice-over recording, a narrative voice saying “these great showrooms late at night, when the audience is gone, the dancers are through dancing, the comics and comedians are through making people laugh, the singers are through singing, the musicians are through playing, don’t think in these old showrooms some of the spirits of people who pass through them don’t come back to visit.”. At that moment on the darkened stage the blue light lit up on Bill Miller at the piano with his trademark silver-white hair playing that famous introduction “One For My Baby And One More For The Road” that he had been doing with Sinatra as far back as 1953.  Now, it was 46 years later and he was playing and the audience gasped, because they recognized him. I came out in silhouette in dark blue… no direct light and I sang “One For My Baby” and at that time there was something of a resemblance in the dark and the audience never made a sound, you didn’t even hear a chair squeak and when the number was over and faded to black, nobody applauded. The death of Frank Sinatra had only been five months prior to that evening, and it was still very fresh in the minds of his admirers who were there that night and the lights came up slowly and I looked at them and they looked at me, a lot of them had tears in their eyes and I just nodded at them and I said “hello everybody, welcome to our show” and from that point on Bill Miller, who did not want to be in moth balls came out on the road with me and played with me for the next 8 years until 2006.  When we were at Montreal, came back doing our shows, we always did Whiteville and Bill had a heart attack and we put him into hospital and while we were in Montreal, he died and before he got sick and went into the hospital, he was still playing that Sinatra music. His daughter came to me to be with her Father when he was dying and she said “he died in harness,” I said “yes, he did,” she said to me and she hugged me, she said “you gave my Father 8 extra years of life” and I said to her, “yes, dear, I did and in return, your father gave to me and all of our people 8 extra years of his talent.” It was a beautiful symbiosis.  This is Bill Miller. This is that man who you can listen to in that wonderful Sinatra piano style.  You have an album in your collection Mr. Leslie, no doubt, called “Strangers In The Night” from that period in 1966, in which they put “Strangers In The Night” the big hit record at the front of the album and then the rest of the album was Nelson Riddle and on that album, they recorded the Burton Lane song ‘On A Clear Day’ and Nelson Riddle wrote a roaring arrangement.  As a matter of fact, next month in Atlantic City I’m going to be using that arrangement again and, in the beginning, which is just a rhythm section, listen to Bill Miller and the way he economized, the way he, can we say, “musicalized” his little ad libs that were necessary in the first 8 measures, I’m sorry, the first 4 measures of that song, I think you’ll find what I’m saying is just so beautiful.

You mentioned “mood” a moment ago. Do sad songs, or happy songs resonate with you more?No. Here again, you can’t take favorites (Paul laughs) you have to go with, as I’ve always said, happy songs and sad songs come in two categories, there are good ones that touch you, that move you, that strike a memory, and there are the ones that do not hold your attention. I was a guest recently Mr. Leslie on a film show about movies and they said “what kind of movies do you like to watch?” and I said, “well, there are all kinds of movies.  You have adventures, you have mysteries, you have comedies, you have love stories, you have musicals, you have war pictures, you have horror pictures, you have science fiction pictures, and my viewpoint is the same about every darn one of them, there are good ones and there are bad ones” and I always had this attitude, when I was a kid, I loved science fiction movies and they made some beautiful pictures, when I was a little boy in the early fifties they made a movie ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, they made ‘The War Of The Worlds’, the George Powel picture, which holds up today and these movies, people who didn’t like science fiction loved them, because they were such great theatre, they were such great movies, at the same time, in the Sci-Fi era, you have “A Thing with a Face” and then a sequel, “A Face with a Thing” and then they’d do “A Thing with a Face in It’s Thing,” and then they’d do “A Face with a Thing In It’s Face” and things like that.  They’d made the cheapos, the real dumb ones.  So you have to be selective and for me, picking music is just like that, you have to go with the good ones, the happy songs are magnificent.  You know what I mean?

Yeah, definitely.
And at the same time the sad songs on your “That Face” album, the last one that I recorded Mr. Leslie, there is a song, written by a magnificent talent in New York, a man named Rupert Holmes, there’s a song called “The People That You Never Get To Love” and I heard this song when it was new, and it lifted me right off the chair I was sitting on, and I said “where did you get this little puppy?” Somebody brought me an LP out and I heard this song and I had Nelson Riddle write the arrangement which you now hear on my album made in 2006 “That Face” and the reason why I had that arrangement written was for Frank Sinatra.  That was the kind of song that HE could sing and I brought it to him with Nelson Riddle’s magnificent arrangement.  One afternoon we were rehearsing for the opening of his show that night, he came in and I said to him “Dad, you’ve got to hear this, listen to this song” and I conducted it and sang it for him and he said… and his eyes got big and he said “where did you find this little mumser?” (Paul laughs) and I… his reaction was exactly what mine had been and I said “there’s a guy in New York who is a magnificent talent and he is brilliant and he has a song he wrote that no one’s going to hear and Sinatra, Mr. Leslie, wanted to record it and unfortunately he didn’t live to record it, but this is what I mean about being selective, about picking the good songs.

 On the note of picking the good songs, one of the songs you recorded on that album “I Was A Fool” composed by Barry Manilow, with lyrics by Marty Panzer.  How did you come to be exposed to that song?
It was on one of Mr. Manilow’s albums, I think it was called “Even Now,” excellent album, Barry Manilow is one of the biggest musical talents to hit the recording industry in decades and unfortunately we’re talking about the ’70s. I wonder, if Barry Manilow were 35, 40 years younger, right now, and just getting started, if anybody in the quote ‘music community’ unquote, would even pay attention to him. His songs have melodies, they have harmonic changes, they are intelligent, they are musical, and this is the kind of thing that no longer seems to matter anymore. The greatest oxymoron that has ever come across the English Language is “rap music” (Paul laughs) as it… well, we call it “crap music,” but getting at what we’re saying here, Manilow is a genius, always has been. Do you know how Barry Manilow became famous?

Well, I know that he originally wrote jingles.
He wrote “You Deserve A Break Today,” at McDonald’s, he wrote the “I’m Pepsi Generation” “You Be You, I’ll Be Me.” He wrote commercials and somebody said, “you can’t do this, you’ve got to write songs’ and he did, oh boy, did he, so on that album, I think it was called ‘Even Now’, there was a song called ‘Even Now,’ very nice song that he wrote, this song ‘I Was A Fool’, and I thought at the time, when I was Frank Sinatra’s music director, he came to me and he said “I want to make an album, all ballads and swing and they have to be songs I have never sung before.” I said, “Oh is that all?” So I put down “The People That You Never Get To Love”, he had never sung before and then I said “What about I Was a Fool?” I had an orchestration written, he liked it very much, and he listened to it with great attention and he loved that lyric, ‘after I’ve had my last cigarette and the night is as dark as the night’s gonna get,” that’s the kind of Sinatra blues song that has existed for decades, that was another song that was selected to be on one of his albums. Unfortunately he didn’t live to record it, just like the other song I mentioned to you, so I recorded it on “That Face,”  we already had the orchestration and I love that song and I’m a huge admirer of the lyricist of that tune, who I have never met, and also Barry Manilow, who I know slightly and this is the kind of music I mean, by being selective.

One of the greats, in terms of songwriters would be Jimmy Van Heusen, you performed a lot of his songs throughout the years and recorded some of them. Did you meet the man himself?
I used to sit on his knee at the dinner table when I was three years old.

What was the man himself like?
Jimmy Van Heusen was the brunt of a whole bunch of jokes, because he had come from… my God if he were alive right now, he would be 101. Jimmy Van Heusen came from Syracuse, New York and his name was Chester Babcock, and when my Father would get him on the telephone, if he would call my Father for example, my Father would pick up the phone, he’d say “Chester” and he would always tease him and Jimmy Van Heusen and the great lyricist Johnny Burke wrote all of the songs for “The Road Pictures,” with Crosby, Hope and Lamour, if you like those movies. All of the great tunes that they did “Moonflowers,” “But Beautiful,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” all were written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke for ‘The Road Pictures’, and to show you how they loved to ‘zing’ Van Heusen, the last road picture, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, which was made in 1962 was called “The Road To Hong Kong,” and the character in that movie that Bob Hope played, the character name was “Chester Babcock,” they did that just to sing Van Heusen, which they did with great frequency and at the time he got a big kick out of that, but as you can imagine, that was a little bit “inside,” nobody on the outside knew about that, they were ‘zinging’ Van Heusen, but you’ve asked me a question, I’ll try to answer you, he was a very intelligent and very, very capable man. Jimmy Van Heusen, growing up, as I said in Syracuse, New York, as a young boy, he became fascinated with airplanes.  He took a pilot’s license at a very, very young age and logged hundreds and thousands of flying hours.  He was a great expert, so much so, that when World War II broke out, Jimmy Van Heusen was hired by Lockheed Aircraft as a top security Lockheed test pilot. If you know anything about the air weapons that we had at our disposal during the war, there was a magnificent tactical fighter plane called the P38, the Lockheed Lightening.  It had 2 booms for 2 rudders, a common elevator and 2 engines, it was very maneuverable, it was deadly and Jimmy Van Heusen at Lockheed Aircraft was the Chief Test Pilot on that prototype, so here’s a man who won 3 Academy Awards for movies, and one of the first TV Emmys, as one of the first big hit songs that ever came from television and this is what the man was about and when I first started… you asked me when I did songs that I had written, on that first album I made with Nelson Riddle in 1971, I wrote 3 songs on that record.  The title song which was called ‘Spice,’ it was re-recorded on your ‘That Face’ album again in 2006, and when the original was made, so many years ago, almost 40 years ago now, I happened to be working in Palm Springs, California which is where Van Heusen made his home and he came to hear our shows.  He always did, and I used to tell the band leader I was working with then, I used to say to him “wind up all the Van Heusen tunes” and we would do a show that was almost totally Jimmy Van Heusen and he would sit there, have his drinks and have a marvelous time and on this one night when the show was over, I said “Jim, I just made my first album with Nelson Riddle, and I want you to hear a couple of the songs that I have written on that album,”  Well, he couldn’t wait, he listened to the songs twice, over and over again and he listened and said “what was that line?” and he kept listening and listening and finally, when it was done, because I had written the lyrics as well as the melody, he smiled at me, a little bit paternally and he said “well, seems that Sammy and I have taught you fairly well,” I said “Yeah, I would say you did”.

Of the composers and lyricists in the American Songbook that you met, was there any commonality you found with those people who wrote this music?
Commonality?

Yeah, was there anything that a lot of the composers and lyricists had in common?  I mean aside from their genius.
Yes.  One thing: a lifetime of dedication, they didn’t do anything half way and they did not just get into it as a whim and suddenly decide there was a lot of money to be made with it and so they would start doing this, until of course the reason for it was gone.  You know, you were talking about the era of the garage bands that we live in today. As it happens, some of these amateur people come up with something that becomes a local sensation, then it begins to proliferate into other geographic locations.  Some record company people hear this and they decide there’s money to be made, so they start promoting it and the next thing you know that particular selection, like that suddenly becomes a phenomenal recording record success and the people involved walk away with a couple of millions of dollars and that is just absolutely magnificent, but after that, the magic is gone.  You never hear from them again, and this is the difference between the real composers and the real lyricists and the amateurs.  They come up with something that somehow becomes a fluke and ‘hits’ for an instant. Years later, somebody will play that record “oh I remember them, wonder whatever happened to them.” There was, when I was in my 20s, Mr. Leslie, there was a big hit record in the mid 60s called ‘Winchester Cathedral’ and this is one of the dumbest things you ever heard in your life, but they had a novelty.  They hired somebody to be on this record, who played of all things, the bassoon, which rock ‘n roll children had never even heard of and with this thought in mind, it became a fluke.  It was like a novelty and it sold millions and millions of records and as it happened, this group, you never heard from them again. After that they vanished and where they are today, who knows? You know admittedly, many, many years ago… but all I’m getting at is, when those records became hits, all the big singers of the day, including Sinatra, had to record that song, and he did it in order to sell the records.  He had his own record company and they needed to keep his records on the charts, he hated doing it, but he bit the bullet, and he had to record so many of these tunes at the time, and this is the difference, in answer to your question of what it is that the real songwriters, the real lyricists had.  They dedicate their entire lives to these things, they have countless failures, but after they have had a success, they now come back, hopefully with another success, and this has made the careers of all the great music writers for our musical plays.  Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, these are people who are absolutely devoted to what it is that it takes to be a professional songwriter or lyricist.

There aren’t many recording artists that are recording these songs anymore, despite their incredible quality, I mean nobody can disagree that these songs are just incredible. There’s the ones that Rod Stewart recorded, Harry Connick Jr, recently Gloria Estefan did an album of American Songbook. Who do you think is doing the best job at carrying on the torch of singing these tunes?
The first on the list would have to be a lady named Diana Krall.
Oh yeah.
Diana Krall, for me, is the finest talent around today.  She is absolutely magnificent, she sings beautifully, she is a magnificent jazz pianist and she has done all of this for me.  Another person who got into it for a time and then regrettably stopped, was Carly Simon.

Oh yeah.
Many years ago Carly Simon made a record album called “Torch,” of all the sad songs, and it is absolutely magnificent, even now it’s magnificent and Rod Stewart who I have met, I don’t know him well, Rod Stewart, really was not deeply into,”’If You Think I’m Sexy and you Want my Body,” which he did to get himself famous and once he became accepted as a great recording artist, he then moved into the music that he believed in, he’s made many, many wonderful albums of, as you say, the Great American Songbook.  He’s become very, very good at it, you’ve got this young kid, this Canadian kid Michael Buble now, they are doing this music, and it’s good to know that someone still has this kind of thing. I have a young friend, I must tell you, Mr. Leslie, it’s a man I met who comes from Baltimore in Maryland, he’s in his early 30s and his name is Dale Corn.  Dale Corn is a big band singer, he works with a big band at Baltimore, he’s made albums, pretty decent singer and he loves the jazz, he loves to come and hang out with me when I’m working nearby and he’s wonderful, and here’s a guy that I hope you will look into and begin to use his music, cause it’s pretty good, and his vocation, how he makes his living, you wouldn’t believe if I were to tell you.

What’s that?
He is a yard engineer on the CSX, on the Chessy, he’s been working on the railroad, he is a railroad engineer.

Interesting.
You know those yellow switch engines when you go by a railroad yard, it says ‘CSX’?

Yes.
Well, he is an engineer on the Chessy, on consolidated and he is also a big band singer, he’s very good and he’s had some wonderful records with wonderful orchestrations and if you look him up on the internet, you will find him and you should have his records, they are pretty good, this is another guy who makes that music, I think he’s in his early 30s.  The difference between he and Michael Buble and the others is that he’s not famous, but there are those very, very few who do this thing, and then of course there are people in radio, the die hards, like you who are.. and they’re going to call you all kinds of names in the younger community, they’re going to call you a dinosaur, when I’m on the stage working, I tell the audience that the younger people come to my show and they call me ‘Jurassic Park,’ which is a good description for me, that’s what I am, and this is the fact and you will be criticized as well, because you’re into this kind of music. Do you remember I told you I had a radio show years ago?

Right.
Okay.  The radio station that ran my show, and this is over ten years ago now, they were the good music station in Los Angeles where I lived and at that time they had a wonderful following in their audience, their radio audience, but of course, the bean counters upstairs, did not like the fact… “well, yes, if you’re making us 2 dollars, why aren’t you making us 5 dollars?” And when they came up with 5 dollars, then the bean counters said “well, why aren’t you making us 12 dollars?” So they first changed the format of the station, they made it a Latin music station.  They were not happy with that, now it’s a talk station about sports.

Huh.
And I’m sure in your career in radio, you told me that your show is broadcast in several different markets, you’re going to have the same thing. There’s a man, Mr. Leslie, at Philadelphia, who started on Friday afternoons, a show called ‘Friday With Frank,’,he just plays Sinatra records.  Then he graduated to Saturday, with ‘Saturday With Sinatra’ and ‘Sunday With Sinatra.’ This man’s name is Sid Mark and he has been doing the Sinatra radio programs for 58 years. Every time I go to Atlantic City, which is coming up in just a couple of weeks now, right after Labor Day, I have to go through the airport at Philadelphia and I always stop at Philadelphia and go to do Sid’s radio program, so that I’m with him and he is getting along in years now, but imagine, he has done the Sinatra show for 58 years and as it happens, he has interviewed everybody who has anything to do with Sinatra, including Sinatra himself.  At the same time I have been a guest on his program for over 40 years now and he has had to go from one radio station to another. All of a sudden, the star chamber upstairs, the administration changes. In comes some new regime and they say “what do we need with this old man playing this elevator music for?” So he has probably been, since I’ve known him, on 7 or 8 different radio stations.  Yet, they still keep him on the air, and if you’re going to be dedicated as you seem to be, Mr. Leslie, to this music, you’d better be prepared for that, because it’s going to hit you too. The bean counters are going to say “We like the music you play personally, but we think there’s a bigger market for rock and for talk radio and things like that.”

No doubt.
Forgive me, forgive me if I sounded like I was lecturing you, but this is the benefit of my experience.

Oh no, I mean I have encountered plenty of people who said “yeah, that’s great, but why don’t you do this? Or why don’t you do something that’s on the charts?” But I’ve never been able to do something that I didn’t like (Paul laughs).
Well, this is the way of things today.

What do you think about Robert Davi?
Robert Davi is a very old friend, and I’m glad that he has decided if he’s going to go into music, I’m very, very glad that he too has dedicated himself to this kind of music. He’s an excellent actor.  He was one of the bad guys in the James Bond pictures and he is a wonderful talent and he tells people when they ask him, he got his break in movies from Frank Sinatra who hired him for a picture back in the 70s. He’s a fine talent and he goes into this kind of music now and I’m delighted, as I say, that if he’s going to do this, this is the music he’s picked, but then again, just like the rest of us, he will be facing some difficult times because the audience for this music, that you have embraced, that I have dedicated my life to, and that Robert Davi is now doing, that audience is the minuscule minority of what’s out there.

What is the best thing about being Frank Sinatra, Jr.?
The experience of having in present, meeting so many of these people, great people like that, that created all of this wonderful, wonderful music, lyric, movies, radio, television, records.  You name it and hopefully just picking up now and again and a few droppings from these brains, these great, great brains and this has been my prize possession as I look back.

In addition to being on the radio, we’re going to put this interview online so people can access it from anywhere in the world. What do you want to say to anyone who’s listening in?
They have a lot of patience. (Paul laughs) If they can listen to my ramblings, which tend to become quite lengthy and I apologize for that, they must have a great deal of patience.

 Could you pick a song that you have sung or recorded that best describes you?
Me?

Yes.
No, I couldn’t do that, I really wouldn’t know what to say, there’s so many songs, which are so important through the years, you know, and I’ve recorded as a singer for the number of years I’ve been in this business, I have recorded actually a very small number of released records, because nobody ever wanted my records and as it happens, this is just a fact, you know.  As I was saying, it occurs to me that I could never pick just one specific number like that then have it, you know, as my song.

I have two final questions, this first one is kind of just a light-hearted one. What is your all-time favorite meal?
Breakfast. Oh Bacon and eggs, some nice toast, things like that. I’m just a home-spun boy at heart I guess.

My last question. Who is Frank Sinatra, Jr.?
Who is Frank Sinatra Jr? Frank Sinatra Jr today is an old man who tells people, you want to put this in a third person, tells people that “he” was never famous, he just had a famous name, and as it happens, the only thing I believe to really justify his life, if there are those philosophic people who say that every man’s life has to be justified, the only thing that could be said that he justified his life with, is that he practiced what he believed in, devoutly , and it cost him a lot of hungry nights, but then again this was a lesson that he had learned from his Father before him, and his Grandfather before his Father, and I believe that that still stands for something and might be on a tombstone, it might be an epitaph, but the fact is he did practice what he believed devoutly.

Beautifully stated, Mr. Sinatra, thank you very, very much for your time and thank you very much for this interview. I appreciate it so much.
I hope it’s of some use to you, I can’t imagine what, but you know, you might want to line the bird cage with it if you type it out, (Paul laughs) but as it happens you asked me some… ummm… some philosophic-style questions, I’ve tried to answer you in kind.

Well I thank you again, it’s been enjoyable, I looked forward to it and it was worth the wait.
Okay, thank you very much for your interest in what it is I do and I hope that you continue to devote yourself to this music, because I would very much like to believe that it’s going to sustain.

TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON

David Martin: singer-songwriter

David Martin lives and breathes the songs.  Chances are, you’ve heard something David Martin wrote.  His songs have sold over 26 million records around the world, but all stories have a beginning.  For the British singer-songwriter, he began his career as a member of the group Butterscotch on RCA Records.  Soon after, he formed a songwriting partnership with Chris Arnold and Geoff Morrow.  The partnership resulted in many the composition of many songs recorded by the true legends of recorded music, including Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Wayne Newton, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Mama Cass.  Many others would perform and record their well crafted songs.

One of the songs David Martin would write has brought many smiles to the world.  David Martin’s song “Can’t Smile Without You” would become a pop standard and worldwide hit after being recorded by Barry Manilow.  Manilow was not the first, nor the last artist to record the song.  The Carpenters, Engelbert Humperdinck, Vic Damone, Andy Williams, Gino Cunico and others would perform and record their own versions.  The song has been performed countless times in concert and featured in motion pictures as well as earning Martin three BMI awards for over 3 million airplays.

Although he has written and continues to write songs, he is still very much a singer.  As a songwriter, he has a great admiration for the great songwriters of the American Songbook, those great lyricists and composers who wrote the standards: Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Sammy Cahn.  It is his love for these American classics that resulted in his new album “Silky Smooth Moments.”  Accompanied by the Terry Coffey Trio, David Martin sings such standards as “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” as well as one written by David Martin himself.

It’s a beautiful gesture from David Martin.  Although he has accomplished so much with his own songs, he pays tribute to the great songwriters who came before him.  We invite you into the world and passion of David Martin, where songs with great messages never die.  They endure.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to welcome this man, he’s a singer, song writer, his name is David Martin and he has a brand new album ‘Silky Smooth Moments,’ welcome.
Thank you Paul and thank you for inviting me to be part of your show, I’m really looking forward to speaking with you.

The pleasure is all ours, I think most stories are best from the beginning, what was life like growing up?
Well, you know, it was pretty tough, happy, very happy, I had a… thank God a very happy home life with my parents, we had… the best years I can remember were  in West London, where… in a little place called Hammersmith, which is a pretty throbbing place these days, and it was a happy time really, I was an only child, strange as it may seem and a lot of time in those days just spent playing on the street, which is kind of different to how it is now, because now a days people don’t let their children go out on the street understandably, but it was happy and we had fun and you know, I was kind of a young sporty, I did a lot of sport as a young kid and my school days were great, so, I’d have to say, didn’t have lots of money, but in those days, you know, it didn’t matter, in fact in these days it doesn’t matter really, cause money is just a thing isn’t it really, yeah, I’d have to say that I had a fundamental, happy home life and it was a good start for me to enter into the big, wide world.

Was it a very musical household?
My Father was very, very musical, well, I think it’s a 50-50 situation, my Father had an amazing operatic voice, although by trade, funnily enough a bit like Perry Como, he was a hairdresser by trade and he never ever took his singing seriously, but he had a great, powerful, strong voice and on my Father’s side, he had a Great Aunt who had two children and one of them was a lady called May and he remembers vividly when he was a child, that they would spend weekends, evenings, weekends with May sitting at the piano, thumping out tunes and everybody would be singing away, so, I think it’s my Father’s side where that musical strain came from.

And when did you realise that you had a musical talent?
I realised that Paul as long ago as when I was seven years of age, I remember being in a playground with a friend at school, and we were walking, just walking across the playground and I was singing away, singing away something or another and he said to me “oh that’s really nice, what song is that you’re singing?”, and I said “I don’t know I must have heard it on the radio,” so I kind of listened out for a few days and didn’t hear this song and realised that at the age of seven I had actually made a song up. That’s when I realised I had that gift really and to be honest I’ve been making songs up ever since. (David and Paul laugh)

So you think the ability to write songs was something you were pretty much born with?
Oh there’s no question about it, there is no question, it has always come very naturally to me it’s always been something that…. you know, you could say to me now, I mean if you could come up with a song called  Paul Leslie Show, I can probably do it on the spot. It’s one of those things which, it’s always been there, I kind of have a… I can wake up in the middle of the night with a whole melody going through my head, or I can be in the car or whatever, and it’s just always been there, it took some years for me to develop it and own it and in actual fact, I mean jumping forward a bit, when I was first signed as a singer, ’cause I started out as a singer, but I was signed to a record label called Pie Records, and it was then that it really started properly, because the record producer said to me, you know, “we’re going to go out and look for some material today” and I went all around the publishers with him and they played these songs, most of which I thought were pretty boring and he just happened to say “do you write yourself?” And I said “ohyeah, sure”, you know, kind of bluffing it really, and I went home and wrote a couple of songs and we put them on a recording session, and that’s really  how it started out, then I realised that I had something which was approaching something professional, it’s always been there.

What about the group ‘Butterscotch’ how did you come to be in that group?
By that time, I had two writing partners, Geoff Morrow and Chris Arnold. Chris Arnold, Geoff Morrow and we were known in the industry as Arnold, Martin and Morrow and we were kind of jumping, working songwriters, writing away trying to get artists to record our songs, in the middle of this wave of euphoric activity, a record came out which was number one in the USA, I’m sure your listeners will know it called ‘Love Goes Where My Rosemary Goes’ and a pal of mine called Tony Burrows was the lead singer on that record. It shot to number one in the UK, shot to number one in the USA and the bizarre thing was that I started getting telephone calls from friends saying “oh, we’ve heard this fantastic single that you’re singing on David and how fantastic for you” and I said “well it is a great single, but it’s not me singing.” (David and Paul laugh) it’s actually Tony Burrows, ’cause we both have kind of a similar kind of sounding voice I guess, but what that did was, made me think we’ll maybe we should do something like that, so Geoff, Chris and I put our heads together and we came up with this song, ‘Don’t you know, She Said Hello’ and I did the vocal and we decided to call it… call the band ‘Butterscotch,’ and it was a bit hit in the UK, so that’s how that happened, it was kind of triggered from one thing that led to something else and that’s how that happened.

Going back then, before that, you mentioned Chris Arnold and Geoff Morrow, the songwriters that you wrote so many songs with, what circumstance led you to meet them.
You know, it’s the old story, isn’t it Paul, we all lived in… at that time I’d grown up and I was engaged, or about to be married, I can’t remember at what stage, but we all… I’d moved well away from West London and I was now living in North London, and they were living in North London as well, so we knew each other socially and they were song writers, Geoff and Chris and I was a vocalist, ’cause I’d signed my deals I said just now with Pie, so although we were great friends, it was one of those situations where they wrote songs and didn’t really tell me much about what they were doing and I was kind of trying to make my way as an artist, and so we were friends but weren’t really involved together, until one day Jeff called me up and said “look, we’ve got this song that we’ve written for Billy Fury, do you remember Billy Fury, Paul?

I have to be honest, I don’t know that name.
Well, Billy Fury was a massive artist in the UK and I’m going about the late, late sixties, into the seventies, he was a really big, big artist over here and he had a lot of big hits, ‘Half Way To Paradise’ and all sorts of things, they had this song that they’d written and Geoff said to me, you know, “would you be interested in demoing the song for us, doing a demo of the song?” I said “yeah, I’d love to,” I went over to their place one evening where they used to work, and they played me this song, which was called ‘In Thoughts Of You’ and half way through the song or when the song ended, I said “yeah, I love the song, I’m happy to do it” I said, “but, I hope you don’t my saying so, I think the middle section’s a bit weak and Geoff said “what do you mean, what’s wrong with it?” and Chris wasn’t very happy with me making that comment (Paul laughs), I said “well, I just think.. I don’t think it’s really going anywhere, I think it needs to…”well, what would you do with it?” Said Geoff, I said “well, okay, play it again,” so they played it again and I said “well I think I would do this, and suggested a couple of changes, which in fact they made, I did the demo, Billy Fury recorded it, it went top five in the UK and then Geoff approached me and said “look, why don’t we work together as a team?” So I said “okay, fine” and that’s how it started.

Of the songs that the three of you wrote, could you pick a best interpretation of a song that you wrote?
Do you know, it’s a really good question, it’s a really good question because the thing about writing songs… I mean at the beginning you’re only too happy for anybody to take the trouble to record something you write, I mean, you’re desperately trying to get your songs covered by anybody, you get over that stage after a while, because sometimes what happens is, you write a song, and people record it and when you hear it, sometimes you get quite disappointed because you don’t feel they’ve treated it in the way that you would like them to have done, I think there are two answers to that question, if I may, one of them has to be the Presley version, Elvis Presley version of our song called ‘This Is The Story,’ the reason why I say that is because we did a demo of the song, obviously aimed for him, I tried to do, dare I say, my best Elvis Presley impression I could, although I didn’t sound anything like him, but I did a really… tried to get the essence of it if you like and when we heard the recording, it was absolutely fantastic because it was exactly the way we demoed it and the phrasing and everything, I think that was one of the best. The other one was a song that Cliff Richard recorded of ours, called “So Long,” which is a really beautiful recording and one of the best lyrics I think that Chris wrote, ’cause Chris in those days wrote most of the lyric and Jeff and I did most of the melodies in those days. Cliff did the song ‘So Long’, which sadly ended up on the ‘B’ side of a single, but I think we all felt should have been an ‘A’ side and would have been a very big hit in this country, so I would say those two songs stand out for me.

The number of artists have recorded all the songs that you guys wrote, you mentioned Elvis Presley recorded a few of those songs, but then you mentioned Cliff Richard, has there been an artist that you had an emotional attachment to that you were just had a over the moon that they recorded one of your songs?
Well, I mean, you know, you’d have to say, again, there’s a wonderful answer, we had a song called ‘Who In The World’ that was recorded by Mama Cass which was fabulous and always comes back every time I suppose, to ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ Barry Manilow, which is impossible not to be emotional about it, I mean, it was a most fabulous recording and I think even though, funnily enough a number of recordings before he did it, when he did it, I think he made it into the essential recording of that song, you see, it’s a very good question Paul, because you get very mixed emotions when artists record your songs and I think the Mama Cass version of ‘Where In The World’ was just gorgeous really, beautiful, beautiful recording.

 A second ago you mentioned the song ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ and I suppose as a great testament to what a great song it is, it’s been recorded by Barry Manilow, The Carpenters, Engelbert Humperdinck, Vic Damone even  recorded it, the late Andy Williams, why do you think it is, because people universally seem to love that song. Why do you think it’s so beloved?
It’s a very good.. these questions are very good questions, because if we only knew, if one even had a clue, it’s so difficult to understand what makes this one song stand head and shoulders above another one, I mean, again, the story behind that song was a fascinating one because it was during the time of my marriage to a lady called Debbie and she had a greeting card shop in Hampstead, North London, I went and picked her up to take her home one night in Hampstead… we lived in a place called Harrow and when I arrived, she gave me an envelope and in the envelope was a plain blue card, with a small badge on it with a tear, and I opened the card and it just said ‘can’t smile without you’ and I thought ‘well, a brilliant song title’, so by the time we got to Harrow, which is about thirty minutes from Hampstead, to be honest the song was written and I actually recorded it, the first recording of the song and from that recording, all these other recordings were emanated, and our publisher at the time was an American guy in America, we were with Dick James Music, with a guy called Arthur Braun in America and he had great beliefs in the song and he went running around with this song and first, when he went to see Clive Davis, Clive played it for Barry Manilow, who kind of, actually passed on the song and they recorded it on Arista with a new up and coming guy called Gino Cunico.
Oh yes.
Do you remember that?
I have that vinyl album.
You do.. fantastic, and then, as you say Engelbert Humperdinck did it and this one did it, a UK guy called Des O’Connor did it, and also, The Carpenters recorded it and it was one of these songs that kept on being picked up, until of course, Barry picked it up, eventually Clive persuaded him to do it and the rest I guess is history, but, you know, to answer the question, it’s really difficult, because when a song is written, as the writer of it, you have a ‘thing’ about it, you kind of like it, or love it, or whatever, but you have no way of knowing whether that song is going to end up being a world monster or not, it’s very difficult to understand, I think what it is, is that the message and the style and everything about it resonates so strongly with people and perhaps they recognise their own situation in the song, which is what makes them make it their own. I remember going to the O2 a couple of years ago, ’cause Barry was over here at the O2 Arena, 25,000 people and when he just played the introduction, and he whistled (David whistles the intro) just whistles the introduction, the whole place, 25,000 people stood on their feet and sang the song from beginning to end with him all the way through, now that was emotional experience, I can assure you.

 On that note, there’s a picture on your web site, everyone can go to the web site, it’s davidmartinsingersongwriter.com, there’s a picture of you and Mr. Manilow together.
There is indeed, yeah.

Well, there is an article recently where Barry Manilow was talking about that song, all these years later, since it was originally recorded, he was talking about his fondness for that song. I am wondering what your personal experiences have been like with Mr. Manilow.
He really is an absolute lovely, lovely sweet man, very… you know… what you see is what you get, and I’ve on and off been speaking to him for all these years, I mean we’re talking about twenty five years, well, where were we when he first recorded it? Seventy… wait a minute… he recorded it in… it was a hit in America in 1976 I think, so we’re talking twenty four… we’re coming up to thirty, thirty nine years ago that he did the song, the last time I saw him was at the O2 as I think I mentioned, I said “Barry,” I said “you know, we’ve been involved with this song for so long,” he said, he said “David”, he said “it’s kind of like ‘Yesterday,’” he said and “may it carry on for another thirty odd years”,  you know, he said, he’s a really lovely person and very articulate, very much involved in his career and how he comes across for the public in terms of his vocal and everything else and he’s very professional, and a great guy, with a beautiful voice, which seems to do the trick wherever he goes.

Our special guest is David Martin. I wanted to bring everybody up to the present, you have this brand new album out, it’s entitled ‘Silky Smooth Moments.’
Right.

Just to tell everybody a little bit about it, most of the tracks… you have a song you wrote on there, but most of the tracks are the classics from The American Songbook.
Yes.

What is it about the American Songbook that made you want to record an album of standards?
Well, obviously like everything in my life, there’s always a story behind it, it’s just simply this, as I mentioned to you Paul when we started talking, I began.. I started out as a singer, I was never intending to become a songwriter to be honest, I started out as a singer and in the UK I was travelling around doing little clubs in army bases ’cause in those days you had a lot of army bases over here, entertaining US troops and stuff like that, and most of the songs that I did in those days were these kind of standard songs, and then lo and behold, about, I suppose about two years ago now, eighteen months, two years ago, I got a call from a friend of mine, a promoter friend of mine who puts on concerts and shows and he said “David,” he said, “I don’t know if you’d be interested,” he said “but I’m putting on an American Songbook show, would you be interested in taking part, you know, as one of the artists in the show?” So I said “Well, why not, I’d love to, be lovely to go back to all those beautiful songs again.”

So I did this show for him, which was called ‘The Seasonal Great American Songbook,’ ’cause it was heading into the Christmas period, and the show ran for about five weeks in a small theatre called ‘The New End Theatre’ in North London, and we got pretty good people turning out and during the course of the show, which was really enjoyable, I got a lot of reviews from people and also a lot of… a lot of comments from all sorts of people, and in the reviews that I got, they were referring to me as the ‘honey voiced David Martin,’  ‘listening to David Martin is like listening to confectionary,’ ‘silky tones’ etcetera, and I thought ‘this is really lovely’ and I pitched the songs pretty low in this show, because I was singing with a girl called Sarah Parry who had a big, strong kind of, very big voice and I thought it might be nice if I pitched all my songs really low, so having got all this reaction, I thought it might be a nice idea to go in the studio and see what the voice sounds like with these kind of songs in this low register, so that’s how it all started Paul, and I went in and recorded two or three songs, everybody got so excited because… a little trio got.. trio together, and we ended up actually recording 16 songs, of which ended up… there’s about 11 on the album, one of which is ‘Silky Smooth Moments’ and that song came about because the engineer on the session kept saying ‘God, this sounds so silky smooth’, so we thought, ‘oh great idea, I just called it ‘Silky Smooth Moments,’ and then me as song writer, couldn’t resist coming up with a song called ‘Silky Smooth Moments.’

 The wonderful thing is that a lot of my peers over here in the industry, have heard it and said to me ‘you know, I think this is like a standard song waiting to happen’, so you couldn’t ask for more praise for a song than that, I’m pretty proud of it and actually pretty proud of the album too, I think it’s one of the nicest works I’ve done, so that’s the story behind it, the song called ‘Silky Smooth Moments.’ Obviously I wanted it to be in the same genre as the songs on the album, something in my brain kind of ‘clicks’ and very, very quickly, songs started to form and shape and came out as it was, so I wouldn’t say that I was thinking about any particular song writer, or I was influenced in any way, I think style of the songs written in that period by Irving Berlin, by Cole Porter, etcetera has made an imprint in my mind, so that when I go in to that songwriting mode, it comes out, very much in that style, it’s the best way I can answer it Paul.

 You mentioned a second ago Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.  What are your favourite composers and lyricists from that Tin Pan Alley era?
I’ve got to say Irving Berlin, I’ve got to say Cole Porter, I’ve got to say Sammy Cahn, Johnny Mercer, fabulous, brilliant writers and if you like, more latterly, Henry Mancini is a great writer, Harold Arlen who wrote ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ I mean these songs frankly, absolutely on a strarter which is top, top, top quality songs, and then if I… I went to a… some years ago now I think, probably going back about 25/30 years, but I went to a celebration dinner in London at a big, one of the swanky hotels on Park Lane in London, and it was in celebration and tribute to the great writer Sammy Cahn who wrote as you know ‘All The Way’ to Sinatra and ‘Second Time Around’ and one of the tracks, I think, ‘Teach Me Tonight’ on the album, he was a giant writer on. I arrived at the… at the hotel and as I walked into the reception area where there must have been about at least 200 people, it was a bit like the parting of the waves, it was coming sort of like a parting of the space and through the middle of this space walking directly towards me was Sammy Cahn himself.
Oh wow.
So I… well, I thought ‘well, I’d better take the opportunity while I’ve got it,’ so as he walked toward… I think he might have been going to the gents, to the gents room, I don’t know, but as he walked towards me, I sort of extended my hand and he took it and I said “I just somehow, just wanted to shake your hand and say ‘thank you for the wonderful, wonderful pleasure that you’ve given me and millions of other people at the same time and may you go on for many, many, many, many, many years,'” he said “well David,” he said “what’s your name?” I said “David Martin” I said “I’m one of the newer breed on the block, one of the new kids on the block” and he said to me “well ummm”, he said “I don’t know you David” he said, “but you must have done something right for you to have been invited to be here”, he said “and if I can give you any words of wisdom it’s this”, he said “stick with what you know best, do what you know best, don’t allow yourself to be influenced by other stars and other people and all the rest of it”, he said “you just stick to what you do best”, he said “and your style will come in to fashion, go out of fashion and come back again,” he said, “but that, I think is the best advice I can give you.” I’ve always kind of remembered those words and there’s a lot to be said for it too.

Thank you very much for sharing that story, that was incredibly interesting. I can’t imagine what it was like to meet him.
It was just… it was one of those enjoyable moments in your life, because he was a very cute, smart, perceptive man and also had a lovely sort of style of fun about him, I think that’s the thing about song writers, you know, we’re all a bit crazy to be honest and we all see life in a funny way, and we all have fun and pull each other’s leg and, but when we get down to it, we do the business, but unless you’ve got a sense of humour, I don’t think you can be a song writer to be honest.

The album, is there a favorite track on the album?
Obviously I ‘m going to push mine to one side, because like I say, I’m very proud of it, but if I had a favorite track of all the other tracks, I’d have to say it was ‘Wee Small Hours Of The Morning,’ I just adore the song, I can’t imagine being able to improve on the vocal that I’ve done, ’cause you know we singers always think we can do better, but I can’t… listened to the album a few time and that track for me, stands out, I’m really, really proud of it.  Love the song. I love the track.

That is the one that also caught my ear.
Wow.                                                                                          

That one, you did that one very well.
Ahhhh, thank you Paul. Thank you very much.

 On that note, what vocalists have influenced you the most?
Well, I’d have to give you different branches of music for that, first of all, in the genre apropos the album, I ‘d have to say Nat King Cole, probably rates as my favorite singer of all time, I  just, when I heard him as a young lad walking through a store in London, I couldn’t be more than 10 or 12, and I was walking, I think, with my Mother through a store and suddenly this voice came out through the store speakers and I remember being routed to the spot, thinking to myself ‘if this is a human being, it’s so utterly beautiful and perfect’, I couldn’t believe it, so Nat King Cole is just, for me, a most wonderful singer. But I love Frank Sinatra, I love Tony Bennett, I love Michael Bublé who I think does a fantastic job these days, great singer, obviously I love Barry Manilow, but Barry’s not in the same… he’s not in that genre, and from the rock side, you know, I was crazy about Elvis. I think Elvis is one of my favorite singers of all time, but funnily enough, going back to, again, into my early days of listening to records and stuff, there was an American singer called Guy Mitchell who I loved to hear, and I used to love Guy Mitchell, so I don’t know if you guys remember him, but I do, he’s really good.

When someone listens to this album.
Yes.
What do you want the listener to get out of the experience?
That’s a really wonderful question Paul, thank you for asking it. I am very impressed when I listen to albums by Ella Fitzgerald, by Sinatra, by Nat King Cole, by various singers of that ilk—Al Jolson going back even further if you like, they all have, even though they may be singing songs that they’ve all recorded, perhaps similar songs or the same song, they all have a uniqueness about them, in their own voice and their own delivery, and something about it, which grips the listener and makes the listener say “well, I love this voice, I want to go out and buy it” and that’s what I’ve tried to accomplish in making this album, to have my own unique sound, which people around me have called ‘silky smooth’, which is very flattering, but nevertheless, my own unique sound, so that anybody listening to anything I sing,  makes them want to go out and buy that record, I think hopefully I answered your question.

Indeed. What is the best thing about being David Martin?
The best thing about David Martin is that he’s got five wonderful children, who he loves to pieces, and thank God they love me. I’ve had a wonderful life. I’m still having a very happy life. I have great friends, a great family, and do you know, all of that, is the most important thing, and all the rest is wonderful, and if I can give people pleasure along the way, then that gives me, makes me happy with my life, and that to me is the best thing about being me.

I have a very strong feeling that there will be people listening to this interview, not just here in the States, but from different places in the world, what would you like to say to the people who are listening to this?
That I hope that all of you are in good spirits and in a good place, that you’re happy in your lives with all your friends and family, that you are good to one another, do the very best you can, if you can do a good deed every once in a while that’s fantastic, but, at the end of the day I think the most important thing, is to be happy with yourself and if you can achieve what you set out to achieve, then, congratulations to you, but, the most important thing you have to do in life, is just try your best, and if you try your best, then you can never say that you did anything but the right thing.

Wow, my last question, who is David Martin?
Who is David Martin?
Yes Sir.
David Martin is a young guy in the UK who wanted to achieve certain dreams, he achieved many, many of them, and is a guy who is probably like Mr Joe, Mr and Mrs Brown who live next door, ’cause I’m kind of like the guy next door, but I, you know, happily I’m able to entertain people and that makes me happy, and also David Martin is a guy who continually has ambitions to continue to do things that will become successful and hopefully give people pleasure, and I think that’s a very important thing, to carry on in life, and always want to do something better and achieve something, rather than decide you’ve reached a point in your life where you’ve done as much as you need to do and then kind of switch off and don’t continue, I think that kind of sums me up, I will always have a little project on my time board and I will always want to give people pleasure by achieving it.

Very well put, may I make a confession?
Please.
I very much respect and admire songwriters and it’s always a very big pleasure for me when I speak to people who compose and write the songs. When you whistled the little beginning part of ‘Can’t Smile Without You.’
Yes.
The hair on my arms stuck up.

(David and Paul laugh.)

It really did and I grew up in part in the Philippines and my Mother sang that song.
Ahhhhhh

And played that song, I’m not kidding you, I probably have heard that song a thousand times in my life, and to speak to you is a very big honor. So I congratulate you on your album, and, much like you thank Sammy Cahn, I just thank all the songwriters for writing something positive.  It makes people smile, because, I also… if I could say one more thing, I witness people cry, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons when that song is being sung and it’s very special.
That’s so lovely Paul, well, thanks for saying that, I think in one of Barry’s books he mentions in a chapter that there was a lady who was… I’m not sure what the illness is called, I think it’s agoraphobia, but there was a lady who suffered from not being able to leave her home, is that called agoraphobia when somebody leaves their home?
I believe so, agoraphobia.
But she had… she just loved ‘Can’t Smile Without You’, and he was coming close to her town to perform, and she left her home to go to the show so she could hear him sing the song. Now that… when I read that in the chapter, that made me feel quite… quite eerie to be honest. Anyway, why don’t I do this, if we’re at the end of the interview, I should go (David sings to the tune of ‘Can’t Smile Without You’)… ‘Paulie my dear, I’m glad to be here, doing your show,  we all think of you as cream of the crop, the man at the top, and we’re glad to know, cause you know we can’t smile without you..’ How’s that?
I am smiling as big as I ever smiled. (David and Paul laugh) That was special, thank you very much.
My pleasure.

TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON.

Livingston Taylor: Teacher, Singer-Songwriter, Guitarist, Pianist

A very fascinating interview with an interesting man, Livingston Taylor talks about many topics including performance, songwriting, the record industry, and the life of an artist.

 

Livingston Taylor is a teacher first and foremost.

You will probably find him…

1. Energetic

2. Enthusiastic

3. Thought-provoking

4. Interesting

Some of you may be inspired.  Some of you may agree and embrace the ideas he expresses here.  Some of you will disagree fervently, but one thing is for sure.  You will certainly have lots to think about.

Some who listened to this interview said it was the most interesting interview I was ever given, and for that I must say THANK YOU LIVINGSTON TAYLOR.

Ladies and gentlemen, the man I am talking to is Livingston Taylor.

Paul, nice to speak with you this day.

Thank you for making the time to do this.

Good. My pleasure.

My first question. Who is Livingston Taylor?

It’s a, it’s an interesting question; perhaps not very interesting, necessarily, to anybody but me. What, what I am at my core is two things. I am really energetic and I am ferociously curious. I’m curious about everything that is, everything that exists, everything that might exist, everything that has existed. I just, I very much enjoy my own brain. I like the presence of my brain. I like being in the company of my mind. I like where it goes. I have a good time thinking about stuff. And I think about the minutiae – of whether it was wise for Kim Kardashian to continue on with the marriage or whether she should have, in fact, called it off early. That’s important to me. I’m curious about it because I’m curious about human nature and about celebrity. I’m delighted with celebrity and people’s fascination with it, and I have it, too. I am, in fact, interested on the, not the Montel show, on the – well, whichever show it is, whether the person is or is not the father of the baby (laughter). So but, by the same token, I’m also very interested in things such as does an expanding universe, when you have the singularity of the Big Bang, does the Big Bang – to me, to have the epiphany the other day of an ever-expanding universe, leaving room – nature abhors a vacuum – and leaving room for, for the Big Bang to simply show up. Right now, what we envision is all this stuff around us and the Big Bang needed to intrude on what was already there but the fact of the matter is that it simply appeared because nothing was there. And I love thinking about the Big Bang. I love the singularity of the event horizon of black holes. I love physics and I love astrophysics and atomic particles and quarks and gluons and smashing atoms together. And so, to me, it’s not incongruous to be interested in whether Kathie Lee Gifford should get another facelift and whether it’s possible to create an event horizon by centrifugal force, so you would spin a flashlight at a speed that the centrifugal force would be such that you would create an event horizon. I love centrifugal force and how it feels like gravity and what is the interchange between the two. Oh, by the way, I’m interested in everything in between as well. And so, it’s a rich life and it’s an interesting life and it’s also a life that – I don’t do well with, with great fame. I like a little fame. Fame is like Tabasco sauce. A little bit can be very pleasant. Boy, a lot can be terribly corrosive. So, far better to have too little than too much.

With all of your interests, could you pick one that is your greatest interest?

Well, my greatest – the question is “how does music fold into all of this?” And what music is and does, is music is the foundation that – music is the roadmap home, so I can go on mental adventures. I can journey through subatomic particles. I can go to the farthest reaches of the universe. I can leave this universe and go into different dimensions. I can go into some very bizarre places and music becomes the roadmap back home. I’m always bemused when people speak about music education as being not important to the sciences or to, to the learning experience and then they’ll cut their music programs. And I want to take them by the neck and throttle them and say ‘Are you out of your mind?’ There was nothing but time and tonality so the human brain can go on the adventure. It’s not by accident that Albert Einstein played in a string quartet – fairly badly, if I’m to understand (laughter) – but, um, but music is the roadmap that allows you to go on the adventure, not vice versa! It’s just, it is so crucial and so fundamental. And so, with that in mind, about 22 years ago somebody asked me to teach at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and I was on that in a nanosecond because I knew Berklee simply to be – have an opportunity to be – one of the most interesting higher education experiences on the planet. And it has become that. It is, arguably, the hippest academic destination on the planet now and people come to the Berklee College of Music from all over the world. And, and they’re coming there, ostensibly, to learn music but it always makes me laugh because I know they’re coming there, and they’re coming to me, to learn how to be on the adventure and how to read the roadmap back home. Here it is, guys. Welcome to it. so the excitement is so high. It’s so huge. Yeah.

A lot of times, when I’ve asked that question “Who is” so-and-so to the guest, they give me a label that we like to, as humans, sometimes just include ourselves in a group, like ‘Oh, I am  songwriter.’ ‘Oh, I am performer.’

Umhmm.

One could say that you’re a songwriter.

I certainly am a songwriter and a singer and a guitar player and a pianist.

And a teacher?

And a teacher.

So of those different, I guess you could say ‘occupations,’ does one of them burn brighter than the others for you?

I am a teacher at my core. I have always been a teacher and I am a teacher. I love teaching, not because of the information I give but because of the information I get. Only in teaching – I don’t know anything and I explain this to my students very early and very quickly – if you’re expecting to take my class because I know something, believe me, you know much more than I do. I was born dumb, I grew up dumb, and I’m dumb today and I can prove it. You know more than I do. I am here to teach you because in teaching you, I learn more. And I’m so amused when they say ‘Oh, how nice of you to spread your wisdom.’ And I go ‘What??? Please! I got no wisdom!’ I mean the only – I do know, there are a couple of things I know. One piece of advice I have to my students is never assume grand parentage or pregnancy because the penalty for getting them wrong is unrecoverable. Have a good life! Bye (laughs). You know, I mean it’s a, I – so there are little things that, that I know and I can say but vast knowledge comes from these Berklee students who, by very virtue, by the very virtue that they’re at the Berklee College of Music, they already ran an unbelievable gamut to get there. They got the hay beat out of them for the decision they made to be a creator. Everybody doubted the wisdom of that but they didn’t. And so, when I get in their presence I’m with my people and I look at them and I go ‘You – are – me. Let’s go. Let’s start the adventure right now.’ And the adventure, the music, is the conduit. Again, it’s how we report on the adventure. We give information about what the adventure we’ve been on so we can report on it in our music, and we can sell those reports, continue to finance the adventure.

One of the things that you have taught a lot about is performing. Is that correct?

Yeah, that is the course I teach. It’s called ‘Stage Performance.’ Yeah.

With that said, if it’s easy to put into words, what makes a good performer?

What makes a good performer is a combination of technical precision. (Emphasizing each word) You – need – to – practice – and – be – good. So you need technical precision and you need to tell stories that are compelling to the human condition – and they can be very simple stories. They don’t have to be complicated. And, above all else, you have to watch the music land. I was at Eddie’s Attic last night to hear a couple of young players and they were good. They had some real sparkle but I was, I was really surprised at the mediocrity of the guitar playing of both of them. They simply didn’t know much music and had they been my students I would have taken them aside. I would have said ‘This guitar playing is going to need to be better. Now, here’s how you make it better. You’re going to need to practice.’ And we’re defined by our ability, not by our strengths, but our ability to work on our weaknesses. You need to identify them and you need to work on them. You need to use your strength to lift your weakness. You’re strengths aren’t your problem. Your weaknesses are. Go to work on them! And they don’t have to improve, surprisingly. They don’t have to get better. It’s nice if they do but they don’t. Your working on them is enough.

Does that ever stop, though?

No. No, it never stops. You do run out of time.

Right.

You run out of time and you run out of the ability, you run out of the physicality to continue to do it. You, Paul, are 30. I am 61 and, physically, physically I am losing strength and it’s very clear to me that by the age of 80, the physicality required would be – and it may happen tomorrow afternoon; it may happen this afternoon but certainly by one’s early 80’s, the physicality required becomes really difficult.

How important do you think it is for musicians to both see other musicians playing and also to listen to music, like just as in recordings.

I don’t think it’s important to, well I’ll answer the questions in reverse, to listen to music. Music finds you all the time. I think it’s important to listen to music and when something interests you, either in the positive or the negative, that you find it, study it, disassemble it. If something is successful and you don’t like it, it’s not the problem with the music. The problem is with you. If it has appealed to a lot of people, if it’s found itself to a place of success, that’s worthy of study. Conversely, I beat on my students all the time about studying great songs. I like them to go back when songwriters, when great songwriters were writing for great singers. So I’m very interested in the pre-singer/songwriter age. The problem with singer-songwriters is that they tolerate the incompetence of both. As a singer, you tolerate your incompetence as a songwriter and as a songwriter, you tolerate your incompetence as a singer. I don’t like that. I like it to be two separate entities. One can only imagine that a Johnny Mercer, or a – writing a song that, that Frank Sinatra is going to record and sweating the details of that song. A great song gets informed not only by a great writer but by a great singer and the singer – well, one can only imagine Frank Sinatra being very concerned that he’s going to do justice to a Johnny Mercer song. So, these tensions are very important for the artistic reality. Now, what happened is we moved into multi-track recording. You would never, you would never have a singer/songwriter – you know, outside of a Pete Seeger or folk music or, or blues, you know, delta blues kind of things – you’d never have a big pop recording before multi-track recording with a singer/songwriter. And the reason why is that you had 70 people there, all recording at 11:00 on Tuesday , and you had, you had to have a professional singer and you had to have a professional songwriter because everything had to be done. And you would start a take and you needed a great singer to sing that take and sing it right, from the get-go. They need to sing well from the first take. Everybody needs to play well from the first take. There’s so much that can go wrong that everybody needs to be professional. It needs to be at a high level. Multi-track recording came in in the early ‘60s and that laid the groundwork for singer/songwriters – for Jackson Browne, for my brother James, to a lesser degree for myself, others. The question is where did the discipline come from at that time and the discipline came from the gatekeepers – the heads of the record companies, the people who controlled the recording studios and the pressing plants that allowed access to the distribution network. And those gatekeepers were the discipline because they were all forged in the reality of pre-1960 recording. And they came into the 60’s, into multi-track recording, insisting on that discipline at a distance before you were going to be allowed in to the distribution network that they controlled. And that is why it was so good. You had the freedom to exploit and market the chaos of the artistic experience, and the discipline’s exoskeleton of, that the gatekeeper provided, i.e., do it right or you’re not coming into my network. And if you don’t come into my network, you’re not going to survive as a musician, as a creator. And that’s why my students, who were born in 1990, ’93, ’94, are listening to music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s something we never did in the ‘60s and ‘70s because every week was a brand new (imitates sound) ‘beep, beep, beep’ – another dump truck backing up of new music. We didn’t have to listen to music that was six minutes old because it was all out of that factory and it was a very efficient factory. Oh, by the way, if you wonder if I want to get back to that, I don’t want to go back. I want to go forward and recreate it, with the internet as the underpinning of it. We need gatekeepers and the only reason why you get gatekeepers is because there’s enough money around to interest people in being gatekeepers. Great art is the result of wealth concentrating talent. Let me repeat: great art is the result of wealth concentrating talent. No wealth, no concentration of talent. It’s diffuse. It’s not great. It can be good, it can be sparkly, it can have moments of genius. Great art? Do you get the Sistine Chapel without the Catholic Church? (Laughter) I mean, not only Michelangelo to paint it but what about, what about the architect and the craftspeople to build the building that it goes in. Nah! We need gatekeepers. So when people look for an income stream through the internet and who should get paid – I love it when they say ‘Oh, artists, artists should be paid fairly.’ and I laugh out loud. Of course they shouldn’t! Artists have never been paid fairly because when you are in the throes of creative genius you are at the absolute top of the human experience. Money is a poor substitute for the genius of creativity. And the only people who complain about having been ripped off are people whose muse has left them and now they are poor and uncreative, and rightfully complaining.

Hmm. Wow.

Wow, huh?

(Laughs) Yeah. It’s a lot to think about.

Yeah.

It’s very interesting. One thing that you said that really, really had me interested was when you said, “I tell my students ‘Listen and look at great songs.’ ” So with that, what would you say make a great song a great song?

Well, it’s, it’s interesting. It can be a number of things. First off, like when you leave – move from one dwelling to another, there are things you decide to bring with you and things you decide to leave behind every time you move. And the songs that we have today, that have been brought forward from the era before multi-track recording, the reason why I’m very, very suspect of anything sort of post 1960 – and that’s a pretty arbitrary number – but I’m, I’m suspect of that because that entire record industry that formulated that, that created all of that is completely gone, never to come again. It is not coming back. That infrastructure is going to need to be reinvented. And I think there’s great things to be learned from that but I want my students approaching the lessons from early, coming in from 1955 forward, not going back and weeding through Taylor Swift, Mylie Cyrus and New Kids on the Block or whatever that … the blizzard of information in – and by the way, any of these young contemporary artists may, in fact, be creating stuff that gets carried through, that society says that they want to carrying on and take with them every time they move and that’s, but, it’s – I can’t weed out what it is. So I can’t direct my students in that direction. What I can do, is I can direct them as a, for guideposts to all of that creativity that we decided to carry forward. Ella Fitzgerald singing George Gershwin’s, George and Ira Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me. That’s worth listening to. John Raitt singing Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ from Oklahoma!. Opened on Broadway March 31, 1943 and was just so explosive and it’s so good. Oscar Hammerstein, II is my favorite lyricist and, uh, if I go down this road with you right now, I will never get out of this (laughter). So Rodgers and Lorenz Hart – Larry Hart – and the growth of Rodgers and Hart, and eventually Richard Rodgers can’t, can’t live with Lorenz Hart. He can’t work with him. He’s just, it’s too crazy. It’s too much. And so then he starts working with Oscar Hammerstein, II. (Recites lyrics of I Have Dreamed from The King and I)

I have dreamed that your lips are lovely.

I have dreamed what a joy you’ll be.

I have heard every word you whisper

When you’re close to me.

How you look in the glow of evening

I have dreamed and enjoyed the view.

In these dreams I have loved you so

That by now I think I know

What it means to be loved by you.

            I would love being loved by you.

Whoa! Whoa! That, with Richard Rodgers’ changes? Whoa! So I’m saying to my kids ‘Go, go, go back, go back. Find that. None of your contemporaries will know this! Steal this. Go back. Take this! Steal it. Make it your own. Bring it with the precision and the accuracy of vocal tuning and the, uh, and the techno-reality of the world you live in. It’s so good. You’re going to make it so much better than it was.’ I want my kids moving forward. I want new income streams. I – people ask me do I worry about my songs being stolen, i.e., our music being exploited. Well, no. I’m not worried about it being stolen, I’m worried about it not be stolen. I want to be exploitable!

Right.

My problem is that nothing is exploitable because there is no income stream to be exploited, and that’s a frustration.

You just were reciting those lyrics. Would you say that you’re more attracted to the lyrics of a song or the melody?

Lyrics are everything! You must be telling stories compelling to the human condition. If you don’t tell stories that are compelling to the human condition then make sure you are stunningly good looking, i.e. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift – I love looking at her and because she is so beautiful, I will tolerate any level of mediocrity in her story lines. Here’s the problem. She’s not going to be that beautiful that long. I say to my students all the time ‘You’re greatest liabilities are good looks and talent because the world does not belong to the beautiful and the deserving. It belongs to tenacious and the fortunate.’ And you need to tell great stories. And when you are beautiful and talented, you get looked at. But they’re going to pay you, eventually, for you to look at them …

Hmmm.

… not them to look at you. This is why my brother, James Taylor, and Carole King can sell out sports arenas on tour. Was it a burning desire to see the stunning, sexual engines of James Taylor and Carole King? I think not. What people wanted to see, is people wanted to hear the stories that moved them. And I say this to my students all the time. When you are 70, someone is going come to you and they’re going to walk up and they’re going to say ‘I hurt so much. I am in so much pain. Could you please tell me the story that you told when I didn’t hurt so badly?’ And you’re going to look back at them and you’re going to go ‘Of course I’ll tell you that story.’ and they will feel better. And you will be of real service, and that’s what we’re talking about! So do I beat on my kids? You bet! I’m hard on people. I expect them to be of service! To whom much is given, much is expected. And I am a, quite a bear about this. And, yup, the better you are in my classes, the more trouble you are in.

(Laughs) Wow. If you could reflect, what is the best thing about being Livingston Taylor?

Well, the best thing about being Livingston Taylor is that – again, I’ve been blessed with real energy and real curiosity. I don’t know anything but – and I’m always bemused whenever I hear one of my contemporaries speak about ‘Oh, this person is so smart.’ Please do not confuse intelligence with good fortune! They’re not the same thing. Listen, I love good fortune, and I admire and applaud good fortune but it is not – “bright” is not “lucky” and “lucky” is not “bright”. So let’s be very, very careful. Also, be advised that success has a thousand parents. Failure is an orphan. When you lose money in Las Vegas, there is no noise. There are all kinds of bells and whistles when you win. There will be no noise when you lose. So let’s be very careful about confusing good fortune and success. So to me, my great joy is that I’ve been able to be energetic and curious and now I have the – at this age, not only am I energetic and curious, I now know (knocks on wood) at the core of my soul that I don’t know anything. So, everyday I get to be an empty vessel waiting to be filled.

I have two final questions. One may seem light-hearted but I believe that this reveals a lot about a person. What is your all-time favorite meal?

Ahh, that’s a, that’s a really, that’s a really good question. I, certainly my, my favorite meal would be a really well done roast chicken; rice, white rice; peas, small peas – love peas. Along with that would be a glass of soda water, bubbly water, no ice, no nothing, And along with that would be, for dessert, would be a piece of what they call icebox cake, which is chocolate coconut cookies sandwiched in between whipped cream and let stand for 6 or 8 hours. And that is, that’s a very pleasant meal for me.

Well, the last question is open-ended. We have this age where it used to be when you were on the radio or on television, it would be heard by the people in that area, or seen by the people in that area. Now we have the ability to communicate with people all over the world. So, for anyone who is listening to this interview, wherever they are, what would you say to them in closing?

I would say in closing that, first, that I love them. And that I love them just the way they are. I don’t need them to be thinner, to be fatter, I don’t need them to stop smoking, to stop drinking. I don’t need them to be anything because – but what they are right now, because I love people just the way they are.

That sounds great.

Good!

Well, Mr. Taylor, I thank you very much for this interview. I will have a lot to think about.

All right, Paul. It’s nice to see you.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.

Tom Wopat: Singer, Actor

TOM WOPAT is known by many people as an actor, but in listening to any of his albums, you will understand why he identifies himself as a singer first and foremost.  It was STILETTO Entertainment who introduced me to Wopat’s album “Consider it Swung!”  I am very glad they did, as anyone who listens to him singing can testify.  The impressive thing about Tom Wopat is that he seems to transition so effortlessly between an American Songbook standard like “That’s Life” and a very unique take on the Bobbie Gentry classic “Ode to Billie Joe.”  The album even features “Thailand Sea,” a song written by Wopat, and it’s lyrics tell a great story.  I would invite music lovers to please give Mr. Wopat a listen.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’swith great pleasure we welcome our special guest, Mr. Tom Wopat.  Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you, man.

My first question…it’s simple but it trips a lot of people up.  Who is Tom Wopat?

God, I don’t know.  Singer…that’s probably what I’d think of myself as.  Over the years, I guess I’ve thrown some acting shots so I do that as well but, um, I’m primarily a singer. 

What was life like growing up?

It was great!  I mean, my whole family was musical…a dairy farm in Wisconsin back in the fifties and sixties so, our public education was real good.  I lived in a small town so I got to do everything in high school…I was on all the teams, in band and in chorus and did the shows…you know, the whole nine yards.

What music were you listening to?

I think probably the first huge influence would have been the Beatles in the early sixties.  It was about seventh grade, that’s when I really, really became aware of pop music.  I think that you could make a case that most of the, most of the guys up in my age group between fifty-five and sixty-five, probably if they’re in the business, the Beatles led to everything.  They just put such a shine on the whole affair.

You have very diverse musical tastes.  Could you pick a favorite genre of music?

You know, for many, the country thing was more of an aberration.  I didn’t grow up really listening to it perseit and of course, back in the day, there wasn’t some niche-oriented I mean, nearly as it is today.  You’d hear country music next to rock-n-roll and a lot of that stuff back in the old top forty days, back in the fifties and sixties.  You know, I grew up listening to pop, but singing show tunes and doing that stuff, you know, in high school and college.  I studied voice at the University of Wisconsin so I studied opera and art songs and German Lieder  Actually I would’ve been a Lieder singer, singing like Mahler and Brahms and Schubert and that kind of stuff very well…but, um, I’m a baritone and it was really right in my wheel house.  I think what happened with country is that we were doing ‘Dukes’ and the opportunity came up and in those days, I mean, country was really kind of the MOR today…that was right around in cowboy time when all that stuff became really popular and you can say that country music was really the MOR music of the time. 

I want to talk about who your favorite songwriters are. 

Wow…well that’s a pretty diverse group.  You know, when you get into the songbook side of things, you’ve got to include Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser, Harold Arlen, Rodgers & Hammerstein, of course.  Rodgers & Hart…any number of them.  When you talk about pop stuff, I’m a big Joni Mitchell fan, Bob Dylan, the singer-songwriters I like a lot…I like James Taylor… always been a big fan of his, you know, the way he styles a song.  There’s a song on that record that you have that’s called ‘Thailand Sea’ which is pretty much a Joni homage, you know, pretty much a Joni Mitchell style lyric and melody. 

I wanted to ask you about that song.  Tell me about ‘Thailand Sea’ and the inspiration.

I was in Thailand doing a movie in 2006.  I did a movie over there called ‘The Hive.’  It was kind of a low-budget, British Thai film and I hadn’t written a song in probably four or five years.  The place is so beautiful.  I was staying in a hotel on the Thailand Sea, up on the twelfth floor, the mountains right outside my window…it was really something and it was something that really moved me to take out the guitar and put it together so that’s what it ended up to be.  I think it’s actually a charming…a decent little piece of poetry.  I’m happy the way it came out.  You know, it really is one of the eclectic edges of this record.  I mean, the record goes in a lot of different directions which, I mean, you’ve got ‘Beacon Blues’ on there, a Lou Rawls thing, and a lot of different things.  You’ve got full-on Gershwin on it.  You know, we were kind of happy that we could meld all those things onto one record.

How did you go about choosing these songs?

Most of the selections were mine.  Dave Finck, the producer, had quite a bit of input, like the ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ was his idea.  Again, it’s kind of another eclectic edge to the record.  It’s definitely as far country as we go, a pretty haunting tune…a pretty stand-alone rendition, I think.  You won’t hear another version like it.  That’s kind of basically what we’re doing was kind of taking the different tastes that we both have and putting them together on a record.  There’s a Frischberg on there called ‘You’d Rather Have the Blues’.  It turns into a huge swing number.  That kind of stuff was an awful lot of fun to do. 

Well on that note, could you pick a favorite track from the album?

I’d have to say the ‘But Not for Me’ just cause of the ending of it.  It swings so hard.

What vocalists have influenced you the most?

Sinatra and Ella and Louis are all up there at the top of the list as far as songbook stuff goes.  Then there’s….I like Sting, uh, I like what he does to songs and the way he’ll turn the beat around a little bit.  God, I’m a Delbert fan.  I like Delbert McClinton a lot.  As far as this particular genre of the mixture of pop and standards, I would have to say Diana Krall is right at the top of the list.

Oh yeah, she’s great. 

She is great and not only a great musician, but an intuitive vocalist I think, and her piano playing is even better than her vocals so, you know, it’s a nice package. 

Do you have a preference personally when it comes to either performing songs live or working in a studio recording an album, like this album, ‘Consider it Swung’?

The live thing is what it’s all about.  I mean, that’s what the album’s for anyway is to promote the live stuff.  Over the years, just by sheer (laughs) osmosis, I think I’ve kind of developed a certain style in the studio and absorbed a lot of technique from different people and different producers.  Russ Titelman  was a huge influence… the first jazz record I made, ‘In the Still of the Night’…amazing….really terrific producer.  Ben Sidron on the record that I did, the Arlen record, he brought a wonderful approach to things.  I think for being a non-singer, he was really conducive to getting a good vocal in the studio.  A lot of his stuff was basically pretty much live.  We don’t punch them and comp them very much.  There’s maybe three or four that had kind of been pieced together.  Like the first song, ‘That’s Life,’ that’s pretty much a live track, you know, live in the studio.  But we did very little to it. 

In your personal opinion, do you think sometimes in a recording studio when an album is being made, when a track is done over and over and some of the techniques and the technology, do you think we’re maybe losing some of the soul of music in the process?

Oh absolutely.  I think, you know, a lot depends on the artist.  A lot of today’s pop artists, it’s how they’ve been raised to use comping stuff and not worrying about a total performance from beginning to end.  For me, I was brought up, you know, in a different day.  I started singing in the fifties really.  My first recording would’ve been in the 80’s but you know, over thirty years you tend to develop a certain thing and I’ve been a live performer over the years between doing all the performance with different bands and then Broadway shows or Broadway type shows.  For me, eventually, it really informs how I record a song.  As you get to a song, just the physical aspects to a song, say ‘But Not For Me,’ where there’s a certain fatigue aspect when you get towards the end…it lends a different kind of quality to your voice and a sort of urgency to the production that I think you miss if you just totally comp something together so that it’s perfect.  And the days of doing things like Steely Dan did…the analog approach, it’s…basically, what they would do is record a song and then they would replace everything—piece by piece by piece meticulously.

Mr. Wopat, you’re a man that’s worn a lot of hats.  You’ve appeared in countless Broadway shows.  You’ve been in television.  You’ve been on film.  Are there any dreams that you have yet to see become a reality?

Directing.  I’ve done it a little bit in my past.  I directed some of the episodes of ‘Dukes’ and I directed some stage stuff a little bit at Summerstock.  A few more years and I may not care to see myself in front of a camera (Laughs) anymore.  I do like to take the hands-on approach.  I mean, with this last record, I would have to say that I was as involved with production as I’ve ever been and more so.  But I think that’s the difference, you see…I like being in control so I expect some direction to come and maybe, maybe even producing a record or two.  That would be fun too.

You already have envisioned maybe a next record?

We’re actually in the process right now.

Wow!

 We’ve not been in the studio yet but we are in final approach to it I think.  It depends on David’s schedule.

What is the best thing about being Tom Wopat?

(Laughs)  I have a high standard of performance.  (Laughs)

(Laughs)  Well, I have two final questions.  One is somewhat lighthearted and the next one is a little more serious. 

Right.

But for the lighthearted one: What is your all-time favorite meal?

Oh.  I was discussing that the other day over some lobster…probably lobster and sweet corn.

Lobster and sweet corn?

Yeah.

Together?  Is that a combination that works especially well?

No, I don’t mix them.  I have a lobster and a couple ears of sweet corn.

Alright.  For my final question: this broadcast goes out all over the world…what would you like to say to all the people who are listening in?

Enjoy the day.  Seize the day. And music is a great part of that. 

Well sir, thank you so much for this interview.  I hope to see you perform in Atlanta at some point.

That’d be great!  I expect to be down there sometime. 

Alright, well have a good one.

Thanks a lot brother.

TRANSCRIBED BY LORI DOMINGO.

Ralph Shaw: Ukulele Player, Recording Artist, Singer-Songwriter, Entertainer

Ralph Shaw is an entertainer who performs on a banjo-ukulele.  He is a witty recording artist and showman with a love and passion for performing.  He’s also a great songwriter who’s tender and comical songs are deceptively sophisticated.  In addition to his original songs, he interprets many of the classic songs from the Tin Pan Alley era of American music.

His work, including five solo albums and a book, has played a crucial role in creating the current ukulele boom. He joins us to talk about his musical world, his songwriting and more. Hailing from Yorkshire, England and making his home in Canada, it was a pleasure to interview him and also have him perform a song for the listeners.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure I welcome the king of the ukulele, Mr. Ralph Shaw. Thank you so much for joining us.

Well, it’s my pleasure. I must say, though, I get a little bit embarrassed by the ‘king of the ukulele’ these days. I gave myself that name when there were pretty well no other ukulele players around and now there’s a lot of player much better than me.

Well, there is only one Ralph Shaw.

That’s true! As I often … I guess we can all be kings and queens in our own little world, can’t we?

That’s true. I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up for you?

Wow, that’s a big question. Ukulele related, I’d have to say the very first ukulele I ever held belonged to my grandfather. He played with it in the 20’s and this was just an old instrument that was just kicking around the house. And my father put real string on it, you know, like hairy gardening string so it was totally unplayable. So, for me, the ukulele was a mystery object. And I grew up in a little village in Yorkshire, in England. So…I’m not sure what TV shows you might have seen – there was one called All Creatures Great and Small – but it’s sort of wind-blown moorland, you know? So it’s a fairly harsh climate. Probably similar to the Scottish highlands, that kind of thing. They had a lot of farm folk around there and, you know, it wasn’t – as a teenager it wasn’t easy to get around. At the time it seemed quite normal but I realize, especially by today’s standards, that I spent a lot of time doing my own thing. You know, creating my own entertainment. When I got gifts, you know, it was often like real tools for woodworking and, you know, painting. So there was always this element of creation, making up your own stories and games. And getting into trouble and, you know, all the usual things. But lots of outdoor play as well. And I guess – I think part of me actually believed the reality of what you’d see on television. So when you saw these fictional situations of how pop stars lived – I’m thinking now, for example, the Beatles, how they would all go in separate doors and when they got inside the house it was all just one room. I think I believed a lot of that kind of thing. You know, when you watched an Elvis movie where Elvis would sing and suddenly everybody would join in. I think part of me always believed that that could happen. And I think, to some extent, it still does and that’s what I go out with, as an entertainer, you know? I believe that people will just join in with my little musical world. And quite often, they do which is wonderful.

Well, you mentioned the Beatles. What type of music did you grow up liking the most?

Actually, funnily enough, not the Beatles. I was born in 1964 so I think by the time I was really listening to music the Beatles were quite passé so it was – I don’t remember hearing their music as a child, which surprises people. So, yeah, they’re not a part of my scheme at all. I mentioned Elvis. When I was around 13 years old, they showed Elvis movies every day through the Christmas holiday so (laughs) it was quite neat to grow up with that as a kind of entertainment. My grandfather, on the other hand, he lived just around the corner and he was one that would sing songs when I was a child so I grew up hearing a lot of those songs. And I’m not even – I couldn’t even name you too many titles right now. It’s just that when I was very young my mum, she thought ‘this kid knows a lot of songs!’ You know? I was four years old and she wrote down about 25 songs that I was singing. And I didn’t – you know, they weren’t kid’s songs, right (laughs)? They were just – these were things I had learned from my grandfather. But then, later on, you know, I would listen to what my friends listened to and like what they liked. So I picked things up like there was Led Zeppelin for a while. There was ELO. There was Pink Floyd. In my early teens I got this book called The Encyclopedia of Rock, which for me, was like the internet of the day because you could look up, you know, a band or a musician you were interested in and then it would be cross-referenced to the links to other parts of the book where other band members had been in their band or they played music with someone else. So, so it was from that that I then discovered my own music that my friends didn’t even know about. And it was through that that I got interested in all sorts – Frank Zappa, Little Feat, Arlo Guthrie. It just became a real eclectic kind of mix of music that I liked then.

Your first album, The King of the Ukulele, the songs are all from the Tin Pan Alley. In my humble opinion, you made those songs magical. They’ve been recorded so many times, but some of my favorite versions of those classics are the ones that you recorded. You did a beautiful version of Blue Skies with that long harmonica intro. I’ve played a lot of those songs on the air. You did a beautiful version of Puttin’ on the Ritz. You had a few humorous songs, too, that I’d never heard of – Taking My Oyster for Walkies. So tell us about your love for those songs.

It’s so wonderful to hear you say that, Paul! Let me tell – if I can, can I tell you a story of something that happened just a week ago? I got a phone call from a fellow in England. He’s an artist. And every two or three years he calls me up just to tell me something, you know. And he’s got this rich, plum English voice. And he told me about how he’s just received a terrific shock. He thought one of his neighbors, an elderly neighbor, was in trouble. He’d pretty well gone to kick the door down, you know, because he thought he was in danger. And then he realized he might be visiting a friend. And then it turned out that this elderly neighbor was visiting a friend. But Giles, he said ‘Ralph, I was very much in shock!’ he said. ‘So I listened to my iPod. And I’ve got thousands of songs. You wouldn’t believe how many songs I’ve got. And I thought ‘What do I really need to listen to at a time like this?’ and straight away, Ralph, I thought of you, and “King of the Ukulele”! (Laughs)’ He said ‘I’ve got, you know, Frank Sinatra and Joan Stafford, the Beatles, the Stones’ – he’s reeling off all these names – he said ‘but Ralph, it was you that I thought of!’ (Laughs) You know, so that, it was so neat. They happened for me when I started to play the ukulele because I thought I would play rock songs, but I found that a lot of modern music sounded very boring when played with the ukulele. They’re very simple chords. And reaching into the 20’s and 30’s and 40’s – those songs, I discovered, are so well-written, melodically. The chords, the lyrics, everything was so clever. And, in fact, it ws all so good that I stopped writing my own songs at that point. I thought why write my own not very good stuff when there is this treasure trove of songs to draw off? So, yeah, I recorded those and produced, I must say, by Geoff Gibbons who did a great job there. I really don’t know what to say – why people like my versions of them. It’s, uh, I just sing them in the way I feel they should be sung and I do seem to have a sort of Tin Pan Alley/Vaudeville aspect to my style that seems to suit those songs quite well.

You did a second album with a lot of old songs on there. You did La Mer and then there was one song that sticks out in my mind. I believe the title was I Just Wish I Was in Love?
Uh huh.

Tell us about that one.

Well, there’s several songs on that album that aren’t old songs but they sound like they could be. So this one is one that Geoff Gibbons, again the producer, he showed up at the door as I, you know, when I arrived for the recording session and he said ‘Ralph, I had a dream about you last night.’ He said ‘You were in a park. You were like Gene Kelly. You were dancing and you were singing a song.’ He said ‘And I don’t, I don’t remember the, all the words, but you were singing ‘I just wish I was in love’ and I remember the tune.’ So he played me the tune and sort of what lyrics he could remember and then left it for me to write the rest of the song. So I spent the next day or two finishing that song off. And it was probably a year or two later that I realized that this song he had thought of as Gene Kelly – and Gene Kelly is famous for Singing in the Rain, you know, ‘I don’t care what’s coming. The sky can pour down with rain. I don’t care, ‘cause I’m in love!’ right? Well, this song has the exact opposite sentiment. This song says ‘Everything in the world is perfect. The sun is shining, children are playing but what does it all matter? What does it all mean if you don’t have someone to love?’ Just a needs reversal there.

I don’t want to put you on the spot here, but do you happen to have a ukulele handy?

Oh, I do have one. I always have one by my desk. I don’t know if it’s in tune (plays a few notes) – umm, not too bad.

Would you care to play that for all the listeners out there?

Hmm, OK. Let’s, uh, let’s play something I’ve just – this is something I’ve just been working on so it’s sort of fresh in my mind. (Performs Mr. Sandman)

There you go.

Thank you on behalf of all the listeners. Thank you so much!

Hey, you’re very welcome. Thank you.

Mr. Shaw, one thing that I’ve heard you say several times – well, I’ve seen you write – is respect for the ukulele. What does that mean to you?

Back, back when I wrote that – and, you know, I think I put that in the liner notes of The King of the Ukulele album – that was at the time when the ukulele was treated as a joke which, in a lot of ways, I didn’t mind because, as an entertainer, I could walk on stage with a ukulele and people would just start smiling straight away because it was something goofy and silly. But with that statement, I also wanted people to realize that it’s a musical instrument and that it has, you know, it has so much potential Any kind of music can be played on it. Just because it’s small and got four strings, you know, doesn’t make it silly. A violin is small and has four strings, too. So that was really my intent. It was, it was before the present ukulele boom took off. It was to let people know, yeah, here is an instrument worthy of being looked at, worthy of being noticed, worthy of being taken up by all kinds of musicians. And it’s, it’s quite wonderful. This is probably now 16 or 17 years after I wrote that and I don’t need to say it anymore. There is, there are so many great players that have taken up the ukulele and they’re doing all kinds of things with it. And I don’t think, I don’t think it’s ever going to fall back into that ‘Tiny Tim’ niche goofy status anymore. I think it’s, um, here to stay as a recognized instrument. You know, that happened with the saxophone, it happened with the banjo. You know, these were all new instruments at one time that people saw as novelties and then they became established things and I think we’ve hit that point now with the ukulele.

You have two new albums out. Tell all the listeners about these two new records of Ralph Shaw’s.

Yeah! They’re called Love and Laughter. And I mentioned earlier that I stopped writing my own songs when I discovered the Tin Pan Alley era. Well, after a few years, I did start writing songs again and what those oldersongs did for me – really studying the songs of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, all these great songwriters – it made me a much greater self-critic of my own work. I’ve learned to know when a song is not finished. I think a lot of, a lot of modern songwriters, you know, write songs and the first thing they write, the first thing they put out, they think it’s a done deal. And I’ll listen to it and I go ‘Oh, they could have done so much more with this. They could have made it so much better.’ And so, that’s what I’ve done with my songwriting, which falls into two categories. I have funny songs and I write songs on the theme of love as well, like so many popular songs. And, and I just felt that they – I had enough of each and I felt that they should be in two separate categories so I made two individual CDs, one called Love, one called Laughter. And pretty much, all originals.

Do you have a favorite song of yours that you’ve written?

Ahh … oh, dear. For different reasons, I sort of have different favorites. I, I must say I’m a big fan of the sort of the genre of double entendre songs so it sounds like you’re singing about one thing and you’re actually singing about something else. And one of my favorites in that line – it’s almost unplayable (laughs) because it’s kind of naughty – but it’s one called Bird Lover that’s on the Laughter album. And I think that’s going towards being a triple entendre song and it’s a song that – it just amused me so much to write it. And it really is quite, if you have a mind for that, it’s quite sexually raunchy and yet, it’s just seems to be an innocent song about a cat. I had a lot of fun writing that one but I must say, I’m a little bit careful where I sing that one (laughs).

I understand.

One of, one song that’s very special for me that’s on my Love album – in fact, it starts the album – it’s called Fair Kathryn which I wrote for my wife – who, uh, who just came in and brought me a cup of tea right now. That’s a nice one as well. It’s got sort of a British feel. It’s upbeat and yet there’s a lot of poetry in the words. I, I like it when a song comes to me and it seems to be something outside of myself. I can look at it as if ‘Wow, that was neat. I don’t know how that happened, but there it is.’ And that’s one of those songs.

When you go down the path of being an entertainer, a ukulele entertainer no less, you’re choosing a different path in life, one could say (laughs). So I’d like to ask you what kind of adventures have happened to you as a result of this journey that you’ve been on in music?

I have to say, Paul, you ask just the best questions (laughs) though, you know, you’re sort of hitting on the things that are, really, kind of big issues in my life. Yeah, and this choice to be an entertainer, it was really a naïve choice, you know? I believed all those movies, you know, where a little band just gets together to rehearse, the next thing somebody notices them and then they’re thrust into the limelight and then they’re – that’s it, they’re famous forever! I believed in that story for many years and I think part of me still does. I’ve always loved the idea of entertaining, you know? It’s something I would do – I would write songs, I would write funny poems. And when I found a book in the library called The Independent Entertainer that was written by a clown, it made me realize that you could make a living as an entertainer. And I did. I became a clown first. That was my first thing. I would carry the ukulele around in a guitar case which also contained the clown props. And then, bit by bit, as I became more proficient at the music, then I became more of a, you know, ukulele entertainer – “king of the ukulele”. But it’s not an easy life. I thought it was going to be just fun and games all the way, you know? And as time goes on and as I understand more and more about the business, I realize what a ‘business’ it is and how much you have to do. And when people have succeeded, what, you know – what things they’ve had to, you know, to do to get to that point. Some do fall into it. Some do have the lucky breaks, you know? But many don’t. You know, most, are just out there hustling for gigs, and playing the gigs, and working on it all—and, uh, there’s a lot of hard work that you don’t see. And most people do not realize it. All they see is a happy guy onstage with a ukulele, right? And if you’re going to go onstage with a ukulele, no one wants to see a miserable guy. So it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got going on with the rest of your life, you’ve always got to be that cheerful person. But quite honestly, 95% of the work is going on behind the scenes. And it, yeah, it’s kind of slugging away, really. You know, just doing what has to be done. You know, I thought I could escape being a slave to a job and, in a way, I have done. You know, I love being self-employed. I love being able to do this for a living, but it’s still work. It’s still a job, even if it is more of a calling (laughs) at this point.

What is the best thing about being Ralph Shaw?

Oh, my goodness (feigns a groan) – oh, dear Paul, what the …! (Paul laughs) Oh, no. I don’t know … I don’t know. Like, I am, I am a bit of manic-depressive kind of a character, I have to say. You know, there are times where I’m just so full of joy and music and happiness and other times where I’m not, so I would probably answer that question in different ways, depending on when you catch me. I think, professionally, I really love the way people that like what I’m trying to do and get what I do and respond to it. You know, like you have, have done. You’ve expressed that. And I run a ukulele club in Vancouver, here where I live. And people come out to that. We’re playing along and I run the show and I keep it fun. We have over 140 people coming out to it now! And just to see the delight in all their faces. You know, all these people who come with their ukuleles – you know, they’ve all got their problems in life but by the time that evening is over, everybody, every single person, they’re just beaming. They’ve all got big smiles and they’re all leaving and going off into the world. I just imagine each of them going into their, back into their homes – not with any – just full of this good feeling. And they’re, individually, going to be spreading that wherever they go. I’d have to say that if there’s one thing that keeps me going in what I do – and it’s the thing that I love most about what I do – it is spreading, you know, I’m this little nucleus of positivity that ripples out and puts good into the world and helps others to do the same thing for themselves in their world.

For anyone who listens to this interview, or who reads the transcript, what would you like to say to them?

Don’t give up your day job (laughs) unless becoming a professional entertainer is something that you pretty much have to do, do it. Be happy with whatever you’re doing because everything we do, every life is worthwhile and everybody, I’m discovering, has their problems and their trials in life so we really have make the most of whatever we’ve got and work with that to the best of our abilities.

Now, for my last question: who is Ralph Shaw?

Hmmm, I don’t know. Can you give me a bit more to go on (laughs)?

Well, somebody might see you and say, oh, from a distance, Ralph Shaw is a singer and ukulele player and recording artist or an entertainer. But sometimes we view ourselves differently, or we think there is a part of us that not everybody gets to see. So I guess I’m asking ‘Who is Ralph Shaw at heart?’

You know, that’s a very good question. It’s a really good question. I don’t know. I think I’m still on the journey to finding myself. I really get what you’re saying. You know, ‘you’re looking smart in your suit and your fine moustache and everything’ (laughs). You know, I’m in my cycling outfit – I was just out on my bike. I don’t wear a bow tie. You know, whenever I perform I’m always in a suit and a bow tie and that’s what I present as Ralph Shaw, the performer. But when I’m not like that – I’m not wearing a bow tie all the time. You’ll have to get back to me on that, Paul. Until I reach some moment of enlightenment, where everything all comes into some great oneness, I’m still toying around with these aspects of myself that do different things and play different parts and different roles.

Well, that gives us an excuse to have another interview someday.

(Laughs) I would love that Paul! This has been so neat to talk to you.

Well, thank you very much for this interview. I can tell you, on a very personal level – we’ve never spoken, we’ve emailed several times throughout the years, and I have an autographed photo of you where you drew a little palm tree in the corner of the photo – your music has brought me some joy in my life and I appreciate that.

I must say, Paul, our correspondence has been very, very encouraging for me as well. And it has been over a few years. I was expecting you to look a lot older than you are so congratulations on looking so young (laughs).

Well, thank you very much for that. Keep playing the ukulele and keep singing and making this great music because it’s what the world needs.

Thank you so much, Paul. You keep putting it out there. All the best, mate.

All right. Have a good one.

Yeah, you too. Bye bye. Hey, I wasn’t expecting such an impressive moustache, by the way! (Laughter)

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.

Jack Phillips: Singer-Songwriter, Recording Artist

Jack Phillips is the leader of the Jack Phillips Band, a songwriter, a singer and a recording artist. He joined us to talk about his album Café Nights in New York, an album that was influenced in short by many nights of listening to the late great Bobby Short singing at the Cafe Carlyle in New York City.

His latest album features Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes from the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band featuring Woody Allen.

Who is Jack Phillips?

Well (laughs), I have a running joke with Eddy Davis that I’m ‘John’ by day and ‘Jack’ by night. My name is John Phillips but there’s a famous musician from the Mamas and the Papas by that same name so a friend of mine in London said, “Why don’t you call yourself ‘Jack’?” So that was a couple of years ago I started doing that with my music. So, ‘Jack Phillips’ is supposedly unique in the music business so that’s who I am now, for music purposes.

Can you recall the first album you ever bought?

Oh yeah, sure. It was Elton John’s Greatest Hits. It was from 1974 and I purchased it the summer of ’75. It changed my outlook on music completely because up until that time, I really – I was 12 years old and I had no real exposure to pop music at all. I grew up with a family that only listened to classical music and I studied the piano in those days as a young child. And my mother was a great pianist. And suddenly, you know, I discovered this wild piano performer. My interest in pop music began at that point when I was 12. I remember very clearly when I purchased that record, sure.

Tell us about the influence, or the inspiration rather, for this new album that you have. It’s all original compositions. The title of this album is Café Nights in New York.

Well, I first made my first trip to New York in 1994, I recall. Back then, I had been to New York a few times before as a student but when I came with my wife in 1994 – we had a few days to spend in New York – there were at least three things that I wanted to do. One was to have dinner at the Russian Tea Room. Another was to go catch Woody Allen and the New Orleans Jazz Band at Michael’s Pub. And it was on that evening that I met Eddy Davis and the band. And the other was to go hear Bobby Short at the Café Carlyle. And I absolutely fell in love what Bobby Short was doing. I absolutely loved it. And over the next several years I would make repeated visits to the Café Carlyle. One evening in 1998, I was talking to Bobby and he introduced me to his drummer, Klaus Suonsaari, and we’ve been friends ever since. And so, I moved to New York in 2006 and, from frequenting the Café Carlyle at the end, this time Woody Allen was there – he was playing the Café Carlyle on Monday nights – and I got to know Eddy and the band, including Conal Fowkes. And I’ve been telling Eddy for years that we should do something, let’s just write something together. And it wasn’t until this last year that I got to actually take action and do something. And when Conal and I had at least a couple of tunes, we got together with Eddy and Eddy, you know, agreed to produce the album, and that’s where it really got started. But it was inspired by many, many evenings spent at the Café Carlyle listening to Bobby Short and all that, all that wonderful sophistication he brought to that scene in those days.

The producer, Eddy Davis. What is he like to work with?

(Laughs) Eddy’s fantastic. You know he comes from a composition background. He studied music theory and composition in school, and he’s a prolific writer. I’m willing to bet you he writes one or two songs every single day. And he’s just terrific. He knows so much about music. He knows the history of music and the business of music and orchestration and everything. He was terrific to work with. He understood what I was trying to do and I couldn’t have done it without him. He was the arranger and the producer on the record. I had a very vague idea of what I wanted to do when I was writing some of the material with Conal, but it was really, it was really Eddy’s genius that sort of fleshed it all out and created the beautiful arrangements that are on the album.

A lot of the songs, as you mentioned, they were also written with Conal Fowkes – a couple of them are anyways. What is he like to write with?

I got together with him at the piano and I had some vague ideas of what I wanted to do. I generally walked in with a lyric that I had written and I might have had, for example, the first line of a song. And it’s not that I can’t write music by myself. I do and I’ve written loads of pop songs but I don’t have the skill that Conal brings to it. Conal was able to help me think of chord progressions and chord changes that I couldn’t come up with myself. So he and I sat down together. I would sing the first line and he would help me think through, you know, where the song should go and give me some things to think about, and then it all just kind of felt better that way. The first song we did together was called I’ve got Sophistication Too and that just came together so beautifully.

Well, tell us about the inspiration behind the lyrics on that song, I’ve Got Sophistication Too.

Well, I think that harkens back to my recollections of studying time at the Café Carlyle and probably, more relevantly, listening to Bobby Short and the songs that he sang, many of which were written by Cole Porter and others, Rogers and hart and so forth. And maybe it’s influenced also by the movies of the ‘30s. If you can sort of imagine, you know, an old black and white film with people in tuxedos in their, in their penthouse apartments in New York, stirring martinis and so forth. And that was just all so glamorous to me, and that was kind of  the picture I wanted to paint throughout the album. I was trying to put a little glamour into the music.

There is another song on this album, it’s called The Old Grey Hat, which you wrote. Tell us about that song.

Well, that one was purely inspired by listening to Woody – Woody Allen and the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band – at the Café Carlyle. Woody has a very distinct style of playing the clarinet. He’s actually a tremendously good clarinetist. In fact, if you – you know, the proof of it, uh, you can watch an old Dick Cavett episode – it’s probably on YouTube – where he played some just terrific clarinet. But in recent times, Woody tries to play the clarinet in a very original, what Eddy calls the ‘crude’ style, very much the way it would have been played perhaps in 1917 or the very early ‘20s in New Orleans. And I was very taken by that. I really admire and appreciate what he’s doing in keeping old New Orleans jazz alive. In fact, if it wasn’t for Woody doing it, I’m sure there would be lots of people who would just not be aware of how great that music was. And so that – I took inspiration from that. I created a little piece of music that was similar in style to some of the pieces that they’ve played there. I, basically, lyric’d around a little motif from at least a couple of his films where he mentions in the films ‘the grey hat’ or ‘the gray het of compromise’ the grey hat of compromise. And so, I kind of wrote a little funny little lyric around that idea and that music that I hear them play at the Café Carlyle.

It’s a really interesting connection there because of, you know, the Café Carlyle, your love of Bobby Short who appears in the Woody Allen film, Hannah and Her Sisters, which makes me curious. Are you a fan of Mr. Allen’s films?

Sure. I do know what you’re talking about. I do know that scene from Hannah and Her Sisters and that was a terrific little appearance that Bobby made in that film. And, of course, Bobby has been in other films too. But yes, I do admire his film work very much. And I don’t think anybody alive has made me laugh quite so hard, and also think deeply about the meaning of life – or maybe, as Woody might say, ‘the lack of meaning of life.’

(Laughs) Do you have a favorite Woody Allen film?

Oh I don’t know. There’s just so many of them. But I was so tickled to have been invited to the Clinton’s … – you know, a couple of years ago when Conal recorded those beautiful Cole Porter pieces that were used last year in Midnight in Paris. And so, I have a great connection with that film. I had been in Paris just a few months before they shot that movie. It’s certainly one of my favorites right now.

Working our way back to your album, Café Nights in New York – our special guest, Jack Phillips – do you have a favorite song on this record?

I think they all, they’re all nice. I think, I think the one that Eddy and I collaborated on called Someone is very nice.

That is a good one.

We had not collaborated together on anything until we did that song together and I sat down at his piano and just came up with the first couple of notes – it was just, you know, it was just two notes. And those two notes suggested an after of, you know, another couple of notes, and Eddy and I said. ‘That’s good. We like that.’ And then because it was just two syllables, I just came up with the word ‘someone’ and we were off to the races. I mean, the song just fell together beautifully. I think Eddy did a marvelous job of arranging it. I think it’s a good song.

When someone listens to this album, Café Nights in New York, what do you want the listener to get from the experience?

Well, I hope that they’ll maybe be transported in time. Maybe they’ll remember a more sophisticated time – or should I say a more glamorous time? – that we all lived, when people went out for dinner, people dressed up for dinner, people when dancing. It was just a, maybe a more civilized time? I don’t know. I hope it, I hope it moves people.

What is the best thing about being Jack Phillips?

(Laughs) Oh, that’s funny. Gosh, I don’t know. Being married to my wife and having a beautiful 11-year old daughter. Those are certainly probably the best things about being Jack Phillips.

Do you see yourself delving more into music like this? Making recordings like this?

Well sure! I mean, if the public likes it, if  people get what I’m trying to do, I would absolutely love to do some more of this. I would love to work with Eddy again. I, you know, have a lot of interest. I would love to make another pop record. I would love to make a blues record. But I would absolutely love to do something along these lines again, sure.

For all the listeners out there who would like to find out more information, what web site can they go to?

JackPhillipsJazz.com

Alright, and that’s JackPhillipsJazz.com. My last question is open-ended. For anyone who’s listening to this broadcast, what would you like to say to all the people who are listening in?

Support great music. Support your kid’s interest in music. Go hear live music. They need your support. And it’s because of your support that we can do this.

Mr. Phillips, thank you very much for this interview. It’s been a real pleasure to speak to you.

Thanks so much, Paul, for having me.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.

Steve Tyrell: Singer, Producer, Recording Artist

Steve Tyrell is one of the most respected singers of today across a number of genres.  He is a singer of the great classics from the American Songbook. His most recent album “I’ll Take Romance” (Concord Records, Release date: February 7, 2012) is a collection of amorous songs. Tyrell’s performance of the song “The Way You Look Tonight” in the film Father of the Bride, starring Steve Martin, pushed him center-stage as a singer, with live concert performances and a studio and live records. His work in the studio as a record producer has included collaborations with such diverse and legendary artists as Rod Stewart, Diana Ross, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Linda Ronstadt, Aaron Neville, Mary J Blige, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chris Botti, Dave Koz, Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Burt Bacharach, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. and Regis Philbin.