The Paul Leslie Hour Episode #23 – Dub Cornett & Victoria Lily Shaffer

Dub Cornett and Victoria Lily Shaffer are the producers of the new unscripted comedy show “Bill & Brian Doyle-Murray’s Extra Innings,” with a new episode every Monday exclusively on Facebook Watch. Viewers get to see brothers Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray interacting with the fans and players of minor league teams at games across the country. Behind the scenes, the producers of “Extra Innings” are as down-to-earth as America’s pastime with a shared love of dogs, comedy and music. Don’t touch that dial, Dub Cornett and Victoria Lily Shaffer are up next!

Watch BILL MURRAY & BRIAN DOYLE-MURRAY’S EXTRA INNINGS here!

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Genius Either Way It’s Flipped

LATE AT NIGHT

It’s fate that some should touch the heights that make a mem’ry fast recall,

The words and deeds that make hearts light, and let the tensions built, desolve,

A comic’s not a name tag worn, nor ever was talent bought,

a showman true, is only born, then hones the talent he has got,

Let the hours slip ’til night, who fears the dark in merriment,

rather laugh in lowered light, then watch some other, lesser gent

Let talent come from where it will, in singers, actors, all renowned

spectators nightly hours fill, with David, Paul and Kalter’s sounds,

those talents many lives enrich, by daring to speak humors script

As Letterman describes “the switch” it’s genius either way it’s flipped.

(A Poem by Daniel L. Buckner)

I was about 9 years old and staying up very late on a Friday.  Everyone else was sound asleep and that was the first time I ended up on “Late Night with David Letterman.”  I distinctly remember the bandleader eating a bowl of Rice Krispies drizzled with Pepto-Bismol.  Clearly I had stepped into another era of my life.

The beautiful thing is that I am not unique.  Letterman has long appealed to those with a taste for humor that is off the beaten path.  No David Letterman would mean no Jimmy Kimmel and no Conan O’Brien.  There has been plenty written about the man’s contributions to comedy, but to me it has always been Dave’s curiosity about people that I found so interesting.  Moreso than some of his celebrity interviews, I recall him talking to a young kid who found gold.  Or his exchanges with his mother known to the public as “Dave’s mom.”

I’ve learned about interviewing from some of the best and have been able to interview truly great interviewers like the late Joe Franklin, Bob Edwards, Larry King, Bill Boggs and Elliot Mintz.  I don’t pretend to be in any way culturally relevant.  I’m still learning, but there is no doubt in my mind that the reason I interview people is because of David Letterman.

David Letterman is frequently over-looked as an interviewer.  I recall my conversation with his announcer Alan Kalter, when he talked about his first impression with Dave.  “He was a listener. And he still is to this day. Uh, he’s a great listener when he interviews the guests on the show, as you can tell. He’s also a good listener if you meet him in the hall or if he sits down with you and says ‘What’s new?’ He listens to everything you say and then asks the appropriate questions.”

I write this little tribute to the Worldwide Pants crew as the very last episode of the show is being taped.  Hard to fathom the impact Dave, Paul & Co.  made to millions of people, but also the people who helped create the magic and the music of every episode.

The people who created The Late Show are a lot more open than most people in what they call “show business.”

I’ve been a fan of Paul Shaffer and his 2 albums, in particular “Coast to Coast” for years.  His CBS Orchestra is arguably one of the best bands in the business and  this is not really a secret.  I set out years ago to help tell the story of the band, going back to when it was called “The World’s Most Dangerous Band.”  I was able to interview Steve Jordan, the original drummer back in the early days of 1982 when Letterman was first starting in late night.  I recall my interview also with Anton Fig, known to many as a great drummer who is also a composer who created one of my favorite albums, “Figments.” And of course Will Lee who along with Shaffer has been there since day one and never left.  I spoke with almost all of the horn section, some who have gone onto other things.  There was the enthusiastic Alan Chez who encouraged me to stuff myself on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.  There was saxophonist Bruce Kapler who will forever be associated with Christmastime to so many.  Aaron Heick, saxophonist and composer of songs like “Drifting Upstream” and “Desert Lullaby,” and of course their leader, the multi-instrumentalist  incredible Tom “Bones” Malone, a man who personifies what it is to be a gentleman.

But there are other people I got to meet, the former warm-up comedian and booker, Eddie Brill who I had the fortune to interview after interviewing the one-of-a-kind announcer Alan Kalter.  The people behind the scenes who gave so kindly of their limited time, like Executive Producer and CEO of Worldwide Pants,  Rob Burnett, who somehow finds time to also write scripts and make movies…or CBS Vice President of Late Night Programming Vinnie Favale who has an unlimited amount of passion for so many things, including his musical “Hereafter.”

I didn’t get to interview the entire band, but I did try my best so there are no regrets really.  There is only one regret I have.  It was back in 2008 and I was in New York City having interviewed arguably the biggest New York legend—Woody Allen.  I was stopped on the street and asked to answer 3 trivia questions (the most memorable being about Kalter’s hair color) for tickets to see a taping of “The Late Show.”  I answered all the questions correctly, but sadly my flight would not allow me to attend the taping.  The tickets were given to my friends who would stay behind as I returned home.  I truly regret not staying.  Meeting Woody Allen and then seeing a taping of Letterman?  New York dreams.

When I interviewed his good friend comedian Tom Dreesen he said to get a good look because we won’t see Dave again.  Perhaps David Letterman’s most attributed and repeated quote is “There is no off position on the genius switch.”  Maybe I’m being mawkish, but I can’t imagine so much wit, creativity and humor just suddenly turning off. 

Late at night, 11:35 PM to be precise, on television sets across the country, the recognizable sound of Alan Kalter  and the CBS Orchestra has been heard night after night…a sure sign that you’re about to be entertained.    Although the show is ending there are stories and as I have learned many incredible characters that are here to stay.

***

Special thanks to: Eddie Brill, Rob Burnett, Tom Dreesen, Vinnie Favale, Anton Fig, Aaron Heick, Steve Jordan, Alan Kalter, Bruce Kapler, Frankie Keane, Will Lee, Tom “Bones” Malone, Susan Shreyar-Miller and…of course Henry Jordan and David Yoder.

Cleto Escobedo III : Saxophonist, Bandleader on Jimmy Kimmel

Cleto Escobedo III is a saxophonist and vocalist as well as bandleader of Cleto and the Cletones, the house band on the ABC late night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”  Music is in his blood.  His father, Cleto Escobedo, Jr.is a saxophonist.  Father and son can be seen and heard five nights a week nationwide at 11:35 P.M. (ET).

In this interview we meet the humble man, Cleto Escobedo III.

David Sanborn: Saxophonist

DAVID SANBORN is a man who loves music.  As a composer, performer on his chosen instrument, the saxophone or as a recording artist with 24 album releases, the man has fans around the world.  Recognition?  He’s received six Grammy Awards, has had 8 Gold albums and 1 Platinum album.  He’s toured with artists as diverse as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Stevie Wonder.  As a session artists, he’s appeared on the albums of everyone from James Taylor to Billy Joel.

In this interview, Paul caught up with David Sanborn backstage to have a talk about his musical roots.

Steve Jordan: Drummer, Composer & Record Producer

 Steve Jordan is a drummer, composer and record producer.  Steve Jordan is frequently known for accompanying well known artists both on stage as a sideman and in the recording studio as a session player.   He has backed artists like Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones.  Along with Pino Palladino, Jordan performs with the John Mayer Trio.  He was a founding touring member of the Blues Brothers featuring Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi.

He was a founding member of The World’s Most Dangerous Band, which backed Paul Shaffer on Late Night with David Letterman on NBC from 1982 to 1986.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce this man, Grammy Award-winning Steve Jordan.

Pleasure to be here, Paul.

How do you define Steve Jordan?

(Laughs) I guess, oh, that’s a good question. Somebody who’s passionate about music and life in general. A very fortunate individual. A person who doesn’t take anything for granted, I guess. I hope that kind of shows in the work that we do.

If we could go back in the Jordan household when you were growing up, what would we see?

We would see first of all  two amazing parents that I owe everything to. My mother Gloria Lorraine Jordan, a musical person, incredible homemaker and later educator, and she got a Master’s Degree in gerontology later on. And just a very active, determined, supportive, wonderful person. And then my father, Horance R. Jordan who was an architect, worked for the city of New York and very driven by work ethic, a very strong work ethic. And once again, very supportive. He used to drive me around to gigs and kind of, there’s nothing like having an architect be a roadie (laughs). I made the guy, the two of them together were so dynamic, elegant, fantastic that it was incredible to grow up in that household. And I have a younger sister who is very talented as well. It was pretty cool. Pretty cool. We grew up in the Bronx, the northeast Bronx. At that time it was kind of a pretty cool melting pot, different cultures and it was an exciting time. Music was always playing in the house, usually it was pop music. And in a particular case, my father being a jazz fanatic, there was always Miles Davis being heard in the house. And then, also, you know, the Beatles and Motown and Stax, and stuff.  James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone. So there was a lot of music being played and my father had a wonderful sound system. And you know, we did some – really, really appreciated that kind of stuff in that era. You know, the Civil rights era and that kind of thing.

Can you remember the first album that you bought with your own money?

The first album that I ever owned was – and it’s still one of my favorite albums – it was Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini. That is still one of the greatest recordings, in my opinion, ever made. And it’s kind of a beacon for me when I do musical directorialships, when I’m working the Emmys or…or Kennedy Center or anything like that, I always have that in the back of my mind, Henry Mancini’s work, Quincy Jones’s work and that kind of stuff. The first single I ever owned, was I think Yakety Yak by The Coasters, which is one of my favorites. I think Charlie Brown and Yakety Yak were two of my favorite records as a kid. And I started collecting records very, very young. I think by the age of two or three, I started getting 45’s. My parents would by me stuff and, according to them, I knew how to operate the, not only the record player but also I knew what records I was putting on, before I could read. Now, I think the reason why is because I kind of have this kind of photographic memory kind of thing and, of course, labels at that time were very easily recognizable. And I guess you could tell by the font, because there were certain fonts on certain tunes. So I think that’s how I was able to recognize OK, even though it was a Motown label, I could tell, if it was a Four Tops record that I wanted to play, or it’s a Supremes record I wanted to play or something like that. I think that’s how that came about. But I just was banging on pots and pans from a very early age and I was listening to records.

You said “banging on pots and pans.” So, were you pretty much always a drummer?

Uh, yes. That was definitely the first – that’s the anchor to everything that I do. Even when I stop for a while and start playing other instruments,when I came back to really devoting myself to the drums I got an even deeper appreciation of the drums. My father told me, I guess when I was around seven years old, seven or eight years old, he said ‘if you learn how to play Art Blakey’s Blues March you’ll be able to navigate all types of drumming and different styles. And even though he wasn’t a musician, everybody thought he was a musician. And he had a very keen sense of what was important in music or what touched people in music. And he was right because that particular piece of music – well, obviously, Art Blakey swung like no other person swung, so you know it was swinging. And his technique, his hands, so to speak, were fluid. Not over-technical, just really steady and played extremely melodic. It wasn’t just all based on technique so he had the perfect combination. And so, there you have it.

Take us back. What was it like as a very young man meeting Stevie Wonder and also being a part of his band?

First of all, let me just clarify. I never was in Stevie Wonder’s band but I got a chance to hang out with Stevie Wonder. It was a long, it’s a long story. I’ll try to make it as short as possible. During Songs in the Key of Life, going into The Secret Life of Plants, he was auditioning drummers. And there was a drummer that played on Songs in the Key of Life, besides himself, named Raymond Townes. For some reason, they were auditioning other drummers to see if they could get someone to replace Raymond, even though Raymond played great and I really don’t understand it to this day. But, at any rate, they were auditioning people from all over the country. I met a lot of people. I was still in high school. I was working in a percussion cage at Bill’s Music, Bill’s Rentals which, prior to studio instrument rentals, that was the place. So anyway, I’m hanging out, working at the percussion cage. Bill, who was a wonderful gentleman, tried to get me in to audition but I was too young so I wasn’t able to audition but I met a lot of people and, to make a long story short, at the end of the audition Raymond retained his job but then they let me jam. They let me play with Stevie. And at the time, fusion music was really at its apex and so, like the Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy by Return to Forever, Chick Corea; Mahavishnu, John McLaughlin and Billy Cobbham and Weather Report – stuff like that, and some stuff that Herbie Hancock was doing – all that stuff was on Stevie’s fingertips, so to speak, and mine as well. So I got a chance to play. We jammed and he went into like this Return to Forever tune, which I knew like the back of my hand. He was shocked and everybody went ‘Whoa!’. So, even though I didn’t get the job, I became like a little mascot. They let me hang out with them. So they were going into the studio – they were at the Hit Factory – and they let me hang out. And it was like being Cinderella. I was living in the Bronx, didn’t have any money or anything, just enough to take the subway in, and I’d be hanging out with Stevie Wonder and the band, Wonder Love which, at the time Nathan Watts had joined the band, was still his musical director on bass. Michael Sembello was on guitar. It was just an amazing situation. ……..Phil Gaines had just joined. I was in the room with Stevie Wonder when Phil Gaines was introduced to Stevie Wonder. It was just an amazing situation. So, I’d be hanging out with Stevie Wonder and the band, in the studio watching studio technique, and just – I’m a kid! You can see, it’s incredible! It’s like a dream. And then I’d get on the train, the subway home and I’d get home. It was truly a Cinderella type of situation. From that moment on I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Stevie Wonder was this incredible human being and so sweet to me that it was just crazy. I just, I couldn’t believe it. I have deep love and respect for him. So that was when I knew exactly what I wanted to do. So the very first session I ended up recording was with a guy who used to play with Stevie Wonder named Eddie Morales, who was a tenor sax player. My first session was at Electric Lady Studios, in Studio B, and the band was Nathan Watts on bass, Carlos Alomar on guitar, from David Bowie fame who co-wrote the song Fame, and Michael Sembello on guitar as well. It was half of Stevie’s band, plus Carlos and myself, so I think that’s where the whole thing about me playing in Stevie’s band came up. That’s a clarification of that story. He had us very much involved with them but I was never really an official band member.

What about playing in the Saturday Night Live band? How did that come about?

Oh, that came about – I was playing, I was starting to get some calls, I was like this second or third call for all the musicians in New York who are incredible, you know? So like, the A team was Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta, Chris Parker, these guys. And I was just coming up, starting to get some jobs when these guys couldn’t make it. I’d get to play be subbing for these guys. There was a snow storm in New York back in the ‘70’s that, well, it crippled the city and some of these guys lived out of town and I lived in Chelsea. So, this was when the studio scene was just bursting with work. You could do six or seven sessions a day if you were lucky. It was really an incredible combination of actual records and commercials, which we called jingles. During the storm, I was able to really do a lot of work because a lot of the guys who lived out of town couldn’t make it in. And I got to play and a lot of people liked what I was doing. John Tropea had a band, he put together a band. It was really a band. It was just a band comprised of all the top studio musicians. And he had done a solo album and the hook to this album was that Steve Gadd played in the left speaker and Rick Marotta played in the right speaker. And he had a gig at the Bottom Line, which no longer exists anymore but it was a great venue and a lot of great music was there. Rick Marotta couldn’t do the job so I was recommended because a lot of these guys said ‘Hey, well this kid is pretty good. You should check him out and see what happens.’ So, the day before the show we had a rehearsal at Carol’s Music – I’ll never forget it – where I’m playing opposite Steve Gadd, who’s a hero of mine, and I could hardly hold the sticks. It was a disaster. The rehearsal was an absolute disaster (laughs). And I thought ‘Oh my God!’ I was just so nervous. So the show time comes the following evening and I’m setting up and Steve is setting up and people are filing in, and I hear people in the audience grumbling, like ‘Who’s this guy here? I thought Rick Marotta was going to be playing. Who’s this guy?’ And I hear murmuring and everything and I go ‘Oh, my goodness. This is trouble. Oh, my god.’ So then the show starts and all the adrenaline kicked in because it was a do-or-die situation. Because, it was like Game 7, I just played better than I ever played, ever. That’s the night I got the job at Saturday Night Live because Steve Gadd was just to busy to do Saturday Night Live. He was just too sought after, so he couldn’t. He never knew what he was going to be doing or where he would be so he couldn’t commit to the job. I was asked to do the job from that show and it changed my life.

Tell us a bout being a member of The World’s Most Dangerous Band, the first house band, Late Night with David Letterman.

Well, basically, the show – the band was Paul, Will, Hiram, and myself. Paul – I asked Paul to produce a band that I was in called the 24th Street Band, which consisted of Clifford Carter on keyboard and vocal, Hiram Bullock on guitar, Will Lee on bass, and myself. Paul and I had forged a really cool friendship from playing together on the Saturday Night Live band going into the Blues Brothers band. Especially during the Blues Brothers band, we really became pretty close,  musically, because we had the same type of love for certain types of music. When Paul was asked to put together a band and he came to me and I said ‘Well, why don’t we just get the guys? I mean, we already got a band.’ Our band was, basically, breaking up, or we had just broken up. ‘Well look, if we get Hiram and Will, we’re ready to go, ‘cause it’s a band.’ He agreed and then we started, we started playing. We used to rehearse in my home. So it was a great vehicle for us to play a lot of the music that we loved because we loved all ‘50s rock and roll, rockabilly, obviously R&B. So, we just picked our favorite tunes, basically. We hit the ground running because we were already primed. Like I said, three of us had played before together on a regular basis. Hiram was a phenomenal guitar player, as we know. Will Lee a virtuoso, not only bass player but all-around musician, Paul and I had worked together, like I said. So we had a team and our musical dialog was kind of very high level. We became the focal point of the show because people were just blown away by the band from the very first episode. In fact, one of the great things about being so visible at the time was that there was never a four-piece, there had never been a four-piece band on television every night before. That’s the first time it was ever done. That was great. We received a mailgram from the great Tony Williams the day after our first show, congratulating us and I thought ‘Well, there you have it!’ because Tony was my hero. Well, that was an incredible acknowledgement from somebody who was a beacon to me. He raised – he set the tone for me and, individually, as a musician. He was playing with Miles when he was 17 so my goal was to do something really of a high level by the time I reached 17. Now, I was doing some stuff at 17 but (laughs) not playing with Miles Davis. But I did get the job with Saturday Night Live when I was 18, 19 years old so I was a couple of years off.

Our special guest is drummer, Steve Jordan. Not only have you performed with a lot of great artists on the Letterman Show but you’ve recorded and toured with a lot of great artists. Everyone from Neil Young to Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, John Mayer, Don Henley, Cat Stevens, BB King, Patti Austin, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Alicia Keyes, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor – the list goes on and on. Could you pick one or two favorite artists that you have worked with?

Well, playing with Neil Young was pretty big because I got a chance not only to play with him in the studio at a very critical time in his career but we also, during the making of Landing on Water, we lived together for a couple of, for a week or two off and on. So one night – I had a place in Malibu and we used to go out there – one night I found myself sitting down, writing a song with Neil Young and I couldn’t believe it (laughs). I couldn’t believe it! I’m sitting over there in the living room and I’ve got an acoustic guitar and he’s got guitar and I’m like ‘Holy cow! I’ve just written a song with Neil Young! This is insane (laughs)! I can’t believe it!’ So there’s that and, of course, working on Keith Richards’ solo album and befriending Keith, who is a dear friend. I mean, that –when you’re friends with people, like, sometimes you don’t realize exactly what’s actually happening because everybody, we’re all just human beings, OK? If you treat somebody differently than a human being, well then you’re not – you’re belittling the whole relationship and yourself and human nature in general. So, people just want you to be natural around them. When you’re asked a question like that, well, they’re just a human being and a very wonderful human being, considering how everybody else treats them because they’re all – these people are treated differently. The ‘celebrity’ and all of that kind of makes for a very kind of tricky situation for them. I can say that they’re good friends and they didn’t hesitate to share their knowledge with me. I mean, Keith gave me guitar lessons and – ‘cause he saw that I wasn’t going to put down the guitar. He saw that I was going to keep playing it so he said ‘Well, I might as well teach this guy some stuff so that I can actually bear it (laughs).’ So that was great. I learned a lot about songwriting, as well, from him. Those two things in particular, those two individuals in particular, just jump out at me but I have had so many wonderful experiences that they’re hard to kind of number, and it keeps getting better every day. I mean, I – I’m very fortunate to be playing with the people I’m playing with currently. Right now, I’m working with my wife, Meegan Voss, who’s a great musician and we have a band called The Verbs. We’re both classical, classically trained musicians and, of course, she had a couple of girl bands back in the day, the Poptarts and the Antoinettes. And she was like the queen of CBGB’s, for a while there. And I always wanted to get a band into CBGB’s and I could never get one to actually get in there (laughs). I could never put one together. So we have that kind of thing where, that she’s done stuff that I’ve wanted to do and vice versa. And so, now that when we’re playing together, it’s a really incredible experience for me. And I also get the chance to play with people like John Mayer and Alicia Keyes and Beyoncé, and just this new crop of great musicians.

What is John Mayer like to write with? I know you’ve written a couple of songs with him.

Well, John is a great writer, and he’s just a very smart and amazingly talented individual. You know, we’ve become good friends as well which is, really, the main thing. It’s about chemistry with a musician, or with anybody, not just a musician, obviously. But he’s very savvy and he’s very keen on what is important about his music, his product, his brand. So, the writing that we’ve done together is different. Every collaboration is different. The way that I collaborate with John is more like, it comes out of what we call a ‘free play’ where we just play some stuff and it’s basically like just jamming. And we come up with some stuff and then we’ll come up with some music and then he’ll take the track or whatever, and then write some lyrics over it as opposed to when I’m writing with Keith Richards, it will be more of a collaboration where we’ve not only come up with the music together but then we’ll write lyrics together. Or kind of, with Meegan, it’s kind of a combination of that. It takes all, it takes on different forms. Sometimes, I’ll write a tune that I’ve written most of the lyrics for or whatever, but I need a bridge and then I’ll ask Meegan ‘Do you have a bridge?’ Or some things I’ve written with some great writer like Danny Kortchmar, who’s a legendary guitarist but legendary producer and writer. Great, great writer. So I’ve learned a lot of stuff about writing from him. So I’ve been very fortunate to be around a lot of great writers. Working on Devil and Dust with Bruce Springsteen, before I played a single track he gave me the book of lyrics, every lyric in Devils and Dust, before I played a note. And he thought it was important for me to read the lyrics to the whole album before I played on it, which is very, very, very smart. And it gave me insight into what he was thinking about and what his mindset was before we started recording. It was great. A lot of people have different way of doing things and I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of different styles.

My last question is open-ended. What would you, Steve Jordan, like to say to anyone who is listening to this interview?

I’d like to say for everyone to stay positive. There are a lot of things out there that could lead you to think otherwise but we’re living in a very fascinating point in time here. We could continue to go forward and focus on the things that will make this society of ours better but the choice is ours. There are a lot of things that make people think smaller than they have to. If we really go back to the …thought of helping one another and not being as selfish as we’ve become, the world would be a better place. Which I’m very fortunate and blessed to be a musician because music is the universal language. So I can go all over the world and spread the good cheer of music. And, as you can see, that cuts across every kind of racial, cultural, social, political line. And that’s the great thing about music so I like to carry that torch, like a lot of other artists do as well. For musicians and artists, that’s our job. Our job is to carry that torch and to, and to pass on good will. And so that, that’s what I like to do and I’d like to do that more often. I look forward to every opportunity to do that.

Mr. Jordan, it’s been a great pleasure to do this interview.

Thank you, Paul. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

Perhaps I will hear you perform in Atlanta?

Yeah, I know that The Verbs are putting together a small tour to do something, maybe at the end of the year. And then, next year I’ll be doing some work with some, uh, some legendary, noted guitar players – and I’ll leave it at that.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

Will Lee: Bassist, Recording Artist

WILL LEE is the sensational bassist on The Late Show with David Letterman he joins us for an in-depth interview.  Will Lee has released 3 studio albums of his own as well as appearing on thousands of songs by many of the biggest names in music.  Will Lee also performs as the bassist in the Beatles tribute band The Fab Faux.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s our pleasure to welcome the one and only Will Lee. Thanks so much for joining us.

Greetings. It’s my pleasure. It’s nice to be here. How are you guys doing?

We are doing fantastic.

Alright.

It’s been along time that we’ve been corresponding so it’s great to finally bring this into the reality.

I appreciate your patience. I know how it’s been and you’ve been great about this. Thank you. It’s great to finally connect.

Who is Will Lee?

(Laughs) Well, that’s a loaded question. I guess there’s a different answer for everyone who gets asked that question. You know, in England, they would say ‘that’s your penis.’ But that’s a whole other story. (Laughs) We’re not going there. Um, if you’re a Sesame Street fan, you’d say ‘Oh, that’s the actor who played Mr. Hooper’s real name’, right?

Right.

I don’t know if you know that but that’s a little bit of trivia. When the Will Lee actor guy died, people – I actually got a note handed to me from backstage at the Letterman show saying ‘I was a really good friend of Will Lee the actor’s and you still have his name. Please carry it on respectfully and proudly.’ So I hope I do. (Laughs) I’m no Mr. Hooper, I’ll tell you that. But, uh, Will Lee these days is aworking musician, very happy to be working, happy to have a job and happy to be in music, which I love the most, and I don’t take it for granted for one minute. I really love, uh, serving the music, making it as good as I can.

What was life like growing up in the Lee house?

Oh boy, well you know, we were Texans and, uh, in a small town called Huntsville TX where my father was the head of the music department of the Sam Houston Institute of Technology. You’ve probably heard of it – S.H.I.T. (Laughs) No, that’s just a joke. Actually, it was Sam Houston State Teachers College and my parents were both very heavily into jazz so, musically speaking, the Lee household was always filled with music. My mom was a singer ala sort of Sarah Vaughan and that style of jazz singing. My dad was a bebop piano player at heart and a jazz educator as a livelihood so he could support his four kids. I’m the oldest of four. My brother Rob, my sisters Pat and Peg, are below me in age. So it was fun. We all sang together and, you know, enjoyed being together and we’re still close.

Can you remember specific songs that you heard playing around the house?

Um, I can tell you that as far as I can remember – when I was very young, I remember a the sound of Miles Davis’ muted trumpet so I guess that could have been around the kind of blue era, maybe. I’m not sure what year that album is but that was the first thing I remember hearing. And my parents also were big, you know as I said before, fans of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and, you know, we heard a lot of Joe Williams in that house. And we heard quite a good bit of “Cannonball” Adderley and Nancy Wilson so, you know, and Miles Davis, and “Bird” – Charlie Parker, who dad had played with.

How did you come to fall in love with the bass?

Oh boy. Well, that was, that was not an overnight, uh, ‘love at first sight’ thing. That was a matter of, you know, necessity. When we were, like, 11 or 12 years old as kids in bands and all the kids our age had the mentality of ‘you’re drums or guitar.’ The functionality of the bass was really something that was a little bit over a young kid’s head at that time. First of all, the bass was a brand new instrument, very young instrument, and we’re talking about like 1964, you know, ’65, just after the Beatles hit, hit America. So, you know, I was the drummer in our band which we had put together. The band had two guitar players, drums, and then we added a sax player. But I felt it would have been really nice to have filled out the sound and make us sound just a little bit more professional. So I said we needed a bass player. Unfortunately, nobody our age played bass so we hired a drummer and I said ‘Oh, I’ll just play bass’ like it was nothing. Meanwhile I was the lead singer of the band and I hadn’t realized how tough it was going to be to play bass and sing. So, once we had hired the drummer it was kind of too late to fire him so I kind of went for it, you know? And it seemed – it was pretty humbling to try to be able to,you know, keep singing the lead and now playing bass underneath that, that vocalizing. But, you know, I kept sticking with it and now it’s, like, you know, it’s my passion.

Are there any other instruments that you tinker around with?

Um, I still play a bit of drums. We have this Beatles band, the Fab Faux, a very successful national touring kind of act. We go out every weekend. Um, so I sort of play strictly Beatles music. And sometimes I’ll go back and play drums when our drummer comes up front to sing a lead solo. And, uh, I play a little bit of keyboard and a little bit of guitar in that band. And I mess around with those instruments at home. As a songwriter I kind of play keyboards, you know, at about the level of a basic five-year old.

There have been a lot of interviews with great bass players on this show and I’ve asked a lot of them who their favorite bassists are, ‘who do you think the best bassist is?’ and there have been a lot of answers but the name Will Lee has been on a few people’s list. So who is on your list?

Oh man, my list is huge! You have to go with the masters that most people know about: Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius is way high on the food chain. Chuck Rainey is my all-time favorite bass player. Of course, Larry Graham, father of thump and slap plunk. Uh, for finger funk you’ve got Pino Palladino, Rocco Prestia. You know, a lot of studio players from New York who I came up with: Marcus Miller, Neil Jason, Sal Cuevas – a great Latin bass player – Ray Brown from the upright jazz world, you know, in addition to Paul Chambers. And a guy who, no day goes by without me thinking about – Mr. James Jamerson, the sound of Motown, is way up on the top of the list as well. And many, many others.

You’ve done a lot of session work over the years. What was the first one?

Oh, my first session in New York? Or my first session period?

Yeah, first session period.

Um, I think the first time I ever went in the studio was, uh, with a band that we had in Miami when I lived in Florida. It was called the Loving Kind, the Loving Kind and that was very exciting. We went into Criteria recording studios where lots of great hit records were made, and did a song that we performed on a local American Bandstand style type show on a Saturday. I think we lip-synced to our recording that we had done. That was pretty cool, pretty exciting.

You played on so many people’s records. Is it possible for you to pick a favorite session?

Well, there’s lots of, you know, lots favorite moments in the studio. The outcome of some of the sessions have been, you know, better or not as good as the sessions themselves. But, uh, there’s was one in particular that Steve Gadd and I played on. We played on and it was one of the most fun and best unknown records that we ever did, and it was the New York Community Choir. And we did two albums with this choir in New York and both of them are so filled with joy, I think everybody should go out and pick them up as fast as they can. I think there’s, some of it is appearing lately as a reissue, on like, the iTunes or maybe as imports. I think you can find it on Amazon. But it’s the New York Community Choir –NYCC – and there are two albums that we did and both of them are really, really special.

There’s someone that I wanted to talk about in particular. You played on a lot of his albums, uh, our passed friend. Uh, his music is still very much alive – Mr. Ralph MacDonald. What was it like recording with Mr. MacDonald?

Oh boy. Ralphie. Well, there are so many layers to my relationship with Ralph. One of them is our personal friendship, which was very, very strong and forever, you know, is dear to my heart. And I’m forever influenced by Ralph’s positivity that he gave me as a musician and friend. In fact, he gave me my nickname ‘Uncle Will’ which people still call me to this day. The Ralph MacDonald musician that we all know about is responsible for writing all those great songs like Where Is The Love Mr. Magic and, uh, of course, The Two of Us and many other album cuts and songs that we’ve heard a lot of. Um, he’s a guy who, I can say very confidently, is the person who introduced pop percussion playing to records, you know? He was he guy who knew what to play on tambourine, knew what to play on congas, knew what to play on cowbell, shaker, you know? And he exercised the utmost elegance and taste in everything he played. So, you know, if you were to look at a discography of Ralph MacDonald you’d be shocked, I’m sure, at how many great records that he made happen.

How did you come to meet Paul Shaffer?

Um, well, back in the days when I was – well, let’s say it was the day when I was a musician for hire and in one instance I had a lot of success with, you know, I had done a lot of Barry Manilow records and, you know, a lot of other records. And he had come down from Canada and he was seeking out a rhythm section of guys that he had heard of. And a producer that he knew from some of the Manilow hits – a guy by the name of Ron Dante – who a lot of people out there may know him as the voice of the Archies. He’s a very special, very talented guy. Ron was Barry Manilow’s producer and Paul Shaffer had gotten in touch with Ron to produce a demo that he was doing with a guy named Paul Jabara, who is, uh, now deceased. Paul Jabara is the guy that wrote Last Dance for Donna Summer and also co-wrote It’s Raining Men with Paul Shaffer. But anyway, Paul had hired Ron Dante to get us all together in a studio to record some of these songs that he was arranging and writing with Mr. Paul Jabara. So Shaffer and I met in the studio on the first day of these recordings, and we hit it off right away as great friends and we’ve been really close ever since. You know, I couldn’t believe how nice of a guy this guy from Canada was, Paul Shafer, and what a great talent and what a great ear he has. And how much he knew about music and how aware he was of what I had done by the time he got to New York from Canada, way back in the ‘70s. So we always, we’ve always had a great relationship.

What do you think about Paul Shaffer as a musician?

Well, Paul Shaffer is a guy who is so well schooled – uh, he can read music really well – but his hearing and ears are so great, when he picks up something that he listens to, and he has a chart in front of him, I’m surprised he can even look at the chart because his ears take over and, you know, sort of always tell him what to play. He’s like a walking archive of music history, too. He can really, he’s really a guy that knows so much about pop music and it’s really hard to fool him. Yeah, I always look, look to him to try to find out what’s the right part of the song that I’m supposed to – the song that I’m playing right now – especially if it’s a cover song that, you know, we’re trying to duplicate or something on the set at Letterman or even in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Wherever we’re playing.

Just a few minutes ago you were talking about Barry Manilow and both you and Sid McGinnis, you both played on Barry Manilow’s albums. What is Barry like to work with in the studio?

Well, Barry is a real –he’s like a real arranger, a real guy who knows how to orchestrate horns and strings and stuff, so he’s a very schooled, accomplished musician. He really knows his stuff.

There have been so many great, great acts that have played on the Letterman show and you’ve gotten to play with so many of them. What are some of the favorite acts that you’ve just had to pinch yourself and thought ‘Man, I’m going to get to play with him tonight.’ or ‘I’m going to get to play with her tonight.’? Who are those people?

Oh man, there’s so many. I mean, you know, Melissa Etheridge is almost a regular on the band. We’ve played with her. Uh, Dr. John has been on the show. Stevie Wonder came and started testing the band, started playing obscure songs and thanks to Paul Shaffer we could jump right in on them. But the number one guy, the number one musical guest of all time, without a doubt, was James Brown when he came on the show, especially in the very early days of Letterman – like maybe in ’82 ,’83 – he came on, brought a couple of his own horn players but used our band to back him up and it was just incredible. That was the greatest.

Just as kind of as a ‘what if’ kind of question, if Letterman was going to retire soon what would you do?

Uh, I’d probably take a nap. (Laughs) I’d probably sleep for the first few hours – the first free few hours I’ve had in a long time. And then I would probably, uh, maybe, you know, skip out, skip out of town for a little vacation. And of course I would get antsy and come right back and probably work on, continue working on my record. My own solo CD that I’m working on..

Ahh. So tell us about that. Is it a follow-up to “Oh!” or what is it?

Well, yes. Actually, I have so many unfinished pieces of music that I’m actually finishing up and trying to record. But I think it would be more than a follow-up. I think I’m, at this time, I’m probably working on about three albums.

Oh, awesome.

And I got some great people playing on some great tracks. I just did a track with Billy Gibbons and Allen Toussaint and, you know, I’m just doing one song at a time and seeing how it goes, and everything’s coming out really nicely.

Is there any, uh, tentative date that that will be coming out?

Well, I’m trying to get the first batch of stuff out by October.

Oh wow. Fantastic.

And since this is, uh, 2012 we’re talking about, I’m talking October 2012, so I’m busy.

Tell us about the Fab Faux. How did that come to be?

Oh, the Fab Faux is a miraculous, a miraculous thing. We formed in 1998 and it started when, um, I was doing a little mini-tour of Europe with, uh, the late, great Hiram Bullock. And Hiram used to always want to have a trio of three guys that played and sang so he could get a three-part harmony going. And he, actually, you know, had kind of exhausted his supply of singing drummers. Uh, nobody was available for this particular little tour that we were doing. So then came a guy named Rich Pagano, who I had never met before. And when Rich came and started playing with us, I could hear right away that he was very Ringo influenced in the tuning of his drums and the way he played. And the way he sang was quite a lot like John Lennon. So, you know, as much of a Beatles freak as I’ve always been, I never had thought of having a Beatles band until I met this Rich Pagano. And after the tour was over, it kind of dawned on me that it would be fun to go on stage and play Beatles music as if we were bringing the records to the stage – you know, note-for-note detail stuff. And I knew right away that a four-piece band wasn’t going to work because you have to have, you know, like, you want to hear all those great percussion parts and double-vocal harmonies and keyboard parts and stuff that are on the Beatles records. Where I think a lot of Beatles bands have made the mistake of trying to look like the Beatles – you know, maybe not a mistake, that’s probably a bad way to phrase it – but they’ve suffered in that they’ve settled for having a four-piece band which really doesn’t allow you to have all those great luxurious sounds. So I knew right away it needed to be a five-piece band. And you know, the genesis, you know, was first calling Rich and having him say yes. And then asking Jimmy Vivino if he would kindly join our band, because I knew he was a guy, like Paul Shaffer, who really was a musical historian and archivist who could really focus on getting all of those details right. And he knew what some of those details were supposed to be, better than I did in many cases. And then we met two other guys – a guy named Jack Petruzzelli and a guy named Frank Agnello – and that completed the five-piece band. And we got busy and got started on seeing what we could do as a five-piece band to make it sound as much like the records as possible. And that’s been many years of, uh, trials and tribulations and successes and lots of really great moments on stage replicating these fantastic Beatle albums and singles and stuff. So it’s been a really great trip so far.

What was it like for you when you heard Paul McCartney had given you props as a bassist?

That was a moment that was actually kind of hard, you know, for me. It was really, uh, a tearful moment. One that, uh, I still can sort of relish and take great pride in knowing that, you know, he has some respect for me as I do for him, you know? I don’t think he’ll ever, ever be able to know how much influence he’s had on me and every other bass player. And, in fact, actually, anybody who has ever tried to think melodically, you know, in this pop world that we have. So it’s been incredible to see that in print and see Paul McCartney saying, you know, “Any great bass players that you dig?’ and have him say, ‘Well, Will Lee and Pino Palladino come to mind.’ and have me included in that statement was pretty amazing.

Yeah. Magical.

Yeah. Humbling, too.

Tell us about the gig that they did – I think it was two years ago – when they played on top of the marquee there.

Oh yeah! That was really fun. Well you know, the Letterman show takes place at the Ed Sullivan Theater which, uh, to me it means the place that the Beatles first were seen in America and which really changed the shapeof all pop music from that point. When the Beatles hit the scene, you know, and showed us what they looked like and, you know, fashion-wise, and they took a lot of chances, and they were very confident, and they knew they were getting over and it was incredible. So to see him return to that stage, to that building where he and his other band mates – the rest of the Beatles – changed the course of history, uh, all I could say to him was ‘Welcome home.’

What was recording the Birdhouse album with your dad like?

Well, my dad was a bebopper, you know, and his view of, you know, what music should sound like is all about 4:4 jazz, and how well something can swing, and how well a song is composed. And he had a little history with playing with Charlie Parker – “Bird” – who, you know, who kind of laid down the law as far as what bepop is supposed to sound like, and my dad was a great improviser himself. And, you know, we thought a great place for he and I to come together would be in a setting of Charlie Parker’s material. So we went into the studio as father and son with a bunch of other great musicians – uh, Billy Hart on drums and we invited other guys to perform with us – Randy Brecker and Michael Brecker, and Lew Soloff on trumpet, and the great Bob Dorough on vocals, and John Tropea on guitar. And we got together and played a bunch of Charlie Parker material in our own sort of way. And it, uh, was heartwarming to look over and see dad playing piano with me in the studio – something that had never happened before. So it was a wonderful experience, to have something on tape, so to speak, something recorded with my dear dad who is just recently deceased. So it’s a great memory and a great keepsake of our musical relationship.

As someone who has performed on so many albums, has performed with so many great artists of our time, has recorded albums of his own – all the things that you’ve done – do you still have some dreams you want to pursue? What are they?

Well, for me, I have a ton of things that I would love to finish writing. I keep, you know, I keep these crazy ideas in my head and I just want to see them through. So for me, it’s like, to try to finish, um, these crazy songs that I’ve started writing. And, you know, that’s kind of how “Oh!” happened – my first solo album. There’s quite a few original pieces of music on there. So you know, just to kind of nurture these tunes that I’ve written, and I try to be a writer who’s not derivative. I don’t try to, like, do my version of this other person’s song or anything like that. I try to just go with my instinct and see how far I can take it. So you know, for me I have sort of a list or a supply of unfinished ideas, and I want to keep working on them until they’re finished and move on to the next song. And that’s how the songs are coming for this new album, or set of albums, that I’m doing right now.

What’s the best thing about being Will Lee?

(Laughs) Uh, for me, it’s being the husband of Sandrine Lee. That’s the best thing about being Will Lee. Sandrine is my wife who I’m very proud of, who’s a great, great person who’s a music photographer, who’s having a great deal of success as a photographer these days. And you can look at her web site, SandrineLee.com and see some of what she’s up to. She’s, it’s fascinating for me to watch her grow.

She did the photography for one of Ralph’s albums, if I remember. Isn’t that correct?

That’s true. Homegrown and then the next one, another one called Mixty Emotions. And she was also the photographer of Esperanza Spalding’s two CDs. Pat Metheny’s last album and Mike Stern’s next album and many, many, many other things she’s doing.

For my last question, for anyone who’s listening to this – wherever they are, whenever they hear it – what would you like to say to all the people listening in?

Um, boy that’s a loaded question, man, and I actually have an answer for it. If anybody’s listening – this country of ours has become way, way more divided than I’ve ever seen and there’s really no sense in that at all. I think the only way we’re ever going to be able to move forward, as a country and as fellow human beings, is just to put our differences aside and start loving each other.

Well spoken. Mr. Lee, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

Thank you, Paul. I sure appreciate your time and, again, your patience in waiting for this interview to happen

Well it happened. (Laughs)

Good man. Thank you.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.

 

Bruce Kapler: Saxophonist

The extremely talented saxophonist Bruce Kapler joins us to talk about his musical life.

He was a member of Paul Shaffer’s CBS Orchestra starting in 1993. He left the show in 2012. Bruce Kapler also sings and plays several instruments including soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophone, flute, clarinet, recorder, keyboards and percussion.
The list of musicians Bruce Kapler has performed with sounds like a who’s who of popular music, including Paul Anka, Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, Harry Connick, Jr., George Benson, Buckwheat Zydeco, Glen Campbell, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Ray Charles, the Dave Matthews Band, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Randy Newman, Brian Wilson and the list goes on and on!

It is with great pleasure that we welcome Bruce Kapler of the CBS Orchestra. So, first of all, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview with us.

Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for asking.

My first question: who is Bruce Kapler?

Uh, how far back do you want to go? (Laughs) I could tell you that the current and for the last 16 years, I’ve been the, um, saxophonist, vocalist, um, flautist, sort of utility infielder, uh, in the horn section on, uh, The Late Show with David Letterman. We’re going into our 16th year at this point and I sort of startedas a, um, an added musician back in, uh, 1988 on the old Late Night Show on NBC. I did about 30 shows for them over there, uh, as well as arranging, um, the last, uh, Letterman big, uh, Radio City 10th Anniversary special.

So where were you born?

I was born in Long Island, on the north shore of Long Island, in a town called Huntington.

And what music did you hear growing up?

Oh god, you know, I heard all sorts of music. My parents – we had the, uh, victrola, as it was called – they would play everything from Mario Lanza to, um, honky-tonk piano players to Jerry Lewis Sings to the, uh, sound track from Camelot. It was just a real wide variety of stuff.

Did you have a favorite?

No. It was just – I, my earliest recollections were just, um, sitting there, uh, enthralled with the sound that was coming out of this, uh, this hi-fi. I mean, I started studying music at a really early age so it sort of went hand-in-hand. I mean, my, you know, conscious recollection – I mean, I started studying music when I was five – and so it’s hard to sort of separate the two.

When did you realize you were going to be a musician?

It was pretty early on. I had a wonderful teacher when I was in elementary school. His name was Jack Carmen. He was a great guy with a great laugh and he was really a quite proficient musician. He was a trombone player and he also played an amazing clarinet. He was really into Dixieland music. He was also into gigging all the time, as well as being, you know, head of the music department. So it was kind of exciting because he would come in and, you know, we would sit and he would tell me about his gig last night, you know, and he’d be all excited about it. And I thought ‘This is great. This is what I want to do.’

Can you remember your first public performance?

I would imagine my first public performance was an elementary school band concert, very much as they are today. I guess I was in, uh, the 4th grade? Yes, nine years old. Don’t ask me what we played. And I can only imagine how we sounded. I had had an advantage going into, into elementary school having, again, studied music privately for three or four years. There was a fella in town, uh, his name was Jerry Petrie, and he was also on staff at Julliard. And he had a little, uh, garage studio behind his house and he would give lessons. And I started studying the recorder with him um, when I was five. You know what? I still have those lesson books today and it’s amazing to see that he had a five-year-old or a six-year-old doing sight-transposition, uh, and all the stuff that he had going on. It was a big step-up advantage for me going into elementary school where kids mostly are seeing instruments for the first time and, uh, getting to handle them and play.

So tell us about when you were touring with the Vegas Style Show Band.

A friend of mine from high school, in my high school band, rock band, called me up and said ‘I’m doing this band and we’re supposed to travel and it’s going to be playing hotels and it’s going to be playing a little of this and that, and why don’t you come down and do it?’ I had always been a vocalist, you know, in high school and all throughout. And so, it was just that sort of thing. We had a big green truck. We would load it to the gills with our personal gear and our, our equipment, and we would follow behind in our cars, and we travelled the entire country for about three years and – no, maybe 2½ years. It was the kind of thing where you would go, we would go to a hotel in, uh, in New Orleans and stay in the French Quarter in a hotel for three or four weeks and play their, um, their lounge you know? And we had and act, um, and we had outfits, and we had steps and we, you know, it was that sort of thing. We actually did play in Vegas at the old Stardust. But it was fun and it was my first road experience. And it was a little rough, uh, I mean just the travelling part of it. The rest of it was pretty, pretty comfortable. And making money playing music – that was, uh, that was the big deal.

You mentioned you born in Long Island. What got you, uh, interested in living in New York City? I think you, you mentioned it was the lower East side.

When I had finished that 2½ years, sort of touring with that Vegas Show band, some friends had, um, found a loft on the lower East side and they were moving in. And they said ‘We think you ought to come in and it would probably be a great thing for the three of us to live here and share it all and, you know, get our careers happening.’ Uh, it was a bit of a culture shock, again having been, at that time – when I was a teenager uh, really, and, uh, making pretty decent money and having no expenses whatsoever – to go into the “starving artist” lifestyle that ensued after moving to the lower East side, but it was just an amazing, amazing experience. I have to add that when I moved to the lower East side it was, uh, in 1976, right at the, uh, Bicentennial. I think folks who know the lower East side now, it’s a quite different, um, animal. It’s full of clubs and, and chic restaurants and stuff. And it was still really pretty dangerous to live down there when we, when we moved down there.

I understand that in addition to being a musician, for a time, you were also a record producer?

Uh, yes. Did do a stint as a record producer. And I had been asked by a publishing company to produce a single for, um, one of their artists. It just happen to come out really well. I was able to, uh, sell it to Mercury Records and it was released. And, as with most things in those days, it was about the amount of promotion money that’s put around it. But through that, I met some people at a company who were really making a lot of money putting out records. And, uh, I was sort of the guy who did the pet projects of, you know, the principals of the company. They were guys that I would’ve never chosen to record in particular (laughs) but, uh, it was a great experience to do that. And I got to work in fantastic studios with some guys who became quite famous as engineers and producers.

Tell us about meeting Mr. Paul Shaffer.

My first meeting with him, it was a phone meeting. I’d been playing in New York with a trumpet player, Al Chez, who is also – who plays on the, uh, on the show with us – and, uh, Will Lee, the bass player on the show, um, would sub for our bass player once in a while. And I guess a that time, uh, Paul had, uh, recorded an album and was about to go out on, uh, on the show’s dark weeks and stuff and weekends, and promote and do concerts. And their original plan was to just hire horns wherever, uh, wherever they were. And, uh, Will prevailed upon him and said ‘Listen, you know, I’ve play with these two guys – a sax and trumpet player – and these guys sound like four horns together. You gotta hear them. You gotta hear them.’ And I didn’t even know this happened. Uh, interesting sidelight – this band that, uh, this Latin funk band that we were playing in – Al and I – um, we were hired by La Toya Jackson to, um, be her back-up and for a, uh, world premier at one of the Trump casinos in Atlantic City. So we were rehearsing with her in one room and, unbeknownst to me, Paul and his band were rehearsing in another room. And they sort of – I guess they stuck their heads in and took a listen and liked what they heard because, um, a couple of days later, I got a call from, um, his road manager and said ‘Well, uh, Paul would like you to do this. Uh, we’re going to start rehearsing in a couple of weeks’ And he gave me details and all this other stuff. And before I ever got, we ever started those rehearsals, Paul called me up at home and said, um, ‘We have an artist coming on the show. Her record has horns on it and so I’d love you to, uh, write out the horn parts, and you’ll now come in and back her up with us. And also, pick five tunes that you’d, uh, you guys would like to play, you know, that we’d all know and sit in all night. That was the first experience. I met him when I walked in to Studio 6A at the Rockefeller Center.

What was going through your mind when you were officially were told that you got the gig of being a part of the CBS Orchestra?
As I said, I had done some 30 shows, and a lot of work for the show, and was really familiar with everybody around it. And when they were moving to CBS, I had sort of made a pitch to Paul about going over with them and being a utility infielder because I can play some guitar, I play keyboards, I can – I sing, I play percussion and my point being with that was I wouldn’t necessarily be always a saxophone all the time. Again, more like a utility infielder. So in the meeting, I thought the meeting wentwell, and he called me a week or so later, and said ‘You know, I think I’m going to go in a different direction. I want to try getting a second guitarist and another keyboard player.’ I thought that would sort of be the, uh, extent of my career on the Letterman show at that point. Paul and I were both nominated for Emmys for that 10th anniversary special so I, I did sort of think, well, I guess that was my highlight of my Letterman career. And I just happened to, uh, you know, in those days we had beepers and, you know, no one had hand-held cell phones. Uh, I had a phone in the car. And I was out somewhere and my beeper went off and I had this – you know, ‘This number looks very familiar to me. I better go call.’ So I went in and called and it was Paul. This was about, maybe the 40th show, or so, that they had done for CBS. And he said to me ‘We’re going to have Natalie Cole on the show. We’re going to add, uh, a few horns and, uh, I’d love to have you come in and do it.’ And I said ‘Great!’ So I figured, well there we go, I’ll be sort of called in occasion to do this again. And we talked for a little while longer and he said to me ‘You know, and the band just, you know, it’s just not working out the way I really wanted it to.’ At that point I sort of was frozen stiff in my seat and he had mentioned ‘Well, maybe – I don’t know what we’ll do. Maybe we’ll have you come in and play a regular night once a week or every other week or however it’s going to work but let’s see what happens.’ And, uh, we went in and did that Natalie Cole show – and, um, Tom Malone and I were involved in that, the trombone player on the show. He said ‘Well, why don’t you come back the next night?’ And the next night and the next night. And I guess it was also that Dave liked the horns and the way the band sounded with the horns. So, it wasn’t just like ‘You’ve got the gig. Here’s the contract, dude.’ I sort of, like, eased into it over a period of four months or so. But it was just, it just kept, every Friday you know, they would say ‘Well, come back Monday.’ And then we knew we had another week, so it went along that way.

Playing on the Dave Letterman show, there have been so many great acts that I’ve seen perform on there. Was there one in particular that made you flip out when you found out they were going to be there?

Oh, there are so many. There’s so many. Uh, you know, getting to play with, um, just you know, the icons of the industry. I mean, one of the ones that comes to mind – because I think I might have mentioned to you earlier that past weekend, uh, Levon Helm had invited me to go up and play with his band at one of his Midnight Rambles at his barn-studio home in Woodstock, and that was a fantastic experience. I’ve always been a huge fan from the time I was in high school of the band and of him. So I guess one of, one of the great times was the first time that they appeared on the show and I got to meet them and, and play with them and, uh, meet Garth Hudson and have Garth Hudson explain to me how he liked the horns to be. That was really great. It’s really impossible to sort of name one in particular. I mean, you could just go through the whole roster of people who have appeared on the show. It’s all been amazing.

Well, tell us about what the experience is like being the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame house band.

That’s correct. We’re doing two spectacular anniversary shows – 25th anniversary shows – at Madison Square Garden at the end of October, which will include all the obligatory superstars from, from Clapton to – you name it. And what, uh, we will be doing as the, um, sort of the house band that we’ve been for, since the beginning of the Hall of Fame, we’ll be backing up a sort of a soul review – I think it’s about a 40-minute set – a lot of people. And the, uh – headlined one night by Aretha Franklin, which will be amazing. And I’ve gotten to play with her before and that was amazing to play the saxophone solo on Respect, with having Aretha turn around to stare at you while you’re playing. It was a really wonderful experience. And on the other night the review will be headlined by Stevie Wonder. And that’s another amazing experience that we – he was part of the, uh, closing ceremonies for the Olympics in Atlanta a number of years ago and, uh, so we were sort of the house band for that as well and got to play with Stevie. Those two acts are just going to be amazing, amazing musical experiences.

Let me ask you – and I hope you don’t mind me asking this question. Is there someone in the band that feel closer to than the others?

Well, we’re a pretty tight-knit group and I would, I would say there’s a certain bond between Al Chez and myself because we’ve been together playing as like, uh, a unit for over 25 years starting in, you know, playing in the Jersey shore bands. And it’s funny because the guys that are in, uh, in Conan’s band, in the, um, now the Tonight Show band, we all played together. Mark Pender and Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg – we had a band called La Bamba and the Hubcaps and we played all the big beach bars along the New Jersey shore for years together. So Al. And Will – you know Will is the guy who got me on this gig, you know, and there’s always, uh, a special place – and he’s, he’s an amazing person, an amazing musician. And the kind of musician you meet in life that you barely ever see having to break a sweat no matter what is called for – no matter what technical prowess is called for – in the music that you’re that you’re performing. That, coupled with the deepest groove that, you know, you can imagine. I remember seeing him one of the first times, years and years ago, in the 24th Street Band which is with Hiram Bullock, and just going ‘Wow. I know why this guy is one of the highest paid musicians in New York.’ Because he puts down a groove so deep that you’d need a ladder to climb out of it. There have been a couple of times Anton was, um, maybe playing with a feature band in the center of the stage, and wouldn’t have time to come back and play drums, where I sat down and play drums. And man, having Will playing bass while I played drums – it was just so easy. It was amazing. So I, I feel close to those guys. I feel close to all of them really. I mean Sid McGinnis, the guitarist, I mean he and I have, you know, been friends for a really, really long time. And, uh, well, all of them. Anton and I play golf together all the time. It’s hard tosay but I would still say Al because, I mean I, we’ve been friends the longest.

What is in the future of Bruce Kapler?

In the immediate future it’s, um, another three years, um, happily, uh, with the CBS Orchestra on the show with David Letterman. That’s what we’re looking at now. And, as you can well imagine, I mean it’s, it’s fun to go out and play and do other things but it’s impossible to really plan a future beyond that because, you know, who knows what will be going on at that point. You know, who do you talk to to say ‘Well, you know I would love to go on tour with you but, you know – and I’ll be available in three years.’ You know? (Laughs) So it’s a little, it’s a little far in advance to make those kind of plans.

When Dave calls it quits, I swear I’ll cry. (Laughs)

We all will. And not just for the final curtain of, uh, what has been an amazing run and the absolute best job that any musician could ever have but also because of just Dave himself. He would really shy from the accolades but he is the voice of a generation. And he is sort of like America’s conscience. And people look to him and his opinion when forming their own opinions about certain events that happen in the world. You know, he’s sort of the, the talk show standard-bearer – which has nothing to do with ratings. It has to do with the mettle of the man.

Wow. Very well put. I have two final questions that I ask all of the guests. Uh, this one sounds kind of light-hearted but I always find it reveals something about the person. What is your all-time favorite meal?

Well, see now, I’m a cook. I won’t say that I’m a cook – let’s make it a verb. I cook. I enjoy cooking. I’d have to say I make a really mean osso bucco. It is one of my favorites. I make it on the holidays for my family and they’re always looking forward to it. It is, uh, slow-cooked veal shanks in a sauce that, uh, is comprised of, um, some vegetables and, uh, tomato sauce. And it’s usually served with, um, risotto, which is an, you know, an Italian rice dish. I’m not at all Italian but I just happen to love that particular meal.

Well, my one final question for you. This broadcast is going out all over the world, thanks to the powers of technology, so what would you like to say to all the people that are listening in?

I would like to have them spend more time listening and enjoying music, and less time at some of the more destructive things that are going on in the world.

Very sound advice. Alright. Well, thanks so much Bruce. It’sbeen a pleasure.

It’s been mine as well. Thank you, Paul.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.

Tom “Bones” Malone: Multi-instrumentalist

Tom “Bones” Malone specializes in the trombone, but also plays trumpet, tuba, tenor sax, baritone sax, flutes, piccolo and other instruments. He has been a member of the CBS Orchestra on The Late Show with David Letterman since 1993. As a recording artist he has released two solo albums Standards of Living and Soulbones. Tom “Bones” Malone is a member of the Blues Brothers Band and has played with the likes of Billy Joel, Gloria Estefan, Frank Zappa, Bette Midler, Ringo Starr, Paul Simon, Tony Bennett and too many bands and artists to name!

Ladies and gentlemen, it is our great pleasure to welcome the legendary, the one and only Tom “Bones” Malone. Thanks so much for joining us.
My pleasure, Paul

Who is the real Tom Malone?
Uh, a redneck kid from Mississippi, just started wearing shoes a couple of years ago.

(Laughs) Born in Mississippi. So what was life like growing up?
Well, I started driving a tractor when I was 11 years old. I had my own rifle when I was 11 years old. I milked cows every morning and every night and, uh, hauled hay, picked corn, worked hard in the fields. Uh, it was, uh – we grew everything that we ate except for coffee and rice.

And what kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Well, I started, uh, listening to the radio and it was mostly, uh, blues – rhythm and blues – and New Orleans rock and roll.

And what was your first musical influence that inspired you to want to pick up the horn?
When I was, uh, about 13, I went to the record store, having very little money – I had saved up enough money to buy one record – and this is, believe it or not, uh, this was about 1960, in Hattiesburg, MS there was a record store where you could listen to the vinyl record before you bought it. A vinyl record, uh, is a kind of a flat piece of, um, black vinyl about 12 inches in diameter. You put it on a turntable and it played music, similar to a CD. And, uh, so I listened to this record by a trombone player named Urbie Green and it totally flipped me out. So I bought this record, took it home and I literally learned how to play the trombone from listening to Urbie Green, playing this record and I would just play along with him. So he was my teacher, whether he knew it or not. And I played along with that record for about two years. So I have to credit Urbie Green as being my trombone teacher.

So what was it about the horn? What made you gravitate to it? What was it you liked about it?
I’m not sure, um, what it was. I, uh, I was in the sixth grade and I used to listen to the marching band rehearse on the football field outside my classroom window and I thought it would be cool to play in that band. So I went to – one day they made an announcement on the radio that anybody who’s interested in playing in the band should come to the band hall on Thursday night. So I showed up at the band hall with my brother and my mother and father. And the guy from the local instrument store had a display of instruments – nice new shiny brass instruments and woodwinds and stuff. So somehow I was strangely drawn to the trombone. I picked it up and I could already play a few notes on it. Uh, my father asked how much it was. They guy told him and my father said ‘Can’t afford it.’ and we started walking out the door. The band director grabbed me and said ‘The school owns a tuba. Would you like to play that?’ and I said yes. So I started playing the tuba. Then the following year we got a new band director who was a trombone player. He knew I was interested in playing the trombone so he loaned me his own horn one day. He says ‘Take this home and learn how to play it.’ He showed me where the positions were. So I did. I took it home and learned how to play it.

Well, tell us about your early days of playing with Brenda Lee.
Well I, I uh, I also started playing trumpet and saxophone, and I got a call one day when I was in college in Hattiesburg to play lead trumpet with Brenda Lee. I guess they didn’t have anybody in Jackson that could hit the, the high D. So, I hitch-hiked up every night and it paid $16.00 a night. I never got a ride back until the sun came up so I spent a lot of time thinking about the music business and a music career between 2 A.M. and 6 A.M. every morning that week. It was a great experience though. The music was great. Brenda Lee had, uh, her hit, I’m Sorry was out and her Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, uh, was a big hit at the time and – it was in December – so, uh, I thought I was in top of the world. And I didn’t mind all the hardship. I didn’t sleep much that week but, uh, I had a great time and, uh, just got more into being a musician.

You’ve played so many styles of music. Could you ever pick a favorite genre?
I just like music. To me it’s all sort of the same, whether it’s jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, Latin, Jewish music, whatever it is – symphonic music, it’s all sort of the same to me. And there’s certain rhythmic differences and certain interpretation differences, as far as from the viewpoint of an instrumentalist but, uh, I like it all. And it doesn’t matter what instrument I play, I just like to play.

Well, speaking of liking it all, you’ve toured with acts as varied as Woody Herman, Doc Severinsen, and Frank Zappa. Which tour have you been on that was a favorite?
Uh, Blood, Sweat & Tears tour of Europe in 1973 was a big favorite of mine. And the five-week tour with the Blues Brothers in the United States, with John and Danny, in uh, around uh, in the vicinity of May and June 1980 was, uh, a special tour as well. Also playing with Billy Cobham’s band. We did a European tour and we did a West Coast tour where it was Billy Cobham and Weather Report. So those were, uh, those were memorable tours. And The Band from Woodstock – do you remember them, Paul?

Yeah, I’ve heard their recordings.
I, uh, played with them in the summer of ’76. And in the fall of ’76 we did the movie, The Last Waltz.

Amazing stuff. What was it like working with Frank Zappa?
Frank Zappa was an amazing guy and I really miss him. He died very young but – he died at 52 – and during his, uh, career he put out 60 albums. Uh, he was a crazy guy when he hit the stage but when he was off-stage he was like an organized businessman. He ran a very strict rehearsal, no fooling around. So, uh, he was kind of like two different personalities. But he was also a very nice guy off-stage, too. Like, if you went over his house to hang out he was very cordial and had a great sense of humor. And he was pretty much self-taught in his music.

I wanted to talk a little bit about Gil Evans. What was he like and how did he mold your life?
Gil Evans became my musical father. Um, I was in New York, I had this cheap apartment where I was crashing and, uh, a friend of mine from NorthTexasState, named Hannibal Marvin Peterson, came up to town. He was playing with Rahsaan Roland Kirk and he also started playing with Gil Evans. One night he had – he was crashing on my floor at my apartment on Broadway – uh, one night he had two gigs. The one with Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a paying gig and the other job, with Gil Evans, didn’t pay anything so he sent me in to play trumpet with Gil Evans. Uh, that night was Gil Evans’ 60th birthday. I met, uh, his son, Miles Evans, who was eight years old at the time. I also met several musicians who changed the rest of my life – a trombone player named Dave Bargeron, a trumpet player named Lew Soloff, um, David Sanborn, Howard Johnson, Herb Bushler, uh, Bruce Ditmas, Billy Harper – these are all people that opened doors for me for the rest of my life.

Now, you just listed several artists – and this is probably going to be a tough question – when I looked over at your bio and your resume, I couldn’t even list all the artists you’ve recorded and performed with. Is there any that have been especially thrilling?
Well, I was especially thrilled to play live and record with James Brown. He was always a hero of mine.Also, Little Stevie Wonder when he was 16. He was, uh, a big impression on me. He could play a bunch of different instruments so I figured “Well, why can’t I?’ Also, Ray Charles was a big inspiration to me. There’s lots of other people, too. It just goes on and on. Uh, I can’t really single anybody out as being the number one but I’m also very fortunate to have played with, uh, these music visionaries.

And you’ve also made recordings of your own songs, like the album Standards of Living. How did you pick out the songs for that?
Well, that was shortly after Gil Evans died. I played with Gil Evans from – uh, for the last 15 years of his life. He passed away at 75 and it was somewhat unexpected. Uh, I had many conversations with Gil about arranging and I actually arranged the songs that were on his albums, where he got the arranging credit and that, to me, was the ultimate compliment – to say that my arrangements were done by Gil Evans. Anyway, I, uh, wanted to play some jazz standards with musicians who had played with Gil Evans, who were in his regular band, and I wanted to replicate something of his voicing system. I came up with a, a Gil Evans voicing system and I put that into use on the album, Standards of Living.

Who is your favorite trombone player?
Wow, that is a tough question. I would have to start with Urbie Green, who taught me how to play. I’m also very impressed by the late J.J. Johnson. Bill Watrous, Conrad Herwig, uh, a 28 year old guy named Michael Dease up in New York. This guy is just amazing. Uh, and uh – wow – and uh, Bill Reichenbach in Los Angeles. Uh, there’s Jim Pugh. There’s an amazing number of great jazz trombone players up here. Robin Eubanks. Uh, wow – the list goes on and on.

You mentioned earlier about the Blues Brothers. What was your experience like with the Blues Brothers?
Uh, I started out with them from very, very first meeting about the Blues Brothers. I was the arranger for the Saturday Night Live band in 1978. I was called into a meeting with Danny and John. They came up with this concept of two guys who were orphans, that played blues and lived in Chicago, and they were sort of, uh, ne’er-do-wells. They wore the same size suit which was too big for one guy and too small for the other. They were just developing the characters at the time of this meeting. So, they wanted an arrangement of a song by James Cotton called Rocket 88. So I wrote out the arrangement and we rehearsed the band and we, we did the song for Lorne Michaels with the hopes of getting on Saturday Night Live that week. Well, we were not successful. We did not get on the show. The next week John and Danny and I met again and they were still hot on this idea of these two characters. So we – I wrote another arrangement of Hey Bartender. We did it for Lorne. Lorne said ‘Frankly, I don’t see anything funny about the Blues Brothers.’ So the following week we did not make the show. The third week, after read-through, Lorne said ‘The show is three minutes short. What are we going to do?’ He’s tearing his hair out. John and Danny jumped on him and said ‘Lorne – the Blues Brothers!’ So we got on the show. The response from the audience was amazing. We got letters and cards and phone calls which led to another performance of the Blues Brothers. Pretty soon, we had a record deal with Atlantic Records. We formed a band that was separate from the Saturday Night Live band, and went out to Los Angeles and did a live recording. The recording sold three million copies. And we got – then Danny started writing a movie script and the next thing you know, we’re doing a movie. And this was all from an idea that almost didn’t get on the air in the first place, almost never got off the ground. So – and also, I have to say that Danny and John were very nice to keep all the musicians in the movie. In most Hollywood productions of this sort, uh, they would get the band to do the sound track and then get some actors pretend to be the musicians. But Danny and John said ‘No. We’re not doing this unless the band comes with us.’ So I have, uh, Danny and John to thank for being in that movie, The Blues Brothers. John told me one day that he was going to make me the most famous trombone player since Jimmy Dorsey. And uh, as most of you know, Jimmy Dorsey was a saxophone player. (Laughs) So I never had, never had the heart to tell John that part of it because I knew what he meant. (Laughs) He was really, uh, a big-hearted guy and if he decided you were his friend, you were his friend for life, and he was a faithful friend and, uh, I really miss the guy.

What do you think about the album Briefcase Full of Blues?
Uh, it’s a, it’s a live album. It was recorded at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. At the time, the Universal Amphitheater was an outdoor venue and uh, there were, there was a lot of edits in that album. There were nine nights of performance and the producer, Bob Tischler, uh, incorporated at least three nights’ performance into each song. He would find the best verse and the best chorus and the best instrumental, the best intro, and he, uh, after listening to all these things carefully So there was a lot of post-production as far as the editing of this album was concerned. But I have to say that it is one of my favorite albums and there are a lot of hard-core Blues Brothers fans out there that agree with me.

How did you get hooked up with Paul Shaffer?
Well, Paul Shaffer and I met, uh, at Saturday Night Live when the show started in 1975. I was a member of the Saturday Night Live band from, uh, the very beginning for the first 10 years, and I was also the musical director, from ’81 to ’85, for the last four years of that 10 years. Uh, so Paul was the piano player on the original show and we met and we’ve been good friends ever since. Paul also – Paul and I also became the arranging team. If there was any comedy team that needed some music, Paul and I would rehearse with the actors and actresses and, uh, make a tape and then I would write an arrangement based on the format that we did in the rehearsal. So we’ve been, actually, an arranging team for quite a few years. Um, so Paul, um – later, later when I was a music director I got a call from a lady named Liz Anderson, who was my unit manager at NBC – she filled out the union contracts – she says ‘I have a new job.’ I said ‘Congratulations. What is that?’ and she says ‘I’m the associate producer of the David Letterman Show.’ And I said ‘What is that?’ She said ‘You’ve never seen it. It comes on real early in the morning, like seven in the morning. But we’re going to move the show to late-late night and I understand that – I know that you already have a job, Tom – but can you recommend somebody to lead a four-piece band and be a personality?’ Paul Shaffer had just returned from Los Angeles – he was in a sitcom called A Year at the Top with Greg Evigan. So Paul was sort of – after that show got cancelled, he was sort of just right back in town with not much going on, so I gave her Paul Shaffer’s phone number. Uh, two or three weeks later, I just happened to see them on the network feed rehearsing downstairs for this new David Letterman show, with a great band – with Hiram Bullock, Will Lee and Steve Jordan. Will Lee, as you may know, is still with the Letterman show, and Steve Jordan was the original drummer with the Blues Brothers. So, uh, Paul and I go way, way, way back. Uh, it was coincidental that Paul called me to join his band at CBS in 1993, when the show moved from NBC to CBS. And I never told Paul that story until after I was working here at CBS.

Is there someone in the CBS orchestra you feel a closer friendship with?
Well, uh, of course Paul ‘cause we go way, way back. And, uh, Will Lee, uh, and I were neighbors down in Greenwich Village for 20 years and, um, I have to say that, uh, he and I are very close friends. We’re also playing in a band called that Fab Faux for about 13 years now. It’s a Beatles cover band, based out of New York but we’ve been playing all over the United States. It’s, uh, five guys including Will Lee and Jimmy Vivino that, uh, sing and play the rhythm instruments. We also have, uh, a four-piece horn section and a violin and a viola – excuse me, a violin and a cello – that play with us and supplement the string synthesizer. So, it’s the only Beatles cover band that I know of that does the huge George Martin production songs like Penny Lane, Got to Get You into My Life, uh, Yesterday – all the real, uh, super duper, uh, arranged songs. The Beatles never performed those songs live because they could not – they didn’t have the extra instruments.

I keep waiting for you guys to come to Atlanta (laughs).
It’s just a matter of time. Do you know any promoters?

Uh, (pauses) I might. Let me do some thinking on that.
Let’s hook it up.

Who has been your favorite guest musician to play with on the Letterman show?
Wow! Well, there have been so many over the years but I guess it comes back to, again, to Ray Charles and James Brown. But I also, uh, enjoyed playing a song with Blues Traveler and um, um, Aerosmith – oh my god, now the list goes on and on and on. It’s really hard to, uh, nail me down on some of these questions, Paul, but they are very intelligent questions and I wish I had a really, really exact one-word answer.

If you could put it into words, what is it you like about music?
Wow. Everything. Uh, I like the rhythms and the harmony and I like playing and I like listening to it, uh, and uh, I just like everything about music.

I have two final questions for our special guest, Tom “Bones” Malone. What is your all-time favorite meal?
My all-time favorite meal?

Yes, sir.
Catfish.

‘Cause you’re a Mississippi guy?
I think, yes, my redneck is showing (laughs).

My last question for Mr. Tom “Bones” Malone: what would you like to say to all of our listeners?
Uh, to all your listeners I’d like to say keep listening to good music.

Well spoken. Well, Mr. Malone it’s been great to connect with you.
It’s totally my pleasure, Paul. We’ve been trying to schedule this for quite a while and, uh, it’s really a pleasure to talk with you.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

Alan Chez: Instrumentalist

This is an interview with trumpet and flugelhorn player Alan Chez. He was a member of Paul Shaffer’s CBS Orchestra starting in 1997. Recently he has started his own band: Al Chez and the Brothers of Funk Big Band. He has also toured with Bon Jovi, Robert Cray, Tower of Power, Young Rascals, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Maynard Ferguson, Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds Band, Ben E. King, Sam & Dave as well as other artists and bands.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure we welcome Mr. Alan Chez, trumpet and flugelhorn player with the CBS Orchestra for The Late Show with David Letterman. He also has his own project: Al Chez and The Brothers of Funk Big Band. How are you doing Mr. Chez?

I’m hanging in there. How are you this evening?

It’s great to do this and I’m having a good evening. So, my first question: who is Alan Chez?

Alan Chez – who am I? I’m my mother’s son. Trumpet player, New York City, born and raised in New Jersey, son of Peter Chez who was a country and western singer – called himself Chet Peters. My father was always going around the house playing the guitar and, you know, and singing and doing gigs, uh, with my mom, you know, being a background singer in New Jersey – in Jersey City and Newark area way back when. And then, uh, they started – when I was like nine years old, they had started a, uh, drum and bugle corps in our area. And my two older brothers got involved in that and, of course, when I grew up I wanted to be just like my older brothers which, when I turned nine, got involved and uh, basically got most of, I’d say my chops and musicianship and, from that activity.

Can you remember your earliest musical loves, your favorite musicians?

I’m a Louis Armstrong fan, OK? Only because the one thing about Louis that was so cool – there’s nobody has ever sounded like him since, you know what I mean? Who did Louis Armstrong sound like? Louis Armstrong sounded just like Louis Armstrong. He didn’t copy anybody and there’s nobody, really, who has gotten that individualistic sound down. And that’s what I think is very important in music. We have so many clones today, you know? The kids that are going to college for music and learning X’s and O’s. You know, there is no X’s and O’s, there is no right or wrong, there’s only good and bad, you know, in my book. I have students and kids that come up to me and, you know, ‘Mr. Chez what kind of horn do you use?’ ‘What kind of mouthpiece do you use?’ It really doesn’t matter. There’s no right and wrong, there’s no X’s and O’s, it’s just good and bad. And Louis was great – he wasn’t even ‘good’ but his individualism of approaching music is something that I try to take with my playing whenever I play. I don’t want to sound like anybody except for myself.

Very interesting. Well, with what you said about Louis Armstrong, I have to ask what do you think about Chuck Mangione?

I love Chuck Mangione. I’m a huge Chuck Mangione fan (laughs). I’ve seen him play a couple of times and I have all of his music on, uh, on albums – I’m dating myself here – I have albums and eight-tracks and cassettes and the whole thing. I don’t think he got the props. He’s a great player, a great soloist. And, you know, guys listen to him, yeah ‘Does Chuck Mangione have the hard chops of Maynard Ferguson and, you know, some of these other, you know, guys?’ No, but who cares? There’s so much more to playing a horn than playing high notes, you know what I mean? He had so – he could so – and some of the most beautiful music to come out of a horn that I’ve ever heard.

Definitely a great writer of music as well.

Oh, you know Bellavia and Chase the Clouds Away – oh my goodness! (Laughs) You know? I listen to him and the beauty of his tunes – and the beauty of any great tune – you could be in your car and you put on that CD or that song comes on the radio, and then it just, it takes you back to a time – it takes you back to a smell, to a, to a memory, to a, you know, a period of your life. And just in, in eight bars you’re back there, you know what I mean? Chuck does that to me all the time. I’ll be driving and all of a sudden I’ll hear the beginning of Children of Sanchez (makes rhythmic sounds) and I’ll sound like ‘Oh my god, it’s 1979 again. Here we go.’ You know? And I’m, I’m remembering the people I hung out with, and the smells – that’s what it’s about for me.

When somebody listens to your music, what do you hope that the people that are listening – whether it’s on a recording or whether you’re with the CBS Orchestra or with your own project – what do you want the listener to get out of the experience of listening?

I want them to have fun. You know, music basically came from celebration. My life, I’m walking around – I’ve got my family crazy – I’m whistling and, you know, I’m a whistler so I’m always going around, you know, whistling around my house. I’ll go to the supermarket and my daughter will be “Dad – stop.’ You know? ‘Stop whistling.’ you know? (Laughs) And I’m basically a pretty upbeat, happy person and when I have somebody hear me play I want them to feel the celebratory part of me. I want them to feel good about themselves. I want my music to go through their body and hit their soul and make their soul shine.

What a great answer. Now, I understand you were born in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Yes, sir.

And you continue to live in New Jersey.

I’ve always played in New York City and I’ve always lived in Jersey so, to me, I always have to come into the city. I always have to commute in, do my gigs and then, at the end of the night, drive home. I’ve done it since I was, you know, since I was 16 years old. Actually, when I was 15 years old I went the other way. I lived in central Jersey. I started a band with Jon Bon Jovi when I was 15 years old called the Atlantic City Expressway. And we, we had become the house band down at the Stone Pony and the Fast Lane in Asbury Park. And whenever Edgar Winter would come out or Rick Derringer or the Southside Johnny or Bruce Springsteen – we were the warm-up band for them but we were only 15 or 16 year-old kids. But we would get rides down there from somebody’s mom and dad, ‘cause we weren’t old enough to drive, never mind, you know, being in the club playing, but we always had to commute.

Now tell us a little bit about your project, Al Chez and the Brothers of Funk Big Band.

I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, OK? Because, you know, when you get to a certain – I’m not going to say ‘level’ because I don’t like to use levels, and I don’t like to use ‘different players’, ‘this player is better than this one’ but when, when you do certain gigs, when you do a lot of gigs and you meet a lot of different musicians – let’s put it that way – everybody’s good. Everybody can play. The guys I like to play with, I don’t care how good they are, I want guys that can hang. I want guys that I’m gonna laugh with. I want guys that I’m gonna have fun with, that I’m gonna sit next to ‘em and I’m gonna look across the stage and I’m gonna say ‘Man, this guy is having a great time’ and, because he’s having a great time, he’s making me have a great time. Well, that’s what the Brothers of Funk are. They are a bunch of my buddies from Syracuse, New York. We go out and do these big band gigs and play Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton charts. We have a blast. I get to sing a couple of songs in it, too, which is nice. I get to express myself, vocally which, uh, is a lot of fun. You know, playing out there with your friends and trying to get people’s souls to shine – for me, you can’t buy anything better.

Just hearing you talk, it’s very obvious you’re very passionate about music.

Well, how can you not be? You know, anything that could, that could change your emotions in eight bars, of hearing something for eight bars – you could be in a terrible mood and listen to a piece of music for 15 minutes, not even 15, 15 seconds and it could change your whole day. That’s powerful. To me, that’s more powerful than any drug or alcoholic product that I’ve ever heard about.

Well, with that said, if you could put it into words, what is it you like about music?

First of all, I don’t like music – I love music. I love music, and it’s not the notes and the rhythms and how hard a lick is or how high the note is or the level of the player – it’s a feeling. It’s just a powerful change of emotion. One of the only things in this world that I believe that can really reach in and touch your soul – that’s what music is to me.

Wow. Well, you know, I was reading about one of the gigs that you had in 1999, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies. And that just seems like a mind-blowing kind of event: Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton and Elton John.

That was a good one.

(Laughs) Yeah! So, I mean, you can’t get much better than that. I hope you can at least tell us a few of your recollections about that event.

We’ve done the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with, uh, Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra for – boy, we must have done the last 24 or 25 of them. We do them every year. That one was a really good one because, being a Jersey boy – come on. Bruce Springsteen. Playing in New York. Billy Joel. They’re all my guys. They’re all the guys, when I went to high school that’s what I was listening to. And to say that Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel are influences of mine, which they are, is kind of strange because I’m a trumpet player. And you don’t – you wouldn’t really think of Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel as an influence to a trumpet player but they’re in there. They both created music that has touched me in ways that when I create music and when I play music, I come back to that. You know, that gig was really good. Bruce Springsteen played a couple of songs. I don’t know what song it was we played – it was 1999. We played one song with them and then we weren’t playing anymore with them. And he played a couple of songs with just his band, and all of a sudden he went into Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. And the horns looked at each other, we’re like you know, come on. We played this song a thousand times in cover bands growing up. Let’s go. And we just played it with Springsteen, and he turned around when the horns came in with a look of ‘I love you guys.’ (Laughs) You know? So that was – it was great. It was great.

It sounds it. Take all the listeners back to the time that you met Paul Shaffer and Will Lee. That was 1986. What was your impression of these gentlemen when you met them?

Well, those are the guys – those are the cats. You know, Paul Shaffer – Paul Shaffer is a genius. He has an encyclopedia in his head of music that is second to none. And Will, Will is just a bass machine. Just knowing them from and seeing them on TV and knowing their reputation – I, I really didn’t know them, either of them, personally – me and Bruce Kapler, the saxophone player on The Letterman Show – we were playing in a club and Will and Paul were going to the club. They had heard about us from another friend of theirs and they were going out – when the Letterman show does reruns, which is about 10 weeks a year, they do reruns – the band was going to do gigs, like jazz festivals, and they wanted to hire a horn section. I think they wanted to hire the Tower of Power horns and then they heard me and Bruce play and they said that us two, the two of us, are – I’m trying not to compare us to the Tower of Power horns ‘cause I did that gig too and that was a heck of a lot of fun – but the two of us sounded like five horn players and that’s why they hired us to get involved with that.

Now, just being in this band, the CBS Orchestra, you guys get to play with some of the best musicians in the world, and there has to be so many surreal experiences there, but if you had to name one – if it’s possible to name one – tell us about the one artist you played with where you had to pinch yourself and say ‘Tell me this is real.’ (Laughs)

I have two and being a trumpet player, the first one – Maynard Ferguson. I was out on the road doing the Bon Jovi/Aerosmith rock and roll tour. I was 23 years old. I had a pair of tight leather pants. I had a big long perm (laughs) and I’m going into my car and I’m listening to Maynard Ferguson records (laughs), CDs. And to get to play with Maynard after all that time was, you know, for a trumpet player, come on. That was great. Another trumpet player, Arturo Sandoval, who came on the show – you know, Arturo, he’s the man – to me, that’s the greatest trumpet player, uh, living today. You know, he’s, that guy can do it all. And he’s coming on the show. We’re playing Night in Tunisia and we’re, you know, Sandunga, and all these different tunes of his. And I go home and I know that, a couple of days before, I know he’s going to be on the show, and I find out what tunes he’s going to play and I get the CDs and I get the chart and, you know, and I go in my studio and I practice and I practice, and I get it down. And, of course, I’m learning the second trumpet part because it’s Arturo Sandoval. Well, I get to the Letterman show and I get my charts and I put them up there, and I get them on my stand and he walks up there, as nice as can be, and he says ‘How are you doing? How are you?’ And he looks at my charts and he goes, uh ‘You have second trumpet part there.’ I say “Yes, yes, yes. You know, I’ve gone over them, you know. I’ve practiced, you know, and I hope I’m going to do you justice.’ He goes ‘Oh no. Oh no.’ He goes ‘You young man, me old man. You play first trumpet part.’ (Laughs)

Oh, wow.

And I did. I was, like, oh boy, here we go! (Laughs) And absolutely had a blast with him. What a nice man, what a great gentleman, and what an ambassador to music he is.

I’ve had the chance to interview a couple of your fellow band-mates on the show – Anton Fig, Bruce Kapler, and uh, there’s a couple more that have expressed interest. So I’d like to know, is there someone in the band that you feel closer to?

Probably Bruce Kapler. Me and Bruce have played together – oh boy, we started in a band, La Bamba and the Hubcaps – I think it was 1982? So I’ve been playing in different projects with Bruce. My first Letterman show in 1986, backing up Toni Childs was me and Bruce Kapler. The Jon Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet tour was, you know, it was four horns. Bruce was on that with me. Uh, we’ve just done a lot of stuff together. He’s like my older brother. I love him.

Here’s the mushy part of the show. When we asked Bruce that question, he said ‘Alan Chez.’

(Laughs) Wait ‘til I see him.

Well, you know, there’s an album project that you have planned for the summer of 2010 and so, tell all the listeners out there about the album project. And also, there’s a fan page where they can keep up with you – I just joined the fan page on Facebook page – so tell everyone about that, how they can, uh, find out more about the world of Alan Chez.

We’re starting to go in the studio with the Al Chez and Brothers of Funk Big Band, trying to get material together, you know, some cover tunes, some original material, trying to put something together and just get it out there. There’s different kinds of big bands, you know, there’s the high-powered big bands, there’s the swing big bands, there’s the Michael Bublé big bands. I want a big band like I’ve been saying, you know – that reaches into your heart, touches your soul, massages it and then lets you on your way. And that, through my music and the music that we create with the Brothers of Funk, makes you feel like you’re a better person. That’s my goal. Now, how do we do that? We’re working on it (laughs) but that’s my goal. That’s my goal. It’s not to just to have somebody say ‘Hey, I like that tune.’ I want it to affect you. You know the tune, you know. You hear (sings) ‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone …’ You listen to a certain song like that, if you don’t feel great when that song is over, you’ve got to listen harder (laughs), if that’s the case. I want to create that type of music. Like I said, it’s not a million notes, it’s not the hardest, it’s just a feeling. You know what I’m talking about?

Yeah, absolutely.

That’s what we’re going for with the Brothers of Funk. On Facebook, there’s a Brothers of Funk fan page. Come on on, you know, get on there. Come and say hello, drop me a note. Some people made us these really, really great T-shirts that we have for sale on that site also. They’re black T-shirts. On the front is says ‘Al Chez and the Brothers of funk Big Band’ and on the back it just simply says ‘We want to’ and then in big letters it says ‘FUNK YOU’ (laughs). I know you want one. I’ll send you one (laughs).

(Laughs) Yeah, yeah I do. You’re a mind-reader. (Laughs) I have two final questions before we go. What is your all-time favorite meal?

I’ve got to go with a big bucket of crawfish. That would be me. A big Cajun meal. Crawfish etouffee or live crawfish and some red beans and rice and some bread on the side. Right there, that’s my guy.

I’m going down to New Orleans in a couple of weeks so you’re getting me psyched for it.

(Laughs) Go to Mother’s right there on Bourbon Street and just go nuts – go nuts for me.

All right (laughs). Well, my last question: this broadcast goes out all over the world. What would you like to say to all the people that are listening in?

I would like to say life is an easy thing if you let it. Just relax and let life come to you, you know? There’s a lot of uptight peoplein this world and one of these things we do as musicians, which I think we should do as musicians – kind of living for the sake of living. It’s a beautiful world out there, man, and most days are really beautiful if you let them. There’s a thing called a ‘10/90’ program, OK? It’s not a program, it’s just a belief, and it is that 10% of the things that happen to you, there’s nothing that you can do about those 10% of things. They’re going to happen to you. You’re going to hit a red light. You’re going to run into somebody you really don’t care for, you know? But the 90%, it’s what you do with that 10% that’s been given to you, you know, that you can’t change. Yeah, you hit a red light. So put on the radio and groove, you know what I mean? You see somebody that you don’t like? Well, drop it, you know? And go up to them and say ‘Hey, what’s happening?’ You know what I mean? I’m all for the positive of everything. Have a great day. Have the most awesome day that you could possibly have. You know why? Because tomorrow, that day is gone. You only get one day at a time. You only get one day a day. And everybody should try their best to make that the best day that they can.

That’s very well put. Well, Mr. Chez, thank you so much for this interview. On behalf of all of our listeners, it’s been great.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA