Monday, June 16, 2008

More 4 G 4

continued from here

Reed: The most popular definition of a jazz singer is that there is no definition, but there is. The late critic Whitney Balliett wrote that “He or she simply makes whatever he or she sings . . .
SWING.” I might interject here that no disrepsect was intended when Balliett continued, “Ethel Merman is not a jazz singer.”
Sutton: But there’s that great Ethel Merman-Bill Evans album that's a really great record. You're ignoring that entirely.
Reed: “However,” Balliett wrote, “Doris Day IS a jazz singer.” And so, I would like to ask anyone on the panel who cares to jump in, Do you think that one could learn from a teacher how to swing?
Ross: No! When you swing, you know what it is to swing. You work with musicians your whole life. Suddenly one night you're working. . .. The definition of swing can be so many things. But it's like, I will say it's like everything jelling. You're jelling with the bass player and the drummer and the piano player and you're all on the same plane and you know it's swinging. No one has to define it for you. But above all, you’ve got to know where 1 is. . .1,2,3,4.
Reed: I could add that, I think it was Ira Gitler who wrote: “One person's jazz singer is another person’s Robert Goulet.”
Which opens the door to another question and---any one of you can jump in here---how do you define jazz singing?
Sutton: As the only person on the panel who has to admit that I think someone actually did teach me to swing. And a couple of people on the panel taught me to swing. I think for me the definition of a jazz singer is that jazz singing is about singing in a context. You know that old joke about the singer holds a light bulb and the whole world revolves around him or her? Usually HER, because of the sexist world we live in. but I think that philosophy is the polar opposite of how I see jazz singing. And I didn't really get exposed to jazz singing until I was in my late teens and early twenties. And what happened was that when I heard it and I said,‘There is something about this that is so linked to the musicians, the instrumentalists.’ And it was different than anything that I had heard before. And when you talk with arrangers and composers about working with a jazz singer or working with a pop singer---I was talking with one arranger friend who you all know but I won’t say who the artist he was talking about was---‘I was working with this pop singer
. . .’[who shall remain nameless] and he said it was such a shock because he works with so many jazz singers, and in this context, every sixteen bars they would have to figure out how the key and the tempo and the instrumentation and everything about the arrangement would showcase the glory of this voice. That to me is the polar opposite of what jazz singing is. A jazz singer wants to hang with the guys, and in order to hang with the guys you have to know certain things. And you hear music not just horizontally but also vertically. So for example if you think of Sarah, she's going to. . .she's singing in such a way that she arpeggiating chords. She’s hearing the harmony. She's singing the context of the music. And other singers, if I'm coaching a Broadway singer or a classical singer, the whole focus of their training is. . .THE VOICE. I WILL CREATE MY SOUND. AND MY SOUND WILL BE SO SUBLIME THAT ALL ELSE WILL FLOW FROM MY SOUND. In jazz, no one gives a rat's butt about your SOUND. You know what I mean? I mean, I care. It's nice to have a good sound, and it’s appropriate to work on your sound, but it’s really about the context, the words and the context. So. . .and the chord changes.
Merrill: We've had the greatest experiences. I know that Annie and I have had similar musical experiences. I know that my first piano player in jazz was Bill Trillian [sic]. Do you remember Bill? No? Then I went on to the big names, but I won't bother to tell you.
Ross: Go on.
Merrill: Yeah. I have to remember. Bud Powell. How about that one? That’s a good one. Yeah! I was about fifteen years old and I knew that I was going to be a different kind of singer and that the only people I would be in it with would be jazz people because I liked to phrase in my own way, I liked the chord changes, I liked to improvise in my own way. And the only place you could do that really was with jazz people. And so that was my reason for being part of the jazz world, loving every minute of it. Still loving every minute of it. Right?
Ross: Absolutely!
Reed: Earlier this week, the first day I was here I went to a panel about the Great American Songbook. And, actually, I had prepared a somewhat recondite question about the subject and then when I went to the panel, which was chaired by Ron Kaplan, who is starting a group called the American Songbook Preservation Society and afterward he gave me his card which had a quote on it that is far better than what I wrote and much more succinct and . . .less verbose, and it is from Tony Bennett and it says simply, ’In a hundred to a hundred-and-fifty years from now, I believe that people will recognize the music of Gershwin and Ellington as the classical music of our time.’ I couldn't agree more, and I wonder if any of you might have some insights that would might buttress that statement as being a correct one?
Ross: I think he's absolutely right. And you know, songwriting is such a craft. Lyric writing is such a craft. I was given the gift of doing Gershwin tonight, and what a gift! I started going through. . .there used to be a guy in new York named Frank Military. Do you remember him? [To Sutton: You're too young.]
Merrill: He sent us all books of music. We don't get them anymore.
Ross: Well I pulled out my books and did I find gems. And you know I knew a lot of the songs because my aunt was a singer, so they came over to the house. But I think, they used to. . .you could really concentrate on what was the right rhyme. What was being expressed, what you eally wanted to say. This is my dream, and I think it happened. They all stayed up nights. They would phone one another---this is all in my fantasy---and say, ‘I got it. I GOT IT!’ And that would become a line. So I think it does a disservice not to sing the lyrics correctly, not to sing the melody correctly. At least once!
Merrill: I found out a lot about Irving Berlin, too. What a genius he was. He was able to take our feelings and condense them. It was he was reading your feelings and your mind. I is amazing to read his lyrics.
Simple . . ..
Ross: ‘When I Lost You.’
Merrill: He wrote that for his wife.
Reed: What puzzles me a lot, and maybe Ron Kaplan is on to a clue as to how this will be done, is that with mass public taste spiraling ever downward into the primordial ooze, how will this happen, how will this music be protected so that it will have the same kind of legitimacy as the 3 B’s, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms?Sutton: Well, I think. . .I do a fair amount of education and I recently took over a position as the vocal department head at a small concentrated music academy here in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Music Academy. One of the reasons I decided to do it is that they said that I could do anything I wanted with the curriculum. That I could do whatever I wanted. And I knew what I wanted. A lot of the singers who are coming there are foreign singers who want to be pop stars. But if they come to L.A. Music Academy they have to learn the Great American Songbook. they have to learn the root montion of the song, they have to. . .last week was Review of Blues and Rhythm Changes. They’re learning those forms and. . .what happens is, to learn to sing those forms is to learn musical structures you’ll use for the rest of your musical life. And I've had the opportunity a fair amount of time to teach that to singers that haven't been exposed to it. And once they realize the elegance and the beauty of those structures, they sort of say. . .’Hmmmm?’ I gave a student an assignment. She came in and she had a pop singer who she really loved who was lovely, but I don’t think not a composer on the same level of Gershwin, let’s just say. And I taught her how to hear the root motion, how to hear the root note of the chords and how they go by and I said, listen, ‘Now that you know how to do this, you go home and bring back to me a lead sheet with the chord changes or this song that you love so much,’and it was 46 bars of A minor. Well, I can’t tell you the look on this girl’s face. And then, the next week I assigned her to sing the melody of ‘Prelude to a Kiss,’ which takes her the rest of the semester to master, but after that she can sing a half-step, so there’s all sorts of things about getting into this music that show anyone loves music and has good ears. . .that says ‘Wow, this is sort of off the food chain.’ That’s what happened to me. I was singing in a cheesy, sort of pop, singing cocktail waitress sort of thing. And on my one night off there was a jazz trio across the street and I would go over there to hear them and I would think ‘Why is this music so much better than what we’re doing?’ I didn’t know why it was, but I knew it was. I knew the music, I knew the melody, I knew the harmony was better. I think for people that are lovers of music, if that’s your passion, If we introduce them to these forms, they say ‘Wow, this is really cool! I get this.‘ And then they compare a lot of other music that’s out there and they say, ‘Oh, hmmm,’ I guess this [more commercial music] wasn’t as interesting as I thought.’ But in some ways it is interesting. There’s rhythm things going on in modern music, there's different things. I’m not one to totally bash it. I think there’s elements of that that we can bring. . .. But, a great melody, and a great, elegant harmony line, and a great lyric, that’s what they [American Songbook songs] are. When you analyze these things. . .. I was just trying to memorize a Cole Porter lyric. ‘It’s Alright With Me,’ and it’s just fascinating when you analyze why that line is first and why that line is that line is second and why that line is third ‘It‘s the wrong time. And the wrong place, though your face’---nice little internal rhyme there---is lovely it's the wrong face. It’s not his face. . .'; then ’face, ‘lovely,’ then you go ‘It’s the wrong song in the wrong style, though your smile. . .’ A little more personal than face, ‘Your smile is charming.’ Then ‘It’s the wrong game with the wrong chips, though your lips. . .’ Get to the sex! You know, ‘Lips are tempting’ is stronger than ‘charming.’ You analyze that and figure out why ‘lovely’ is first, then ‘charming,’ then ‘tempting.’ And then you say, ‘Okay, these guys were the masters.’ And when you analyze that and point that out to kids and say there’s a reason that it’s ‘lovely’ first, and ‘tempting’ last. Then you say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s why we study this music.’ I think it survives because of its greatness and you don’t really have to do anything about it. You just have to introduce it to people.
Reed: I hate to sound like the character in Hard Day’s Night who says, ‘Hey, you kids, get off my lawn,’ but I really feel that the bad has absolutely driven out the good to a wildly disproportionate point. One of my favorite quotes of all time is when a reporter asked Max Roach what he thought of rap, he said, ‘People who voted for defunding of music education in public schools are getting what they paid for.’
[laughter, applause]
And so how can we reverse that, with the drum machines and the synthesizers throughout every show on television, even the National Geographic Specials are unwatchable because they have all this horrible, thumping synth music. What can be done? Any ideas
Ross: [singing] ‘They wanted me to go to re-rab. I said no, no, no.’
Merrill: That’s great, Annie.
Sutton: So maybe all four of us should participate in some incredible scandal. I’ll take Barack Obama. Just for the jazz press.
Ross: He likes jazz. Sutton: Yes, he likes jazz I saw his list of records and it had Coltrane on it.
Merrill: I disagree with you a little bit. I think there’s plenty of good jazz around. We have Dizzy’s Coca-Cola, stuff at Carnegie Hall. . .
Reed: But I’m talking about the media and American Idol. . ..
Merrill: Oh, dear god. I haven't watched it even once.
Sutton: You know we have to get in there. I just went to my son’s school and they do have a little music program there. I was flabbergasted. I was shocked and saddened because the symphonic band was very good. But there are several jazz bands and they're so terrible that I sat there with my heart sinking, thinking that this is audience watching this and they’re thinking ‘This is jazz.’and was so badly done, and it was taught by someone who obviously knows nothing about jazz, and I thought ‘This is inoculating people against what’s great about this music.’ So I think that all we can really do is to strive to be as excellent at what we’re doing as we possibly can give our time, to a certain degree. . .. Annie and I sang at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of years ago---now there’s a phrase I never thought I would say in my life---’Oh, you know, when Annie Ross and I were singing at the Hollywood Bowl. . ."
My son after the show---there was also John Pizzarelli and Kurt Elling---and it’s my kid. What does he remember? ‘It’s that meatball song, mom. What a great song. She's [Ross] great! I loved her.' This is my eleven-year-old son and what does he pick out of the show? Does he pick out the r n’b stuff that's similar to what he’s heard before? No! He picks out Annie Ross singing ‘One Meatball.’
I'm dead serious. All we have to do is do our thing and we have to make sure that as many young people as possible are exposed to it. Because when I first heard Sarah Vaughan when I was nineteen, I was angry that no one had ever no one had ever played anything like this for me. I was a dopey white girl in Milwaukee and what did I know. ‘Oh this has been out there all this time and I never knew?’ So I think that when you actually play the stuff, and you are careful that you play things that are interesting. You play things that are funny. You play things that they can cross over to. You don’t disrespect them and play something that has a twenty minute trombone solo. . .no offense to my husband. You have to give them a bridge to walk over. You have to show them how the skills of jazz musicians have implications for their life as songwriters themselves.
Reed: I'm going to change the line of. . .I will shortly be throwing open the floor to questions, but right now I'm going to change the subject to the degree that I might induce whiplash. But. . .Pinky. . .
Winters: Yes?
Reed: You have been strangely silent this morning.

Part two in the not-too-distant future.