Interview by Jeremy Wilson (jazzstandards.com)
In creating an all standards CD, you need to choose from over a thousand standards. How did you choose the tracks?
I picked the songs I like to sing the most. I enjoy singing every line of “When Sunny Gets Blue” because the melody is delightful and each phrase is a joy to sing. Lyrics are extremely important, of course, but if the melody isn’t challenging or interesting or moving, I’m not interested in singing the song. My favorite songs—the ones I feel powerfully enough to want to cover—are songs which have a haunting quality. Even a fun song like “Easy Street” gives me a happy haunt, if you know what I mean. I feel moved when I feel haunted, and when I feel moved, I want to sing.
Which of the tracks did you find the most challenging?
“Moon River” was the most difficult to make my own. I kept recording it as a waltz, listening to it the next morning, and throwing it out by early afternoon. I was going to let it die an honorable death, deciding it was just too hard to cover in any interesting and new way. But one night I decided to just swing it and let go of the waltz, and it fell right into place. Some songs I feel I can cover almost exactly as I learned them—like “When Sunny Gets Blue”—but certain songs demand reinterpretation or the question arises: “Why bother doing that song again?” And if you don’t have a good musical answer to that question, you probably shouldn’t cover it.
“Love Jazz” was the most challenging in that it is an original, and I had the strange experience of attempting to perform a “standard” I’d never heard before. I’ve always written songs, but they’re of the singer-songwriter variety, whereas I intended “Love Jazz” to have the feel of a song from the past, a song written FOR a singer, not BY a singer. I had to sing it a million times (OK, that’s an exaggeration!) before I felt I owned it.
Which tune on your new CD is your favorite?
I have a lot of favorites! I can’t commit an answer to a question like that. Today it’s “Easy Street,” but yesterday it was “I Remember Sky.” Songs are like friends, and you love each of them for a different reason. One day you feel like taking a walk with Alice, and the next you feel like talking about a movie with Bill. But you love them both dearly. Don’t make me choose!
One of your tracks is not a standard by virtue of the relatively few covers it has had. That is Stephen Sondheim’s “I Remember (Sky)” from the 1966 TV musical Evening Primrose. It’s a beautiful song with thought-provoking lyrics and your treatment of it is one of the best I have heard. How did you come upon “I Remember” and what were you thinking and feeling when you recorded it?
I first heard an awesome version of “I Remember Sky” on Dianne Reeves’ “I Remember” album. I was haunted, and I’ve remained so. It’s a very stately piece. You can hear rain falling quietly through the chords. I was also enchanted by the mysteriousness of the lyrics. My initial thought was that the song was about someone in prison—all the references to memories of life “on the outside” made me think it was about someone who hadn’t seen daylight for years, maybe someone in a major depression. It also seemed as though the “I” might be a dead person…there’s such a sense of loss of what it means to be alive.
I lived with the song for a long time before it occurred to me to investigate the musical and learn what it was actually about. I won’t give away the mystery here—in case the reader wants to look it up—but it’s a pretty fascinating thing. As powerful as the lyrics are, though, I never would have fallen in love with the song if it weren’t for the melody.
I’m not sure what I was thinking about when I was recording. If it’s a good recording session I’m not thinking about anything! I’m flowing in a current of phrase and melody, just one part of the myriad parts which make up a musical moment. As for what I was feeling, no matter how sad or moving the song is and how much I feel the pain of the “I” in the song, I’m still happy because I’m singing. It’s what C.S. Lewis would call “a sorrowful joy.” I’m very happy that you like my version! I hope Stephen Sondheim likes it, too.
Thank you very much, Jeremy, for taking the time to ask me these questions. Your website has been an invaluable resource to me, and your interest in my music has sustained me throughout this recording project.
February 23, 2010