Well, aren't you a parasite for sore eyes.
Kojo and music writer Will Friedwald take us on a tour of jazz and pop music’s great singers, from Louis Armstrong to Cassandra Wilson. We explore the artists and the standards that make up these all-American musical traditions.
- Will Friedwald Music journalist, Wall Street Journal; Author, "A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers" (Pantheon)
We played the following songs on today’s program:
Summertime (Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong)
Summertime (Billy Stewart)
My Way (Frank Sinatra)
Just One of Those Things (Blossom Dearie)
Fever (Peggy Lee)
Fever (Shirley Horn)
Brother, Can you Spare a Dime (Andy Bey)
Secret Love (Billy Stewart)
Cute (Joe Mooney)
Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup (Nat King Cole)
New York 1 interviewed Friedwald and got a tour of his collection:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Jazz is the unique musical product of America and it's always shared an uneasy relationship with pop music. But as the genres intersect, there's a huge amount of variety, often, even when different artists perform the same song in different genres. Maybe, it's that variety that makes these genres such a valuable part of our cultural heritage.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut who are the singers that make this music great? Black, white, male, female, it's a diverse population with a broad spectrum of style. And here to discuss those singers is Will Friedwald. He writes about music for the Wall Street Journal. He's also been featured in the New York Sun, Vanity Fair and other publications. His latest book is, "A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers." Will Friedwald, thank you for joining us.
MR. WILL FRIEDWALDHey, it's wonderful to be here in Washington.
NNAMDIAnd you can...
FRIEDWALDAnd I'm really here. I’m not on the phone.
NNAMDIThank you. You can join the conversation right now with your favorite singers of either Jazz or Pop classics at 800-433-8850. Will you introduce your biographies by saying, "These are the people who define what you call the American Song Book." How do you define -- how do you describe the American Song?
FRIEDWALDWell, the American Songbook is, I think -- the defining point about it as opposed to other kinds of music, I believe, that the American Songbook or sometimes we call, the Great American Songbook, what makes it unique among all different kinds of music in the world is that it is the only body of work that was designed to be interpreted in lots of different styles. When Irving Berlin would write a song, he knew that a dance band would play and there's a wide range right there.
FRIEDWALDI mean, from, you know, Count Basie to Guy Lombardo, he expected both of those men to be able to play the same song. And that was only the beginning. He expected singers to do it from, you know, Rudy Vallee to Betty Carter even, I mean. The, you know, Rudy Vallee and Betty Carter -- in fact they both do, "Deep Night," now that I think about it. I wasn't even thinking that. But it's such a wide range of people that sing the songs, perform songs whether vocally or instrumentally.
FRIEDWALDI mean, it can be done by trombone players, by big bands, by a small piano trio. I mean, they could all play the same song and they could play it as a Bossa nova, they could play it as a Polka, they could play it as a Waltz. All the same piece of material and you really can't say that about any other kind of music. You can't say that about the Bach, "B Minor Mass." You can't say that about the great songs of Bob Dylan or Lennon, McCartney. They're all written to be done a specific way. And, like I say, that which we call, The Great American Songbook, is a, like I say, designed to be interpreted.
FRIEDWALDAnd that's why I think those songs are still popular and they're still being reinterpreted and it's still is a body of work that holds up to this day. Even though, as we all know, most of those songs were just written as Pop songs. And they were not written to be immortal. They are written to be ephemeral. And yet they survived just the same. And I think that's what makes it unique.
NNAMDIIt also, I guess, explains your focus on Jazz and Pop?
FRIEDWALDYes, because, like I say, it's all about interpretation.
NNAMDIThe American Songbook contains a huge number of songs musicians call, standard. Songs so integrated into our consciousness that everybody's heard them at one point or another. Before I play the first clip, where do you come down on the name of L-O-U-I-S Armstrong, Louis or Louie?
FRIEDWALDWell, he kind of settled the argument for -- well, actually there's one record, "Laughing Louie," which is like 1932 where he refers to himself as Louie. But then again famously in, "Hello Dolly," he introduces himself as Louis. So, I think, most people tend to go with Louis because he was American and unlike a lot of the people he knew in New Orleans, he was not French, he was not Spanish, he was not Italian and, like, Louie Prima was definitely Louie because he was Italian.
FRIEDWALDBut Louis Armstrong wanted to call himself Louis, I believe, because he was not French or Italian or Spanish, he was, you know, definitely an American.
NNAMDIOkay. I'll stay with Louis then. And in order to illustrate the songs that are standards as a hallmark of the American Songbook, let's hear a bit first of, "Summertime," by Louis Armstrong.
NNAMDIThe flexibility of these standards as a hallmark of the American Song but because what we're about to play now is a version by a Washington, D.C. based singer who was not covered in the book. The late lamented Billy Stewart.
NNAMDIWill Friedwald, is one of the reasons these songs survived, precisely because of their versatility?
FRIEDWALDWell, exactly. Because they can live and breathe for a new generation. And incidentally, Billy Stewart was covered in my last book where I had this enormous, very long essay on, "Summertime," and I do mention that record. And, "Summertime," stands out because it really is the most wide -- is probably the single most widely done song in the since that there's so many different versions. And it's a song that really can be done by opera singers as well as blues singers as well as rock 'n roll screamers like Janice Joplin. They call can do this song.
NNAMDII was about to ask our audience, do you think of someone you -- can think of who you think does, "Summertime," better? Like, Janis Joplin, for instance.
FRIEDWALDI mean, "Summertime," really, probably, has the widest extreme of interpretations. I mean, there's also Beverly Sills doing it or, you know, someone like Joan Sutherland, you know.
NNAMDIOften music reviewers and even biographers take a less than nuanced view of technique. That is not a problem of yours, we would be remiss not to talk about technique in general but in particular the technique of the guy they call the Chairman. How did Frank Sinatra borrow from trombone player, Tommy Dorsey, to enhance his singing technique?
FRIEDWALDWell, Dorsey was famous for being able to play these really long breaths and sometimes people listen back and they say that he was doing something avant-garde, like, circular breathing. And the truth is, he was really just holding his breath for an ungodly long time. And that was strictly a musical device but what Sinatra heard in that wasn't so much that it was, "Wow, I can hold my breath and sing long notes and impress everybody." It wasn't, like, you know, trying to show off.
FRIEDWALDWhat Sinatra heard in that was the ability to shape a song, to phrase it. And it goes back to the idea of interpretation. The idea that you could take a song and make it sound more natural. To make it sound more conversational. To be able to break up a song, the lyric of a song, to break it down into thoughts rather than just mere words, to make it sound like it was coming out of your head rather than just your, you know, your throat. Make it sound like it's coming out of your brain.
FRIEDWALDAnd the way Sinatra did that was to use this long breath technique because it meant that he did not have to just run out of air and stop singing, it meant he could continue the phrase or the idea. And that was sensual thing with Sinatra, was that he was really a story teller and he wasn't singing notes and he wasn't singing words, he was singing ideas. And he was trying to communicate. And, you know, what he learned from Tommy Dorsey and what he took to a greater degree than Dorsey did because, of course, you know, Dorsey was primarily a instrumentalist, he didn't sing.
FRIEDWALDHe took it to a further point where it was able -- he used the long breath technique that he learned from Dorsey's trombone to tell a story better, to put over a lyric, to make a love song more of a love song, to make it more convincing. You know, to, you know and again, he was selling an idea. And that's really what he got from Dorsey. And that really, you know, technique was just a means to an end. It was never strictly about technique.
NNAMDIBut was Sinatra one of those, and we'll talk about Peggy Lee later, who crossed over because he was immensely popular. He was the pop singer of his generation so to speak, but yet he was -- he's also a great Jazz singer.
FRIEDWALDWell, Sinatra was everything at once. And when you get to these really, this sort of elevated level of a Sinatra, of a Ella Fitzgerald or a Peggy Lee or a Sarah Vaughan, you know, you stop -- there are times when they do techniques that are Jazz techniques and yet they're aspects of their music that are strictly pop music. So, I think, that when you start -- when you get to that point, it kind of becomes, I don't want to say academic, but it's sort of, like, less instructive to say, "Oh, this is a Jazz singer," and this guy isn't. Because, you know, the really great singers are using Jazz techniques and yet they're also using things that we might call, you know, pop music techniques.
FRIEDWALDAnd that they're doing contemporary songs or doing things with big orchestras or doing things that aren't necessarily always accepted as part of the Jazz vocabulary. They're doing all kinds of stuff and they -- I don't really think they're considering, oh, this is a Jazz performance or this is a pop performance. I think, they're really -- like I said, I think, you know, with all these great artists, the idea is to reach the audience. And they'll use any of the techniques at their disposal, whether it's Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald or Billy Holiday. I mean, she's a great icon of Jazz and yet a lot of her music qualifies as pop music.
NNAMDIWell, here's the thing, I think, a lot of people tend to remember most about Frank Sinatra.
NNAMDIAnd I'm glad you mentioned Billy Holiday. Because is it possible sometimes for a singers image, publicity to obscure that singers vocal talents? When we think of Sinatra in the movies and in life and when we think of Billy Holiday and the problems with the drugs, it tends, can it not, to obscure their singing talents, so to speak?
FRIEDWALDWell, certainly. The same way it can with a politician or a movie star or an actress or something. You know, Billy Holiday has this reputation of just being, like, the dark lady of sorrow. And, I think, it's possibly a factor that she was Catholic. That she's, you know, viewed in that way. And, you know, most of the pictures that people see are always, you know, her looking very sad. Throughout her whole career, even to her final album, she was a great swinger.
FRIEDWALDShe was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful sense of time. And she was arrival of Ella Fitzgerald, even. And she could always, particularly in the early part of the career when she made a lot of upbeat swinging records. But even up until the end, even until her last albums, there's always, you know, moments of hope there. Even though, you know, her own life was taking it a downside. But, you know, up through the '50s, there's these great records where she's really swinging and she was one of the all time great rhythmic singers.
FRIEDWALDAnd so you shouldn't only, you know, think of her as somebody who just sang sad songs and was always, you know, getting beaten up by her man and, you know, all the terrible, you know, abusive things that she sings about. That wasn't the whole Billy Holiday story.
NNAMDIIndeed, one of the things I like about your book, "A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers," we're talking with the author Will Friedwald, is that fact that it does talk about exactly the techniques that so many of these singers use. So you don't get lost in the headlines of their biography, so to speak. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Will Friedwald writes about music for the Wall Street Journal. He's been featured in the New York Sun, Vanity Fair, other publications.
NNAMDIThe book is called, "A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers." If there are singers you would like to know if they have been covered in the book or not or how Will feels about them, call us, 800-433-8850. Here is Michael in Baltimore, Md. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELHey, Kojo. Will, I'm a very big fan of a current singer, Marlene VerPlanck. I've seen her a number of times in New Jersey. I used to come to the Corcoran. What do you think?
FRIEDWALDWell, I should have put her in the book. There are a few that I missed. She's playing in New York in like three weeks and I'm very much looking forward to seeing her. I'm going to get a mention of her into "The Wall Street Journal," in my column there.
FRIEDWALDDefinitely somebody that people should pay more attention to. I heard her last year, she's very talented and my bad now, but I can't, obviously I can't get everybody in there and the people I looked for in the book were those, not just who are really good like Marlene is but those who really had, who were iconic for the most part.
FRIEDWALDWho had an influence on the way other people do the songs and that was sort of my first criteria and I'm not sure she falls into the category. But she's certainly excellent. She certainly deserves the attention and she has a new CD out which she's sending me shortly and I'm looking forward to hearing her at the Kitano. Like I said, I think it's the first week in May.
NNAMDIMichael, thank you very much for your call. The book doesn't cover everybody but it seems to cover just about almost everybody. How in that large a mix are you able to identify personal favorites? Do you have any?
FRIEDWALDWell, I have tons of personal favorites.
NNAMDIThat's what I thought. But too many to name?
FRIEDWALDYes, so many to name. But I'm -- I tend to -- I not only look at, you know, the big people, the Sinatras, the Billie Holidays. But I like -- I take personal pride in covering people like Jerry Southern or Jackie Paris or Jill Mooney or Jimmy Scott, little Jimmy Scott, who aren't necessarily...
NNAMDIWe have one for you later, Andy Bay.
FRIEDWALDGreat. We love Andy Bay. We love Andy Bay and he plays in New York quite a bit.
NNAMDIWe got to take a little break. But as we take that break we'll let our listeners hear a, well, producer favorite, A.C. Valdez likes this. Listeners feel free to call in if you can guess this mystery vocalist.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Will Friedwald. He writes about music for "The Wall Street Journal." His latest book is called, "A Biographical Guide To The Great Jazz & Pop Singers." And while, as I said earlier, it doesn't have everybody in there, it does seem to have almost everybody in there.
NNAMDIBut for those of you who were listening over the break, we just heard Blossom Dearie's take on just one of those things, a quick version where for almost a solid minute she just sings over the bass. That's very gutsy, yes.
FRIEDWALDThat's really ingenious.
NNAMDIWhen you think about Blossom, you might remember other characteristics better. What stands out to you about our candy-voiced chanteuse?
FRIEDWALDWell, she had that really sweet sound like a little girl. I think it was Whitney B that said that without amplification her voice couldn't reach the second floor of a doll's house, which is -- I wish I had said that. Great singer and what I loved about her was that she had this wonderful ability. Not only did she have a great time and was a masterful piano player, as even Bill Evans acknowledged, she was a wonderful pianist, she had this great sense of humor and she had the ability to do comedy songs and songs that told a funny story like someone's been sending me flowers and things like that.
FRIEDWALDAnd she just sang them so almost straight, like she totally believed it, like she was sort of taken in by it. And you -- when you listen to her do those songs, you're thinking, gee, doesn't she know it's supposed to be funny? And of course, that makes it so much funnier, you know. She's not doing it like, here's a silly song, you know. And just brilliant when she would do one of those funny songs, you know. You could hear her do that same thing over and over and over and it was always fresh. It was ingenious.
NNAMDIOne of the things that's striking about her is that Blossom Dearie is her real name.
NNAMDIHere's Tom, in Alexandria, Va. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMHi, beautiful, I love your book. I got your book just recently and what I like about it is at the beginning of every sentence, whomever I'm reading about, Al Jolson, Bob Dylan or even the new singer, Diana Craw, just gets me going right away. I love it, you know. There's no tippy-toeing around and it's great. And there's one, I don't -- Al Jarreau, that's the only thing...
FRIEDWALDAl Jarreau's a very interesting character. He's only done a couple of albums of standards and maybe I should've worked him in there, but he does not primarily sing standards. He primarily does either his own things or things written for him. But there are one or two albums of standards so maybe I should've gotten him in somewhere. I wasn't quite sure how to deal with him. Certainly, a guy with a lot of technique and a very interesting artist.
NNAMDIBut I thought about that, too, and thought the same, he doesn't do a lot of standards.
FRIEDWALDBut he's done one or two albums. An early one and there's recent one, a songbook album, but his main thing isn't even singing, you know, sort of written tunes. His main thing is that sort of vocal improvisation that he does, you know, going off on a tangent, which is, you know, fascinating. It's a whole other kind of a thing.
NNAMDITom, thank you very much for your call. I want to take time to compare and contrast the careers of two singers, both quite talented. Peggy Lee, who had a high profile in jazz and pop and the aforementioned Andy Bay, who had a low profile in both, it would appear. But start with Peggy Lee. The thing that surprised me most about reading about Peggy Lee here, is how much she liked writing. I didn't realize how much she really liked writing music.
FRIEDWALDYes, Peggy Lee's probably the only example of a, well, Mel Torme, sort of a singer from that generation who made a point to write songs. And Mel Torme wrote songs in the early part of his career, but didn't keep going with it. Whereas Peggy really was into it and she kept writing at every point of her career, even at the very end and there's a substantial body of work that is the Peggy Lee songbook.
FRIEDWALDBut there's a lot that distinguishes her. She, of all the singers of her generation, she's the one who's sort of the most enmeshed in the blues. And I think she's more of a blues singer than a lot of, say, Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald. Not a lot of hardcore jazz singer. She's really continually sort of goes back to the wellspring of the blues for inspiration in a way that not every singer of her generation does.
FRIEDWALDOf course, Diana Washington and I think that's a fascinating thing. And she really is -- if there's any artist where you have a hard time saying whether they're a pop singer or a jazz singer, it's Peggy Lee because she constantly made music that was both.
NNAMDICan't talk about Peggy Lee without just playing a little bit of this.
NNAMDISpeaking of singing over the bass, that's a...
FRIEDWALDThere you go. That's the most famous example.
NNAMDIAnother example of it. But then that made me also think of one girl who hails from Washington D.C. who is also covered in the book and who has one of my own favorite versions of the song "Fever." Here is Shirley Horn.
NNAMDIShe just says the word night and it captures me how she says it.
FRIEDWALDShirley was a big Peggy Lee fan. She told me that.
NNAMDIYes, I read that in a book.
FRIEDWALDYou could hear that. I mean, just -- you don't need me to tell you that. She didn't need me to tell you that.
NNAMDIShe was one of Miles Davis's favorite vocalists.
FRIEDWALDThat's true. In fact, virtually the only time in his career where he played behind a singer, you know, especially after he became a star, virtually the only time he played behind a singer was on one of Shirley Horn's albums, which is fairly -- quite a credential I should say, you know.
NNAMDIYou can read about Shirley Horn in "A Biographical Guide To The Great Jazz & Pop Singers" by Will Friedwald, who joins us in studio and now onto Andy Bay. Andy Bay, for me, has always been in the background some place. And even though he is now almost 70 years old, he's never had the kind of popularity that his fans felt he deserved.
FRIEDWALDNever had the big break. Never had, like, the one hit, like Al Hibler doing "Unchained Melody" or something like that. Usually these singers would have one hit and they would do it for no money and they would get ripped off. But at least it made them famous and Andy Bay never had that.
FRIEDWALDJohnny Desmond is another guy like that. Never had that, like, one signature song. Andy Bay, to me, is an amazing vocal artist and that he does something, which only a few people do, Fats Waller was one. Dean Martin, believe it or not and Elvis Presley are a couple of others in that they sing in different registers for different songs.
FRIEDWALDSo you say, is that the voice of Andy Bay? Andy Bay has, like, four voices. I mean, you hear him doing something like "I'll remember April." He'll sing one part of the song in one register then he'll go, like, way high up and way low down and you really feel like it's one-man vocal group. He's very, very creative and fascinating singer. Great to listen to.
NNAMDIWhen I first encountered him, he was singing with Horace Silver and I thought he only sang in that very low register, but he's all over the place.
FRIEDWALDHe's all over.
NNAMDIHe's got to standard that I'd like for you to hear, "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?"
NNAMDIAndy Bay, just one of the not better-known singers covered in the book, "A Biographical Guide To The Great Jazz & Pop Singers" by Will Friedwald. Back to the telephones, now, here is Greg in Washington D.C. Greg, your turn.
GREGGreat. Hey, I was going to ask about Audra McDonald. I better also ask about Jane Monheit and I'm finally looking for something. Don't know if you can help me out or not, looking for "I'm A Stranger Here Myself" from -- it's from a musical, "One Touch of Venus." "I'm A Stranger Here Myself" by Kurt Weill, transposed down from G minor original to D minor, something that's a little more midrange friendly as opposed to up in soprano range.
NNAMDII doubt whether you'll find that in this book, but here is Will Friedwald.
FRIEDWALDWait a minute. You're looking for the music to the song or you're looking for a recording of the song?
GREGYes, the score.
FRIEDWALDWell, I don't know. I can't really help you find the sheet music.
GREGYes, I think I need to go...
FRIEDWALDMary Martin did the original recording of that. There's a lot of good versions of it. It's a great Kurt Weill song.
FRIEDWALDAnd Ogden Nash, right?
FRIEDWALDYes, it's a wonderful song. More people ought to do it and whether they do it in G minor or D minor is up to them, though. Audra McDonald, a wonderful, musical comedy singer, musical theater singer. We don't really say musical comedy anymore, particularly -- I don't think she's really done a traditional comedy.
FRIEDWALDVery talented. She made four albums that are really unique in that she really looks for interesting repertoire and all four of her albums go for different -- like, there's a couple of mainly contemporary Broadway composers and there's a couple of standards and they're all good. And I think she deserves credit.
FRIEDWALDShe gets a chapter in the book, even thought she only has four albums, I think. And that's just because they're all so different and they're all so interesting. And even though it's not a major, you know, it's not like Nancy Wilson who did, like, you know, 50, 60 albums or Ella Fitzgerald that did more albums than I count.
FRIEDWALDAudra McDonald gets the attention just because they're so good and they're so different. Like, the very song comes -- seems to come from a completely different place. So she's definitely worthy of the attention.
FRIEDWALDJane Monheit is a contemporary talent. At times, she -- I like her, at times I don't. She seems to be -- particularly because she came up when she was just so young and these days being young is something, you know, really different than it was in the time of Peggy Lee or Billie Holiday.
FRIEDWALDI mean, they both made really amazing records when they were in their early 20s and these days you really need more maturity, I think, or something. A lot of her things are, you know, she seems to be only interested in the sound of her voice early on and -- but once in a while, you get glimmers that she's learning how to interpret and -- up to the present day and she's certainly somebody.
FRIEDWALDWhenever she comes to New York or has a new album, I always listen to it because there's always something interesting going on. So, you know, she's certainly somebody I pay attention to.
NNAMDIGreg, thank you so much for your call. Here is Nadir in Bethesda, Md. Nadir, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NADIRHi, how are you?
NADIRI'm calling with the song where you said to call in if you know the name of the artist, the mystery voice.
NADIRI believe it is Blossom Dearie.
NNAMDIYes, we talked about that earlier. It is, in fact, Blossom Dearie. How'd you know about it?
NADIRLong story short, back when I was in high school, my friends and I kind of ended up getting in trouble for making fun of the name during music class. And oddly enough, the professor made us learn the song and I'm quite amused I remember it seven years later.
NNAMDIGood for you. Well, that was, in fact, her real name, as we mentioned earlier. It was not a stage name. Nadir, thank you so much for your call. We got a Facebook message from Stephanie who says, "Tell me more about Sam Cooke. I love his well-known bluesy songs. I discovered "Lost & Lookin'" and find it spellbinding."
FRIEDWALDWell, I love Sam Cooke and he came from a very unique point in that he was at the point where gospel music was going back into pop music and essentially becoming soul. And he was sort of caught and -- not necessarily caught, but he was at that point where all that was happening he was going in like 90 directions at once.
FRIEDWALDAnd I think that's the great thing about him. It's not a liability. It's an asset in that his music is so diverse. Going from gospel to dance music, you know, almost in the same breath. And what isn't known about Sam Cooke is that he was a wonderful interpreter of standards and he did some great albums of standards, most of which are hard to find these days, I'm sorry to say.
FRIEDWALDBut he could do things like "Smoke Rings," for instance, which was the theme song of the Casa Loma Orchestra and it's not that well known a song. Ella Fitzgerald never did it, Sinatra never did it, but Sam Cooke did a beautiful record of the song "Smoke Rings" and I wish more of that stuff would get reissued. But of course, you know, with Sam Cooke, we all know the classical hits like "A Change Is Going Come" and "Twisting The Night Away," and "Chain Gang."
NNAMDIYou paid him a Lou Rawls.
FRIEDWALDLou Rawls was also a part of that same movement, you know. He was a star in the gospel world...
NNAMDIBoth of them were with The Soulsters at one time.
FRIEDWALDRight. They were with The Soulsters at different times and Lou Rawls was the Pilgrim Travelers and they -- at that point, they were becoming so popular within the gospel world that they had to cross over into the pop world. And so, of course, they went into, you know, dance music and, you know, singles.
FRIEDWALDNot exactly. Not specifically Motown, but that same sort of thing, soul music. But along the way, they both loved the great American songbook. They both loved standards and Lou Rawls made some wonderful albums of standards. In fact, his album right before he died was a tribute to Frank Sinatra, which is a beautiful record and Lou Rawls made some great -- fortunately he lived a lot longer than Sam Cooke.
FRIEDWALDDied under mysterious circumstances.
NNAMDIMy favorite trivia question is to play Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" and say who was that familiar voice in the background.
FRIEDWALDThat's a good point.
NNAMDIThat's Lou Rawls on that.
FRIEDWALDIt certainly is, very recognizable.
NNAMDIIndeed. Here's Mike, in Bowie, Md. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEHi, thanks to both of you for a beautiful show. When you mentioned what the theme was going to be, my first all-time favorite song has always been Gershwin's "Summertime" and as I was thinking -- as you presented the show, I was thinking the dichotomy between rock and jazz -- and just an example, and these are my only two comments, is "Summertime" two of my favorites has been done by George Benson and a group that had a very big hit with "Summertime" was a group called The Zombies.
MIKEPeggy Lee's "Fever" was, of course, one of my favorites, but it was a big hit and it was done by Paul Revere and The Raiders. And as I progressed learning with the guitar, I had a hard time deciphering what rock and jazz was so I just like songs now. Thanks again for two great -- for a great show.
NNAMDIAnd, Mike, here is this. We got an e-mail from Keith in Silver Springs, who says, "I know Tom Waits is not a jazz singer, but there is no doubt he would do a great rendition of "Summertime." What do you think, Mike?
FRIEDWALDThat's funny. John Pizzarelli does an imitation of Tom Waits and it sounds exactly like his imitation of Louis Armstrong. So there's got to be something...
NNAMDIAnd when I first heard Tom Waits, I thought he was doing Joe Cocker so that's a whole other story.
FRIEDWALDI forget who he was doing. I don't know. I think it was Muddy Waters or somebody.
NNAMDIProbably so. Mike, thank you so much for your call. One relative unknown is Joe Mooney, who may be the first and last jazz accordion player. I don't know. Who was Joe Mooney (unintelligible) popular with the likes of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra?
FRIEDWALDJoe Mooney's a personal favorite of mine and I mention him whenever I get a chance. He was a brilliant phraser, a guy that proved that you can sing and be incredibly hip without any kind of a voice whatsoever. I mean, his voice is totally nothing, but it's all the timing. It's all the phrasing. It's all interpretation. It's all storytelling.
FRIEDWALDIt's what you do with the voice rather than the voice itself. And he just had wonderful timing and was able to really put over a song ingeniously in a way that people that did have great voices, like, as you say, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett were both really big fans of his, and to this day Tony Bennett talks about how much he loves Joe Mooney and how at one point he actually hired Joe Mooney to accompany him, playing the accordion. It's the only time you ever saw Tony Bennett with an accordion player.
FRIEDWALDI wish somebody had made a bootleg tape of that performance. It was like in Miami in 1956 or something like that. But he was just a great musician, and a wonderful way of putting over a song with great humor.
NNAMDIAnd what did Joe Mooney sound like, or what does he sound like?
NNAMDIThis is way too much fun. Here is Charles in Washington, D.C. Charles, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHARLESHello, Kojo. I consider Antonio Carlos Jobim, although he's South American, to be the last of the great American songwriters, and I think Frank Sinatra agreed, because Jobim appeared not -- he was the only artist to appear not on only one album with Sinatra, but on two albums with Sinatra. So I'm curious if you have any discussion of Jobim in your book, and his songs that are very popular in jazz, whether they're sung by American singers or a few Brazilian singers in English Astrud Gilberto.
FRIEDWALDWell, you're right about that. The -- he certainly is sort of like the last guy to come along who has that sort of international bring. Michel Legrand possibly is another, but Jobim is a whole like sort of (word?) with himself. What I think makes him different from guys like Irving Berlin, and George Gershwin and Harold Arlen is that Jobim's songs are wonderful, but they're meant to be done specifically in the idiom that they were written for.
FRIEDWALDA Jobim song is a bossa nova, and you really can't do it any other way. And if you were to do it any other way, what would be the point? And I think that's really what distinguishes him from, you know, when we say "The Great American Songbook." Not that his songs aren't great, and not that they're not wonderful, and not that they're not done by an incredibly wide variety, and people do do them all over the world.
FRIEDWALDThere are Japanese signers that have done whole albums of Jobim. But essentially it's always a samba. You're not gonna take One Note Samba and play it as a march, you know what I'm saying? You're not gonna do it as a waltz. You're not gonna do One Note Samba in three four, even though Jobim did write some waltzes. He did write some things in different time signatures, but they're really not -- they're not as flexible in that sense. You still have to mostly do them in the Brazilian idiom and the samba idiom.
NNAMDIDidn't Ella Fitzgerald do vocals to One Note Samba? I seem to remember that.
FRIEDWALDYes. Ella Fitzgerald did a wonderful album, and in fact, what makes our friend's point is that she did the classic songbook albums going, I think, from like '56 to '64, including Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, George Gershwin. Then finally, like many years later in the mid-'70s she did one final songbook record, and that was Jobim, Ella Abraca Jobim. And that certainly makes the case that he, you know, belongs up there with the other immortals.
NNAMDIThank you so much for your call, Charles. We've got to take another break. When we come back, we'll take more of your phone calls, and continue our conversation with Will Friedwald about his book, "A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Will Friedwald. He writes about music for the Wall Street Journal and other publications, and his latest book is a biographical guide to the great jazz and pop singers. We got an e-mail from Juliette in D.C. who says, "Please ask your guest the names of some of the jazz and blues singers who influenced Peggy Lee. Interesting that he mentioned Dinah Washington in the same breath only parenthetically."
FRIEDWALDWell, I don't know if Dinah Washington would count as someone who influenced Peggy Lee because she was a little bit younger. But Peggy was very specific. People always sort of assumed that she was a big Billie Holliday fan, which she was, but if you asked her her favorite singer, she would always say Maxine Sullivan. She said Maxine Sullivan from Pittsburg was the one who really influenced her. And Maxine was famous for swinging in a very light sort of style. Very casual, very swinging, but light, you know, as opposed to like a big heavy kind of a Bessie Smith kind of a voice.
FRIEDWALDAnd Maxine was a great, great singer, and certainly someone who deserves more attention. Her big hit was Loch Lomond. She started a vogue for swinging folk songs. But that was always Peggy's favorite. Then she listened to a lot of blues singers like Lil Green. And I think it was Lil Green where she got her first hit which was, "Why Don't You Do Right" with Benny Goodman and his orchestra, which you heard from -- also a singer around Chicago named Laura Drucker who sang with the New Orleans' drummer, Baby Dodds.
FRIEDWALDAnd we don't know much about her, but that was another woman that Peggy would talk about when you asked who her favorite singers were. And, of course, Billie Holliday. I mean, you can't, you know, mistake the Billie Holliday influence, particularly in her early work. But yeah, Peggy Lee was -- she was really listening to all these people and, you know, very -- very deep. Very much immersed in the blues idiom and the jazz idiom of course.
NNAMDIOur caller who mentioned Antonio Carlos Jobim earlier, a good many songs entered the American songbook via foreign influence, and a good many musicians have performed in French, among other languages. How have imported songs impacted our musical collective consciousness if you will. I for one didn't know that "Mack the Knife" was a foreign import.
FRIEDWALDOh, yeah. "Mack the Knife" is Drei Groschen Oper. It's Moritat from, you know, the Three Penny Opera. And that made a very surprising sort of turn into a pop song, because in the show it's a very, you know, the whole point of the song in the show it tells you what a bloodthirsty character Mack the Knife is, and it sets up his entrance. And the idea that it could be a swinging number, would have been a great surprise to Kurt Weill, but then again, you know, he loved jazz, and so he would have ultimately been really, you know, pleased with, you know, the fact that Louis Armstrong did it, and then Bobby Darren.
FRIEDWALDBut yes. A lot of the -- "The Great American Songbook" is imported from other countries just as a lot of the great American people are imported from other countries. I think it's a great thing. Like "Smile" is a British song, and, you know, there a million French songs that we all know like "Autumn Leaves." And there's songs from just about all over. In fact, if you look -- for some reason, I don't know why this is, but if you look at all the hits of Nat King Cole in the 1950s, and Louis Armstrong in the same period, almost every song they did that was a hit came from somewhere else. It's very interesting.
NNAMDII grew up listening to this, by the late Nat King Cole.
NNAMDIOkay. So he mangled the French language a little bit. (laugh)
FRIEDWALDWell, the funny thing was that he was by far the most international of singers, and he was beloved all over the world. And that of course was a French song. It was originally done by Hildegarde, and it's always done in half French and half English. And Nat was beloved all over the world, and he did three albums for the Spanish market which were big, big successes. And he sang everything phonetically. And recently there's a contemporary Cuban singer named Isaac Delgado that did a whole album and tribute to Nat King Cole based on those Spanish albums. So he was really beloved in foreign countries.
FRIEDWALDAnd even though he did not sing Spanish fluently either, he sang Spanish phonetically, the Spanish-speaking people never held that against him. They loved him. In fact, there's a story that Sammy Davis, Jr. told that Sammy really was half Cuban, and he really did speak fluent Spanish. And once after a performance, a Spanish person came up to him and said too bad you can't really sing in Spanish like Nat King Cole, which was kind of funny because Sammy did and Nat didn't.
NNAMDIOn now to Bobby in Takoma Park, Md. Bobby, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
BOBBYThank you. Thank you both for everything you're sharing today. I was wondering if you had a chance to speak about vocalist Jeanne Lee in your project, or maybe share some words today?
FRIEDWALDI wrote about her in my -- in an earlier book called "Jazz Singing." She did some very interesting stuff. A very -- very much an experimental type of singer. I'm very fond of the album she did with Ran Blake, The Newest Sound Around. Some very interesting stuff. I have not heard that name in a number of years. Not -- I used to hear her live in New York in the '80s and I don't believe -- I don't believe she is living. I could be wrong, but I haven't heard that name in a very long time. I'm very -- kudos for bringing her up.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Bobby. We move on to Shea in Washington, D.C. Shea, your turn.
SHEAHey Kojo. Love the program. There's two singers I'd like to mention and I don't know if they're in your book. But one is Gene McDaniels. He did a lot of popular tunes like...
NNAMDI"A Hundred Pounds of Clay," yeah.
SHEA..."A Hundred Pounds of Clay." But he also did a jazz album that was just phenomenal. And then the other singer, one of my favorites is Morgana King who was just incredible in her texture and interpretation. Are they mentioned in your books?
FRIEDWALDThey're mentioned. I don't go into any great detail on them. Morgana King a very interesting lady. I used to hear her in New York. She's famous for her acting role in "The Godfather." She played the Godfather's wife, which I don't even remember if she was Italian or not. But that's kind of what she's known for. Did some very interesting records. There's one album I like with -- from the '60s, and I wish I could remember the title of it on oh, what's it...
NNAMDIDon't look at me.
FRIEDWALDI know. I'm trying to remember the title, but it's -- it was arranged by Torrie Zito. And she sings some wonderful arrangements by Torrie Zito. It's probably -- I can't remember the title of the album, but it has charts by Torrie Zito. It's probably my favorite Morgana King record. Torrie was a very talented guy, married to Helen Merrill, another great singer that we should be talking about. And did a lot of his best work for Tony Bennett.
FRIEDWALDHe was Tony's musical director for a number of years. And so Morgana King did that record with him at one point, which is very -- I think that's her crowning achievement, that one.
NNAMDIShea, thank you for your call. On to Susan in Stevensville, Md. Hi Susan.
SUSANHi Kojo. Thank you for having me on the show. I want to say first very quickly, Mel Torme to me is one of the number one jazz interpreters.
NNAMDIA lot of Mel Torme in the book.
SUSANGood. Good. Well, two other people, you played "Fever." I love Michael Buble with the big band backing of him, but another one, a unique version of "Summertime," Renee Olstead. And she's very young, and I wonder -- you -- you commented, you thought people needed to be more mature, or to mature more before they would become good singers. What's your take on Renee?
FRIEDWALDWell, again, I thought she had incredible chops, but it really takes a bit of maturity to be able to tell a story. And there's Nikki Yanofsky, and there's another Russian girl who's name I can't remember. There's -- every couple of years it seems like they -- they push a new singer who's like under 20. And my -- usually they all can sing, but it's a problem of being able to work up to do an interpretation, you know. Especially if you're gonna do these songs which have been done so many times that, you know, you really need some kind of maturity to be able to do -- you know, like I said, to interpret and make the lyric come alive.
FRIEDWALDA lot of these young people have chops, and Renee Olmstead certainly had amazing time I remember. I haven't heard her in a few years. There is, like I say, usually I think the singer should at least be at the age of consent. Now, I don't want to get arrested for listening to a singer who's too young, you know. So to be singing about things that she's not legally entitled to do yet, you know?
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Susan. Here's Alonzo in Washington. Alonzo, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALONZOHi. It's a fabulous show. Little Jimmy Scott and Ann Hampton Calloway mentioned in the book?
FRIEDWALDYes. There's big chapters on both. A big chapter on Little Jimmy. He's an amazing artist. He still sounds great. Ann Hampton Calloway is a wonderful artist too. She was just in, you know, I'm from New York, and she was just at Dizzy's about less than a month ago. So she's certainly a headliner these days. She's getting more and more popular I think as time goes on. She's definitely becoming better and better known.
NNAMDIAlonzo, I once hosted a television program and had Nancy Wilson as a guest, and had the producer play Little Jimmy Scott as a surprise for Nancy Wilson. And as soon as the record started playing, all of the technicians on the set started screaming, no, no. That's not Little Jimmy Scott, that's Nancy Wilson. I said no, that is Little Jimmy Scott. (laugh) But he is one...
FRIEDWALDThey sound alike. They do sound alike.
NNAMDIThey do sound a great deal alike. Alonzo, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIOn to Patrick in Greenbelt, Md. Patrick you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PATRICKYes. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thank you Mr. Friedwald for another great book. Your earlier mention of the jazz singer songwriters, Peggy Lee, and Mel Torme and Blossom Dearie, also brought to mind two others, Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg.
FRIEDWALDWell, they're both wonderful songwriters, especially Mr. Frishberg. He was just in New York like two weeks ago at the Algonquin. Still writes wonderful songs and he has a very unique body of work. And his songs are funny and swinging, and he writes great -- he's written wonderful lyrics for other people's tunes, and he also writes great tunes himself. So he's really one of the great living songwriters.
PATRICKAnd more people have heard his work than know it, because he was the Schoolhouse Rock...
FRIEDWALDThat's right. That's right. Bob Durough did a lot of those vocals, as did Blossom Dearie. They all were part of that...
PATRICKOh, yes, they did. Yeah. And let's not -- Jack Sheldon is another signer that, although predominantly a trumpet player that has always impressed me anyway.
FRIEDWALDI'm always trying to find more records where Jack Sheldon sings. I don't think he did it enough. He was a wonderful singer and again, he's famous for the Bill on Capitol Hill song in Schoolhouse Rock. And then when the Simpsons parodied it -- parodied?
FRIEDWALDParodied it a few decades later, they brought back Jack Sheldon to sing a parody of his own song, and it was really funny. And both of those performances are wonderful. I wish that he had made more vocal records. There's a really funny comedy album that he made in the early '60s too. He was a great standup comedian.
NNAMDIPatrick, thank you very much for your call. In spite of the fact that this book was a Herculean task at just over 800 pages, a considerable accomplishment, there's always room for more.
FRIEDWALDI could do another 800 pages.
NNAMDII was about to say, who would be your first singer to make volume two?
FRIEDWALDGosh, well, certainly Marlena would be in a new volume. Rebecca Kilgore, I really love her. I'd like to write more about Jack Sheldon if I could hear more of his vocal records. There's all kinds of people that are coming up now. And Paula West is a wonderful singer who's out there. Has not recorded enough. Renee Marie, Carla Cook. There's some great contemporary people out there.
FRIEDWALDAnd I think that's a wonderful thing. Because like I said, this music is -- it's not, you know, relegated to history. It's alive and it's breathing, and it's still being interpreted, and people are still finding new ways to do these songs, in some cases after a hundred years.
NNAMDIYou do talk a bit about notable singers of other great genres. For you, what sets someone like Elvis Presley apart from Songbook singers?
FRIEDWALDWell, in those cases, the idea was to talk about not just people that did the Songbook, but people that did other kinds of music and see how they relate back to the Songbook. And that was my primary motive, and that's how to look at Elvis Presley from the context of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
NNAMDIWill Friedwald writes about music for the Wall Street Journal. His latest book is called "A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers." Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. The Smithsonian is celebrating with a month of jazz, and Will, as a part of that, you'll be doing a book signing at the Portrait Gallery tonight?
FRIEDWALDYes. And a talk. If you haven't heard enough of me talking, you can hear more tonight.
NNAMDIAnd Saturdays at Twins Jazz on U Street there's a free family jazz workshop at 4:30 p.m. and there are more events on the Smithsonian website. We'll link to that from our website at kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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