For this 2004 JazzTimes B&A, Tuck (Andress) and Patti (Cathcart) sat close to one another on the edge of the bed in their hotel room; Tuck cross-legged, Patti dangling her legs and occasionally touching the floor with her feet in rhythm to the music. In between selections, Patti told stories about nervously meeting Carmen McRae (“my heart)” for the first time, and how Mahalia Jackson “answered all my questions” with her music. We started with a classic to break the ice.
1. Sarah Vaughan
“Sophisticated Lady,” from After Hours (Roulette). Vaughan, vocal; Mundell Lowe, guitar; George Duvivier, bass. Recorded in 1961.
PC: She loves Sarah. Reminds me of Joe Pass and Sarah Vaughan.
TA: Real relaxed, nothing to prove at all.
What makes you say Sarah Vaughan?
PC: The nuances, the vibrato, the way she holds on to these phrases. She really reminds me of Sarah. Very pretty.
TA: I can’t tell if it’s a 7-string player or a 6-string player that’s tuned the bottom string down an octave. That ‘s a cool sound, that extended bass range. This is the quintessential, beautiful jazz guitar-vocal duet. It’s got just the right inflection, and both the tone and the style of the guitar is historically right there. Really tasteful.
PC: It’s like a history lesson. I love singers that state the tune before going off. It’s a beautiful tune and there’s a reason it’s been around so long. It’s really nice to hear that melody.
TA: It’s an exercise in humility, and it reminds me of just how much we‘re all part of the tradition. When you hear this done so well, you feel the weight of everyone else who‘s played this song and it‘s an honor to be a part of this tradition.
PC: Oh! It is Sarah. When was this done?
TA: No wonder they sound so authentic.
PC: I haven’t heard this one. It’s sweet.
TA: Mundell is a beautiful, tasteful player. People like Mundell Lowe and Tony Mottola could play any style and they knew exactly what to play at all times.
PC: You could feel them listening. It’s like a sensitive conversation between them. We call it the ballet on the tightrope. She’s the horn and the singer and the poet, and he’s just right there answering her.
Can you teach a young player to be sensitive like that, or does it only come with age and experience?
PC: I think that age and experience makes you slow down and not be afraid of space. You become less afraid of the silence and taking your time. That can be shown, but you can’t teach it to someone who doesn’t have a desire to learn.
TA: What you heard on this record is that Mundell is not playing completely in the background. When she sustains a note, he doesn’t always sustain his note or arppeggiate a chord. He might play a counter-line or throw some substitute chords in. He never emphasizes the same note. He plays complementary notes. And since they’re improvising, you just have to be ready all the time when you’re in such a nakedly exposed situation. There may be 50 options for voicing, including not playing anything at that moment, or leaving out notes in the middle so that you’re not fighting with the singer. You have to always be reading each other, in the moment.
2. Dianne Reeves
“Lullaby of Broadway,” from A Little Moonlight (Blue Note). Reeves, vocal; Romero Lubamba, guitar; Peter Martin, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums. Recorded in 2002.
PC: I love this. This is such a different take on this song. I love when someone does that; you get to hear it in a way you’ve never heard it before. It started out childlike and sweet, then it became bittersweet. And that piano solo was so beautiful. I want that CD [laughter]. That’s wonderful.
TA: It was an unselfconscious way of doing it. This is an important process; to de-construct a song back to the song, and then reconstruct it and shed everything you’ve ever previously thought about the song. That’s not easy to do, it’s like unlearning what makes you who you are. But it’s part of the process that we’re all as artists supposed to go through in a natural way. I got the feeling that they actually loved what they were doing and believed in it.
PC: This is another singer who really respected the tune. This is a nice conversation.
PC: Dianne! This is new so I haven’t heard this yet. This is niiiiice. She’s one of my favorite singers cause she sings from her heart. Her technique and musicianship is great, but she also goes for what’s inside her. She’s not afraid to be herself and do what she wants to do. As a jazz singer the pressure is just enormous for what you’re supposed to sing, how you’re supposed to sing, and when you’re supposed to sing it. And she doesn’t bow to that pressure, which I think is beautiful. She’s a great singer. I can’t wait to get this record.
TA: Romero is obviously an incredible guitar player. And there’s a stigma in jazz about playing something that’s simple, or something that uses the chords that you first learned when you started out playing guitar. It turns out, though, that there’s a whole lotta logic to those chords. And here’s a guy who’s confident enough that he has no hesitation playing an open G chord when that’s the appropriate thing for the music. So it seems like they’re all serving the music first. I like to hear that in a guitar player, especially someone who obviously knows every chord but also has the maturity to play the right thing, whatever it is.
PC: That was sweet.
3. Joel Harrison
“Tennessee Waltz,” from Free Country (ACT). Harrison, guitar; Norah Jones, vocal; David Binney, tenor sax; Rob Thomas, violin; Tony Cedras, accordion; Sean Conly, bass; Alison Miller, drums. Recorded in 2003.
PC: [chuckles at end of guitar solo] Whew! Sounds like a sonic bath. There are so many different things going on there. I know it’s Norah, and I really like her. The first two pieces we heard were sort of straight ahead, but this one had so many styles going on with it. At first I thought it was like a Daniel Lanois production, then it switched and sounded like Craig Street. Sometimes you can just hear the producer, you know? There are all these textures on this, beautiful textures, but there are so many of them coming at you from all these directions. And there’s Norah singing it straight ahead. It was the sonic thing that was taking my attention. How can I describe it? It’s like when I listen to gamelan music, I can’t really think about it. I have to just give up all my ideas because I just don’t know. It’s like someone pulled the rug out from under me. That’s what this is like for me. It was like an absolute wash of sound and texture while Norah was just straight and steady. Part of it works for me until I hear the production and then it distracts me. There are sections that I love. It’s beautiful, but also disconcerting in some ways because I‘m hearing people think and you hear the wheels turning. I like Norah’s voice. It’s sweet, guileless, simple and refreshing.
TA: It reminded me of what we talked about before with deconstructing and reconstructing. It’s the combination of these different textures and styles. What I liked about it was that I wasn’t sure if this was a group of people that played together a lot, or were coming together for the first time without preconception. They managed to keep me from ever discovering for sure which it was. This is something you wouldn’t do if you were trying to play it safe. They created a universe with all kinds of interaction and sensitivity going on. It doesn’t sound very scripted but it has so much atmosphere.
What about the guitar?
TA: It reminds me of the beautiful classic telecaster sound and somebody who knows exactly how to use it. The combination of the soaring bends and slides and the volume pedal is so effective, and this is the ideal guitar for that. This is a wonderful player.
TA: Wow. I don’t know Joel Harrison. Beautiful concept.
PC: It’s unusual. It moves between country, jazz and New Orleans.
TA: It’s a lovely invitation into a world. I’d like to hear what the rest of this album sounds like.
4. Bob Wills
“Roly Poly,” from Take Me Back To Tulsa (Proper). Wills, violin; Tommy Duncan, vocal; Cameron Hill, Jimmy Wyble, electric guitar; Noel Boggs, steel guitar; Ted Adams, bass; Millard Kelso, piano; Alex Brashear, trumpet; Joe Holley, violin; Monte Mountjoy, drums. Recorded in 1945.
PC: [with delight] Oh, my grandfather used to sing this to us when we were little. I haven’t heard this in so long, and I’ve never heard this version. [much laughter at conclusion]. That’s amazing. I love that country swing. [to Tuck] That’s your roots music.
TA: Yeah, I grew up surrounded by that music in Tulsa, OK.
PC: I don’t know who that is. The only person I ever heard sing this was my grandfather. That’s great.
TA: It reminds me that the debate over what is jazz is irrelevant. When you hear stuff like this it’s a reminder that there’s no answer to that question that has any meaning.
PC: It’s swinging, it’s totally swinging and it’s one of my favorite kinds of swing. It’s like old cartoon music.
TA: It seems like all the players that you hear back in this era could really play. And that’s true of country players today. Some of the best players today are playing country cause that’s where the gigs are.
PC: Oh yeah, Bob Wills.
TA: I never listened to him so much but it permeated the culture where I grew up. But I was also listening to soul bands and jazz.
PC: My family lived in Terrill, Texas before they moved to California and if you turned on the radio, this is what’s on and everyone listened to it.
TA: My first guitar teacher played with Bob Wills.
What’s the challenge of playing this kind of music?
TA: Believe in it.
TA: Believe in it, lose yourself in it and have a good time.
Could you see yourself performing something like this?
PC: Oh yeah! In a minute. It’s such a good song. I love that kind of music.
TA: Whenever you’re playing any kind of music you have to suspend judgment so that you can actually do what you’re doing with conviction. If you’re sitting around thinking, is this hip enough for me to do, then chances are you’re not going to be lost in the moment and serving the music.
PC: Sometimes when you’re young your ear doesn’t catch up to you for a while. Like when I was a kid and singing into my hairbrush, you know, and I heard “Say A Little Prayer.” I thought, hmmm, that’s different and I learned it. Other songs you may not like at first but then four or five years later you pull out that same record and discover you love it. At first you play what you can hear. But your ear grows up and you can hear more deeply and appreciate more.
5. Jeri Southern
“Until The Real Thing Comes Along,” from Jeri Southern Meets Johnny Smith (Roulette/Fresh Sounds). Southern, vocal; Smith, guitar; Bob Pancoast, piano; George Roumanis, bass; Mousie Alexander, drums. Recorded in 1958.
PC: Is it old or new?
TA: It sounds old [because of] a lack of reverb and high end and the way they matched the timbre of the guitar and the piano.
PC: It has that cool, maybe we’re high kind of thing [laughter].
TA: With this kind of straight-ahead arrangement you can identify every change and hear where every note is. And this helps you develop your ear when you can hear the basics of the structure. Knowing that will help you to later identify more advanced [harmonic] substitutions. Yeah, this is more representational than abstract.
Anything special about the voice or guitar?
TA: There was something dazzling that went by on the guitar, a harmonized line that shifted between seconds and thirds. If that was played by a guitarist and not double-tracked, that would be devastatingly difficult to pull off. And it had a kind of nonchalant quality about it. So there was either some unbelievably virtuoso playing for just a minute, or it was double-tracked. People that did this sort of stuff weren’t joking around. These were very good players. It used to be the price of entry was pretty high in terms of competence. You had to be able to seriously play even if it was assumed you wouldn’t be showing your chops off every moment.
PC: Oh, I don’t know Jeri Southern. She remind me of the way Anita O’Day used to sing in such a straightforward way. She stated the song, sang the verse and the bridge and that was it. She had a role she was supposed to provide.
TA: Yeah, now I’m not surprised to know it wasn’t overdubbed. Johnny Smith was a musician’s musician. He could play very difficult lines and play them rapidly and cleanly. This should have been obvious to me because of all the clusters he did. Those close intervals required a real diagonal stretch on the guitar if it‘s tuned in standard fashion. It’s the kind of thing that’s really easy to do on piano but very, very challenging or impossible to do on the guitar. Johnny Smith pushed the envelope for all the guitarists of that era and I know a lot of guitarists who transcribed and worked on his “Moonlight In Vermont.”
6. Luciana Souza
“Saudade da Bahia,” from Brazilian Duos (Sunnyside). Souza, vocal; Marco Pereira, guitar. Released in 2001.
PC: Very nice.
TA: I liked the form of that song. It has a motive in the intro, then it comes back in the interlude and again at the end. It’s a cyclical quality that I like, a never-ending cycle. I can’t tell if it’s one person or two. It had the quality of one person because they were singing and playing so well together. It was a hand-in-glove experience.
PC: I love the Brazilian sound. It was very pure and very distinct, and her enunciation was very crisp.
TA: It’s lovely the way they do it with the implied drummer.
PC: Yes! Our friend was telling us about this record. We’ve been to Brazil but we haven’t been to Bahia yet.
TC: It’d be so satisfying to have a mind-meld with someone who grew up with this music and knows it from the inside-out. Our experience with Brazilian music is from the outside-in. Stan Getz sort of brought it to us but for most people in the U.S., it‘s not really a native experience, and it‘d be so fascinating if it was.
Maybe they feel the same way about jazz?
TA: I guess maybe we should all feel that way about everybody.
PC: Show us your music.
TA: Try to find some common ground.
7. Doug Wamble
“Trouble Lord,” from Country Libations (Marsalis Music). Wamble, guitar, vocal; Charles Burnham, violin; Roy Dunlap, piano; Jeff Hanley, bass; Peter Miles, drums. Recorded in 2002.
PC: [sighs and starts rocking] I loved that!
TA: A joyful noise.
PC: I loved the lyrics and what they had to say and the way they played. I liked the feeling of it. I liked the singer very much. Who was playing violin? I like to hear something that moves me. Of course I like good musicianship and all that, but I also want to be touched and I want someone to tell me something. This did, and it had a hopeful spirit in the midst of all this insanity we’re living in.
TA: You hear in this music the gratitude we all feel for Coltrane and Monk and Jimi Hendrix and on down the line…Stravinsky. What I like about this is that these are people who are not concerned with fitting a certain mold, but you can hear the history in what they’re doing. You can hear a tradition but you can also hear that they’re not being strangled by it. There’s a syndrome in jazz that’s regrettable because it leads to conservatism instead of expressing one’s own spirit. And this music is most about discovering what your spirit is and expressing it.
So, you would call this spiritual music?
PC: Yeah. I think so. I think all music when done from your heart is spiritual music.
TA: You also hear the guitar player in the background singing the notes that he’s playing and it‘s a reminder for young players that you‘d better be in touch with what you‘re playing, and mean to be playing, and not just repeating patterns that you‘ve practiced. And singing along is one of the best techniques for doing that. You want to have your hands or your breath or whatever linked to your soul.
PC: I must have this CD.
TA: You should just come over and play CDs for us all the time. This is great.