Annie Ross: Let Me Sing
AAJ: He doesn't get billing any more. That's a funny story. But you probably have a lot of stories going back to when you were doing with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks, doing the Basie book. You were doing a lot of traveling then, too.
AR: A hell of a lot. You know, it was a long time ago and we played so many places and I'm trying to recollect as much as I can because I'm writing my book.
AAJ: Oh, that's wonderful.
AR: And I'm at the point now where I have to do a whole thing on Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. But one thing will remind you of another.
AAJ: There's so much stuff. It's hard to...
AR: It is. But someone will say something and I'll think, oh my God, I remember when...once, where was I. Chicago or somewhere. And you'll connect it from there.
AAJ: I've got the Sing A Song of Basie LP. I've had it for years. You're sitting on top of the piano. There's all kinds of good stuff on there. And hardly anybody does what you do.
AR: They can't.
AAJ: How did that happen? How did you fall into that segment? Because it's a special niche.
AR: Well, I had written "Twisted. So I knew that style of writing lyrics. Jon had been writing lyrics forever. Davey had been putting down on paper, had been singing those kind of songs, with lyrics added. And I met Dave in the Village very inconsequentially. And I was at a friend's house and my friend said, "I'm waiting for two guys to come over. Maybe you want to stick around and see what they have to say. They have an idea to put Basie to music. My friend had a tiny, teeny record company. So Dave and Jon came over. They put on a Basie record and they started illustrating what they were going to do. And it looked fine and that was that. And then about two weeks later, I got a call from Dave, saying "We've hired these section singers and they can read every note, but they don't have the feel. They don't swing. And could you come over and coach them?
You can't do that. You just can't teach somebody that. In half an hour or even an hour. So I went downand I think there were about 12and I gave them some tips but it didn't work. It wasn't really in their nature. So they were subsequently finished and gone and the producer was going crazy because he didn't have a product and Dave, who, among many other things, was electronically interested in how things worked and why things worked said "Let's multi-track. I didn't know what it was but I said "Yes, multi-track. And when we learned the first track which was pretty straightforward and then the second track which was more complicated and so forth and so on. And one of the great moments of my life was standing in front of the speaker and hearing what we had done. I just knew that it was very special. That's how that came about.
I had no idea that could ever work interestingly because of the added tracks. Les Paul used to do a thing with Mary Ford and that was with mirrors.
AAJ: Yes, that was the first time they did multiple tracking.
AR: Yes. And I left to go to France because I love France, too. And I got letters from Jon and Dave saying "Come back. We have a manager. Blah, blah, blah. And we can work. And I thought "They're nuts. They're totally nuts. However, when I got back we did indeed have a manager called Willard Alexander who was very famous in his day. I was more show business minded than Jon and Dave. I said, "We have to try it out. We have to hone it. And so we took a Greyound bus up to somewhere, to a place that had been a bank. It was called the Bankers' Club. And Al Haig was playing also. And so we did the first set. And Jon and Dave said "We've got it! I said, "No, we haven't. It's terrible. We've got to work. We've got to rehearse. "No, no. I said, "Oh, yes, yes. So we did. And as we went on it got better and better and better until it was wonderful to work with them because it was very professional. It was interesting to look at. To the extent that we were playing Vegas. And they have the main room and they have the lounge. And we were in the lounge. And on the second night, they turned the mikes off because so many people were stopping to look and listen and it took them from the gambling. That was something. However...and we just kept working, working and working.
AAJ: But there was nobody else out there doing what you were doing. I remember when I was a kid, I memorized Flip Phillips solo on "Perdido from Jazz at the Philharmonic. I didn't sing any words to it, but I was still singing the arrangements. But nobody is doing that any more.
AR: No. There are a lot of young people, but they don't...well, we were unique.
AAJ: Absolutely. There's only one guy out there although Jon still works here and there. But there's only one person I know out there that's doing any kind of vocalese and that's Giacomo Gates.
AR: Oh, yes.
AAJ: But I don't know anybody else.
AR: No. I think there are a lot of kids that do "Twisted and "Farmers Market and stuff like that. But it's not the most popular form.