Steven Bernstein: Proud Member of the Pre-Computer Absorption Generation
AAJ: And then there are those ones that combine the two, like "Dick Contino's Blues, which is all sped-up and slowed-down, except for the breaks, which are left alone.
SB: Right, it's just the band playing. They did a great job. They gave me the rough mixes and I think I made like three comments, tiny comments, and said, "Fine. Finish it.
AAJ: You spoke about how Briggan can sound at times like a slide trumpet, and I think you two have always blurred your sounds. That's part of the band sound. But on this record, with all the Good and Evil production, and even without that, in the way the band is playingthere are moments where I can't even say what instrument I'm hearing.
SB: Yeah, if you weren't there at the recording session, there's no way you could know. Really. Because it's all been changed and altered, and because we're all sharing the same language.
AAJ: To me, "Kid Rock Deluxe and "Pygmy Suite feel like two versions of the same tune.
SB: Well, here's why you feel that. That vocal part from "Pygmy Suite is taken from "Kid Rock Deluxe. And here's how your ears are more open than some people: in some review, a guy referred to "the unfortunate scatting on "Pygmy Suite. Scatting! It's not like I'm sitting there going "shoo-be-do, it's like a sample from another song of me screaming that's been sped up and altered. [Disgustedly] Scatting. Obviously, this guy does not get what he's hearing [laughing]. But it's okay. It just shows where people are coming from when they're listening to things. This guy hasn't heard that much electronic music, so if he hears a voice on a jazz record, it's scatting.
AAJ: How do you deal with this material live?
SB: We haven't done it. We very rarely play songs from our records live. A lot of times, for the records, I'll just come up with some songs and bring them. And there are songs in our repertoire that we've been playing for years that have never been recorded. I did actually bring two of the songs from the record to the European tour. We played one, maybe two of them. "Dick Contino is actually one that we've been playing live. That's a live song. Things just get added to the repertoire. We just have so many songs that I don't feel the need to play the record. I just feel the need to do a good show.
AAJ: Tell me about the Baby Loves Jazz project. This is kids' tunes done jazz-style: jazz music for children. I know you just released the record Go Baby Go! (Verve, 2006), which you co-produced with [producer and Ropeadope Records head] Andy Hurwitz.
SB: Well, Andy had been talking about making a kids' record for a long time, and I had signed on to it. The original idea was pretty big: we'd get Blue Note to do it, and get Dr. John, Cassandra [Wilson], Macy Gray. That didn't happen; we couldn't get label support for it, so I said, "I'll just produce it myself. But the whole thing had been kind of unclear the whole time as to what we would do. So I said, "Okay, so what are we doing to do? Is it with two singers? I couldn't figure out if it was this thing where we go through the history of jazz. He'd talked about it being this multi-artist thing.
So I'd been hearing songs done with different bandsa Dixieland band, an Art Blakey band. And I suddenly realized we didn't have the option to do that. I had to come up with a record with one band that can do a bunch of different stuff. So the first thing I said was, "I have to have [keyboardist] John Medeski. People kind of don't really realize how great John Medeski is, because he's so famous for Medeski Martin & Wood. John Medeski is one of the greatest musicians on the planet; he's so heavy, he's so unbelievable. His skills are at such a high level. And I've played with a lot of great musicians. He just has an enormous level of skills. He commits 100% to what he does, and he can do more than just about anybody. He can play any kind of classical music, any kind of bebop music. Obviously, any kind of funk, R&B, gospel. And he's totally psychedelic.
AAJ: Yeah, everyone knows about that last part.
SB: Yeah, everyone knows that, but they don't know the other stuff. So once I got him, I got my band together and started writing arrangements. And we did it the same way I do everythingthere was no rehearsal. The singers had never met anyone in the band, I had never met [singer] Sharon Jones. Everyone just showed up. And it just came out better than I could have imagined. I think it's really good. It's not dumbed-down, it's really entertaining. And we've got this great little live show that's really engaging with children and gets them goingbut we're actually playing. We play these songsI wrote a few more, and I use some songs from these books that Andy wrote that have CDs with them that I didn't do[pianist] Aaron Goldberg and [saxophonist] John Ellis did them. So that's what it is. And I kind of see it as a way I can make some money over the next few yearsit could be like Preservation Hall [laughing], and we could have a Baby Loves Jazz going out at all times.