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Interviews

Wycliffe Gordon and Jay Leonhart: Humor in Harmony

By Published: January 15, 2007
AAJ: Makes sense.

WG: We never try to offend anyone, but with "Toast My Bread," I'm always wondering whether the double entendre implied in the song is going to upset anyone in the audience. The first time I recorded this was actually in another duo, with Eric Reed [We (Nagel Heyer, 2002)]. We were performing it at a church. On the same CD we had "Precious Lord" and "The Lord's Prayer." The pastor mentioned how great it was that we were singing these kinds of things, and I wondered if he got to track number eight... it's a different version from the one on this CD [holds CD to microphone again].

AAJ: You mean there's a double entendre in "Toast My Bread?" Gee, I thought it was just a bakery item.

JL: And I thought, "Oh, you mean it's about toast too? It's a terrific song. It's a great song.

WG: I have a toaster upstairs. You've seen a toaster, haven't you?

AAJ: Yes, I have some acquaintance with it.

WG: Then you know if it's not wheat bread, it turns toasty roasty golden brown, and then it pops back up.

AAJ: And all you need is that, and you fall in love? You're easy, aren't you?

WG: Yeah, pretty much. You got bread, you got me.

AAJ: Well, moving right along... OK... what label is this on? It's your own, yes?

JL: Bluesback Records. Jay came up with that... I have a song called "I Want My Blues Back," and that's how it became Bluesback Records. We didn't really want to give it to a record company.

AAJ: You wanted complete control over it?

WG: As much control as we could have. I just had some not-so-good experiences with a few record companies, and I figured, we're writing all the material, we're going to do this, we went into the studio to do that, there's a few more steps and a little more money involved, but let's do it. And now we have to get it distributed, and get people to know about it [holds the CD up to the microphone once again].

AAJ: I see that it's shrink-wrapped.

WG: This is open-friendly.

JL: It's one of the world's easiest CDs to open. Some people don't care about the music, they just want to open the CD. Once they see how easy it is, they'll give you fifteen dollars just to open the CD.

AAJ: Well, then you're already ahead of the game.

JL: The fact is it's a good CD.

AAJ: It's a wonderful CD.

JL and WG: [singing] And our voices blend together to perfection...

AAJ: Yeah, but you doubled on that line.

JL: We quintupled.

WG: Jay sang multiple harmonies.

AAJ: You mean he's got that Tibetan monk chordal thing?

Wycliffe Gordon
Wycliffe Gordon



WG: I don't know if he went all the way to Tibet.

JL: Of course we can get the trombone, Wycliffe's voice with the trombone, my bass, and my voice—we can actually do four voices at once if we are so inclined. And we often are.

WG: The song you recently did about going through customs: between the lizards and the everything else, how the hell do you remember all of that stuff?

JL: Have you heard this?

AAJ: Nope, I haven't.

JL: "Here I am in customs/inexplicably detained/I'm getting angry/I may have to be restrained/I read the regulations/what could the problem be/why oh why are you detaining me?/OK perhaps I did pick up a couple things abroad/but this kind of harassment..." it goes on and on. Wycliffe acts like I wrote it, and then remembered it. I worked so hard on this one to remember it.

WG: There's a lot of stuff to remember.

JL: "I've got some alligators from the hot Brazilian swamps/a testy little chimpanzee that/screeches bites and stomps/an otter from the Maldives, a goat from Katmandu/a cockroach from a hut in Timbuktu/a little baby llama from the mountains of Tibet/six or seven ostrich eggs that have not hatched quite yet/mosquitoes from Botswana, a parrot from Peru/and you won't let me through?!"

WG: That's not on the CD, but we do have the first song he wrote, about little Henry.

JL: That's the first real serious song I ever wrote, when I got into songwriting 34 years ago. I was 32 at the time. I'd been writing poetry before that, but never turned one into a song—never memorized one, just wrote it and let it go.

AAJ: So what happened?

JL: I just had children, and all of a sudden it dawned on me that hey, this might be fun. I wrote a song about picking up my weekly ration of gasoline from a big machine during the first gasoline crisis in 1976, and it became a mini-hit on a few minor radio stations around the country, and I thought, this was fun. It was like the first rap. If you listen to my songs, they had so damn many words—they still do, unfortunately—but then George Burns was my favorite singer.

AAJ: I was thinking about something. The humor that is on this CD is not slap-your-knee, it's more sly. It's very sly and delicious. I was wondering whether it had anything to do with being fretless. You're both fretless: you don't fret.

JL: That's right.


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