Boz Scaggs: Maybe Not Jazz, But Beautiful
The music, with its more complex chord changes, is a new challenge for this pop master, but one he relishes. Like so many, he enjoyed the music as part of his background growing up. And he's proud of the effort and the product.
"It is a good feeling. I'm proud of this work. I love performing it/ it's not different from anything I've been doing all along in terms of being a singer and being in front of an audience. I love working with the quartet. I have more freedom and flexibility. It's more stimulating than most material I've done in the past, except for pure blues and basic R&B, where I get to play guitar too. I'm having a wonderful time with this material. It's taken me into areas of challenge and acceptability that I've never had. That's always stimulating to someone who's been doing this as long as I have."
The group already toured for a month and will soon go to Europe, playing this music, as well as expanding into some upbeat, faster tempo songs for more variety, he says. Scaggs has commitments to play his pop music this summer, but then the jazz players will regroup and play gigs through the end of the year. He says he's very into this current group and the music, and wouldn't even be doing the Silk Degrees stuff this summer if the commitments weren't made previously.
"I wouldn't have done it, except I had commitments and I had schedule a live taping and recording for a Greatest Hits package that I'm doing. So I'll be out for four weeks and do that," he noted.
"My short-term goal is to try to reach my audience from the current record. It's so ballady, there's not too many settings with that sort of intimacy. It's not going to be easy to play just that, so I've expanded the repertoire to include some of my stuff where I can play some guitar and be a little bluesy, and R&B and jump a little bit. Include some up-tempo, varied material. That's going to open up some territory I think."
Skaggs influences were mainly black R&B and rock and blues, but his parents were music lovers and collectors and he listened to jazz and popular music that came from an earlier era as well. Musically, his generation was affected by other things, but that influence on Skaggs was not exclusive. He's heard a lot of singers take on the classics.
"The female singers I've listened to, more than the male singers. Nat Cole or Chet Baker or to Johnny Hartman, Ray Charles. Those are the male singers I enjoy listening to in that vein. But it's the Shirley Horns. I was exposed to Nancy Wilson when I was in high school. She was out of San Antonio and I got her first records when I was 19. Sarah Vaughan and Ella and Billie Holiday. There are so many women who seem to be able to handle this material better, because of the emotional qualities. There's a whole lot of songs that men just can't do. The words are from another time and represent too much of an emotional commitment, whereas women can say that because of who they are.
"As far as other instrumentalists, I used to love mellow sax players like Paul Desmond. I love piano. If there's any single thing I could point to that makes me want to be involved in this material, it's having listened to Bill Evans for many years. Or recently, to hear some of the ballads of Brad Meldhau. The way they frame those melodies harmonically, it's absolutely irresistible to want to sing in that beautiful domain they create. That's why I was so eager to join Paul Nagel, because he's stylistically in that vein of those keyboard players that I love."
The blues, says Skaggs, "was the first thing I was able to play. I come from an area where that music was around a lot. My first love was the sound of guitar. I tried to play all styles. As a guitarist, you can gravitate to the blues because you can play it easily. It's not a style that's difficult to pick up. It's purely emotive and dead easy to get a start with. I did that when I was in high school. I've always had an affinity for that music. But my generation realized we could write our own music and develop our own styles. In my case, being around rock and roll. So I've been in the rock world and blues and rhythm and blues in an area of Texas where there was a lot of live music. Styles sort of overlapped.
"Quite frankly, I've always listened to the black side of the radio dial. Where I grew up, there was a lot of it and there was a lot of live music around. So I've always liked whatever the current definition of R&B was on the radio. R&B was pretty basic stuff in the early 60s. It became more and more sophisticated and urbanized and the chords progressed into becoming Stax Records or Motown. There was a group of wonderful writers and arrangers in the Philadelphia area, as well as New York. The harmonics became more complex and that's where I learned. That was my school. My songwriting and my style became more complex as I listened, learned, borrowed and stole and put my music together."