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David Finck: The Bass, Scatting Offenses, and the Back Hoe

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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Many singers and instrumentalists... make themselves more important than the song. And I listen and think, 'you're doing to be dead in 40 years, but that song is forever.' You need to kind of honor that.
David Finck is not only a first-call bassist with a long resume of high-profile recordings and gigs, but he's one of the most versatile musicians on any instrument. Finck has been in the studio, touring, and/or sharing the world's greatest stages with everyone from Andre Previn to Ivan Lins, Woody Herman to Natalie Cole and Kenny Rankin, and Elton John and George Michael. He's on all four of Rod Stewart's platinum albums.

In recent years Finck has expanded his considerable gifts to producing, arranging, and songwriting. His first solo CD, Future Day, came out in 2007 on Soundbrush Records. That David Finck Quartet included Joe Locke, vibraphone; Tom Ranier piano, and Joe La Barbera, drums; there were also special guests Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Bob Sheppard on reeds.

Finck's Low Standards CD, released in June of 2017 and his second for Soundbrush, includes two of his own tunes, one of which (the title track) he even sings. James Gavin, author of the acclaimed Chet Baker bio, Deep in a Dream, has described Finck as "an artist of exceptional taste, elegance, and heart." Finck is also thoughtful, opinionated and witty, as the following interview will show.

All About Jazz met with Finck soon after he produced the Tom Wopat CD, I've Got Your Number, featuring an elaborate brass and string section (LML Music, 2012). He handed a copy to our interviewer, Dr. Judith Schlesinger.

All About Jazz: (perusing CD): Thanks. And you're producing this one?

David Finck: Why not? You play on enough people's records that are poorly done. I'm proud of this one. He's a very good singer.

AAJ: Why does his name sound familiar? He's Broadway, isn't he?

DF: And "Dukes of Hazzard," in the '70s. He and John Schneider are both good singers, they've both done theater. I met Tom when I did a Broadway show years ago called "City of Angels," which was a great show by Larry Gelbart and Cy Coleman; the arrangements were by Billy Byers. Tom was in it at one point. That was like, '91.

AAJ: There's such a lack of great male vocalists around these days —people seem more interested in being hip than musical.

DF: And that's never hip. As drummer Kenny Washington once said to me, "Don't be too hip, 'cause two hips make an ass."

AAJ: (laughs)

DF: I started producing records because I was involved in so many inefficiently produced ones, and it drives me crazy. I did all those Rod Stewart standard records.

AAJ: You had to sit through them all?

DF: It was not easy. It was a grueling process. We were there for hours doing 100 takes of a song. The record cost 1.2 million. Of course it went multi-platinum, so what do I know?

AAJ: Just because it was Stewart?

DF: Yeah. And there was a lot of machinery behind it. Anyway, I did enough of them to know how to do it. It really becomes diminishing returns: after you've recorded the song four times, if you don't have it, stop.

AAJ: And now, the standard question: if you hadn't been a musician, what might you have been? I know you started young.

DF: Well, I might have been a writer. I like language. And the other thing I always liked—a fantasy, really—is construction. When I walk through the streets of New York, and see one of those cranes—it's a big Tonka toy, basically. I've always been amazed. Not the architecture as much as watching these guys actually do it. It's fantastic.

AAJ: So, you'd like to run a crane?

DF: I don't know. Years ago, I built a house. I didn't do it, they just let me run the back hoe. We were burying some old cement in the yard, which you were allowed to do if you buried it deep enough. The guy showed me how to do it, and I was thinking, "Perfect! Who needs the bass?" Then I went over to the neighbor's house, and I said, "You want me to move those rocks? I got this great machine, and I'm groovin' here!" I might have done something like that.

AAJ: How do you get these high-profile gigs that you get? Aside from being such a great and reliable player, of course.

DF: I don't have a whole room, with all four walls, full of records, like some people—Adam Nussbaum, the drummer—so I'm not really an historian, but I did wear out some of the great and important jazz records. I think I went through three copies of Milestones before I got it on CD. I could sing everybody's solo. When you really digest it, that's great.

It's funny. I remembering watching my children: they could watch the same video over and over. They didn't even know what it meant, but they'd learn every line and every move and even background sounds. They'd really digest it. That's what you have to do, to really "get it."

I also remember seeing Peter O'Toole interviewed by Charlie Rose, and Rose asked, "Would you ever go back to Covent Garden?" [The famous London theater district]. And O'Toole said, using some expletives I don't remember, "it took me 75 times to start to understand Macbeth. I had to do it 75 times before I really owned it, and I'm not going to allow some 29-year-old who saw some shitty video tell me what to do." It's the same thing: he digested it.

AAJ: So you need to digest jazz to really understand it.

DF: For me, you listen to the same record nine million times, no matter what it is. When it's really great music, you keep hearing different things each time. Wow, I didn't hear that thing on the cymbal before... It's fantastic stuff. It's language.

AAJ: I know that's a favorite theme of yours.

DF: You're talking about who you most enjoy hearing: the guys that really phrase, and say something to you, in a language that you understand.

AAJ: I think that blazing stuff is showing off for other musicians, like, "look how I've been practicing!" I find that boring.

DF: Years ago I played at a festival in Moscow, Idaho with Paquito D'Rivera. We were playing a lot of Latin jazz, fast and furious. There was another great bassist there, Brian Bromberg, incredible facility. Then Ray Brown came out—he was the headliner—and played eight quarter notes in a row, and the audience got up out of their seats, like it was a Beatles concert. They were all screaming. He was such a force. And he didn't play anything fancy. He was perfectly capable, that guy, of playing the shit out of the bass—but he got right to them with his feel, which was bigger than life. Fantastic!

I do hear it as a language, and I've worked with a lot of singers who are capable of being the best communicators, and at the same time, the worst offenders.

AAJ: Describe what makes a "worst offender."

DF: Well... I'm not a fan of scatting, for starters. I feel like, if you're a singer and you've got a good voice, you can say the most to the listener. And if you really understand the narrative, the musical and poetic language, and the way a really great song works—a [Richard] Rogers and Lorenz Hart song, or even a Carole King and Gerry Goffin song...

AAJ: Or a Marilyn and Alan Bergman song.

DF: Marilyn and Alan, absolutely. And Johnny Mandel. If you can really communicate those things, that's everything. And as soon as they start scatting, I'm thinking, "Why don't you just pick up the horn and really learn how to play, learn all the stuff that Sonny Stitt had to learn, or any of those guys?" It sounds silly to me, most of the time, even with some iconic singers.

AAJ: Like Ella Fitzgerald?

DF: Even Ella. And she was a wonderful singer. I'm not taking anything away from her, but it sounds silly to me. That whole thing. I liked when Clark Terry did it...

AAJ: He was so funny when he was "Mumbles."

DF: He also could play what he sang. Chet Baker too. I kind of liked Al Jarreau sometimes, over that kind of swing-y funk he did in the early '80s, that "Roof Garden" stuff.

AAJ: Like his "Take Five."

DF: I heard him do that live, he was incredible.

AAJ: Me too: Montreux Jazz Festival, 1986.

DF: But it's usually "Scooby doo." Drummer Lewis Nash used to call it "yabba dabba do." Cmon, you know.

AAJ: There's lots of gimmicks in music. In jazz, it's partly because there's such continuing confusion about what it really is. People are always constructing new models and incorporating more things, trying to shore it up, because they see it as ill-defined and threatened. Then they say, well, THIS is jazz now. We finally got it.

DF: It's interesting that you say it that way. Yeah, there's truth in that.

AAJ: The fact is, it's always been just 2% of the market. This isn't new.

DF: There are elements of jazz in a lot of music that we hear, that we don't consider jazz. It was funny: I did a concert at the Kennedy Center with Annie Lennox. She was one of the people on the bill; she had that big hit song, "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This," the Eurythmics tune (he sings). Herbie Hancock was also on this thing, and he played piano on that song, and he played just the way her record was. She showed him what was on the record, basically—many grade levels below what he's capable of—and he played the thing, and then he put his little spin on it when it was appropriate. He didn't drive off the road, he just brought an element of jazz to pop music, the way he played the 8th notes. It was fantastic!

So it's always in there, you hear it. The definitions are tricky. I used to be much more strict about what I thought was jazz, and what wasn't. I used to think jazz had to do with the way the eighth notes feel; it's swinging. Swinging comes with jazz. But then, I don't know—I heard Snoop Dogg, and he has a swing feel to his rap. It was great. Even though it was funky, it was kind of jazz-like.

AAJ: So, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing?

DF: In a sense. But then there's the influence of Latin and Brazilian music, which is now part of the language of jazz.

AAJ: Some think if the definition was more comprehensive or articulated, the business could be stronger. There are always people complaining that jazz is in trouble. I have a theory about that, and I know I'm interviewing you, but what the hell. I'm the one with the machine.

DF: (laughs) You're holding the gun. Go ahead.

AAJ: One way to hold a cult together is to make the members feel they're in jeopardy from the outside, from the unbelievers and the attackers and the usurpers. Freud knew that. And this gives them a special mission: to cup the flickering flame of "Truth" against the wind. It binds people together. It cements their loyalty, because you have to defend it, you have to preserve this thing that's in such danger. Um...let the record show that David is not leaping to agree.

DF: I think there's a lot of truth in what you say. I'm not sure who it is that's threatening the music, though. That's kind of vague. I could say, well you don't hear jazz music in advertising anymore. You used to hear that kind of jazzy tune for jingles and stuff.

AAJ: Well, you don't hear jingles, period, anymore, which is one of my other theories, about why people are so depressed. You don't hear (sings jaunty old Pepsodent jingle). Now you get ads for crematoriums, for crying out loud. And, "when you get your melanoma, come to us!" Where's the happy jingle in that?

DF: Well, that's true. We used to be more exposed to that kind of feel. Johnny Carson had a big band with some good jazz musicians, like Clark Terry. And on the break, they'd say, "OK Clark, GO!" It was like instant jazz: for three minutes, during the commercials, Clark was playing.

AAJ: No wonder everyone always looked so happy when the camera came back!

DF: I don't play jazz 100% of the time, either. And you know what? Neither did Ron Carter. He and Herbie Hancock used to write jingles, and Buster Williams used to play on jingles. We all do what we have to do. We have homes and children, and all that stuff. When I have the chance to play jazz with people with whom I like to play it, it's great. I guess I have done okay, I do work a lot. But I can't say that it's exclusively jazz.

I don't know what bassist Peter Washington does all of the time, but most of the time, when I run into him, he's going from one great jazz gig to the next. But I kind of like commercial music, also. I've done Broadway shows.

AAJ: You played behind Aretha Franklin when she did "Nessun Dorma" on David Letterman's TV show. At the 1998 Grammys Sting said she just got asked 20 minutes ago to sub for the ailing Luciano Pavarotti, as if her performance wasn't rehearsed (which it was.)

DF: Everybody went nuts, they thought it was great, but I thought it was dumb, like Kiri Te Kanewa trying to sing "Respect." I mean, Aretha's unbelievable, she took it to church, she did her thing on it, but that's not how that music goes. It's that simple. You're going to take Puccini, Vivaldi or Bach and start messing with it? Really? 'Cause I resent it when opera singers try to do stuff they don't have a feel for.

AAJ: What's the most unlikely thing you've ever played? The wackiest gig you've ever done?

DF: I'd have to think about that.

AAJ: You didn't dress up in an inflatable outfit outside a tire store, did you?

DF: No. Nothing like that. When I first went to New York, you take whatever comes in. I think I did one club date on Long Island where I had to wear a blue ruffled shirt. They gave you the clothes. I did a couple of those, and they were tough, but some of those musicians were unbelievable. I used to do club dates for Peter Duchin—there were guys in that band who could do any song in any key, and harmonize on the spot —four horns—they were ridiculous.

I remember being saved on one of those gigs by a wonderful singer named Jackie Presti—she teaches a lot of vocalists. I didn't know a lot of what was going on, and she'd say, "Key of G, starts on the 2 chord." Bang. She got me through it. You get help like that. Whenever I see her, I remind her that she saved me on one of those club dates where you have to wear a floppy hat.

AAJ: Ah, the floppy hat club date...

DF: Oy! So, yes, I play a lot of different stuff, and enjoy it. And I really enjoy the recording process. I've produced a handful of things, and co-produced a couple of things.

AAJ: You co-produced that Joe Locke date: Lay Down my Heart—Blues & Ballads Vol 1, 2012 for Motema. I love that one.

DF: I did. Yeah, it's very good. He's a wonderful musician, Joe. I really enjoy working and recording with singers because if you're the producer, with a little power and control, you can keep them from being offenders.

AAJ: Scatting is one offense. What else?

DF: Problems with phrasing. You're listening to a voice, trying to produce a sound that's going to tape well, and get to the digital machine well, and then the singer breathes mid-syllable. That's when you need somebody there who can say, "Well...that's not English. Let's breathe after that."

Some singers, it's a no-brainer. The great ones. I remember working with Rosemary Clooney. Even at the end, when she didn't have much of a voice, she would never phrase anything wrong; she would sing a complete sentence as it was narratively, and then breathe. I guess she'd thought about it, or just did it naturally, like Frank Sinatra. Same thing.

But I've worked with singers who would sing something like, "Thuhhhhh... shadow of your smile" not realizing that they're listening to how beautiful their voice sounds on the word "the," even though it's the least important word in the sentence. I find that kind of stuff interesting. If you can get the lyric to connect with the melody and accompaniment, and have a rhythmic feel going on...It's really not easy. It's an ongoing challenge, and I'm proud of the work I've done in that department. Some people you can't help—they can't do it. A lot of singers are just listening to themselves, all the time, and never get away from it.

I don't think people really value the song itself. That's the thing. Many singers and instrumentalists, when they perform these pieces, make themselves more important than the song. And I listen, and think, "you're going to be dead in 40 years, but that song is forever." You need to kind of honor that. Those lyrics, and that melody, were written with intention: thought went into it, and heart. I've talked to Marilyn and Alan Bergman and it upsets me when someone screws up their lyrics and changes them.

AAJ: I would kill to be in the same room with those people. Even an interminable song like "Windmills of Your Mind" they made interesting because of the intellect and the poetic imagery.

DF: If I'm not mistaken, Marilyn told me that that was written after she'd had some kind of surgery. She said she remembered looking up, and feeling dizzy, and she kind of went out... Circles: I think that was the seed, that was the germ.

AAJ: Your dream gig is where and what?

DF: I'm gonna confess that I've played a couple of my dream gigs. I played with Herbie Hancock a few times—fantastic—and I love Ivan Lins' music, and I did a couple of records with him in Rio. I'm good with that stuff. I would love, just for a hoot, to sit in the bass section of the New York Philharmonic, or whatever great orchestra, and feel those super bassists around me, and be part of that machinery. I would love to play with James Taylor—I love James Taylor—and of course the other dream gig can't happen, with Frank Sinatra. I would have loved that. But as far as current stuff, I've done a handful of things that I've really liked a lot.

AAJ: The flip side is, what's your nightmare gig? The one you'd wake up screaming at the thought of having done it?

DF: Well, there'd be somebody scatting a really bad solo. I've done a few, but usually I found a way to learn something. If you can maintain your sense of humor, you can get through a lot of stuff. It's a good tool.

AAJ: And now for the requisite questions: Where's jazz going? What's your advice for the up-and-coming?

DF: As far as where it's going, it's a little hard to say because technology is so integrated with music now, there are new sounds and grooves—all kinds of new stuff. People don't have a sense of history, and so they don't realize the evolution, even just on my instrument. The stuff I play, I got from somebody, who got it from somebody, who got it from somebody else, before the technology was what it is today. But even along that path, it used to be tuba; then it was a bass thumping with shitty strings, and then there were decent gut strings, and then metal strings, and then gut strings with a certain kind of pickup.

Sonically, things have evolved. Harmonically, the language that we use? Essentially, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie invented the bebop stuff. And everything that comes after that, builds on that. As long as we're playing those chords, there are good and bad notes that go with chords. And you're gonna play the good ones. Sometimes I listen to that [radio] guy Phil Schaap, and those Charlie Parker solos, and I think, nobody's really caught him yet. And I love Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Everybody. Between Charlie Parker, Dizzy, John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, who had all the skills and language, Herbie Hancock...eight, nine guys who pretty much play everything, at least as far as the language goes. The nice thing about jazz is that individuals have their own sound and accent, and they put things together in their way. I know for myself, knowing what my influences are, I try to have a voice.

AAJ: So, who are your influences?

DF: On the bass? Paul Chambers. Eddie Gomez. George Mraz, Ron Carter. When you say Eddie Gomez and George Mraz you're kind of including Scott LaFaro and Jimmy Blanton, who were the earlier guys who played the bass in that way. Ron Carter's a big influence. There are some electric bass players too because I grew up listening to Earth, Wind and Fire records, and stuff like that. You get influenced by everything. Ray Brown, of course.

AAJ: Well, you're not going to reinvent the wheel.

DF: Jaco Pastorius did. When he came on the scene, everybody went, "What? Really?" He really started something. In some ways, I can hear the lineage Michael Brecker did, because he had something that influenced people who heard him, everyone who came after. Even David Sanborn, in his way.

AAJ: I saw Sanborn at Montreux in 1986 with Al Jarreau and Bob James. Levitated.

DF: He's like an R&B singer on the alto. It's really cool. With Michael Brecker, you could hear his Coltrane influence, but he had a special sound—that guy knew so much shit, unbelievable. I remember doing a record where there was a vamp, a one-chord vamp. He went on for like eight minutes, and never repeated anything, and you never got bored. I thought wow, one chord! I'm done in, like, eleven bars, and said everything I know. His language was so evolved.

AAJ: Why? How? Is that a genius thing?

DF: If I knew that... (laughs) I think certainly he spent a lot of time working out certain things. Randy, his brother's like that. Randy, here's two chords. OK. Ten minutes later, you're like, "Wow!" He's a wonderful improviser.

When you ask where is jazz going, it's kind of where it's been. Last night I played with Ken Peplowski, who's fantastic, and he put up the clarinet and we played "Slow Boat to China" which is an old song, and a great song.

Then I play with some people who, I like to say, "are in their own lane on the highway." Me and the drummer are chugging along, and it's feeling pretty good, and this tenor player is like, "are you on the same road?"

AAJ: I've seen that happen now and again. Where did the rhythm go? Suddenly the beat disappears, or something like that...

DF: It happens; we're human beings. What's really revealing to me is when you're doing the recording, and you're playing, and let's say there's a piano solo going on, and they stop the tape, so the bass and drums stop. The pianist is still playing his solo, and after awhile you realize he's not listening to anybody else but himself—otherwise he would have stopped, like the rest of us.

AAJ: That brings us back to the idea of ego, when the conversation becomes a monologue.

DF: Yeah, the ego thing is... problematic. But I know for myself when I play with Lewis Nash, and Lewis and I are just walking along, playing in four, and he does a little something in his left hand, and I know what it is, and I just look at him, and it feels good, I'm happy doing that. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

AAJ: Pianist Monty Alexander talked about "chasing the moment," when there's no more logic, and the music just flows among everyone. You can't make it happen, but some people have told me that if they get on the bandstand and they're angry, it's more likely to happen. It's almost as if they need a higher level of energy going in that somehow makes that pot more likely to boil.

DF: They say one of the reasons why Miles Davis's band, with Herbie, Ron, and Tony evolved the way it did because I think it was George Coleman used to play long solos, and eventually the guys would start mixing it up, instead of just playing along—maybe they were angry, I don't know, and at one point, Miles said, why don't you play like that under my solo? He wanted that kind of activity.

AAJ: They were more respectful, gave him more room?

DF: But it came from a reaction to somebody. And I asked Herbie Hancock about this: how did you guys do that? On those records, there are times when, all of sudden, they're over here... in a new thing... and he said, "we played together so much it was almost like an ESP. I might play one little thing, and Ron would play something, and we'd just know where we were going, really connected, and the interesting thing is a lot of people say Ron Carter was the anchor, holding down the fort while these guys went nuts. And I know he doesn't like that too much, but sometimes when I listen to those records, I feel that he's the one who actually ignites the flame. He started a lot of it. I'd have to ask him about it. I don't know him that well.

AAJ: I remember seeing Dizzy in 1986 at a little college in Yonkers, New York. Afterward people were milling around, and I heard somebody came up to him and said him, "Diz, you still got it!" And he said, "I'm still seekin' it!" And that's the kind of thing that keeps people playing 'til they're 90, and they finally drop. The challenge—this music has so many levels, and facets, and you can play it without thinking about any of this—but if you do, then there are suddenly all kinds of sparkles and shadows, and it's just endless.

DF: And when you look at it within the structure of a song—and I like playing structured music more than the free stuff—certain people are great at it, I'm just not—there's actually a lot of freedom, but you've really got to know the language.

When I started playing with Paquito D'Rivera, I got yelled at, 'cuz I'm like the gringo, and Paquito was nice enough to come and sing in my ear a traditional cha-cha-cha bass line.

AAJ: He's a very nice man.

DF: Wonderful. And a great musician. He'd repeat it to me, and I'd play it, til I got it. Some of the Brazilian guys did the same thing, so I started to get involved with that stuff, because in that music, you've got the structure of the song, and then you have rules about what you can and cannot play as far as the bass line that goes with the feel.

Because all of Latin music comes from Africa. They're African dances, basically, they evolved differently in different countries, because Africans were brought to be slaves, to cut sugar cane in Brazil, and their thing evolved there. It's different in Cuba and Puerto Rico, so that music has got additional structure, along with the harmonic stuff, even the spiritual.

AAJ: We haven't even gotten into the cultural thing. Aside from the harmonics and the chops and the musical lineage and who's playing and who's ESP-ing, there's a whole cultural and spiritual overlay. It's so complicated, and that's why it consumes people.

DF: My favorite jazz singer of all time? Frank Sinatra. I was thinking about it. Most people wouldn't think of him that way—and he probably wouldn't call himself a jazz singer—but he could swing as hard as any big tenor player, as far as I'm concerned.

AAJ: Interesting. My voice teacher always held him up as an example of what not to do.

DF: Really?

AAJ: He always ended phrases on a closed consonant, and you're not supposed to close to a consonant.

DF: Interesting.

AAJ: But I wanted to ask you about the Grammys.

DF: People vote for their friends. No surprise. My feeling about the Grammys is that they kind of lost their mission because this is supposed to be about the recording arts and sciences, which is really based in technology, first. Some well-recorded material, recorded by great engineers, with great sound— that's the science part of it. Then there's theoretically great musicians playing great notes; that's the art part of it. But what part is the fashion show? Fashion shows are fine, but for Lady Gaga to come out, and everybody talks about what she's wearing, not what she's singing or how she's playing, or how it was recorded, bothers me. And the only real honest department, seems to me, and I don't know as much about it, is probably the classical department which nobody hears about, they don't televise that. I've seen Grammy-winning recordings of George Frederic Handel's music, London Symphony, I see who the engineer is, and I listen, and it's fantastic. Wasn't that the point?

AAJ: So how did it get perverted?

DF: It became really commodified.

AAJ: Commodified... Is that a word? It should be!

DF: Based on record sales, of course, whoever makes the most noise, gets it. I don't think Lady Gaga's bad. I think there's talent there. She's a pretty good singer. It's a shame everything is a business thing.

AAJ: And what isn't?

DF: But it's up to the Grammys and NARAS to maintain the integrity of what their mission is. And if they can't—I mean, I've seen what it is. I've never gotten a Grammy, but I've been on records that have.

AAJ: People need icons. They need to remember the days when they felt better about things. I think that's part of the The Manhattan Transfer's appeal; maybe you remember the days of "Ray's Rock House," and when you first heard that, you still had a waist, or hair, or a relationship that had hope... It brings you back there. Music can do that.

DF: I remember Andre Previn told me, he was on a committee for big grant—like, they were going to give somebody half a million dollars for writing a composition— people from all over the world. Someone nominated Andrew Lloyd Webber, and he sat up and said, "absolutely not." First of all, he doesn't need the money, and secondly...well, we all know just what secondly is.

AAJ: And?

DF: What's successful in the marketplace vs artistic integrity—there's music I don't like, but I can say, "That guy's good at it."

AAJ: I like what you said about Snoop.

DF: He's swinging—rhythm is primary in music. Sometimes when I think about the future of the music, I wonder if there's some way to harness the popularity of somebody like Snoop, and combine it with the harmonic information that has evolved so rapidly in jazz. Using the current rhythms, not going too crazy, you have to find those areas where you can connect, especially with young people.

AAJ: That's the eternal question: how do you get young people interested in jazz? Maybe through the mixing you're talking about...?

DF: You know, a lot of pop singers make those standards records. Most of them are awful. I did one with George Michael. We did a few European tours—he did a couple of his WHAM hits, we played in soccer stadiums, and at the end of his show, every night, he sang "I Remember You" with just a harp, to 25,000 screaming Manchester/Liverpool fans. And people loved it. They loved it because it's him, but he's an excellent singer, and he delivered that song. I listened to him do it every night.

AAJ: Just a harp?

DF: Just a harp. It was exquisite. And to hear young people screaming for a Johnny Mercer] song? I said, "maybe, if it's done right." Most of the time we hear these rock stars singing these songs, and the phrasing is stupid—but when it's done right, that's kind of nice. That stuff was made for everybody, for civilization.

AAJAAJ: I think those categories have become maybe a little less important, now that we don't have bins. We've become the binless society. No more Tower Records. I mourn that for a number of reasons. There's a lot of things I never would have gotten into, had I not been browsing, literally, putting my hands on LPs and cassettes, turning them over, seeing who's playing. Here's World Music from wherever. It's not the same exploring you do on the Internet, when you're just clicking through, and whatever they choose to put in your face is all you get.

DF: Yeah.

AAJAAJ: People just download what they want, one tune at a time. Maybe we don't need those labels to separate the genres.

DF: At the same time, I like to know what I'm getting. If I buy a trumpeter Freddie Hubbard record, or a Lewis Nash record, I want to hear that thing. There were some recordings there were made that were kind of a mishmash, a singer Phoebe Snow mix, for example. The thread that held that whole record together was Phoebe's unmistakable sound and approach.

AAJ: Just playing devil's advocate. Is it that important to have a category?

DF: I think the problem is that it's almost like television—any schmuck can have a reality show. Any schmuck can make a record, too. I understand the Kickstarter thing. But everybody's making records, and most of them shouldn't. And NARAs surely isn't a great gatekeeper.

AAJ: Now we have Twitter. Wanna know what you like? Go see what your friends like.

DF: When hiphop started, people were selling it out of their cars. It was really fun, like the Sugar Hill Gang. As soon as the record companies saw the cha-ching going on, they bought them up. There's some industry responsibility there. I know it's all about the dollar bill, but at a certain point, you could upgrade a little bit. There has to be quality.

AAJ: Why should there be? And these companies are not even mom and pops anymore; they're conglomerates, and this is just an arm of the rest. The company probably owns a tractor factory. They don't care what the product is, they just look at the bottom line. Whose mission is it to introduce quality, if the consumer is willing to take whatever is new and sparkly and the flavor of the week?

DF: Well, again, we're talking about education. And really understanding that you might not like it, but there really is something to it that you gotta respect. Not what's someone done, but how they do it. I'm not a huge fan of early jazz—Bix Beiderbecke; I don't really like the way it feels.

AAJ: What makes the high-level stuff?

DF: It's well-executed, with great control over musical language that I might not speak, but can hear. That can be pretty intense stuff—a great tenor sax solo is pretty dense for a civilian to grasp. There has to be a way to teach people, at least, what's admirable. Whether it's to your taste or not. We can learn what's important about Michelangelo.

Some musicians lose sight of the fact that it's a form of entertainment. If you express yourself in a language so obtuse that musicians don't even get it, and then complain that nobody understands me, you forget that these people still want to be entertained.

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