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

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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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.


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