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Lorraine Feather: I Love You Guys

Carl L. Hager By

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Dave Grusin is one of those few fortunate jazz masters who have topped the twin peaks of critical and commercial success. In addition to co-founding GRP records in 1978 and producing some of the earliest digital jazz recordings, he has won 12 Grammys, plus an Academy Award in 1988 for the original score he composed for The Milagro Beanfield War. Hollywood discovered early on that he could write blockbuster movie scores—the kind that make good films great, and which are a genre of composing all of their own—and from that golden touch he's produced the scores for The Graduate, The Firm, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Tootsie, Heaven Can Wait, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Three Days of the Condor, etc. It's a long list.

When I suggested to Grusin that Feather compared favorably to the great jazz lyricists and song stylists of the past, he responded by saying, "I think your assessment about Lorraine as a lyricist and jazz singer is right on. Besides having a tremendous grip on the craft, her ideas about subject matter for lyrics are so different from most songwriters, it puts her in a category of her own, in terms of what she chooses to write about. Plus, she has the free-wheeling stylistic sense of letting the piece go where it needs to go ... maybe a little reminiscent of how Dave Frishberg or Blossom Dearie would allow things to just 'happen.'"

While working together on an album project for singer Monica Mancini, Feather approached Grusin with the radical idea of writing lyrics to a piece he had composed for his outstanding soundtrack (all solo piano) of The Firm, 'Memphis Stomp,' a hyperkinetic, rumbling boogie full of slippery syncopation. As Feather recalled, "I was a little nervous about playing him my lyrics for 'Memphis Stomp,' because I wrote a whole counter-melody and a short vocalese section, and I was hoping it would seem musical to him."

It did. Grusin liked it quite a lot, in fact. "Working with her on Monica's album was a delight, and when she suggested a lyric idea for 'Memphis Stomp,' as crazy as it sounded, I was into it," he said. "The version we did for her Attachments project is basically the original piano part, with her special sense of where a vocal should lay in... and with her consistent sense of 'story.' I've learned that every one of her works has that element. It was much fun re-visiting that piano part ... in spite of actually needing to re-learn it!"

The other tune Grusin did with her for Attachments came from an idea he had one day as they were wrapping up a rehearsal for "Memphis Stomp." He began playing J. S. Bach's "Air on the G String," and asked Feather what she thought about the possibility of writing words to it. The devastating lyrics she wrote for the resulting song, "True," and her heart-rending delivery, would make Bach himself weep—for joy, with grief, or from profound awe at the human spirit, it's hard to say—and would certainly change the way he heard his own composition the next time he listened to it. As Grusin explained, "the Bach 'Air' is something I had done with Bobby McFerrin, who did it as a vocalese. I told Lorraine about it, and played her the beautiful Josh Bell recording. She went home and came back the next morning with this lyric—another example of the genius that inhabits this woman. [N.B., Feather demurs on this point, and says she hadn't quite finished it by morning.] We decided to add Charlie Bisharat's violin to this version, even though Lorraine's vocal is the original violin melody. I think the result is beautifully satisfying, without too much alteration of the intent of the original.

"The other songs on Attachments are all amazing examples of how she creates with incredibly talented writers ... Russ Ferrante, Shelly Berg, and Eddie Arkin. They all have a great sense of 'song,' and sensitivity to Lorraine's stories. My hope is to do more work with her, and continue to be amazed and inspired by her phenomenal abilities."

Shelly Berg

Shelly Berg is a musical and educational force of nature. As a pianist and arranger, he has worked with such a diversity of people that just fitting all their representative genres into a single sentence is difficult: Arturo Sandoval, George Benson, Natalie Cole, Chicago, Gloria Estefan, Bonnie Raitt, KISS, Nancy Wilson ... After eight years spent chairing the jazz studies department of the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, he moved cross-country in 2008 and became dean of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. His non-traditional teaching methods separate him from the dry, stultifying musician mills, because he thinks music students should spend more time practicing and playing, less time studying and thinking about it. He is a brilliantly impulsive composer, and plays stride piano like a white Art Tatum.

But because he and Feather live at opposite corners of the continental U.S. (she on an island north of Washington state's Olympic Peninsula, almost in Canada, he in Miami and a boat ride from Cuba) the question for curious minds is: how do you write songs together?

"It is a marvel to Lorraine and me that our songwriting process goes very fast. We write two or three songs in one session of a few hours. I don't come in with musical ideas worked out in advance, because I don't want to become attached to an idea that doesn't resonate with Lorraine."

Feather commented similarly, that while working with Berg, he typically doesn't get involved in composing until "the end of the process, because I almost never see him. I always say this, but it blows my mind how close we are and how well and fast we work together, no matter how long it has been. As far as 'The Veil' goes, I had never intended to write the lyric, and when we were finally going to get together, toward the ending of the writing for the album, I had it in hand, so showed it to him and asked if he thought it could be a song. He said he thought so, but wasn't 100% sure. So 'The Veil' took a little longer. It had evolved in a way I hadn't heard yet, when we got to the session, and now it's one of my favorites of ours."

On the other hand, she says, "Because Gregg Field will be the drummer when Shelly and I do a group piece, I think of something that would be great to hear Gregg play, 'I Love You Guys' being a classic example, a fast swing with a lot of fills. Shelly practically wrote it before I'd finished reading him the words."
About Lorraine Feather
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