In the early years of writing about jazz, there was a wholly uninformed notion among many critics and lay enthusiasts that while these vivid musicians were so eloquent on their instruments, they were not verbally articulate about their music, their lives from which the music came, or the world around them. They were not “primitives,” but their jazz artistry had to be “explained.”
I knew much better, having come to know early on many jazz musicians from my years in Boston radio from the time I was nineteen, and soon after as a stringer for Down Beat, and, when I was still in my twenties, its New York editor and ever since.
In 1955, to begin to remedy the myth that jazz musicians’ experiences of theirs, and other worlds, could be expressed meaningfully only in their music, Nat Shapiro and I wrote and published Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya, the first book, as the subtitle emphasized, on The Story of Jazz As Told By the Men Who Made It.
Since then, there have been memoirs by jazz creators that masterfully and compellingly deepen our understanding of their music, their lives, and what they have learned of the world in their travels, far more extensive knowledge than most of us have experienced. Among these essential books are Sidney Bechet’s Treat It Gentle and Oscar Peterson’s A Jazz Odyssey.
Now of equal stature, with the very pulse and openness of jazz itself is Brian Torff ’s In Love With Voices: A Jazz Memoir. I fi rst heard Brian with George Shearing around 1980, and I was immediately drawn to his signature fullness of sound, spirit, and swing. Years later, he sent me some of his writings on musicians he’d work with, and I began to anticipate the pleasure and knowledge I would gain with what inevitably had to become this book.
I knew some of the musicians in this significant addition to jazz history, and Brian has made me know more of them. My own books on jazz through the years have been based entirely on my interviews with players ranging from Willie “The Lion” Smith to Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane. The more I know about a musician, the more I am rewarded by his music.
In this book, Brian embodies the truth —about himself and the musicians about whom he writes —of Charlie Parker’s wisdom: “Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” The musicians in this book all had it, but reading about them here will, I expect, urge you to get their recordings. I came to know Erroll Garner, having been involved in a number of his radio broadcasts, but now I know a great deal more about “his loneliness on the inside lining of his well-tailored suits” that, however, he transcended by playing “with a sense of joy and rather than projecting the presence of a concert star on a brightly lit stage, he was a friend, sitting at the piano in your living room, providing the groove for your rent party …”
Whenever Milt Hinton was available for any of the recording sessions I produced, I was privileged to have him because, as Brian brings him back to life, he was a mentor not only to musicians but to all those who knew him on how to live a life —being, as he told Brian, “generous to all people rather than be something else.”
Another musician in this book who greatly infl uenced my life was Dizzy Gillespie. Musicians I know who played with him always refer to Dizzy as the ever present teacher, generally sharing the jubilant range of his musical knowledge. And one particular lesson he gave me as a writer was when he said of himself, “I’ve learned over a long period of time what notes not to play.”
I very much hope that writers on jazz now come to read this book to spur their interest in getting to learn more about the musicians they write about than the ways in which they stay in and out of a chord. I also hope that Brian’s citing his debt to the continually creative bassist George Mraz will finally bring him much more of the attention he so greatly merits.
Having recently written a profile of that life force, Anita O’Day, about whom singer Cheryl Bentyne said in Jazz Times, “I could actually hear her smiling in her music,” I connected immediately to Brian writing: “I frequently break into a smile when I perform.”
As he writes, the musicians he has worked with, and Brian himself, “all played from a place of joyous celebration.” Dizzy Gillespie once said to Phil Woods, “I’m so happy I’m a jazz musician!” How many people in this world have a vocation, a calling that impels them to keep surprising themselves on how much more depth of feeling they have to express in their work? But, as an old adage puts it, “When you very much like what you do, you never have to go to work.”
In his introduction, Brian strikes a note on the jazz life that pervades the entire memoir: “A career in music … is a calling with such a strong pull; you’d think a tide was sucking you under. It becomes an intense obsession of such great intensity that you can almost think of nothing else, it drives you with a fever and fervor.”
Oscar Peterson, in his autobiography, puts in to words “the extreme joy of creative satisfaction that we experience as players … demonstrated by the joyful exclamation Barney Kessel produced after his first evening with my trio. He came over after the last set, shook his head, and said with that Oklahoma accent, “Oscar, that was better than sex!”
For those of us who do not play music, but for whom jazz has become an essential regenerating force in our lives; sometimes even “better than sex” or rather more lasting, Brian’s memoir, In Love With Voices: A Jazz Memoir is comparable to Peterson and Bechet’s autobiographies and will further connect your needs for this music with the life—renewing fervor of its players. As Louis Armstrong used to say, “Music heals both the players and the listeners.”
When I used to teach in colleges, I’d ask the students how many of their former teachers, from elementary school on, have had a continuing impact on their lives. Many could only remember one or two. Brian Torff’s students at Fairfield University will remember his life lessons, as will the readers of this book.
A dollar ain’t what it used to be. I had come to Paris in the winter of 2008 on sabbatical from my University teaching position, and after handing my cherished currency to the young lady behind the glass partition on Place de L’Opera, she sensed my disappointment at how little she returned to me in Euros. It was going to be a tight winter. Trying to cheer me up, she smiled slightly and said, “But we must live.”
I had come to Paris to live for a few months. Divorced after 26 years, my children were grown and off to China, Canada and parts unknown. After over thirty years in music, I went to write a memoir about my life in jazz, speak barely passable French, and try to heal from the loss of loved ones. I had worked with little break for more years than I could remember, and I was burnt to a crisp. It was time to heal, regroup, and look for the perfect religeuse au chocolate.
This book is about the life I have shared with my colleagues, both on the bandstand and off. I am what the magazine Billboard, once referred to as a “nominal star,” and I was lucky to receive even that tag. Bass players don’t usually stand out, get the record deals, or work as leader-stars but our role is crucial to the most cherished thing in jazz—the groove. In the gospel church someone shouts out “Can I get a witness?” In this book, I am that witness. Besides, bass players do a lot of observing from the back of the bandstand. We have seen it all, or close to it, and we tend to know the real from the phony. Be nice to us, for we know where the bodies are buried. Our egos are generally more under control from years of being in a supporting role than other vocalists and instrumentalists. Our job lies in the interplay, the conversation that is going on inside the music. Like my mentor Milt Hinton did with his camera, I would like to attempt to see these things before they have vanished from our sight. Times change, and it is important to me that my students know why.
You might call me the last of my generation in jazz. I am the last of the young players who came of professional age in the 1970s who had the incalculable honor of working with older giants of blues, Dixieland, swing, bop, cool and beyond. We were the “fusion” generation who stood at the bizarre intersection of having been raised on the blues-based rock of the 60s and early 70s, yet we found a calling in jazz, which was an older, more venerable art form with a long-standing tradition. While musicians were playing funk, disco and top 40, we were students mesmerized by Duke, Bird, Miles and Trane, and of course, we loved James Brown and Led Zeppelin, too.
They were artists with distinct voices, and I was lucky to not only discover them on record but would soon share the same stage with some of them. First lesson: what Frank says, goes. Frank Sinatra and his entourage came to the Café Carlyle one night to see George Shearing, the great jazz pianist, and me. I had met a few famous people before. I, literally, ran into Barbra Streisand in an elevator, but meeting a legend was a new thing. Music opens up a world of new relationships. As Paul Robeson once said to Harry Belfonte, “Harry, get them to sing your song, and they will want to know who you are.”
There are all kinds of circuits in the music business from the minor leagues to the majors. Like rungs on a ladder, you keep on climbing, hang on and don’t look down or back. In the beginning, you’re playing for the door, finding a floor to sleep on and scuffling along while gathering valuable experience. As things get a little better, you start staying in inexpensive hotels and begin building a small touring circuit of your own venues. It is a journey towards your musical expression and crucial to the process of finding out your musical identity.
Yet even if your career brightens into better clubs and concert halls, substantial dues must always be paid. The unforeseeable mishaps will occur despite all precautions.
Whether you’re a star or not, one must endure bad sound systems, worse food, cancelled flights, broken-down vans, scarce and sometimes indifferent audiences, rooms without heat and no, your hotel room is not ready. You do an incredible amount of waiting around, and although you love music passionately, you begin to wonder why you didn’t go to law school after all. Th e loved ones you leave behind are also less than pleased the more you are away, and your problems escalate.
Connections are critically important. So when people like Frank Sinatra like you, large and mysterious doors swing open as if in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Thus, revealing a room where only the elite hang out. Frankie (a name I never called him, I assure you) requested that Shearing re-construct his classic quintet in order to become his opening act for a few choice engagements. Performing for one week at a large Boston theater, it enabled me to watch the legendary Sinatra from a carefully guarded distance. Sinatra’s orchestra consisted of A-list New York players combined with a few LA and Las Vegas musicians as well. I felt there was a great deal to be learned from this experience, and I wasn’t mistaken.
We had met before. One fateful night in 1980, I was performing at the Café Carlyle in New York City with George Shearing. I am two generations removed from Sinatra, but his legend has caught up to me when Shearing said, “I believe Mr. Sinatra will be attending our performance this evening.” In the 40s he was it, America’s cultural icon, the ultimate celebrity. In the 50s, Rock ‘n Roll and Elvis exploded. In the 60s, it was My Generation and the Beatles, but if you were a jazz musician, you held Frank Sinatra in the highest esteem. He was the ultimate benchmark in lyrical phrasing and Sinatra simply infl uenced everybody. His cool demeanor mixed with a world-weary experience that came out in every word he sang made him not a star of fantasy, but totally believable. Unlike most current pop singers, big on blond hair and image, small on substance, Sinatra had us all hooked, jazzers and squares alike.
Nobody, but nobody, ever phrased a melody like Frank Sinatra. He was a natural, a great musician who happened to have the instinctive voice to match. Once I took a scoring lesson with his famous arranger, Nelson Riddle, and I had to ask, like the country bumpkin I was, “What was it like to work with Frank Sinatra?” Duh. He replied, “He would look at the sheet music and when the notes went up, his voice went up. When the notes came down the staff , he would follow the line, and that is how he would learn a song.” Intuition may be our most powerful guide and there is no way we can teach this. My best students lead themselves to the challenge and find their own resolutions.
Then there was Sinatra, the movie star, tough guy, wiseguy. The Sinatra of dem’ dames, booze, broads, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., the Rat Pack, Vegas, and the mob. A guy like that could eat you alive with one glance. One wrong chord change and you could end up in the East River, or at least it seemed like it. What did I have in common with Frank Sinatra, a guy who made cameo appearances in my life for a number of years? “Mr. Sinatra, have you ever been to Hinsdale, Illinois, and had the chocolate chip ice cream at Dipper Dan’s?” Somehow, I doubted this. Th e guy had made love to Ava Gardner, for chrisssakes!
I got more and more nervous as the Carlyle set went on but I held my ground, no place to run, no window to jump out of. After we had finished playing our show, I took Shearing’s arm, blind from birth, and he directed me over to Sinatra’s table where his daughter Tina, and some very ominous looking characters sat, huddled around the legend. I am guessing these guys were Italian, but I was not about to check any passports. Frank Sinatra struck me as a solitary man, who ran in a large pack that was there for his protection, with an unmistakable presence. Frank greeted George warmly, shook my hand, still sizing me up and boomed, “Sit down and have a drink.” All the movie roles I knew of Sinatra flashed through my mind, and I was now about two feet six inches tall. I did what I was told.
Sinatra’s hand was soft and small, like a man who had never worked in the fi eld, been a sharecropper or dockworker or lifted anything heavy. Somebody else did that for him. He wore an impeccably tailored black suit, which made those piercing blue eyes seem like the beacon of a lighthouse. I couldn’t have begun to imagine what was behind them; perhaps vast continents of places traveled, kings, queens, presidents, movie stars, the world’s most beautiful women, jazz musicians, hustlers, gangsters and now… gulp, me. Even Miles Davis, known for an opinion that could be a touch ‘biting,’ had credited Sinatra as being one of his main influences when it came to doing the hardest thing in music–playing the melody. He was the man, period, and you just can’t put a price on someone who can walk into a room and the air changes.
Tina was friendly and warm; complimenting Shearing and me on the “exceptional” set they just heard. We were on in those days, and everyone could see and hear the chemistry between the piano and bass. After the compliments had died down, Sinatra glanced in my direction and without fanfare or excessive words said, “Th e kid is playing some pretty groovy notes.” It was the early 80s, and only Sinatra could use the word groovy and get away with it. His praise felt like it was coming from a higher authority, and besides, who in their right mind would question it?
I guess whatever happened after that night, or for the rest of my life wouldn’t really matter, Sinatra had laid down his edict: I could remain alive and continue in music.
The rest is a fog, but it would not be the last time that I would be in his company. He would enter and exit for a number of years. I never got over my awe of him, and I probably never will. None of this made me a star mind you. I still had to wait on the street corner in the freezing February night, searching for the right-sized checker cab that would fit my bass and me. I often thought I should have asked the audience for a ride home. I still ate whatever scraps I could find in the Carlyle’s kitchen, and people would often mistake me for the ma•tre d’. I lived the bohemian life in Greenwich Village and loved it with a passion.
Frank Sinatra appeared to me as a very famous, but lonely man in the middle of a large, protective entourage. When he walked from room to room backstage, bodyguards, friends, managers and others, whom I’d been afraid to ask what they did for a living, always encircled him like a protective shell, shielding him from the outside world at all times. Unlike anyone I had ever met in life, he emanated power. His clear blue eyes sparkled when he smiled; yet turned to cold lasers when things looked dark. I sensed that there was an element of danger, and it was best not to get too close to the fi re. The fame of most politicians, television, movie stars and pop icons is a fleeting notoriety based on the temporary acclaim of the moment. As Victor Hugo once said, “Popularity is the crumbs of greatness.” Sinatra had a century and beyond type of fame that was an ‘I can do anything I want, whenever I want’ kind of power. It was even in his smile.
He had impeccable taste when it came to choosing songs, arrangers and band members, who were generally the best musicians that had done it all–records, television, fi lm soundtracks, studio sessions and years of jazz roadwork. Many had toured with the great big bands of the day, drank at musicians’ watering holes like Jim and Andy’s and had hundreds of humorous stories about their crazy lives in music. Jazz musicians have a worldview that is an aesthetic based on the experiences that they have lived. It is a first-hand knowledge that is passed on through the oral tradition, and no matter how the story ends, is never self-pitying. Their view is a street perspective lens that cuts through the façade of life to reveal its very essence, and they always laughed about it.
During the 60s, there was a growing distance amounting to a great wall between these musicians and the invading world of rock and roll, which, since the success of Elvis and then the Beatles, had relinquished jazz to the shadows as far as American popular music was concerned. The old guard of musicians saw rock’s massive success as the fall of the Roman Empire with the classic lament, “It used to be good was good, and bad was bad. Now bad is good, and good is bad.” Indeed, the Tin Pan Alley master composers George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart, with their poetic lyrics and classic melodies, had been surpassed in popularity by “Hound Dog” and “Tutti Frutti.” For many, this was hard to fathom. It was understandable that the veteran musicians saw rock as the music of the amateur, the hack. Sinatra himself referred to rock as the sound of “ugly, vicious, and cretinous goons.” Besides that, he didn’t like it. Although later, he would record “Something” by George Harrison, calling it one of the greatest songs ever written. We all change.
The elder jazz musicians had seen too much—the Great Depression, speakeasies, life in the swing era, modern jazz, the McCarthy witch-hunt, Civil Rights and the Kennedy assassination, among many other things. They were not to be taken in by a youth culture’s music that looked more like a fad than a legitimate musical style of merit. Eschewing the bell-bottom and long-haired fringe fashion of the day, these New York players carried themselves with a detached cool that reflected off their patent leather shoes onto the immaculate black tuxedo they wore as a uniform of their trade. Their trumpets, trombones, and saxophones were polished and glistening, while Sinatra’s music book of classic standards was in order on their black metal music stands. They were ready to play the show, a real class of professionals.
One night in Boston, we hit some backstage turbulence. I could feel something was in the air when a fl urried confusion of quickly moving bodies around Sinatra’s dressing room indicated something was amiss. Inside I sensed a tempest storm had erupted like a volcano, and one could imagine people might be taking cover from debris and molten lava that was flying off in every direction. The boss was upset and that meant trouble.
Shearing’s quintet had just finished our thirty five minute opening segment, and the stage was being set for Frank Sinatra and his orchestra, the main act. The quintet was a nostalgic audience favorite for people who fondly recalled it from the 50s, but after playing in an extremely creative duo context with the great pianist, I found it extremely confining and limited. What followed was an extraordinary sight. Sinatra’s band, which was comprised of the top professionals, most of whom were in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, could be seen running to their onstage positions with instruments in hand. Now seasoned pros rarely walk fast, let alone hurry as if they were running for their lives. I never found out what happened, but apparently there was some edict that the show would start immediately if not sooner, and no one was asking any questions. I had never seen power work such an air of intimidation, not to mention, speed. There are many sides to us all. Frank Sinatra seemed to have a sunny one—ol’ blue eyes with the million-dollar smile that made women melt. Then there was the ominous, darker dimension where storm clouds rumbled, rolled and struck like lightning.
Despite all of this, the sky cleared the next night, and we went on to perform for two weeks straight at Carnegie Hall. Th is seems inconceivable by any standards, past or present. One might play in a local club or bar for a while, but who else besides Frank Sinatra could sell out Carnegie Hall for two straight weeks? So for that lengthy engagement, I commuted into the city from my new residence in Connecticut. Every night I would go in the stage door entrance, walk up the backstage flight of stairs to the dressing room, put on my tuxedo as routinely as if I were a waiter at the Carnegie Deli, and stroll out onto the magnifi cent stage to open for Mr. Sinatra. One night after our set was over, I was descending those steps from the dressing room with bass in hand when I heard a voice from up above, perhaps the heavens that called out, “Hey kid, you sounded real good tonight.” I glanced upward. There stood the real life vision of Frank Sinatra, leaning over the railing as if he was standing next to Gene Kelly about to sing, “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town.”
Caught completely off-guard and startled out of my wits, I blurted, “Thanks, Frank.” Thanks, Frank? Was I completely insane? In that instant, my life truly did flash before my eyes. Me, a virtual nobody had just addressed one of the great artists and entertainers of the 20th century as “Frank.” Now the only question was: would they shoot me gangland style right there on the stairs or wait until I got out into the alley like Dillinger? With this absolute panicky vision of sleeping with the East River fi shes, I hastily added, “Uh, Mr. Sinatra … sir.” Perhaps the morning paper would read, “Bassist Shot in St. Valentine’s Massacre Style, Sale Extended at Macy’s.” Luckily for me he smiled, and then let out a laugh like we have all seen him do in the movies. I staggered out to Seventh Avenue and to the nearest bar, which was a rare thing for me being partial to Dairy Queen. I let my pulse go down to one thousand, finished my drink, drove home and lived to tell the tale.
The last time I saw Frank Sinatra was again at Carnegie Hall in December of 1986, but this time I was playing in his orchestra, standing onstage right behind him. Th e venerable venue that opened with the debut of Tchaikovsky in May of 1891 had recently undergone a seven-month, 50 million-dollar reconstruction project, and this concert would be the gala reopening. The event included Zubin Mehta conducting the New York Philharmonic with Yo Yo Ma performing the third movement of the Haydn Cello Concerto in C, vocalist Marlyn Horne with violinist Isaac Stern, Frank Sinatra and a surprise appearance by the renowned classical pianist and consummate artist, Vladimir Horowitz.
Carnegie Hall is easily America’s most prized concert hall treasure. With its famed acoustics, it has been the primary showcase for both the nation and anyone who has performed on that stage. Isaac Stern and the financier James D. Wolfensohn, with considerable effort, mercifully saved it from the wrecking ball in 1957, before it was unthinkably razed and turned into an office building. The fact that this was once even a possibility speaks volumes about America’s ongoing failure to value and preserve its cultural heritage. Sanity doesn’t always rule the day and landmarks come to mind such as Beale Street in Memphis and the old Fillmore East, victims of the wrecking ball.
At this breathtaking gala event, I stood in the wings and watched as Vladimir Horowitz, wearing his customary large polka dot tie, performed in the most hushed, energy charged atmosphere I have ever witnessed. The powerful sight of this diminutive man in his later years, a master quietly pouring over every note as if they were rare jewels, had a lightning bolt eff ect. It was truly extraordinary. We usually associate dynamic music with in-your-face volume, and this was the total opposite. It was one the most intense musical moments I have ever witnessed, a delicate softness that was barely audible, yet forceful beyond words. Horowitz had first debuted at this very same hall in 1927, so there was a deep sense of history for him there.
Popular music had also played an important role at Carnegie. Ground breaking events there included the Paul Whiteman Band with the mythic cornetist Bix Beiderbecke in 1928, Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing concert in 1938 and the American concert debut of the Beatles in 1964, of whom the Carnegie Hall management originally thought was a string quartet. Now I was there at the revitalized venue with Frank Sinatra and his superb orchestra, at an event where the ticket price ranged from $50 to $2,500 in a sold-out hall of 2,800 seats.
Sinatra was returning to the ring like an old heavyweight champion after a long illness. Though he looked somewhat weak and thin, his presence when he walked out onto the stage that night was nothing short of overwhelming. I had never seen anything like it. By merely walking out onto the stage without introduction, he captivated the audience with his entrance. He was simply the master who could do more with a slightly weakened voice than thousands of mediocre pop singers could ever do, and that night he proved it. Like Muhammad Ali in boxing, Sinatra owned his world and the audience that came to see him. Playing in the band, I’m not sure the old man remembered me from before, but that is not important. I fortunately have hanging on my wall to remember this very special night, the onstage photo that was taken for the cover of the New York Post.
The most important piece of that December evening, for me, was more than the many luminaries who performed that night, but the fact that my bass teacher, Orin O’Brien, was onstage with the New York Philharmonic. It was a milestone moment to realize that she was the one who had helped me grow from a young, raw and inexperienced teenager taking bass lessons in her 58th Street apartment, to a professional musician performing with her at Carnegie Hall, only one short block, but symbolically, many miles away. We had dinner in a nearby deli before the concert, and I felt proud to be there with her as her student.
I realized even before the concert, that I had a history that marked my own personal landmark events at Carnegie Hall. My first concert there was in 1974 with Cleo Laine, followed by appearances with Stephane Grappelli in 1978, when we recorded the “Live at Carnegie Hall” album. Later on, I worked there with George Shearing, Sinatra, Mel Tormé, David Grusin, Regina Carter and perhaps a few other times I have forgotten. Every time I walk out onto that stage it gives me a thrill that no other concert hall can. It is a sign of arrival, the Ellis Island of music, a place of belonging. It also marks the place where my black velvet tux was stolen one night out of the upstairs dressing room. I really don’t think Mr. Sinatra took it; he certainly had plenty of his own.
Many years later as a music professor at Fairfield University, I gave a short lecture on Frank Sinatra, who had recently passed away. Though I had met and worked with this legend, I was not sure that I had really heard him in the deepest sense. I told some stories to the audience and played a record of his, “Can’t We Be Friends?” As I listened, I was so astounded by the sheer brilliance of his phrasing, sound, depth of feeling and his overall artistry that by the song’s end, I was literally speechless. I couldn’t find the words to express what we had all just heard, and it dawned on me that this was the same man who leaned over the railing at Carnegie Hall to speak to me, and bought me a drink at the Carlyle Hotel. He was the man I had stood just a few feet behind onstage, mesmerized by his very presence and captivated by his once in a lifetime voice. I was so shaken by this in the moment realization that no words would come out. I was speechless, and that is never a good thing when delivering a lecture.
After what seemed like an eternity, I leaned into the microphone and quietly said, “My God, that was so heavy.” I could think of nothing else. I’ll bet the old man would have laughed. Thanks, Frank.
People don’t really choose a career in music; it chooses them. It is a calling with such a strong pull; you’d think a tide was sucking you under. It becomes an intense obsession of such great intensity that you can almost think of nothing else; it drives you with a fever and fervor. This is a wonderful thing, yet it can also be very bad at the same time. Without the proper balance that is such a difficult thing to maintain, creative people are often self- absorbed and careless regarding their close relationships. Their loved ones can feel in serious competition with their muse. It is not easy, but ultimately, it is our only choice. I might have been an unhappy and frustrated lawyer, and all the nice things that such a career would have provided would certainly have not made up for it.
Numerous books have been written about jazz and jazz musicians; usually by writers who barely knew these people. With a long telescope, they are observing a world from a far off and academic shore. They do the ‘research’ and perhaps bring up interesting or pedantic views about their work, yet they must admit that they never had the perspective that can only come from the bandstand, the closed-door rehearsal room, the long bus and car drives, the waiting and the silence. This book is about the musicians I was fortunate enough to know first-hand and even if my story is not essential, I believe theirs is. You don’t have to be in the arts, possessing a special focused talent, to learn from this genre. The arts are created so they may be applied to our own lives in a unique and personal way. All you have to do is listen, think and discover. The lives of great creative individuals are something I have always found inspiring, revealing and motivating.
Jazz musicians teach us about an essential element in life— showing your feelings. We live by that quote of Ralph Ellison, “The real secret of the game is to make life swing.” Once during a recording session I did for the jazz soundtrack of the movie Glass Menagerie, which was arranged and conducted by Henry Mancini, the producer and legendary actor Paul Newman, looked through the console glass at the musicians and exclaimed, “You guys are having so much fun you should be paying me!”
Many of the giants portrayed in this book, like Sinatra, are gone now, and though we may never encounter anyone quite like Sinatra again, I can see the old man right now, as clear as morning. He is leaning over the railing, looking down on me, smiling like a man who has seen it all and is sitting on top of the world. His voice remains the beacon that shines through the heavy blue curtain of night, telling us to live hard and well, without regret, and above all, keep playing some groovy notes. His voice, like all the other voices in this book, sound out for all to hear, and therein lies my story.
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