Saturday, August 26, 2017

Jane Ira Bloom - "Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“At an age when most creative people are settling into comfortable work patterns, soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom continues finding ways for her artistry to evolve. These days, her music often aims to capture the      i spontaneous nature of creativity itself.”
- James Hale, Downbeat

"Jane Ira Bloom's music is a gift to the world from a consummate musician, composer and teacher."
- the editorial staff at JazzProfiles

Sometimes it seems to me that too much emphasis is placed on Jane Ira Bloom’s many academic distinctions, awards, and credentials, and not enough weight is given to her musicianship and the relative merits of her music.

Not that she isn’t deserving of kudos for her many scholarly accomplishments and, let’s face it, they help provide a financial base for her Jazz explorations, but I think too much attentiveness to this sort of thing ultimately detracts from the creative explorations contained in her music.

So while they are considerable, I am not going to include her trophy case of degrees, grants, poll rankings, et al that make up so much of the media releases that accompany her latest double CD - Jane Ira Bloom - Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson [Outline OTL 143] - but I am going to share my observations and opinions about the music on it as composed and improvised by Jane Ira on soprano sax, Dawn Clement on piano, Mark Helias on bass and Bobby Previte on drums. “Adding the Emily Dickinson narrative to the ensemble on Disc 2 is the acclaimed actor Deborah Rush.”

Just to be clear, Disc one is Jane’s quartet performing 14 tracks of music that Jane Ira composed based on excerpts of the poet Emily Dickinson’s collective works and envelope poems; Disc 2 contains the same 14 tracks, rearranged with spoken word added by Deborah Rush. The album closes with Jane’s solo interpretation of Rodgers and Hart’s It’s Easy to Remember.

The arrival of Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson made me harken back to my earliest days as a Jazz musician based in California when Poetry spoken over a Jazz accompaniment [sometimes it sounded as though it was the other way around] was all the rage in coffee houses in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Jane’s latest Jazz & Poetry CD prompted me to pull out of my collection Jazz Canto Vol.1: An Anthology of Poetry and Jazz. Issued in 1961 at the height of the Jazz-Poetry experience on World Pacific Records [1409] the LP containes poems by Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Lawrence Lipton [who co-produced it with long time Pacific Jazz photographer William Claxton], Philip Whalen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti as interpreted by John Carradine, Hoagy Carmichael, Ben Wright, Roy Glenn and Bob Dorough performed with the music of Gerry Mulligan, Chico Hamilton, Fred Katz and Jack Montrose.

In his introduction to Jazz Canto Vol.1: An Anthology of Poetry and Jazz, Lawrence Lipton commented:

“Since the advent of Jazz West Coast, nothing has so excited the listening interest of the public, the press and jazz musicians alike as the emergence - again on the West Coast -- of Poetry and Jazz. This album presents various ways of approaching the problem of bringing verbal content back into jazz music and restoring poetry and music to their proper and historic integration as related arts.

To avoid the errors and confusions of such terms as "poetry and jazz" and "poetry with jazz," background music, accompaniment, etc., which have marked and, I think, marred, the more or less hit-or-miss club, concert and recorded "P & J" of the past, I have decided to call it Jazz Canto. Jazz, because it is in the modern American idiom. Canto, because it is poetry, a word derived out of the Latin cantus, singing, which in English came to mean verse. Jazz Canto derives from the American "talking blues" and is related to the German Sprechstimme, the Italian commedia deli arte all' improvise, and similar forms all the way back to the Greek goat-plays and primitive ritual word-chant with music. …”

Mr Lipton closes his annotation with this prediction: “I feel that with ]azz Canto Vol. 1 "Poetry and Jazz" comes of age, approaching something like an art form that will endure and grow and become a part of the standard repertoire of both poetry and jazz performance.”

Alas, unfortunately this was not to be the case. Although both Jazz and Poetry have endured, the have not done so together. As far as the aesthetic tastes - perhaps, too generous a phrase -  of today’s general public are concerned, it is a wonder that either have survived at all!

Both Jazz and Poetry are intellectual arts - it takes a good deal of brainpower to play the former and a significant amount of mental ability to create the latter.

Given the late bassist, composer and bandleader Charles Mingus’ admonition - “You gotta improvise on something” - and the psychological and emotional forces that create both Jazz and Poetry, it is surprising that a closer affinity hasn’t evolved between both of these arts.

I suppose the missing link is the awareness of one intellectual art to seek out the other.

And this is where Jane Ira’s brilliance - if you’ll pardon the play on words - blooms!  For as she explains: “I didn’t always understand her but I always felt Emily’s use of words mirrored the way a Jazz musician uses notes.”

The first CD allows the listener to experience the music on Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson on a standalone basis while the second CD allows for the music to be heard in conjunction with the spoken word of the excerpt that a particular theme [track] is based on as sensitively interpreted by Deborah Rush.

I experimented with the music by recombining it so that the musical version of the poetry excerpt was followed immediately by the spoken word version such that Jane Ira’s melody lingered in my mind while I heard Emily Dickinson’s poetry as read by Deborah. The separation and the sequencing were a revelation in terms of how well Jane Ira’s melodic interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry works; not only does one compliment the other, but one also complements the other.

Poetry readings require a certain control and clarity, enunciated dynamics to underscore or stress particular elements in the poem, but above all, they require rhythmic space and pacing so that the impact of what the piece is about can be felt and not just understood or intellectualized.

Amazingly, Jane Ira’s music contains all these elements: control, clarity, dynamics, space and pacing to such a degree that one hears her melodies as what Mr. Lipton refers to in his introduction to Jazz Canto Vol.1: An Anthology of Poetry and Jazz “...  the Latin cantus, singing.”

To come at this conception another way, the canticle quality of Jane Ira’s compositions on Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson conjures up a phrase often associated with the late pianist Bill Evans - “How My Heart Sings.” In effect, what Jane Ira has accomplished is to transliterate Emily Dickinson’s poems into cantica or songs.

And speaking of Bill Evans, pianist Dawn Clements work, which was new to me on this recording, reflects a pianism marked by a touch that is simply exquisite and very reminiscent of Bill’s.

Bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bobby Previte reflect the “wedding bells” that legendary bassist Chuck Israels always wants to hear when he listens to a bassist and drummer playing together. It’s almost as though they were created as a rhythm section expressly for the purpose of working with Jane Ira and helping to interpret her music.

To extend the Bill Evans analogy a bit further, Bill’s earliest trios were one of the first forms of collaborative Jazz and the music as played by Jane Ira, Dawn, Mark, and Bobby on Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson is a true continuation and extension of this approach to Jazz.

The audio aura in which the music takes place is a tribute to recording engineer Jim Anderson and his team and associates. The sound is spellbindingly clear so much so that it wraps the music in an additional layer of intimacy. The sound quality is so “alive” that you get the impression that the music is being played in your living room [would that it were].

At some point, all the descriptive adjectives in the world become inadequate as a means of depicting music and poetry so at this point I’ll stop trying to do so and allow you to experience both for yourself in terms of what’s on offer in Jane Ira Bloom’s Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson.

The release date for the CD is September 8, 2017 and it will be available through and iTunes. Jim Eigo is handling the national press campaign and you can reach him at and Jane Ira at and at|JaneIraBloom.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Ernestine Anderson: Incomparable

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The voice —that rich, warm, sultry, infinitely sensitive voice —is the embodiment of Ernestine Anderson.

To hear her sing is to know the woman who loves television soap operas ("I have to have my soaps"), old people ("I just relate to old people; they've seen a lot"), children ("We're kind of on the same wave length"), and Ray Brown.

"I trust Ray's judgment',' she says. "He knows I won't do something I don't want to do, and I have to want to sing a song to do it justice But Ray, now, he's a pretty good salesman.

"I came into this recording session with a list of songs and arrangements I wanted to do, and Ray took one look at it and started crossing out things, moving stuff around, changing everything. I knew it was going to happen, and it all came out right. It's beautiful, what he does!'
- Edith Hamilton, Jazz Critic, The Miami Herald

“Anderson knows how to transform and restructure a melody so thoroughly that it takes on a vital new life.”
- Leonard Feather, Jazz Critic, The Los Angeles Times

“… with her tasteful, slightly gritty, moderately swinging contralto; she's someone who … always gives you an honest musical account.”
–Richard Ginell

“She can sing the blues. She can sing a ballad. She can swing you out of the country!
- Etta James, Vocalist

Ernestine has always been one of our favorite vocalists and we wanted to remember her on these pages with this brief piece and the video tribute below it on which she sings Never Make Your Move to Soon accompanied by Monty Alexander [p], Ray Brown [bass] and Frank Gant [drums].

Ernestine provides spaces in her singing that makes the lyrics “feel” warmer and more casual. Her command of the music is so strong that she makes every song she sings sound like it was written just for her.

I know it’s quite common to compare singers to “Billie, Ella and ‘Sassy,’” and they are all dynamite, but with Ernestine you get Ernestine.

The way she sings is incomparable.

She put a lot of good music out there over the years and this is our small way of saying “Thank You.”

© -Time Magazine, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“…. The scimitar eyes may close, the slender hands seem to carve the phrases out of the choky nightclub air. And the voice, sweet and strong above the rhythm section, curls around the lyrics like a husky caress. The voice belongs to singer Ernestine Anderson, at 29 perhaps the best-kept jazz secret in the land.

Although she has been singing professionally half her life, Ernestine has caused so little public stir that she only recently caught the ear of the record makers (a first Anderson album, misleadingly titled Hot Cargo, was issued this summer by Mercury).

Last week Ernestine was singing once a week for $25 at Los Angeles' Little Avant Garde Club. She gave the patrons mostly standards—But Not for Me, Gone with the Wind, Take the A Train—that dramatically displayed her talents. She can swing upbeat ballads in a light-textured voice or noodle a bit of the blues in tones as soft as velvet. She can modulate with shrugging ease, swell or diminish volume with a sure instinct for melody and lyrics.

Most important, she has the rare ability to play the kind of emotional brass that shivers the spine. Ernestine singing My Man somehow makes believable a woman's capacity to suffer a man who "isn't good, isn't true," but to whom nevertheless she will "come back on my knees some day."

Ernestine Anderson was born in Houston, the daughter of a construction worker. In the neighborhood Baptist church she used to sing hymns with her grandmother. At 13 she was singing at the El Dorado, a big ballroom, and after the family moved to Seattle, she became a regular with local bands. She went on tour with Bumps Blackwell's band, then with Johnny Otis, finally with Lionel Hampton, who took her to Manhattan. For a while she had a "steady gig" at a Greenwich Village spot, but she never attracted real attention until she went to Sweden in 1956 with an "all-star" jazz group headed by Trumpeter Rolf Ericsson. The Swedes loved her and mobbed her concerts. When she got back to the U.S., choice dates were still hard to come by, but West Coast jazz critics, notably the San Francisco Chronicle's Ralph Gleason, started to take note of the best new voice in the business.

Partly because the market for good jazz singers—i.e., singers who phrase and improvise in the manner of instruments in a jazz band—is remarkably small, Ernestine has remained a critical success and a popular failure. She is inevitably compared to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday. Ernestine invariably rejects the comparisons. "I wish," she says, "they would let me be just me." She is, and "just me" is plenty good enough.”

August 4, 1958

Moving things forward a bit, the following insert notes by Edith Hamilton contain more information about Ernestine. At the time of their writing in 1981, Edith was the Jazz critic for The Miami Herald. Edith wrote these for Ernestine’s Concord CD Never Make Your Move Too Soon [CCD 4147] which was a Grammy Finalist that year for the Best Jazz Vocal Performance by a Female. The album features Monty Alexander on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Frank Gant on drums. It has remained one of my favorite Jazz recordings because it always makes me smile and serves to lighten my heart. When that happens, I know I’m listening to Jazz at its best!

“The voice — that rich,warm,sultry, infinitely sensitive voice — is the embodiment of Ernestine Anderson. To hear her sing is to know the woman who loves television soap operas ("I have to have my soaps"), old people ("I just relate to old people; they've seen a lot"), children ("We're kind of on the same wave length"), and Ray Brown.

"I trust Ray's judgment,” she says. "He knows I won't do something I don't want to do, and I have to want to sing a song to do it justice But Ray, now, he's a pretty good salesman.

"I came into this recording session with a list of songs and arrangements I wanted to do, and Ray took one look at it and started crossing out things, moving stuff around, changing everything. I knew it was going to happen, and it all came out right. It's beautiful, what he does"

It's beautiful, what everybody does on this recording. Ernestine does two of her favorites — Old Folks and Poor Butterfly — Ray does his creative arrangements and his fitting bass, Frank Gant gives subtle support, and Monty Alexander plays what must be the perfect accompaniment. He and Ernestine are two parts of a felicitous whole in a sparkling contrapuntal showcase for voice and piano.

The lady also loves the blues, and they kick things off with a rouser. Never Make Your Move Too Soon, in the old original unabashed vein. Some call it dirty blues, some call it raunchy, but everybody calls for it. It's quintessential E. Anderson, sassy, husky, close to a growl at times, with Monty's piano stomping out the chords in a raw, stop-beat tempo reminiscent of the old hard-times rent parties in the South. Polished up in the final chorus, it still doesn't stray too far from its good old roots.

The pace-changes in the recording rollercoaster through never-a-dull-moment modes. In What A Diffrence A Day Made, voice and piano share the same crystal enunciation on a joint plateau. Ernestine does a honeyed taffy-pull with the lyrics, coasting in a lazy, emphasized swing, trading off with Monty in the bridge, ending with her prolonged, humorous "ummmmmm" going into the last breathy chorus.

As Long As I Live is a fast, up-tempo swap-out, with Ernestine's rapid, funny scatting doing a fadeout at the end. The touching lyrics of Why Did I Choose You? are given their well deserved full measure in a gorgeous ballad that seems almost to have been written for the singer.

The mixed tempo My Shining Hour with its fast bop intro sliding into crisp swinging and back out again, has Ernestine's voice bridging the changes as beautifully as the Golden Gate spans San Francisco Bay. The melancholic Just One More Chance is replete with the delicate nuance of Frank Gant's subtle brush work on drums. Ray Brown's bass speaks softly in the intervals while Ernestine wraps that big, tender voice around the words, talking to the piano, and Monty's keyboard talks back. If this is sadness, we need more of it.

"I've always loved Poor Butterfly'' Ernestine says. "But I kind of forgot about it, and then somehow it came back into my environment." It certainly did, but this Butterfly has undergone metamorphosis, emerging as a meld of blues and bop. Monty uses a wild and crazy drum technique on piano, and Ernestine takes a slow stroll into a big sashay coda.

But her pick of the tunes in this recording is Old Folks, and anyone who hears it will know why. The daring arrangement is in the high-wire realm, for who in his right mind would back this lovely old 1938 Hill-Robison song with a Fender Rhodes, and get away with it?

The answer is Monty Alexander and the inspirational blend of old and new is pure beauty. Ernestine's empathy with "old people" gives die song an emotional glow of great intensity, while Monty plays the Rhodes as it should be, but seldom is, played. The notes have the lingering bell sound of a giant dulcimer, hovering under and around the words in a yin-yang of musical perfection.
We can't wait for the next time Ernestine Anderson comes into a recording studio with list in hand, and Ray Brown starts changing things around again.”

-EDITH HAMILTON Jazz Critic, The Miami Herald

Ernestine passed away in 2016.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Jimmy Rowles - The Len Lyons Interview, 1978

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

[Jimmy’s solos are often] … a coherent montage of hammered single notes, offhanded dissonances, wandering arpeggios, abrupt bass walks, trebly rambles. ...

Rowles is not an aggressive or showy player; he leaves lots of space, uses dynamics sparingly, and swings softly and at an even gait. What makes him remarkable is his ear for detail (the fills that make his accompaniment so stylish are no less disarming when he uses them to decorate his own solos), his depth of feeling (he could play a melody straight and make it sound like an improvisation), and his harmonic ingenuity (he rarely attacks a chord head-on, preferring dense substitutions or oblique angles). His repertory is immense and arcane ….”
- Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz

“Jimmy Rowles is as uninhibited, witty, and earthy a pianist as he is a storyteller. [His] music is complex, fascinating, often hilarious. Nobody knows as many obscure tunes as Jimmy.”
- Doug Ramsey, Jazz Matters

“Jimmy Rowles was not flashy, but he was incredibly complex harmonically in his knowledge, which extended from popular music in general to Debussy and Ravel in particular.

The way he played and sang was very, very subtle, and the beauty of the music came through in the way he played and sang songs like Poor Butterfly, Nature Boy, or How Deep Is the Ocean. Those things sunk in while I was there, but I'm still processing that, and coming to terms with his whole artistry.

But the other thing he taught me was not to take myself too seriously, even though I took the music itself very seriously."
-Diana Krall as told to Gene Lees, JazzLetter, Vol. 18, No.. 5, May 1999].

Jimmy Rowles had a low profile and as far as the general public was concerned his talents were largely ignored. Among musicians it was a different story. Rowles' touch, taste, and harmonic imagination made him an ideal accompanist, and was been highly valued in that role by a succession of demanding employers: Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Carmen McRae.

Saxophonist Stan Getz tried to rescue him from obscurity by producing a Rowles album for Columbia  - The Peacocks - [1977] and bassist Ray Brown did the same for Rowles on the Concord Jazz label, accompanying him on an LP of piano/bass duets - As Good As It Gets [1978] .

Rowles attended Gonzaga University in his hometown of Spokane, Washington. His first important jobs, in the early 1940's, were with bands led by saxophonists Ben Webster and Lester Young. Apart from accompanying singers, Rowles also worked over the years as a pianist for Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Chet Baker, Benny Carter, Charlie Parker, and Zoot Sims. During the 1970's he lived in Los Angeles and worked regularly for the Hollywood studios. Despite his reputation as a musician's musician, his apparent lack of interest in promoting his own career left him a virtual unknown. But he had much to say about the immensely important role of the piano in accompaniment, an area that he turned into his expertise.

The following interview was taped by author-journalist Len Lyons after the Concord Jazz recording session produced by Ray Brown [1978]. Explaining that he dislikes the studio atmosphere, Rowles had the lights turned down, lit a cigarette, and sipped at a vodka Collins, which he nursed along throughout the session. He was self-critical of his playing and requested numerous retakes of several pieces.

What was your early background on the piano?

I used to listen to my mother, who could play by ear, and I imitated her and started playing by car myself. My sister had a boyfriend who had a real Earl Hint's fed co his playing, and he taught me the first song I ever learned to play, "Saint Louis Blues." I did a little studying with a private teacher, but it didn't work out too well, since what I really wanted to be was a tennis player. I probably had a couple of private teachers I quit on. What changed me was listening to Guy Lombardo's pianist. In fact, I liked his whole orchestra. I was the guy who wouldn't even listen to Benny Goodman. After hearing something I liked on piano. I started looking for a teacher in my hometown and eventually found a guy named Norm Thue. He had me go through all the chords and the keys, throw my hand to the bass notes, and practice a stride that was built on tenths, not single notes.

The next step was while I was studying at Gonzaga, where I met Don Brown, a Blackfoot Indian and a real genius. He forced me to listen to Teddy Wilson, and I resisted at first because I thought I knew what I wanted. But after about four bars I said to myself, "That's it! That's the way I want to play piano!" So I started studying him—and I'll never leave him entirely—and then I went on to discover Art Tatum, Fats Waller, and Earl Mines. This was around 1936, and I also began to listen to horn players like Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge. and Ben Webster, the [Jimmy] Lunceford band, Ellington, Andy Kirk. I guess of all those I was closest to Ben Webster, who became like a father to me, musically and personally.

In your playing  - the harmonies and understatement - has such a modern feeling to it I'm surprised to hear you mention influences from another era.

Well, I have had some more modern favorites, too. Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Tommy Flanagan, and Hank Jones. But still, I'm not in the Herbie Hancock/Chick Corea bag. It's great stuff for them but that trend isn't my thing.

I've noticed a strong sense of bass line in your playing. Your bass-line melodies really sing out.

Yeah, I focus on that quite a bit. When I studied with Norm, he stressed the fact that all chords start from the bass note. Not necessarily the tonic of the chord, but the bottom note and the notes that lead to it. They're essential. If you've got the right bass note down there, you can fool around all you want on top of it. But if your bass note's wrong, the chord isn't going to sound right no matter what you do.

In analyzing a tune, do you work on the bass line separately from the rest of the music?

Sure. I figure out the bass line even before I work on the melody. Sometimes I'll mess around with a countermelody in the thumb of the left hand, but I don't take that as seriously as getting a good bass line down there. With everything else, I honestly mess around and hope everything comes out right.

It sounds as if you're using a lot of flat-ninth intervals for right-hand dissonances. Where does that come from?

That's Ravel. He's my man, but I like a lot of those cats. Debussy, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Erik Satie, Villa-Lobos. I really love that stuff. You know, you can get tired of listening to jazz because every so often you crave something really deep. Stan Getz wouldn't have had a theme song if it weren't for Ravel. But I have to admit: Everything is relative. I went up to this old-timer in Spokane - he was playing in one of the bars - and I asked him what he thought of Art Tatum. He said, "Oh, well, he's got his style, I got mine." I loved that answer.

When did you first start playing professionally?

It was college bands at first and some small groups in Spokane, but I used to hang around the after-hours joints and play with all the black cats, which is where I got my first real jazz experience. Not long afterward I went to Los Angeles just to see what would happen, and I ended up with Lester Young. It was quite a group. Big Joe Turner was singing the blues; Ray Bryant was dancing; Billie Holiday came out to sing with us. Eventually Billie and I got very close and worked well together over a period of years. I've always liked lyrics, been sensitive to them, and making albums with her was the time I really learned how to accompany. But I also learned a lot from working with Peggy Lee and Ella [Fitzgerald]. Practice makes perfect. Ellis Larkins in New York is a great accompanist, and you could take a real lesson by paying him some attention.

Can you tell me more about the singers you've worked with?

When I got out of the army after the war, that's when I started working regularly with Billie. We had hit it off when I was with Lester Young's and Lee's band [Lee Young, a drummer, was Lester's brother] Billie was making some records and asked for me. The recording group also had Benny Carter, "Sweets" [trumpeter Harry Edison], and Ben Webster. It was wonderful working for Billie. The sessions were smooth, and she seemed happy. I never had any problems with her. After Billie, I went on the road with Evelyn Knight, Vic Damone, and Peggy Lee.

Was Peggy Lee a jazz singer? Some people say she was, but I've always had ambivalent feelings about her.

She had jazz feeling, but she wasn't an improviser. She did swing; she was sort of a rhythmic singer. I was with her about five years. For many years afterward I worked in the staff orchestra at NBC. That lasted through most of the sixties. Some of the interesting people I worked for were Andy Williams and Henry Mancini. I think I was with Mancini on and off for seventeen years.

Then I worked for Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan, who was the greatest of all the female musicians. She did the arrangements and everything else. She was sort of the Art Tatum of singing, and she has an impeccable ear. She's also a good pianist. She can sit down and just "noodle" and it'll scare you. I wish she'd play more often. I also worked for Ella for two years, but there's no comparison to Sarah in musicianship. In terms of range, no one can touch her [Sarah].

Now Billie Holiday was a completely different kind of singer. She didn't have a voice, really; she had a sound. It was a very natural sound like Louis Armstrong's, but it wasn't a singing voice. Sarah's sound is cultivated, almost classical. In terms of feeling, phrasing, and sound, Sarah and Billie are in different worlds. They only have one thing in common-they're both perfectionists. That was the basic similarity, but Billie was never the accomplished musician Sarah is.

Well, what can you say about a method for accompanying singers?

I'd say there are two rules. Anticipation of the singer is one of them. The other is subduing yourself. If you don't subdue yourself, the listener is going to get confused because the piano part will be competing for the listener's attention. That's the worst thing that can happen. What you're doing is weaving carpets for the singer to stand on, and maybe you do little things that fit into the open spots. Don't play too much, don't play too loud, and don't play the melody. Now some of this is going to depend on who the singer is. For Sarah Vaughan, you could play World War Four on the piano, and she'd still be right in there. Carmen [McRae] is that way, too. But there are some singers-and I won't mention any names-who want you to play the melody so they know where they're supposed to be. But that's just a special case.

How did you team to accompany yourself? Is it different?

Actually I wish I could accompany myself better, and it is different. I started singing just for the fun of it in the army; but when I was working for Peggy Lee, she liked my singing, and she used to make me sing. Some people actually liked it. As far as I can tell, I sound like old Gravel Gertie, What I keep in mind, most of all, is the interpretation of the lyrics. When you're singing a song, you're telling a story. I can't stand a singer who listens to the sound of his own voice and doesn't show any sign that he knows what he's singing about. I'd rather hear Louis Armstrong. I'll bet he never thought about his voice for a minute.

Another feature of your music seems to be space. There are a lot of si fences, a spareness.

Good, I'm glad. I don't like to kill the keyboard.

You might be considered the opposite of an Oscar Peterson.

Well, let's be honest. I don't have his chops. But even if I did, I'd still be myself. I like to take things a little easier, although I admire Oscar's playing a great deal.

How did you acquire finger dexterity?

I used to own a windup phonograph, and I'd slow it down so I could really hear rhc runs of the other pianists. Then I'd transcribe the solos and imitate them note for note. Teddy Wilson was a favorite, and I did a few of Art's solos. I knew I was in trouble when I got to Fats Waller because he could think in two directions. His left hand was saying one thing, and in his right hand, he'd be fooling around with another thought.

Do you hare any exercises now for your fingers or hands?

I often bend my fingers back at the bottom joint, although I never crack my knuckles. I know a lot of guys who do, but I avoid it. When I'm playing, I often lower my hand, just let it hang and then shake it around, loosen it up and get the circulation going. You should also try to remember that the source of tension is in the back of the neck, so keep your shoulders relaxed and generally try to keep cool and loose.

Do you have any reflections on your recording career?

I was never too happy with it, as far as my personal music goes. The first recording I cared for at all was done in the late fifties with Henry Mancini and Neal Hefti. Mancini likes to keep his music fairly simple, but we did the score for a picture called Harlow, and on the piece "Girl Talk" Henry gave me sixteen whole bars with strings. That was actually satisfying.

How do you choose your repertoire?

I like to do a song that I can camouflage. I like to give it a fresh interpretation and present my own feelings about it. Ray [Brown] and I just did "Like Someone in Love" as a stride thing. During an opening set at a gig in New York, where I do most of my playing, I did "Sophisticated Lady" as a bossa nova. Sometimes I'll throw in some Rimsky-Korsakov or do "Yesterdays" as a bolero. If I can play the song differently, I'll do it. I also dig up tunes out of the past that no one else knows about.

I noticed you don't play the blues as inch, but there's a lot of bluesy feeling in your Standards.

I get that from Erroll Garner, who was one of my favorite pianists and people.

Have you worked on any electronic keyboards? How do you feel about them?

Well, I've been forced to use the novachord and the Fender Rhodes. In fact, I made a whole album on the Rhodes with Barney Kessel. I don't mind them all that much, but I'd sure rather play a beautiful Steinway B, like the one I just recorded on. You see, as a studio musician in Los Angeles, which was my gig when I used the electronic equipment, you can't put any feeling into the music, anyway, unless you happen to dig what the session leader is doing. With an electronic keyboard it makes matters a little bit worse because you have to deal with the mechanical nature of the instrument, too. The best feature of an acoustic piano is that you can really express yourself on it.

As Stan Getz says in his liner notes about you, your name isn't exactly a household word. How do you feel about your career now?

I like the musicians I'm playing with. I like what's going on in my head. And I think people are getting more receptive to the kind of music I play, so I'd have to say everything is getting better. I only hope it continues.

[Jimmy Rowles, 1918-1996].