Mike Lawless interviews Iola Brubeck about The Real Ambassadors

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Iola Brubeck Interview by Mike Lawless Regarding: The Real Ambassadors September 8, 1961 WJZZ, Connecticut, The Dave Brubeck Show (THE FOLLOWING IS NOT A COMPLETE, VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT. PARTS HAVE BEEN OMITTED. OTHER PARTS ARE JUST SUMMARY SENTENCES TO GIVE AN IDEA OF THE CONTENT.) ML: Dave is recording with Carmen McCrae tonight… IB: when it is recorded, not sure of final name. this project started out as a Broadway show with the name world take a holiday. then we thought blow Satchmo because LA is to be the star. I think that is possibly the title of the album. or the opening track of the album is called everybody’s comin. so we have a nice selection for the title. and we are fortunate to have the great LA to sing the leading role in an album of a Broadway show that never made Broadway. ML - as yet. IB: Carmen McRae has the feminine role and LHR will join, LA band and Dave’s own group to make an album we think will be very interesting and somewhat of a pioneering album. this is all special material written with these particular talents in mind. it is different in many ways from the material they usually do. some was very similar, but there are some different things that I think will surprise the public and perhaps them just a little bit. but all put together in a package where the storyline can be followed just through the lyrics….has not been tried…written as a show…and now it’s going to be recorded as someone at Columbia records called it “the most expensive demo ever made.” 3:59 IB: 6:07 about 5 years ago, when we were still living in CA…went to central park for concert, heard Joe Williams and I told him, “ you reached me so much greater than any of the Broadway shows…” and I thought to myself: the time has come for these two elements to be put together…to do a real jazz musical. After all, jazz and the Broadway musical are two native American art forms. and it seems only logical that the two should go together eventually. now we started 5 years ago, just talking about the idea. and we started writing a show based on a jazz band headed by LA on a state dept tour of the world. (7:49) The writing of the show was stopped in 1958 when Dave himself was actually went on a state department tour. we had a little closer view on what was going on. we threw out what we started and went on again re-writing the show. now since we first talked about this 5 yrs ago and went through a number of re-writes, there have been more shows on Broadway and off Broadway using the jazz idiom. at the time we thought of it, I don’t know of a jazz group been used. of course since then….(examples)… IB: 9:00 it was an inevitable idea. IB: the opening track on the album will be a tune, “everybody’s comin.” you would know it from the Time Out album as “everybody’s jumpin.” IB: 11:00 This is really the way to write a lyric, I think, because out of a certain situation there is a demand for a certain type of song to say a certain thing. then you try to say it in the most poetic, or the most economical, or the most emotional way that you can. in writing a lyric apart from a show, there’s not a storyline, and the only way I can work is to think up a story, think up a situation, so that the song sort of fits in a story in my own mind… I think that a song has to say something or mean something. I’ll give you one example, but before I do that, when we were talking about a Broadway jazz show… (talks about Duke Ellington “he was premature” Jumpin for Joy years ago…was tremendous but was ahead of his time, tunes lived on, show didn’t go…duke working on another one…) IB:13:50 more about Duke…real American composer, not leaning on European tradition…Dave felt badly that his pix was on Time before Duke.. IB: 16:55 The show itself has a basically simple story, but it covers a lot of geography because it is about a group on tour, in fact, going around the world for the state dept. And there are some special material tunes that talk about the state dept and the job of cultural exchange. there’s on little funny tune that Louis sings that’s sort of a satire on the state depts. comments to the jazzmen who are going overseas, and the title is “Remember Who You Are (and what you represent). Want to hear some lyrics? IB 17:57 I wrote the book. some of the lyrics I wrote alone, some I worked with Dave on. this particular one is a joint effort. it’s just trying to be funny and satirical. (she reads lyrics…Remember Who you Are…) IB: 19:00 the special material in the show have not appeared as any other tunes or under any other title. but there are some songs that have been recorded before on other albums…like to read one lyric…Summer Song…Lonesome… Summer Song Louis explains his feelings about life as he is growing older. IB: 20:40 In this particular lyric, before the theme of Summer Song is sung, there is a sort of choral prelude which will be sung by LHR in which L speaks lines that lead into Summer Song. I think it shows a side of L that most people don’t know. The lyric was written first and then Dave set it for voices. And I guess it was about 2 years ago, he went to see L in Chicago and he brought the material up to L in the hotel room. And in L’s own special voice that no one else in the world has, he read this lyric over, and Dave said that it was so moving that it brought tears to his eyes right there. and that L himself felt it so much he said, “Man, that’s deep.” And he loves the song. This is the lyric IB: 21:54 (She reads the “Lonesome” lines that Louis speaks before Summer Song: “All of my life I’ve been lonely…to visit in the past) Then she speaks Summer Song lyrics. IB: 25:13 “One Moment Worth Years.” Well that appeared first as an instrumental which Dave played and it was a dedication to fats Waller. he wanted to have something that had an old time spirit, a liveliness to it. and in the show it’s used as a duet with L and Carmen. IB: 26:17 Well, this is a scene that could happen inside a show or out…man and women had tiff…in this case in the show he’s been too busy with how to handle the world situation to pay very much attention to the girl. and after having been stood up several times, she feels that she’s just had enough. the verse begins…(does lyrics…) IB: 29:15 I think that Carmen is one of those rare people who has a great musical gift, can sing well, and also a great dramatic gift. And when we first talked about writing the show, before we had any specific people in mind, I said: you know of all the girl singers that I knew who were jazz singers, I thought Carmen was the one who had a real flair for the stage and for dramatic singing. And my guess certainly proved to be right. Because, well the first things that she sang were from the show. When she was traveling and in SF, she came over the house one day and we said, “Carmen, we’re writing a show and we’d like to see what you think of some of the songs.” And she went through them and immediately seemed to sense what the situation was. we didn’t even tell her the story. we were just interested in that moment in her professional opinion of the songs as material for anybody to thing. and she obligingly sang while Dave played and became sold on the whole idea, and has been with us ever since, trying to do something with the show, either to produce it or to record it or whatever. and of course when she did the Tonight Only album with Dave this was the first venture on a commercial album that they had done together. and we were so pleased that this same instinct she had shown…31:13… IB: 31:50 (Tonight Only album -- they discuss and play some tunes) IB: In Your Own Sweet Way - Iola wrote the lyrics…hard tune to write lyrics for, but Carmen was on her way and said HAVE THOSE LYRICS READY. ML: How long does it take you to whack out a lyric? IB: 35:03 Oh, that depends on how difficult the tune is for one thing. if the tune is written first sometimes the poor guy who struggles with the words can be a week on a tune that in Dave’s case he might sit down and play it and say, “ok, this is pretty good.” and we’ll tape it and then we’ll bother to write it down later. then perhaps after the lyrics are written, we’ll go back and refine it or change it or something because maybe the mood has gone off in a different direction. it’s much easier if you can write the words first, but then you don’t always write in a way that is musically correct. so we’ve found that in most cases, if the tune is clearly in mind first, that the lyrics take time, that it works better that way. IB: 36:00 I think that it depends on the type of tune it is. if it’s the special material sort of thing where you want to be clever or do something particularly special, then I think the words can come first. and the music is not quite so important as the words. but in a ballad, it’s really the melody that counts, that carries the full weight, and the best thing the words can do is to add to the emotional impact of the music itself, try not to detract from it actually is what you’re doing, and give the listener a little lead as to some story situation, so it has an idea embodied in it. but I think the melody is the important thing. IB: 37:30 (talks about whose lyrics she likes: Gershwin, Dorothy fields, hart is the greatest…) IB: 39:35 I like Summer Song very much. I think that it was written with L in mind, the melody is lovely and it’s close to his personal way of expressing it. There’s a cute one that is done on the theme of the Duke called “You Swing, Baby.” and it is a duet w/ Carmen and Louis and it has clever hip type lyrics. (she now explains “Swing Bells” in scene called the Coronation Scene). The setting in the show is the L and the band are visiting in a small kingdom in Africa during a period, a holiday period similar to Mardi Gras or Carnival. And at this time, the population of this small kingdom chose their most popular man of the hour to be king of the mardi gras for the day. and because Louis’ band has made an appearance, the populace is all for him. And, very much as it happened in real life, he is picked up on the shoulders of the people and marched through the streets and is proclaimed King for a Day. And the tune “Swing Bells” is used to open the coronation scene. the words are simple because it follows the tolling of bells. (reads lyrics… “…this day we’re free, we’re equal in every way…”) IB: 43:40 Maybe we could continue with the coronation scene, because after the bells are tolling, the crowd, people, chorus, start singing to Louis, “what are you waitin for, what are you waitin for?” And they way Louis to start playing because they heard him playing the night before. They look upon him as perhaps a great leader, a bringer of peace. and actually the show tries to say that a simple human being such as Louis who goes about the world using the gift that god gave him, which is a great musical talent, and really loving humanity, can really do more to bring peace to the world than all of the summit meetings that one could possibly bring together. And there’s one lyric that the crowd sings to him that I think says this. “Can it really be that you’ll set all free? Joshua stood at the wall, god told him it would fall. blow Satchmo…walls will tumble down…lead us to that promise land.” We’re all looking for peace aren’t we? ML: 47:07 Gene Lees said of IB that she is one of America’s great lyricists. this was said in downbeat. THE END (Transcribed by Eve Goldberg)



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