I have always been good about drawing people out. Really. For the most part, I engage easily and have little trouble getting people to talk about themselves. The knack emanates from the fact that: 1. I’m genuinely interested in what makes people tick, and 2. I am not always comfortable talking about myself. Which is not to say I’m not talkative, but is to say that when the spotlight is on me, I often deflect.
So when I embarked on this project, a project that entails one-on-one interviews as well as roundtables with articulate, talented artists, my assumption was that I’d be a natural.
How hard could this be?
Bill Douglass, bass
Bassist, Bill Douglass – also a prodigious bamboo flute player. The go-to guy for Mose Allison, Bobby McFerrin and Marian McPartland with whom he’s recorded numerous albums. Bill lives in the Sierra foothills and came down off the mountain with his bass to my house to talk, to play, to drink a little red wine. He is passionate about jazz, an energetic communicator, and has a low tolerance for bullshit.
I knew Bill personally, had rehearsed with him, seen him perform and our session was more like hanging out than a formal interview. We swapped stories, exchanged histories, talked politics. We laughed. And I also got a lot of great material.
This was a casual situation, but still I inserted myself too often. This I realize flies directly in the face of my assertion that I’m not comfortable talking about myself. (Consistency: the hobgoblin of little minds.)
Rebecca Martin with husband, bassist Larry Grenadier
Rebecca Martin, Larry Grenadier, Gretchen Parlato, and Taylor Eigsti the morning after their gig at the venerable Club Passim in Boston – the first time all four shared a stage.
And it was incredible.
I’d done my homework, read the bios, listened to their music and that morning at the restaurant of the Tria Hotel in Cambridge I was ready, though concerned about the setting. It was a lively session. Each brought something unique to the discussion – all were engaging, enthusiastic, intelligent and opinionated.
Gretchen Parlato, vocals
Back at home, I began to transcribe the recording, but it was taking me forever so I passed it along to a professional.
It took her forever, too. The ambient restaurant sounds – silverware, piped in muzak, people laughing and talking at nearby tables, and an intermittent triple beep that sounded like a truck backing up a New York street – were incessant and grew louder over the course of the interview.
Taylor Eigsti, piano
She does the best she can, but when I get back Judy’s pages, my heart sinks: too many sentences are rife with “unintelligible.” During certain back-and-forths she reverts to MALE and FEMALE, unable to recognize the speaker. So I plod through the pages filling in the blanks where I can. And I wince at how many “you knows” and “uhs” are peppered throughout my speech. Get to the point, Marty!
Interviewing in a crowded restaurant – though there was no alternative – and my own Valley Girl delivery. Gag me.
(video: Gretchen Parlato on vocals, Taylor Eigsti on piano)
Kevin Kanner, drums
Kevin Kanner, Dan Schnelle, Nick Mancini, and Ham Price at the Blue Whale. A vibrant group: funny, open and willing to say anything. Since it was laced with obscenities (my own included), I decided to hand the recording over to Marika (see her transcription-blues entry, Sep 27th), rather than to Judy – a lovely, gracious woman whom I didn’t want to offend.
Dan Schnelle, drums
We met in the club before opening, Joon Lee, the club owner had turned off the sound system, the staff tip-toed around us, but despite all the consideration, Marika encountered many of the same problems as Judy.
Hamilton Price, bass
But noise wasn’t the over-riding problem on this one. Yet again I’m chagrined to discover that I talk more than I think I do. Marika IMs me with questions about who said what AND tells me that often I’d ask a question and then answer it myself.
She found this quite amusing. Me… not so much. Clearly I was trying to prove myself to these young dudes, demonstrate my hipness.
My showing off.
(video: Nick Mancini on vibes)
Gerald Clayton, piano
Pianist Gerald Clayton in the green room of the Iridium. Gerald was on the gig with the legendary drummer, Al Foster, sax great Chris Potter and the wonderful Doug Weiss on bass. Gerald and I were to meet an hour before down beat. When I got the club (drenched), I was taken aback by the fact that a big private party was in full swing – young waiters in 50s costumes, hitting the mic to belt out one golden oldie after another.
Gerald arrives and leads me to the green room where we settle in as an off-key rendering of “I Will Survive” blasts through the closed door. Soon the rest of the band files in, unclear why there’s an interview going on in their space. This won’t do. The manager of the club guides us to an empty hallway behind the kitchen, finds us two folding chairs and we happily continue the interview in relative peace.
The one-on-one is much easier, particularly with such an amiable, thoughtful, hugely talented subject.
Instead of hailing I cab, I trudge – in heels – 35 blocks to the Iridium in steamy 80 degree weather and a light but insistent drizzle. The rest of the obstacles – singing waiters, slightly put upon band members – were overcome.
(video: the Gerald Clayton trio)
Bill Cunliffe, piano
Grammy winning pianist, Bill Cunliffe, Luther Hughes, official bassist for Star Trek’s “Deep Space 9” and Paul Kreibich, a very in-demand LA drummer who has toured with Ray Charles, Carmen McRae and other giants.
We met after their concert CSUF at the very conveniently located Marriott.
Paul had suggested we chat at the Marriot bar, but I decided to ask the concierge to schlep two more chairs up to my room – no ambient noise this time. We talked until 1:00 AM.
Paul Kreibich, drums
Four hours of sleep the night before and eight hours on the road the day of – arriving depleted and running on fumes. And because I talked too much at other sessions, perhaps I inserted myself not enough this time, overcompensated with too little. But they were great!
So…will it get easier? Yes, I have a learning curve. I’m meeting with Shirley Biagi, an expert on the interview process, and I’m reading her book. And I know that my innate knack for drawing people out (ask anybody!) coupled with my passion for jazz and its practitioners will win out.
I know it.