What are your memories of recording those three albums for Black Jazz with Doug Carn, because they’ve got a cult following, haven’t they?
Oh do they ever? My goodness! Actually, the songs we recorded on them were our favourite records: songs like ‘Acknowledgement’ from ‘A Love Supreme’ by John Coltrane, and ‘Peace’ by Horace Silver, ‘Search For The New Land’ by Lee Morgan, ‘Contemplation’ by McCoy Tyner. Oh jeez, there were many of them. We thought that jazz was this wonderful genre that everyone should get a message from so we thought if we put lyrics to those jazz classics that a lot more folks would be inclined to get the message because a lot of people enjoy the vocal line. That was our initial purpose. And the rest, as they say, is history (laughs).
Did you regard yourself as a jazz singer at that point in your career?
I had sung so many forms (of music) before that; like gospel and I sang a lot of the major classical arias, the soprano arias from the ‘Messiah,’ and I’d done Verdi and Puccini. You name it… I had done show tunes, because in college I was a member of an ensemble that did show tunes. We were for hire. We sang at banquets and bar mitzvahs actually. I had just done so many genres and engaged in so many different styles but the public knows my first love was jazz because that was the first recording that they knew. It’s hard to pick a favourite style: I love them all. They’re homogenous as far as I’m concerned.
Then in 1974 you joined Duke Ellington…
Yes, he was looking for a high soprano to sing in what was his last spiritual concert. His road manager and his percussionist were from Atlanta and they had heard me sing while I was in college. I happened to be in New York and I was performing with Norman Connors at the time. The percussionist called my house – he had found out where I lived from my mother and they contacted me to see if I could come and audition for Duke. I remember my knees knocking going down the aisle of the church, St John The Divine, in New York, and meeting Duke Ellington and sitting on the piano stool and then singing with him. After that audition he invited me to do his last spiritual concert and then I did dates on the road with him and it was just one of the most valuable and memorable experiences of my entire life. I don’t think I’ve surpassed it. Perhaps I won’t.
What was he like to work with?
It was like your favourite uncle or your grandfather. He was very, very giving with information and he told me about his experiences and it was just one of those experiences that was chock-full of what became precious, precious memories.
What length of time did you work with him?
It was just a few months because they offered me a contract but a friend of my father’s, who was an attorney, read the contract and told my dad to tell me not to sign it. So I left the organisation after that point. Duke was ill during that period because between shows he would have to rest in the dressing room and I would come in and he would tell me to sing very high and very soft, because there is a special kind of control and a special gift that goes with that. He said: “any soprano can sing high and double forte,” which is very loud. He said: “control, control, control,” which is what you need to sing very high and sing in those lofty stratospheres and still control with a pianissimo, which is very soft. So I’ve taken that lesson and I’ve kept it to heart my entire musical life. It served me well.
From there you went on to work with producer Norman Connors on his ‘Saturday Night Special’ LP didn’t you? What was he like to work with?
After I left Doug’s organisation I sat down and wrote the names of the folks and made a list of the people that I’d like to perform with. There was the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Norman Connors. I remember Thad and Mel were going to Russia and I speak Russian so that was exciting but I didn’t have a passport at the time and it was like a week later, so that wasn’t an option. As for Rahsaan. he loved the idea of me singing with him because Doug and I were good friends with him and his wife, Dorthaan – in fact I’m still friends with Dorthaan. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to her a few times in the last couple of years. She still very much involved in the music business. But I really liked the Norman Connors situation. Dee Dee Bridgewater was his soloist at the time and she had recorded I think on his first two albums. His music was transitional music: it was going from strict jazz and making that bridge into jazz fusion. Norman was at the forefront of that with Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith. That whole crew, they were the architects of jazz fusion, so that proved a lot more attractive to me and I had the opportunity to produce the vocals on all the tracks that I did with Norman and when I went with Gamble & Huff I still produced the vocals on Norman Connors’s projects. I produced of the vocals of people like Michael Henderson and Eleanore Mills, singers that came after me. So that was the best decision to go with Norman Connors.
END OF PART ONE.
IN PART TWO, COMING SOON, JEAN CARNE TALKS ABOUT HER EXPERIENCES AT PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL AND MOTOWN.
JEAN CARNE IS DUE TO PLAY AT MILLFIELD’S ARTS CENTRE IN ENFIELD, LONDON, ON THE 22ND AND 23RD OF MARCH AND CONCLUDES HER MINI-TOUR AT NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE ON SUNDAY MARCH 24TH (AT HOOCHIE COOCHIE’S).
FOR MORE INFO GO TO: http://www.shadesofsouluk.com/