Boz Scaggs The New Jazz Thing Interview

The New Jazz Thing Radio Interview - 2003

Boz Scaggs Interviewed by Vince Outlaw

Vince: We have a guest on the line from San Francisco, Boz Scaggs

Boz Scaggs: Yea

Vince: Boz, are you there?

Boz: Yea, hey!

Vince: Hey, how ya doing Boz?

Boz: I'm doing great. How are you?

Vince: I'm doing real well. Thanks for hanging out with us this evening. Did you dig the Grant Green there?

Boz: I was just diggin it. That goes back a ways, doesn't it?

Vince: It sure does, 1963. Is that kind of music that you like and you kinda grew up on?

Boz: I was in the third grade then; yea, I was groovin hard in the third grade.

Vince: Thats excellent. Boz is hanging out with us for a few minutes this evening. And we're going to talk about his new disc, But Beautiful; some of the live dates he's got coming up including the Playboy Jazz Festival this weekend. So hang out with us Boz. We're going to do a couple of messages and talk jazz with Boz Scaggs right here on The New Jazz Thing at

Yeah... Right here at Jazz88 and The New Jazz Thing at If you go out there to the website and click over to The New Jazz Thing tonight, there is a live discussion going on with some of the Boz Scaggs Yahoo Group fans out there who are checking us out via web cast from all over the world and hanging out online with us

Steven Graybow in a new Netscape Music News column says; With much of the music industry geared toward the adolescent set, one has to wonder where new music targeting adults will come from in the future and what will become of the artists and fans who came of age during the past few decades? One of those artists is Boz Scaggs, who mid-70s albums, Slow Dancer and Silk Degrees, placed jazz influenced sophistication within the context of rock and blues. Now the singer has fully expressed his jazz leanings on; But Beautiful; a collection of standards that bows on Scaggs' own Gray Cat imprint. Boz Scaggs is also playing at the Playboy Jazz Festival this weekend and in other places. Coming into San Diego sometime later in the year. Its a pleasure to welcome Boz Scaggs to The New Jazz Thing

Vince: Hello Boz. How ya doing?

Boz: Yea, I'm doing fine, thanks.

Vince: Excellent. Thank you for hanging out with us this evening.

Boz: Its my pleasure.

Vince: The new disc. In an article on Calendar Live, you said, I'm going to be around this music for awhile. I love its melodic and harmonic qualities, and its going to impact what I sing and what I write. The door has been opened.

Thats pretty energetic sounding for a new disc. How has all of this impacted the standards that you´re doing now? How are they challenging everything you’ve done before and how is it impacting how you're playing, how you're hearing music?

Boz: Well, as a singer, its pretty challenging to take on these beautiful songs in the context I'm doing it. The record was made with a four-piece (quartet) so there's no background singers to hide behind, no strings, no horn sections; nothing. Its just the four guys and me, so it puts a lot of; you know; as a vocalist, you're hanging out there doing; well, a lot of little decisions to make. I think it´s been very challenging to find my way through some of this work and I guess as with anything, when you put some work into it; its something that you're; probably gonna; it has its rewards. I think whatever I do with my music for the rest of my life, I'll be influenced by this work that I'm doing with these standards and in this context.

Vince: Is it the music of these standards, the original arrangements or is it the lyrics that are the challenging part that kind of take you and teach you something and change you? It sounds like it´s a little of both.

Boz: When we were going through the books and choosing the material to record, you try to find (in terms of the lyrics) you try to find something that you can kind of relate to. A lot of these things were written for shows and movies in the thirties and forties, and they don't necessarily have the same kind of expression that contemporary music has. Or the kind of music that I write myself, so some of the lyrics are kind of tough to sing. They just kind of express an emotion that comes from another time and from another place. So, yea, you sort through things that you can and cannot feel comfortable singing about. Number two; its just the challenge of the music itself. They're called standards because they have been around for a long time. There's a lot of different ways to interpret them and I think its one of the things that has let them stand the test of time; is that all sorts of vocalists and all sorts of instrumentalists can use this material and adapt it to their own style. So its that; trying to find your own voice, and try to find your own style within these songs that is the real challenge.

Vince: From his disc But Beautiful, we were listening to "Easy Living"

That's such a nice version of that tune and it really does focus on your voice. I was reading somewhere at some point in your career you decided to put the guitar second and the voice first and this seems to be kind of a columniation of some of that, where your voice is so out front on these tunes. Is that a true thing? And why did you do that?

Boz: I came up with a rhythm and blues background and I feel comfortable playing sort of basic bluesy stuff or electric, well, rhythm guitar is mostly what I do. In this field, quite frankly, its beyond me. I just never really studied the guitar so doing the standards is not what I do, really. I do other work in the blues vein, in the R&B vein where I do play and I play mostly on my other recordings but for this one; this is a vocal work.

Vince: Was there a point in your career where you said, maybe the vocal career is my meal ticket and not the guitar?

Boz: Not really. Its just whatever lends itself to me musically. I didn't make any decision that I wasn't going to play any guitar anymore. I'm probably playing more guitar now than I´ve ever played, really. So, no, I never made any decision not to play guitar or to feature my voice; its just the way it came out. I'm probably a more versatile singer than I am a guitar player.

Vince: I wanted to talk a little bit about some of your jazz roots and where you were introduced to jazz. In an interview you said, I've had a flirtation with this music since my earliest years, because I grew up in a household where my parents listened to jazz. What were some of the things that you remember from some of that early music that you were listening to, that your parents exposed you to?

Boz: My parents really did not listen to jazz. That must have been a little misinformation. They listened to the music that was contemporary to them and they listened to lite classics like Gershwin, and Leonard Bernstein and show tunes. There were some I guess would be considered a form of jazz. There use to be these records put out; Jackie Gleason did a series of things in which he'd feature standards with orchestrations. For instance, there was one where he featured Bobby Hackett, the great trumpet player. Which is about as close to jazz as I got from my parents. And when you mentioned that, I’m thinking of the first jazz album I ever got my hands on. I don't know where I got it or how. It was called The Playboy Jazz Poll All Stars 1958; and I guess I got that when I was about 14 years old. It was about a four record set; four long-playing record set that had all the winners of the Playboy jazz poll, which they use to have annually and it featured the readers of the magazine voting on their favorite jazz artists. It featured the favorite trumpet player, guitar player, and baritone saxophone player and vibes and so on and so forth. I must have worn that record out. You know how it is when you are a kid, everything sticks and you're sort of avidly interested, in love with all the stuff that you've got at that time. I probably had six records, but I had that collection and I kind of wore it out. I heard a variety of things at an early age.

It was a few years later when I went off to school that I met other people. Particularly, some kids from New York and Chicago who knew jazz. There was jazz around. I went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, so there were kids from Chicago and from New York who had more experience and knowledge in the jazz idiom. So I got turned on to a lot of stuff when I was about seventeen, eighteen years old. I started exploring more and over time; I was lucky I was of an age for the first time I went to New York, when I was nineteen, I got to see some of the classic great jazz names while they were still around and active at the time. Its just been a part of my life. I probably have more jazz records than anything else. I've never; as I say and as you mentioned earlier, I'm not a jazz player, I'm not a jazz singer, but I have had an ongoing love for this music.

Vince: Who are some of your favorite jazz artists or some of your favorite jazz albums? You know, I have some of mine that I always go back to. There are Duke Ellington's moods discs and there are other things that I always go back to. Are there ones that you always go back to or there artists that in particular inspire you?

Boz: I have one of those disc players where you can put in fifty of your favorite, actually its a hundred stack disc player and I've just filled that up with some of my jazz CDs. I think mostly, I'm a keyboard guy, I'm a piano guy.

Vince: Its that melody thing.

Boz: Melody and the harmonic, the cordal structures; I get all the information. I like the sound of the piano. So its Bill Evans, Red Garland, and Brad Mehldau, McCoy Tyner, Wynton Kelly, Herbie, Chick Corea, Horace Silver is one of my great favorites. Joe Zawinul, I've always loved. And I like the “Great” guys; Art Blakey, and of course, Miles, and John Coltrane. The great guys are always in there.

Vince: You were in San Francisco in the late sixties, early seventies, when things were really kind of going in many different directions, including jazz. Jazz was kind of forming with rock; there were some fusion things. Was there anything from that era that kind of caught your eye, caught your ear, turned you on?

Boz: Well, I guess at that time I got to see Miles, I got to see McLaughlin's Group. There was that fusion going on and a lot of it was coming out of San Francisco and of that scene. Also, at about that time, mid-sixties, I happened to have friends and spent time in Chicago and got to hear the great Miles Davis Quintet with Ron Carter and Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Wayne Shorter. It was just around at that time and if you were interested in music, particularly this kind of music, it was a great time to be a part of it. And of course when you hear it, if you have some appreciation or even if you don’t, you can't help but be touched by it if you're in the same room with that kind of energy and that kind of incredible musician.

Vince: You're now playing some dates. You just got back from Japan and you've got some upcoming dates where you're playing with this band and these tunes. Can you tell folks some of the places you’re going to be playing and what they can expect from the shows?

Boz: This month we're playing the Playboy Jazz Festival in L.A. at the Hollywood Bowl, thats this Saturday night. We're playing the Aspen Jazz Festival next week. We just did a month in Japan at four of the Blue Note Jazz Clubs. Then July is a two and a half weeks, actually about three weeks of dates in the European Jazz Festivals. And then we plan to come back and start touring the States, starting the end of September. That will be October and then back to Europe. And then we'll end up in December in New Zealand and Australia. So, I'm trying to play as much as I can with this quartet. I'm enjoying myself immensely, and I just asked my manager to just book me as much as we can get. I wanna work with it. Its going to be a busy year.

Vince: Thats the way that you really get to explore the music, is by doing it live, night after night too.

Boz: That's the key.

Vince: Were you happy with how the dates in Japan went?

Boz: I don't think I've ever spent a happier month. I also haven't worked so hard; I think; ever. The idea was just to get in there, as you say, just to play as much as we could possibly play and get in as deep as we could with this material. We were doing two shows a night, five and six nights a week. All in all, we did forty two shows in twenty eight days.

Vince: Wow, that's a lot of nights.

Boz: That's a lot of nights. And a lot of work. Every show, every night, every song was an experience and different. It was just one of the greatest musical experiences I've ever had.

Vince: Do you think that's because you're playing these tunes, these jazzy tunes... tunes that you can do something with; that they are exciting every night and you get to do something different with them?

Boz: That's exactly why. Every set, every song is a different approach. That's not untrue of other music that I do but in this context, with these players, its truly different every night. Depending on the night, the feel, the audience, its always going to be different.

Vince: Are you actually picking different tunes for the sets, for each set?

Boz: I guess we had about thirty songs in our song list. And we were doing an hour and fifteen, an hour and thirty minute sets. And yea, we would maybe do; there'd be five songs common to the first set and the second set. The rest of them, we could mix up. We started out with set lists and after a week or so, we started just calling songs on the stand.

So there was just a spontaneity that started to really be a part of what we were doing. Its just a very free and open feeling for me. Its really different than anything I've done before.

Vince: Man, that sounds pretty darn jazzy to be calling the tunes on the bandstand?

Boz: If you can tune into it, its a great feeling. You just sort of ride a wave. You get into the energy of the crowd, the energy of that night and you sort of have a feel for what you wanna do next; and its nice to turn around to the piano player, the drummer and say; What do you feel like?; and somebody says; That?; And you say; oh yea; count it out, count it off, and you go. Its a nice feeling and I think if you can get to that, it gives the audience a little more sense that they're a part of something that's really happening.

Vince: Its kind of like being a DJ.

Boz: There ya go. You know the feeling.

Vince: You get to play your tunes.

Boz: You know the feeling.

Vince: Exactly.

Vince: Are you doing any of the tunes from your career. Some of those tunes in a different way, on the live dates?

Boz: We are. We've reworked some of the songs. Some songs have just lent themselves to this quartet. So we do those and I think the audience appreciates hearing something that might be more familiar and expected of me.

Vince: Has any of your old songs; and ya know I just mean that age-wise; do any of those songs have they kind of jumped out at you and you thought,; Wow, I never thought I'd do it that way; or its kind of really opened up for you?

Boz: I never thought I'd do any of them this way. Or never occurred to me really. But some songs they lend themselves. I think a lot of people know me for the song “Lowdown”. And its a song that I've done with every band, every configuration. In all sorts of show configurations that seems to keep working for me. And it, for instance, works in this context. In a different way, but its working for us.

Vince: So the subtitle of the disc is; “But Beautiful Standards Volume I” so is there Standards Volume II? And then, one of your fans out there on the Internet has asked if there are any plans to do anything with a different band. Maybe even a full orchestra?

Boz: I haven't really. I think it would be one step at a time. But I knew after I'd made the first one, that I was going to continue doing this. And I will, for my own pleasure. I will continue to record this stuff. I have a studio. I have a number of musicians to work with. The next step is probably just to continue with some of the work that we've started. As I mentioned, we were working with a song list of about thirty songs.

We worked up some more up-tempo material for the live thing and that would be, you know the start, probably; for the next volume. I'm sure I'll continue to do that. As far as doing it with an orchestra, I don't know, I don't think I would. I'm not thinking right now that that's something that I would do with this material. I find it more challenging and more suited to the way I hear this music in this more intimate context.

Vince: I really appreciate you hanging out with us this evening and talking about jazz and the directions that you're exploring with this music. I wanted to leave with another tune from “But Beautiful” and see if you can tell us a little bit about it. Its the tune “Never Let Me Go”.

Boz: This is a song I first heard in; it was an English movie called, “The Servant”. Dirk Bogarde was the star and James Fox, I think, was the co-star. It was, probably a movie made in the sixties in England and for some reason, I became attached to it. One of those films that I’ve seen over and over and over. The theme of the film was; never let me go. It was done in sort of a very dark, haunting way, with a tenor saxophone, I think. So, I’ve known the melody for a long time and it was just one of those songs that popped out of the song book as one that we might try. It worked, we kept it, gave it a little bit of a Latin feel? and there you have it.

Vince: Right on! Well, thank you again for hanging out with us this evening, Boz. Good luck and continued explorations of the jazz vein. I wish you best in all of that.

Boz: Thank you very much. It’s been nice talking to you.

Vince: Boz Scaggs has a new disc out. Its called “But Beautiful”. He’s going to be playing at the Playboy Jazz Festival and other places, including Humphrey’s later in the year. So you’re going to get a chance to see him there. From his disc “But Beautiful”, the composition, “Never Let Me Go”.

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