NPR - Boz Scaggs Interview

MICHELE NORRIS All Things Considered (NPR) - October 2003

Boz Scaggs and Eric Crystal discuss Scaggs' new album of jazz standards, "But Beautiful"

Time: 8:00-9:00 PM

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

With his scotch-and-sandpaper voice, Boz Scaggs has spent his career tickling the fringe of jazz while recording more than 20 R&B and pop albums. With his latest release, called "But Beautiful," Scaggs cast himself as a straight-ahead jazz vocalist.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BOZ SCAGGS: (Singing) What's new? How is the world treating you? You haven't changed a bit. Lovely as ever, I must admit.

NORRIS: Several years ago, a friend gave Boz Scaggs a list of jazz standards that he thought the singer should tackle. They were songs sung by some of the great crooners: Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Hartman and Dinah Washington. Although intrigued by the idea, Scaggs tucked the list away. Years later, he joined up
with a jazz quartet and dug out that old list to find a new dimension in his voice.

Mr. SCAGGS: I literally went back into the back pages and found that piece of notebook paper which was written on both sides and filled up and, at this point, crumpled and somewhat stained from age.

NORRIS: This is a collection of songs from the great American songbook, songs that have been performed, recorded, interpreted, reinterpreted several times by some of the best musicians. How did you find your voice in each of these songs?

Mr. SCAGGS: I did it, in general, the way that I work as a songwriter, as a singer, and that is one line, one word at a time. When I'm writing songs, I use a recorder to put my voice into the music. I'll have a demo of the song, I'll sing into it and I'll get ideas as to how the words work with the voice and with the melody.

NORRIS: Do you mind if we listen to one of these songs, and you can tell us what you learned and how you figured out what works and how you wanted to bring meaning to the lyrics and to the music?


NORRIS: I was going to choose one, but I guess I'm wondering if there's one in particular that you would like to talk about.

Mr. SCAGGS: Maybe a good one would be "How Long Has This Been Going On?"

NORRIS: Perfect.

(Soundbite of "How Long Has This Been Going On?")

Mr. SCAGGS: (Singing) I could cry salty tears. Where have I been all these years? I'm, like, Wow, like, tell me now, how long has this been going on?

NORRIS: Now it's interesting with your voice, we almost hear Louis Armstrong in that last note. How did you get to that point? Why did you choose to sing it exactly that way?

Mr. SCAGGS: There are decisions to be made. Do I put a vibrato in that last note? Do I cut it off? Do I do it in what they call a head voice, which is not a falsetto and it's not a natural voice, it's something else, it's another kind of voice? You know, at any given time, you can sort of get out of the dilemma of holding a long note steadily by putting a vibrato in it, and that's what just about everyone does, with the exception of a few, I think, great vocalists.

However, it's the most difficult thing to me as a vocalist to hold the line out without adding tremolo, to hold that note and without flinching, without flaw. So I try to hold them out with a minimum of vibrato. But in a case like this, we slowed the song down to such an extent there are a lot of long notes out there. And you sort of--you finesse them in different ways. If you do a vibrato on one line, you might not want to do it on the next one, because it becomes repetitive and you have to find another way to style it.

(Soundbite of "How Long Has This Been Going On?")

Mr. SCAGGS: (Singing) What a break, for heaven's sake. How long has this been going on?

NORRIS: I'd like to bring Eric Crystal into this discussion now.

Eric, you played saxophone on this recording.

Mr. ERIC CRYSTAL (Saxophonist): Yeah.

NORRIS: There are a few tracks where the vocals and the saxophone really play so well off each other, and I'm thinking in particular of "I Should Care."

(Soundbite of "I Should Care")

Mr. SCAGGS: (Singing) So I should care. I should let it upset me. I should care, but it just doesn't get me.

NORRIS: Eric, there you are as a sort of punctuation.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yeah. Well, part of it is I'm trying to definitely stay out of the way of what Boz is doing and try to fill in some of the cracks between his phrasing, and really just trying to be in the moment and respond to the way he's singing the song and play about how that makes me feel.

(Soundbite of "I Should Care")

Mr. SCAGGS: (Singing) And I do.

NORRIS: These songs were recorded in San Francisco. What was the atmosphere in the studio like?

Mr. SCAGGS: Hmm. Beautiful.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Yeah.

Mr. SCAGGS: It was really nice.

NORRIS: Are there anything that the two of your or that, I guess, the five of you together did in the studio to set the tone? Dim the lights?

Mr. CRYSTAL: We did dim the lights a little, didn't we?

Mr. SCAGGS: Yeah. I think it's a pretty spartan little situation that we get into, because my little studio is not a real official place, and there are cables strewn all over through the doorways and here and there and everywhere. And Eric was in the kitchen, and we have to carefully close the door after the drummer who goes in the next room. And it's not very ceremonious in any way; it's just sort of you get there and do the song and...

Mr. CRYSTAL: Made it more homey, though. It was homey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: It's been great talking to both of you.

Mr. SCAGGS: Thanks, Michele.

Mr. CRYSTAL: Thank you.

Mr. SCAGGS: It's our pleasure to be here.

NORRIS: Boz Scaggs. His new CD is called "But Beautiful: Standards, Volume 1." We were also joined by Eric Crystal, who's the saxophonist on the recording.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SCAGGS: (Singing) So love me tonight. Tomorrow was made for some. Tomorrow may never come, for all we know.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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