See and hear Carmen
Interview by Art Taylor
Film, Television, Radio
Friends and Fans
COMMENTS BY FRIENDS AND FANS
ALAN & MARILYN BERGMAN,
Listening to Carmen sing "I Have the Feeling I’ve Been Here
Before," you know she’d been there… and back! In that great, dark, pitch
perfect, all-knowing voice of hers, she told stories with every song. She
was a joy to composers and lyric writers alike – mining, digging deep into
the pitiful humor of it all. We miss her and her midnight phone calls that
always started in a profane mid-sentence!
Carmen recorded several songs with lyrics by the award-winning writing
Faraway Forever (Love Theme from "The Getaway"), I Have the Feeling I've
Been Here Before, I Will Say Goodbye, Like a Lover. The Trouble With Hello
Is Goodbye, What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life, and Who Gave You
MELANIE BERZON, program director, KSCM
It's hard to pick a "favorite" Carmen McRae recording...there are soooooo
many I cherish. But if i HAD to...I guess it would be Carmen McRae at the
Great American Music Hallbecause it has a KILLER rendition of the Bill
Wither's touching tune
‘Paint Your Pretty Picture’."
Melanie Berzon is the program director for KCSM radio in San Mateo, which
was named the best
JOHN CLAYTON, bassist, orchestra leader, arranger
Carmen McRae was the first singer that forced me to listen
to the meaning of the lyrics of the songs she sang. She was all about
breathing life into the story, making it tangible. Listen to her classic
recording of "The Man I Love'' arranged by Johnny Mandel. When she sings
"..And he’ll be BIG and strong," she puts so much into the word "big" that
you feel the largeness, the weight. And the next phrase,"the man I love," Is a tender moment. One can feel the love that she has for that man as she
sings the line in a veiled, introverted fashion.
I also remember working with Carmen in a club somewhere and some guy
shouted out the title of some dumb song that he wanted her to sing. He
interrupted the show. She was surprisingly okay about it and explained to
him and everybody, with aggressive clarity, "I only sing songs about
I also remember how shy she was about her own
compositions. I had to twist her arm to get her to sing her tune, 'Dream of
Life' on the recording we made with the WDR Big Band. It’s a good tune
(Billie Holiday did it. That was something that Carmen WAS proud of) and I’m
so pleased that she consented to do it.
My time with Carmen was pivotal for me and my
understanding of great songs and great singing.
John Clayton is one of jazz’s premier bassists,
having received 6 Grammy nominations. He is the founder (with drummer Jeff
Hamilton and brother, reed player Jeff Clayton) of the Clayton-Hamilton
Orchestra, and has arranged and conducted for such notable artists as Diana
Krall, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, as well as Carmen McRae. He played on
Carmen’s Live at Birdland (1987) and conducted on her CD Dream of
ROGER KELLAWAY jazz pianist,
When I was a teenager first listening to Jazz, two of my favorite singers
were Sarah Vaughn and Carmen McRae. What set these singers apart from the
rest was that they both played the piano. Therefore, they were able to
explore the melodic content of songs at a deeper level.
I was working on a melody in 1968. As I composed, I realized that
the third phrase* of this tune would only be sung correctly by a singer with
an exceptional musicality. On the top of the page I wrote, "Song For
Then in the early 70's Alan and Marilyn Bergman created lyrics for
the song, now titled "I Have The Feeling I've Been Here Before." Carmen
wanted to record it, so it was included in the "I Am Music," LP, which I
produced. I wrote the chart for Stereo Left/Right String Quintets + Rhythm,
Harp and Percussion.
Every so often I play this track and delight in what Carmen
and I and the Bergmans accomplished.
Eternal thanks, Carmen!
*The phrase is "And though the view's been twice as clear before." The
same melodic "challenge" occurs on "The times I thought I had it all
Roger Kellaway has had a distinguished career as a pianist, arranger
and composer, playing for such jazz giants as Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, Ben
Webster, and Sonny Rollins; serving as music director for Bobby Darin and
touring with Joni Mitchell; and composing film scores for The Paper Lion
(1968) and A Star Is Born (1976), among others.
MUNDELL LOWE jazz guitarist
Of all the girl singers I played with, and
that includes Ella and Sarah and all those gals, Carmen was the most musical
for me because if the piano player didn’t play the right stuff, she would
sit down and play it herself. I made an album with Carmen and she played
piano on some of the tracks and they were very good. Yes, of all the girl
singers I ever worked with, she was the most musical.
Mundell Lowe has had a rich career as a guitarist, educator and
composer. He began performing in New Orleans in the late 30s, continued on
through the Swing Era playing with the Ray McKinley and Benny Goodman bands
and became known in later years as a suberb cool-jazz guitarist. He has
composed many scores for film and television. He played with Carmen on her
first album (Stardust) and several of her early recordings.
MARK MURPHY, jazz singer
"I first met Carmen at Milt Gabler’s office at Decca where she was
searching for a commercial but good pop song to record like Ella did. Then I
caught the brittle side of her at Basin St East. A few years later in LA she
sang opposite Lennie Bruce at Gene Norman’s club on Sunset. And more years
later in London at Ronnie Scott’s, she was so nice to me and a galfriend who
dug Carmen when she invited us back stage. And the last time I saw her was
in the lobby of the Maksoud Plaza Hotel in Sao Paulo.
One of my fondest memories was when Shirley Horn brought Carmen to
see me at the old One Step Down in DC and came back stage to say how much
she dug me and the trio.
Carmen had a natural affinity for singing Latin beats. In Heat
Wave with Cal Tjader, listen to her rendition of "Besame Mucho." Her
reading is remarkable. In Latin tunes, you normally front phrase, but Carmen
was a powerful back phraser. She put her own stamp on the song, as she did
with everything she sang.
Mark Murphy, a six-time Grammy nominee, has enjoyed a prolific
40-year recording career, with over 40 releases to date. He has been called
by Rex Reed "arguably the best male jazz singer in the business."
BOB PARLOCHA, syndicated jazz programmer
My favorite Carmen McRae recording is The Great American
Songbook, but it's the vinyl version. I know that sounds odd, but
there's logic here that I will explain. I first caught Carmen live at the El
Matador in SF's North Beach in the 60's. After gladly paying the door fee, I
was told that there was a two drink minimum and I must purchase both drinks
at the same time. The policy eventually became common practice, but this was
my first encounter with it and I was very annoyed, as were most of the
jazzers in the audience. But Carmen came on and addressed the policy with
sardonic wit and eventually had us eating out of her hand, as the saying
Carmen's rap with her audience was nearly as entertaining as
her singing. Now when Atlantic issued The Great American Songbook on
CD, they condensed material from two vinyl discs to one CD. While that
rhythm section is totally in sync and the music is superb, they cut out her
rap, which is so smooth that I've recommended this recording for aspiring
singers who want to know how to deal with an audience. For example, as a
prelude to "The Ballad Of Thelonious Monk," which rhythmically and lyrically
has a country western theme, she assures us that if there is any possible
way for Monk to reincarnate, there is no way he would come back as a cowboy.
We do know that Carmen was a sexually liberated woman, and she remarks that
she considers herself as an expert on love, but intimates that if we come up
with something new she'd "be willing to try it."
Her introductions of the band members were always hip,
and gave the listeners that she was giving them inside information. But the
music here is also terrific. Her groove with the rhythm section on "Day By
Day" and "I Thought About You" are lessons in themselves, and the ballad
medley is gorgeous. Many of Carmen's recordings contain fine singing tracks,
but when they caught her live, the Jazz singing was more evident and The
Great American Songbook catches her at her best. Of course, if you can't
find it on vinyl, the CD still rates as one of her best.
Bob Parlocha, former host of San
Francisco’s now-defunct KJAZ, has a syndicated radio show, “Jazz With Bob
Parlocha.” Website: jazzwithbobparlocha.com
JAZZ SINGER REBECCA PARRIS WITH
Carmen McRae has been an inspiration to me from the first moment I heard
her sing. We became friends, lucky me, and I was sent to heaven when she
pulled me aside once to say that one of my albums was in her "road
collection" and I needed to know how important her listening choices were to
her away from home.
Carmen, although always accepted as a total musician, was a
consummate storyteller with an uncanny ability to infuse any emotion into a
lyric. Her phraseology was based on the sentence or the whole thought rather
than a bunch of strung together musical progressions. One of my favorite
examples is a line in "The Visit" on the Heat Wave album with Cal
Tjader – an exquisite mind picture of "your long hands scratching, searching
leaving marks on my lonely arms."
Rebecca Parris has been performing jazz since the mid 80’s, having
recorded over ten CDs. She is known for her swinging style and her
McRae-like respect for lyrics.
ROBERT RICHARDS, artist/ illustrator, friend and fan
Carmen was formidable...a lady of moods as varied and unpredictable
as the weather, stormy to occasionally sunny and warm. I'd known her
for many years and, like most of her acquaintances, I always waited for
her to make the first move. Approaching Miss McRae could be a bit
precarious. BUT....on the stage....MAGIC! I never missed an opportunity
to hear her.
One evening, after a particularly stunning set at the Blue
in New York, her manager Larry Clothier came to my table (yes, I was
staying for the second show) and told me Carmen would like me to come
to her dressing room. I was apprehensive but up the stairs I went.
She was alone....smoking. She invited me to sit and was quiet for a long
moment - then - "I just want you to know that I appreciate your loyalty and
enthusiasm over all these years and that it always makes me happy to see
you in the audience. Thank you. That's all. I just wanted to thank you."
The next night she collapsed between the first and second
shows. She never
sang in public again.
Illustrator Robert W Richards has published a book of drawings, Allure.
RUBIN, jazz singer who recorded a tribute to Carmen
One of my favorite releases by Carmen is a big band record
with arrangements done by the great Thad Jones. The CD is called Can't
Hide Love. I love this record because there are some unusual songs on
the CD that in my opinion, only Carmen could pull off.
All the selections are phenomenal, but I remember her saying
that the "aspect of believability" was critical to a singer. She was quite
the actress and advised on occasion that song selection should be based on
personal knowledge and experience as much as possible. I was a very young
singer at the time I heard her say that.
After 25 years of singing professionally, I just recently
started to understand fully what she meant. I feel like I am just starting
to make sense of this thing we call living. She lived a full life and
brought all of that to her music, which made it tangible, believable and
timeless. And it is because of her life and who she was as an artist and a
woman that only she could pull off the poignant "Only Women Bleed" and fool
you with the engaging double entendre on "Would you Believe." I walk with
her always with me.
has been on the jazz scene for over two decades and has several CDs to her
credit, including I’m Glad There Is You: A Tribute to Carmen McRae.
(RCA Novus, 1994).