Smitty: Well, it’s certainly a pleasure to welcome to Jazz Monthly one of the most distinctive voices in music, period. He is certainly a child of the cool school. He’s got a wonderful vibe and a wonderful new record called Rendezvous in Rio. Please welcome the fantastic Mr. Michael Franks. Michael, how ya doin’?
Michael Franks (MF): Good. Thanks, Smitty.
Smitty: All right. So let’s see, man, you’ve got this great new record and you had some great cats in the studio with you. Talk about that experience because I know we’re gonna talk about the record, but I wanna talk about what took place making this record, it had to be really cool to be in the studio with some of these great cats.
MF: Well, I started writing it in the fall and started thinking about producers and musicians, and I’ve always had the luxury since my first couple of records at Warner Brothers, of kinda choosing producers and choosing players, and most of the time having my wishes fulfilled, so it was kinda the same process this time. I hadn’t made a studio record in a while and of course there were some favorites of mine that I wanted to work with again in the category of producers. So I spoke to them and then we would then try to cast the material for each producer and then together we would decide on the players.
Smitty: Very cool. Well, you guys made some great decisions because when you think about working with Jeff Lorber, Jimmy Haslip, Russell Ferrante, and Chuck Loeb…how could you go wrong?
MF: (Laughs.) Well, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with those guys, that’s true.
Smitty: Absolutely, man. Now, you studied literature and music in college.
MF: I never studied music ever, unfortunately. I studied a lot of literature and some comparative literature. I think I might’ve taken one class when I was an undergraduate at UCLA on the history of jazz, which was really interesting, but never, I mean, I thought it was kind of a class that was open to non-music majors, so I didn’t really learn any music in it, but I certainly got to listen to a lot of great stuff.
Smitty: (Laughs.) Yeah. So, you know, talk to me about how you have melded literature into your music, how much literature plays a part in your music.
MF: Well, I think it does. I used to wonder when I first started out, how it could be an asset, but I think in retrospect if I think about all the years I’ve been doing this, it’s been a great advantage to know something about modern English poetry, modern American poetry, for example, and to kind of pick up certain ideas about language when you study literature that I don’t think you probably would otherwise acquire, and though sometimes when you’re actually in the student phase of it, it can be kind of, you know, a little laborious. (Both laughing.) It’s been a real advantage for me over the years to just try to use some of that energy and language in my lyric writing, and my fans, bless their hearts, have kept me employed all this time doing that. So I’ve been able to kinda pursue that idea.
Smitty: Well, you’ve got a wonderful fan base because everyone’s excited about this new record coming out on the 27th of June and I know I’m totally diggin’ the record.
MF: Oh thanks.
Smitty: Yes, man. Talk to me about the title Rendezvous in Rio. Was there some history there?
MF: I’ve always wanted to go back to Rio. I was actually only in Brazil once, which always disappoints people, but I was only down there one time. I came down at the suggestion and invitation of Antonio Carlos Jobim to work on my second record for Warners, which we recorded in the summer, I think, of ’76, and that was the only time I was ever down there. I’ve always kind of fantasized about going back and this particular melody was actually written by Charles Blenzig, with whom I work on the road because he’s my musical director on the road, and I’ve worked with Charles for about 16 years now.
MF: And he came up with this tune which he had recorded on a record of his own and I said “Wow, that is a great thing and it’s so kind of upbeat and happy” and I said “I think I’m gonna sit down and try to write lyrics for this with your permission.” He said “Oh yeah, please do” and the result is “Rendezvous in Rio.”
Smitty: Yeah, man, it’s a great tune. And I must say I love “Scatsville.”
MF: Me too, thank you.
Smitty: That is a kickin’ tune.
MF: Well, there is some actual anecdotal history in that one. I did a blindfold test with the late Leonard Feather way back in the mid-seventies, and he played me a bunch of interesting stuff, but he played me Mel Torme, who was singing, I think it was kind of a medley of “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “You Are My Sunshine,” and somehow….I mean, I love the Stevie Wonder part of it, but there was something so kind of loungey about the way it was done. Even though Mel Torme was a great singer, had a great instrument and could do anything, really, and always sang in tune that I ever heard him sing, he was always like perfectly in tune. But he was doing a lotta scatting in this particular medley that Leonard Feather played for me on my blindfold test, so actually I was able to identify Mel and the tunes and all that, but I made some kind of a comment which ended up in Downbeat when he actually wrote the article, and it seemed sort of disparaging. It was about scatting and so since then I’ve always kidded around with people and said that the 11th commandment for me was “I shall not scat” and that I never have really done any scatting or ever been inclined to….