Jazz Monthly: Do you remember Jack Benny, the comedian… great comedian? Jack Benny had his own radio show, but he had the greatest supporting cast. You know people like: Dennis Day, Don Wilson, and Rochester his valet, and he let them get all the laughs. But guess what, guess what the name of the show was, The Jack Bennie Show. So guess what, Jimmy Sommers, he’s playing, he’s showing that he can play and then some, but he’s letting all of his supporting cast shine too, and that’s such a great thing by you.
JS: No “I” in team right? (Laughing)
Jazz Monthly: And then of course Bésame Mucho, and you know what I liked about this is that the strings were just done so tastefully man and just very classy.
JS: Yeah, you know there’s nothing like that Bossa Nova sound.
Jazz Monthly: Originally Bésame Mucho was originated by Jimmy Dorsey, the Jimmy Dorsey band with Pretty Kitty Callan and Bob Everly. They sang it as a duet and your version is just very hip man… throughout. There’s also a flute solo.
JS: Doug Webb, he’s playing clarinet and flute on this record. He came and he could play everything this guy.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, great player, and just a beautiful arrangement. Then one of my favorites, and you know Jim, when I saw it on the list of songs I said “Alright lets see how Jimmy Sommers is going to approach this one.”
JS: Yeah, I haven’t heard any sax player do it except Gato, you know… and its like, I’ve got to come up with something, and with the strings it’s definitely a different version.
Jazz Monthly: Absolutely, and we’re taking about Europa, we are talking about, cut number five. That’s a good point, you wanted to take a little different approach but still be as I said, “true to the tune, right?”
JS: Exactly, but you know I wanted to change it, kind of hip-up the sound a little bit from Gato’s version, Gato Barbieri… it was very seventies-ish. You know with the Whurlitzer sound and that seventies guitar sound. So I wanted to put it in a true standard form, and I think we came through with it.
Jazz Monthly: You sure did, and you know what I liked about it, and you’re talking about the great Argentinean saxophonist Gato Barbieri and Carlos Santana, of course, wrote it. But what I liked about it was that the opening was so beautiful and lush, and you know what Jimmy, the first time I heard it there was no doubt that these were not synthesized strings man.
JS: No, exactly, that’s something that I definitely took pride in. I had a section in there and they nailed it.
Jazz Monthly: They sure did. In all fairness, there is nothing wrong with synthesized strings; they have their place, but it was so much more beautiful to hear that this was actually a string section, this was the Peter Kent string section Jim?
JS: Yes, they came down and they knocked it out. They were incredible; that’s what they do; that’s what these strings players do. They come in and put their charts in front of them and boom… they nail it.
Jazz Monthly: They sure did, and you nailed it on the sax because, you know, what I can tell Jim is that again, we love Gato Barbieri’s version back in the seventies, but you were deliberately, not trying to scream on Europa. You know what I mean?
JS: I think that’s important, to get that soft breathy sound. You know that’s what I like on that tenor I’ve got. You get that little bit of… you can hear the reed… you know… the spit in the reed. You really feel like you’re there
Jazz Monthly: Good point – and breathy is a good word. You know the next cut man, I was wondering, okay what’s Jimmy going to do with this one. It’s probably the most modern, it IS the most modern of all of them, and of course we’re talking about Norah Jones’ Grammy award winning song Don’t know Why. It’s very dreamy; that’s the best way I can describe that.
JS: it’s like: “where did I come up with this one” out of all of the standards. But, if you think about it, with how many records she’s sold and how big that tune was, it almost is a “standard” when you hear it.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, very well said because you’re right, that could have been a song from the forties or fifties you know.
JS: Yeah its just one of those songs that you hear and you just go “oh wow.”
Jazz Monthly: You know when you played it, Jimmy, I closed my eyes and you played it in a way… I almost can’t describe it… like a heavy eye-lidded way. You know very sensually, again true to the song. Not doing too much, but giving the listener really something.
JS: Yeah, you know it’s definitely cool, I tried to be dreamy, kind of like Norah’s voice, you know.
Jazz Monthly: Well you did, and also we can’t talk about this cut Don’t Know Why without Tommy Morgan on the harmonica – where you went kind of back and forth with him right?
JS: Yeah, you know this guy came in with about sixty harmonicas in a suitcase. Ninety years old you know, he’s played on everyone’s record around the world. It was really a treat. The stories that this guy’s got in his head it’s like “Okay Tommy, funny now enough with the stories, let’s get this done.” (Both laughing)
Jazz Monthly: I wish our readers and I were at the recording sessions. Also, there was very nice percussion on that track by Joe LaBarbara. I don’t know who else was playing on that but it was really laid down, nicely, on Don’t Know Why.
JS: Yeah, it’s all Joe that did that; he definitely laid it down.
Jazz Monthly: You know one of the cuts was Hoagie Carmichael’s Georgia On My Mind, and it really is a hymn to, of course, Ray Charles. But, you know the thing that I was struck by, was that it was the exact same. I’ve got to give you credit and I guess give Bill Cunliffe, the string arranger.
JS: Oh, Bill Cunliffe, he arranged the whole album and what a genius this guy is.
Jazz Monthly: The thing that I was struck by is that he did the exact same string intro as was on Ray Charles’ record decades ago. It just… it totally worked! With you blowing on it, and of course I use the word “honestly,” it really was, Jimmy, an honest salute to Ray Charles.
JS: Yeah, and let me tell you, even Ray Charles’ duets record is unbelievable. What an incredible icon Ray Charles was. Its just incredible; all of those tunes. Jamie Fox did such a good job in that movie and young people have to go and see that movie to know who Ray Charles was because he was something else with what he went through.