"Jazz Monthly.com Feature Interview"
Jazz Monthly: Well, if you want to be physically transported and emotionally moved, you must check out my next guest here at JazzMonthly.com. She’s a fantastic vocalist, she’s a dancer, she’s a singer, an actress, she’s just done so many things with such a great life, and she’s about to release a fantastic new CD. It is called Krazy Love and you must check out this great record. Please welcome the incredible and ever so beautiful, Ms. Luba Mason. Luba, how are you, my friend?
Luba Mason (LM): I am really doing great and that’s Krazy with a K, my friend. (Both laugh.)
JM: That’s right! And that’s a different kind of Krazy too, you know?
LM: Oh, you betcha, you betcha.
JM: I want to say, first of all, with all that you’ve done—and we’re going to talk about a lot of the great, fantastic things you’ve done in your life in music and in theater and TV—I want to say that if not already, with this new record, you have whether you know it or not, confessed to be great.
LM: Wow, thank you, Smitty. I appreciate that very much. I appreciate that. Thank you.
JM: Yes indeed. Now, just going back in time, because I love to relive the past when it’s cool, and you certainly have such a cool past in that as a young person, you started out training in classical voice and piano and dance, talk about how that happened because that’s not something that just happens by chance.
LM: No, it doesn’t. I think what happened is I’m first generation American, my parents are from Eastern Europe, both my parents are musically inclined and have beautiful voices, but because they’re immigrants, they just never pursued their love of music. So therefore they wanted to instill and invest their love of music into their daughters, which is where my journey, my trip, began. So as a young kid, immediately my parents wanted to buy a piano for my sister and I, and the next thing I know, at the age of five, I’m taking piano lessons and I excelled at it.
I trained for 12 years in classical piano, which then led to singing in choirs, because I always loved to sing and belt at the piano and play, and that led to singing lessons, and because I had an older sister who became an opera singer from Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, I was fortunate to start training voice with her teachers from Juilliard and Manhattan School in New York, which then led to my love of musical theater in high school. When I started doing musicals, I just loved the combination of acting and singing and dancing, and wanted to train more in acting because I had no training at that point. I was more musically trained between the piano and the singing and the lessons. So I applied to the NYU School of the Arts and Circle in the Square Conservatory, which is affiliated with NYU, and auditioned for their drama program and got accepted, got a BFA in drama.
LM: At that point, I was also wanting to train in dance and one of my first jobs straight out of college was with the American Dance Machine, which was a dance company, but basically was a living archive of the big Broadway dance numbers. The company would recreate the original choreography of Broadway dancing. And I trained and performed with this dance company for five years. After that I got into my first Broadway show, which was the first of eight or nine, and coming back around to this album, Krazy Love, I basically came back to my roots as a musician. After all these years of training in piano and voice and dance and acting and performing on Broadway, which also led to TV roles and guest roles in film and commercials, my love of music in general, I think my first love has really always been singing and music, which is where I started. I just needed to come back to that. And gosh, I want to continue on this route some more.
JM: Yes, and I can speak for thousands and say we’re glad you are.
LM: Thank you.
JM: Let’s talk a little bit more about some of those wonderful Broadway roles you had. For example, the Will Rogers Follies. For anyone that has seen that, what a fantastic—
LM: It really was a great show. Its creators were Tommy Tune, Cy Coleman did the music, you had Adolph Green and Betty Comden doing lyrics. It was just a fabulous creative team to begin with. It was also my first hit Broadway show. And the whole concept of combining the wit and just intellect of Will Rogers himself with the Ziegfield Follies was, I thought, kind of brilliant. It made for a wonderful Broadway show. The fact that I’m five foot ten, they needed show girls for this musical (both laugh) and it was funny. My first few Broadway shows I was hired as a dancer, not because I was such a great dancer but because most of the dancers—generally dancers didn’t sing as well. They were called dancers who can sing. I was someone who sang really well and could move well and was sort of a dancer. So I think I kind of got into Broadway that way in my first few shows and there was this voice and literally a singing voice inside of me that was singing in the chorus but I just needed to show that I could do more than dance because dance was kind of the least of my talents. However, that show in itself, the experience, was pretty tremendous for me, and that show began to open doors for me in the business because it was such a hit.
JM: Yes, and it won a Tony as well, right?
LM: It won, I think, like five or six Tonys that year, possibly even seven. I mean, I don’t know what the record is. I think The Producers got the record, maybe nine Tonys, but I think that show got about six or seven Tonys. It kind of swept the Tonys that year.
JM: Yes, and Luba, you were not a one-hit wonder either because you had a featured role in Paul Simon’s The Capeman.
LM: Yes, yes I did.
JM: Tell me about that.
LM: Well, that actually came after How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which was my first big role on Broadway as a comedienne starring opposite Matthew Broderick, and that show began to open doors which led immediately into Paul Simon’s The Capeman, which was like THE show of the season. It was planning to be THE show of the season. That show was a turning point for me in many ways because, number one, Paul Simon wrote the show with Derrick Wolcott. The fact that Paul Simon, this pop icon, wrote a show in the medium of musical theater on Broadway and combined the mixture of Latin music, all of a sudden everything kind of started to come together for me as a performer because I came from such a diverse background. I came from classical, I grew up with pop music, I was in the midst of being a Broadway performer and a singer, but he was Paul Simon kind of combining all of these elements that I grew up with. I just loved the idea of having all these elements come together in one medium, which then led to me wanting to do my first album, Collage.
LM: Which was a real eclectic album, but it had all the elements of pop, jazz, folk, with Latin arrangements and rhythms. And also with The Capeman I have to interject was the first time I was exposed to Latin music. I had never listened to any kind of Latin music before.
JM: Did that help you with your dance role?
LM: You know, it’s funny because the only other way I was familiar with Latin rhythms was from my dance training.
JM: How ‘bout that?
LM: Yeah, I could do the samba and the merengue and all of those, but I was familiar with rhythms but I was never familiar with this whole world of Latin music, and it was also that show where I met my future husband, Ruben Blades.
LM: Who all of a sudden, just hanging out with him, he would start playing a whole new world of music that I was never exposed to, and immediately I not only fell in love with him, but I fell in love with the whole new world of Latin music, and that was when I was first exposed to Brazilian music as well. That planted a seed for me, knowing at some point down the line I wanted to do a Brazilian based album of some kind because I just loved Brazilian music. I loved the rhythms, I loved the melodies, and that was my first big turn on, actually.
LM: So yes, that Paul Simon show was quite pivotal for me in many ways.
JM: Yes, and that’s the beauty of the arts. There are so many wonderful directions and so many things that happen that are so cool.
LM: It can be wonderful and beautiful, but at the same time it’s tough in a world where they want to pigeon hole you.
JM: So true.
LM: As a performer, as a singer, even your agents.
JM: Oh yes.
LM: Everyone just wants to kind of put a label on you that you’re this, you sing like this, you act like this, you look like this, and I’ve always been working against that as much as I can because I know I can do so many different things and want to continue.
JM: Isn’t that kind of a unique thing in that in the arts we go into it because of the freedom of it.
JM And we get there and there’s all of these boxes and pigeon holes
LM: Absolutely, and I have to say that was kind of one of the problems I came up against with my first album called Collage because it was a collage of all different styles of music, and it got wonderful reviews and wonderful response, but when it came to marketing it and placing it in record stores or giving it some kind of radio play, I had a lot of problems because it wasn’t just a jazz album, it wasn’t just a pop album, there were some songs that had more Latin influences. I came across a lot of problems with that, marketing it.
JM: And the unique thing of it, I’ve always said, is that the audience want it and love it all, and we want to give them that.
JM: But there’s always those blockades in the middle that try to prevent that from happening, and I think the world would be so much better if we give people what they want, and I think there’s where the freedom is because there’s a freedom of expression, the freedom of acceptance, and the freedom of getting what we want and love and desire, and if we could only find a way to get past that wall of putting people or putting music in categories, it’s amazing.
LM: Yeah, I agree, and I have to point out that it would be great to give your audience what they want, but I still feel true to the philosophy of being true to myself as a creative artist, that I need to create what I want.
LM: And I hope that the audience will love that too.
JM: But that’s the point. Luba, what you do is what we love and if the powers that be would allow you to express yourself, that’s what the audience wants.
LM: Yes, yes, exactly.
JM: And if that could happen it would be so cool, but for some reason there are some people that say no, they don’t want that, without knowing, they feel like they know what the audience wants when they don’t really identify with the audience. It’s an amazing thing.
LM: Yeah, I agree with you a hundred percent. I agree with you.
JM: Yeah, but I didn’t mean to go too far into that.
LM: That’s fine.
JM: But I can’t wait to ask you about your role as Velma Kelly.
LM: Oh, yeah.
JM: In the beautiful musical Chicago you were playing opposite Brooke Shields.
JM: Oh, you gotta tell me about that. That is just gorgeous.
LM: Well, first of all, you had a couple of amazons on stage, that’s for sure. Chicago, how wonderful because of the film, it became quite the hit sensation in the world, so having had the opportunity to be on stage and do it on Broadway was a wonderful opportunity and to be a part of that history. I have to say, it was not only great to be a part of the history of Chicago on Broadway, but to also perform with Brooke Shields of all people. When I heard who my Roxy Hart was going to be, I just flipped. I went “Ain’t that something?” And then the third aspect of that show, which was a real knee buster literally, was I went back to dancing. I hadn’t danced in 15 years and here I was about to embark in a dance show.
Whenever you’re replacing on Broadway, you have two weeks to learn a role, so it’s not like I had months and months to rehearse and acclimate my body back to dancing again. It was like “You’ve got two weeks, jump in and do it.” And it was quite a challenge and I did it with flying colors. I was just proud of that experience alone, that I could get up there and dance a full show six days a week, eight shows a week, and actually we had the killer weekend of performances where you had a show Friday night and then two on Saturday and two on Sunday, and then you had a show on Monday and Tuesday, and we had Wednesdays off.
JM: Wow, that’s like the NFL training camp.
LM: That’s pretty much what it was and they did that because the show could sell better tickets on the weekends, of course.
LM: Generally, Broadway shows have matinees on Wednesdays, but this show in particular, I think because it was more of an adult show, they seemed to do better ticketwise. So anyway, the schedule was killer, but I was really proud of kind of tackling that whole challenge and of course the icing on the cake was it was with Brooke Shields and it was this history-making musical, so it was terrific.
JM: Yes, well, all of that training in those earlier years really paid off, huh?
LM: You bet, you bet. And I do have to say this about Broadway training: there ain’t nothin’ like it out there. I’m telling you, if you could do Broadway, you can do anything.
JM: How ‘bout that?
LM: From doing a music tour, whether it’s worldwide or nationwide to television, I mean, if you can get through a Broadway show, you can do anything. That training is priceless.
JM: Oh, wow, that is so cool. Well, I tell ya, you have had such a stellar life and just a seriously cool career in so many ways and on so many levels, and people have seen you in so many different roles and different places, I think of your TV roles with Law & Order, NYPD Blue, New York Undercover. I mean, you’re just everywhere!
LM: You know, it’s funny because even today….after I did a Law & Order episode, I was a guest star, and they just keep running those reruns and I still meet up with people today, “Oh, I saw you just the other day on Law & Order” and I had filmed that Gosh knows how many years ago, but I have to say I’d love to do more of television and more film too.
JM: It sounds like fun.
LM: Yeah, yeah, it’s great. It’s very different but I’d like to do more of that sometime in the future and it’ll happen.
JM: Yes. Well, I must say that I hope you do more records because when I listened to this CD, Krazy Love, I just fell in love with every song. I kept hitting repeat and repeat and listening to the lyrics. For example, Track 7, This House, which features the great Hubert Laws on flute, I could not help but think of what a perfect marriage of music and lyrics. It’s just exquisite. Your voice just effortlessly rolls right through it and if you’re sitting in an easy chair, you become more easy.
LM: Thank you.
JM: Oh, it’s just a wonderful arrangement of songs and I must tell you, my hat’s off to everyone on your team that had anything—even the guy that went for coffee—there’s congratulations for this record.
LM: Thank you. I definitely want to say in the whole process of this album my hat is off to Renato Neto, who is my key collaborator with this project. He co-wrote some of the songs with me, he played on the album, he co-produced the album with me, and he also did the arrangements. He was so key in guiding me through this album—not to give all the credit away, it was my idea—but he was just so key in guiding me through this album. When I first set out to do this album, I originally, like I said, 10 years ago I had planted a seed….I wanted to do a Brazilian album, and the time had come and yes, I now want to focus my career on music now and I want to do more albums, etc. So it came time to do my second album and I wanted to do this Brazilian album, and it first set out to be an album of Brazilian covers and I was listening to a lot of Rosa Passos and Gal Costa and Chico Buarque and Caetano. I mean, these are all the Brazilian singers and writers.
JM: You do that so good. It just rolls right off.
LM: Well, listen, you know, if I’m setting out to do a Brazilian album, I’ve really got to do my homework and my history, and I really wanted to have the feel, the real feel. I didn’t want to just do an album and fake it, and so like I said, I set out to do an album of covers and my drummer in my last band, you know, I told him about the idea. He was like “When is your next? What are you gonna do?” I said “Brazilian music” and he said “Oh, you gotta do it with this guy. This is the guy.” And he told me about Renato, and just to tell you what a wonderful musician he is, he’s the keyboardist for Prince.
LM: And Prince is, as we all know, he’s quite the musician and he’s quite picky about who he works with, so Renato’s been working with him for I think at least four or five years now. And I met Renato and we set out to just do an album of covers, we picked the songs. I was just so lucky to find him, not only his talent, but he and I just, we had chemistry, it worked, we got along, we worked well together. After we got all the songs picked, I just wasn’t settled, I just didn’t feel like this was the album—this isn’t everything I want on here, and he said “Well, what do you wanna do?”
And I said “Well, I think we need to do something a little different with the sound, we need to maybe write something.” And he goes “Well, do you write?” I said “No.” But being the musician that I am, and yes, I’ve dabbled in it over the years, but I never seriously sat down to write. He goes “Well, you should write” and he said “Maybe next session you and I will write.” Trying to make a long story short, our next session I brought a song, a chorus and two verses. It still needed a bridge. I never finished it. But I came and I played it for Renato at our next session. That song is “A Summer Night.” It’s Track No. 4 on the album.
JM: Yes, oh, it’s a beautiful song too.
LM: I love that song and I played it for him and, mind you, my playing has been rusty, I really haven’t been playing a whole lot, and he just stood there and looked at me and he said “Play it again.” And so I played it again for him and after I finished he said “Okay, that’s really good, Luba. That’s beautiful.” And he said “Let me try playing it” and he started fiddling around and he said “Yeah, you create this tension and then you release it and set the chords and blah-blah-blah,” so he said “Let’s write” and that session we finished that song, and the next thing you know we were meeting and writing.
JM: How cool is that?!
LM: It was a two-year process. It’s not like we worked around the clock 365 days a year for two years. He and I would work for about two months. We would get together every week or two weeks and just work, and then we’d finish and then he’d have to go off and do some work, I went off, I even did Chicagoin the middle of that, then we’d come back maybe three to six months later, and get together for another two months. This is what we did for two years and after the two years we had 10 songs and here’s that album and as I said, I just really lucked out with Renato because he gave me a safe, secure, encouraging environment to write and to create, which I really had never done before. I knew I could do it deep down, but I just never really did it. I guess, the confidence to do it by myself is what he gave me, so I’m grateful to him for that. He got me what I wanted in this album, and every time I’d throw some input in—I want a little bit of this, I want that—I would help in some of the arrangements, he got it. It was quite easy to do this album.
JM: Well, that’s the makings of a great collaboration.
LM: I agree, I agree, and I don’t think it really happens all the time.
JM: No, and count your blessings there because it doesn’t, and when it does, it’s so good, and it’s like you say, it’s so easy that you think that it should always be that way, but no, it’s a true blessing to have that kind of collaboration, it really is.
LM: I agree and I also love the fact that Renato was hip to the music of today. I mean, I set out to do a classic Brazilian album of covers and what it ended up being, I believe, was more of a Brazilian based album with elements of jazz and pop and, I mean, there’s a melody in there in Cut No. 2, “From Me to You.” It has even a little Middle Eastern kind of a lilt to it.
JM: Yes, that’s a slick song.
LM: There’s a lot of different elements in this album, but most importantly, the mood that this album creates—
JM: Yes, the mood and I totally agree with you because that’s the captivation of this album that I love in that once you start down that path on that journey from the first track of Krazy Love with a K. (Both laugh.)
JM: I’m so crazy sometimes.
LM: That’s good…..
JM: ….But that’s the glove that grabs you and just holds you there and want more because when I said that earlier, when you’re in your easy chair and you become more easy, that’s where I was going, and you said it best when you said it’s the mood.
LM: I believe that, that is the end product that really just grabs you of this album. It’s the mood of this album. It just creates this wonderful mood and I have to say again, Renato, he and I had this vision to do this album. He was key in guiding me towards this direction. Someone like myself who has come from such a background of Broadway and classical singing and I’m a belter. For example, my first album….I can sing and do anything, but to condense and come down and sing the way I do on this album, it’s less is more. It was kind of just keying down into the mood of the piece, keeping it up, not getting too depressing or down. It’s just kind of keeping a consistent, tranquil, easy mood in the entire album.
JM: Yes, and I think a special song on here for me—and I know it is for you—is Track 5. “E com esse que eu vou” Yes, please share that experience because there you’re doing a great performance with your sweetheart.
LM: I sure am. (Both laugh.)
JM: Ruben Blades.
LM: Yeah, that song, Renato and I were saying we should have a duet on this album and we’re kind of brainstorming all these people I could do a duet with, people from Brazil, blah-blah-blah, and then it was just one day he said “Well, how about your husband?” (Both laugh.) And I know what a lover of Brazilian music Ruben is and I think one of his alltime dreams was to sing in Portuguese one day.
JM: Oh, nice.
LM: And so Renato and I came up with the idea of—this was one of the covers. It is a cover. It’s written by Pedro Caetano. It’s one of two covers on this album and it was one of the covers that I had originally set out to do at the beginning of the project, and Renato and I figured this was the one that was gonna be the duet but Ruben will sing in Portuguese, I will sing in English.
JM: And it’s a beautiful interlace.…
LM: And it’s called “E com esse que eu vou” and translated it means “And It Is With You That I Go” and we turned it into this kind of flirtatious back-and-forth kind of a song.
JM: Yeah, sort of like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
LM: Sort of kind of, and I have a feeling that when we perform this live, it’s gonna end up being like a 15-minute song. We’re just gonna be adlibbing at the end, just going on, and we had quite a bit of adlibbing at the end but, of course, we had to cut down to the whatever, the three and a half minutes it is.
JM: You guys just behave live, now.
LM: Yes, and, you know, it’s funny. Even just recording it, Ruben had actually recorded his part first, and I was there when he was doing it and I kind of just fed off of him and, I’ll tell you, so many people when they listen to that track they ask me “Who is that? Who’s singing that?” And I say it’s Ruben, it’s Ruben Blades, and they go “What?” Because they’re so used to all of his, you know, that voice he has when he sings the salsa that needs to cut through all the brass and the percussion, and all of a sudden he’s coming down and sexy in Portuguese and kind of screwing with the rhythms and stuff. He’s really just wonderful on that song.
JM: Yeah, it’s a fantastic song.
LM: It’s fun and you sense it when you hear it. When I watch people when they listen to it, they kind of get these little smiles on their faces.
JM: Well, Luba, this is just a fantastic project and it’s emblematic of your great career, it really is.
LM: Thank you. And I have to say this album is kind of a culmination of everything that I’ve done in the past. Not only am I coming back to my roots as a musician, but it has all those wonderful elements of jazz and pop and just whatever influences musically I’ve had in the past. It all comes into this album and this album also represents where I am right now in my life. I’m more mature, I’ve experienced things, I was able to write easier because of that. I’m not 19 and just writing for the first time. I have some life experience behind me and I have something to say. So I think all of that just kind of comes through and I was just so happy to be challenged, that I was able to challenge myself and go to the next level to write in this album. I’m very proud of that.
JM: Yes, you should be because it’s just fantastic, and I want to once again congratulate you, Renato, Ruben, everyone, and we didn’t talk about him, but he’s one of my great friends, and I know you will second this, he’s just a fantastic bass player.
LM: Oh, I was just gonna say before we finish this conversation, we cannot forget Jimmy Haslip.
JM: Yes, and he is a monster musician.
JM: But he’s an even greater person.
LM: I so second and third and fourth that. He is a teddy bear, first of all. He’s just a lovely, beautiful human being, kind and generous.
JM: Yes, absolutely.
LM: In addition to being the monster musician that he is, and he’s just humble that way and how beautiful is that?
JM: I want to be like him when I grow up.
LM: I agree, I agree, and when we did the session, when we were recording, his wife came and made us banana bread that day.
JM: Oh, see, that’s Jimmy and his wife. They’re the coolest.
LM: Yeah, and he brought his daughter with them who they just got a little puppy for her that day. It’s like this is Jimmy Haslip. He’s still like even this family guy, this great guy. And I also want to add, I’m so looking forward to bringing him and Hubert Laws down to Panama to the Panama Jazz Festival in January, where we will be basically launching this CD, so I’m looking forward to that.
JM: So everybody get down to Panama. What’s the release date for Krazy Love?
LM: The release date is January 27th
JM: Mark your calendars for the release of this great record and the festival. The festival is cool and you’re gonna get to see the great Luba Mason with her fantastic band and you get to actually hear this great music that we’ve been talking about for the past few minutes. Luba, we could talk for another four hours.
LM: I think so, yeah.
JM: Because you’re just a beautiful person, a great musician, a great artist, and I just love everything you do, and I want to say keep doing what you’re doing, keep making great music, keep your flava strong, and keep that seriously cool, funky complexion you have about music. I love that.
LM: Thank you, thank you. I know there’s so much of this music out there and there needs to be more as opposed to this just watered down stuff that you hear on pop.
JM: Yeah, absolutely.
LM: It’s unfortunate, but yeah, I think that’s what music is all about. It’s the complexities. It’s all the different elements that you gotta just bring in there and make it really interesting and exciting.
JM: Yeah, then it becomes something that you feel opposed to just hearing. You hear it and you feel it, yes.
LM: Absolutely, absolutely, and it’s very organic that way too, I mean, when it comes from your experiences, your personal experiences.
JM: Yes, Luba, thank you so much for spending such a great block of time talking about your great career, the music and all of the wonderful artists that you have around you, it’s been a pleasure and a treasure, my friend, and have a great time down in Panama.
LM: Thank you. Smitty, thank you so much for your generous time for this interview as well. I appreciate that.