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Is Bryan Ferry the Real Great Gatsby? | THE HUFFINGTON POST | By Kristi York Wooten

BY KRISTI YORK WOOTEN | FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST:

He shimmied in shiny suits to the glam rock sounds of his band Roxy Music in the 1970s, brought sexy back with Boys and Girls in the 1980s, and sang breathlessly forlorn versions of 1930s Cole Porter classics in the 1990s. Yet, to no era does Bryan Ferry’s image belong more fittingly than to the 1920s.

Mystery! Tuxedos! Girls in pearls! What’s not to love? Here’s the catch: The Bryan Ferry Orchestra’s brand new monaural recording of Roxy Music and Ferry hits called The Jazz Age is performed by a throwback prohibition-esque combo whose star performer (not Ferry) is a clarinetist. In other words, the entire album contains no vocals. All ye slaves to love who expect a lushly-produced pop record will be forced to imagine yourselves huddled in the corner of a speakeasy with the now 67-year-old heartthrob snapping his fingers to the rhythm rather than singing to you. Without Ferry’s crooning, there’s still much to be desired – including some serious swing up in this joint!

Blatant Fitzgeraldian references abound, so it’s no surprise (and only slightly coincidental) that The Jazz Age makes its debut as a gentle predecessor to director Baz Lurhman’s highly-anticipated remake of The Great Gatsby, which opens the 2013 Cannes Film Festival in May. Ferry says his orchestra, whose arranger and pianist Colin Good deserves primary kudos, also contributed tracks to the film’s soundtrack (along with the likes of Jay-Z and Jack White) and will stage a headlining concert at England’s Love Supreme Jazz Festival in June (there’ll be singing at that gig, don’t you worry).

I caught up with Ferry last week to find out about The Jazz Age and how he put a suave spell on yet another decade (and me). See interview below.

(My article from The Huffington Post points here.)


KW: How will the cozy, mono Jazz Age translate to a large open-air festival stage? Are there plans to intertwine the BFO performance with your usual set – or will those be separate musical transactions? Are there plans for other future performances of the BFO?

BF: Your guess is as good as mine, but I am sure it will work out fine. We will be performing some songs from The Jazz Age album and also other songs from the new tour repertoire. The jazz players in the BFO are extremely versatile, and will work together with my regular band on the non-jazz material. It’s quite exciting to be planning a completely new show – we will be playing many venues throughout Europe until the end of the year.

At what age do you remember being influenced by or smitten with the music of the 1920s? Is there a specific memory you credit for this affinity?

There was a lot of jazz to be heard on the radio in the mid-1950s, and that’s when I was smitten by the jazz bug. I started collecting records and going to concerts, and began exploring the wide ranging jazz canon, from Armstrong to Ayler.

It always amazes me how much the Japanese love jazz, and yet there couldn’t be more physical distance between them and the origins of the music. I use this as an example, because, as someone born and reared in the American South, we have a reverence for the purity of the form’s history, yet an acute awareness that jazz itself is based upon the premise that anyone, anywhere can improvise. What personal research or reflection did you engage in when concepting the BFO record and which compositions to choose? How involved were you in the arrangements and the recordings of The Jazz Age, and at what point did you feel that the record met your standard for “what jazz is”?

I drew upon my own memories of all the early jazz artists I admired, and was very fortunate to have around me a strong team of musicians who live and breathe the music of the 1920s period. It is true that it is an English band, but they do have a very strong feeling for this music which helps give it such authenticity. The last thing one would want to do is offend the spirits of those who marched down Rampart Street…

Some of the tracks on The Jazz Age were quite spontaneous, done in the earthy and straight-ahead manner of Louis Armstrong’s bands in New Orleans. The more arranged songs echo the more urbane sophistication of Duke Ellington’s New York Cotton Club Orchestra. I worked closely on these arrangements with my long-time pianist Colin Good, but all of the band members chipped in with ideas as and when appropriate. It goes without saying that improvised solos are a big part of the success of any jazz record.

As with all things Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry, The Jazz Age’s success may be in direct correlation to its level of proclaimed or perceived glamour. By that, I mean, you’d done vocal standards from other decades, what – in addition to and aside from the music – made the 1920s seem the most glamorous/alluring to you for this project?

Just recently the 1920s does seem to have become once more a rather cool and interesting period. I had found myself in the last few years re-listening to early jazz and re-reading Eliot and Scott Fitzgerald etc., so perhaps there was something in the air… As you know, the Twenties was a rather special era, not only with music and dance, art and literature, but also fashion, architecture, communications and basically the birth of everything modern. Very important also to the mystique of the time is the dark undercurrent of crime (prohibition etc.) which added a certain forbidden flavour.

Why not sing on the BFO record? Do the instrumental versions tell the complete story of the songs without the lyrics?

I had long wanted to make an instrumental album of my songs, where hopefully the melodies I had written over the years could stand alone. This felt like the right time.

Is the record’s monaural recording an artistic snub to the digital age? It certainly sounds cooler, but just wondered if there was ever debate or discussion about how high its fidelity should be?

We recorded the album using vintage microphones, and with the band all playing together in a room, as in the old days. But we had the benefit of modern technology where we could mic the instruments separately with complete hi-fidelity. However, as you say, it did ultimately sound cooler in mono and with a certain degree of EQ distressing to give it a more period flavour. I wanted the finished result to sound like an old record.

Which song is the most successful reimagining on the BFO record? (I like “Just Like You,” “Don’t Stop the Dance,” “This Island Earth,” and “The Only Face” best. “Slave to Love” seemed the most transformed, yet in a fun way that made me chuckle.)

We chose a wide cross section of my songs, from both the Roxy Music and BF solo albums – to give it some variety. I quite liked the idea of it sounding like a compilation album of several diverse bands of the period. My favourite is probably the most recent song, ‘Reason or Rhyme’ from the album ‘Olympia’.

Everywhere I turn, musicians are re-recording and re-arranging their songs. I recently spoke with Jeff Lynne about his redoing all of the ELO songs on an Apple computer in his living room. Then there are even bands like Swing Out Sister, who redid all their hits in a Burt Bacharach-meets-Marvin Gaye vein, and so many others. Now your BFO project. (Craig Armstrong and Jay-Z got the Baz Luhrmann Great Gatsby film soundtrack gig – The Jazz Age would have been perfect for that.) Why not write new songs to be performed in the 1920s style?

I’m glad you think there is an affinity between ‘The Jazz Age’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’… I love the book, and I would like to do more music for films. When I heard that Baz Luhrmann was making a new film version I sent him a copy of my record, which I’m pleased to say he liked. He has in fact used a couple of our tracks in his ‘Gatsby’ soundtrack, and has also commissioned some new pieces for us to record for the film.

I’ve seen you many times over the years, most recently on the Olympia tour in Paris and Atlanta. Both audiences seemed to love the show, yet I was surprised at how differently the fans reacted to certain songs on the same set list. In all your years of performing, what makes an audience memorable?

The fact is that every audience is very different, and one can never entirely predict the outcome. I used to think that the major industrial cities provided the best audiences, but two of the more memorable shows I have done recently have been in Tel Aviv and in the Opera House in Vienna.

You recently remarried. What does your wife think of the BFO? I hear she wore a flapper dress to the release party. Is she a jazz fan?

Well I would hope that she is at least a Bryan Ferry fan!

What’s next for you?

We start performing again next month in Berlin, and we’ll probably finish the tour in December in Kiev.

Bryan Ferry on why he has a fascination with the 1920s:

There was a lot of jazz to be heard on the radio in the mid-1950s, and that’s when I was smitten by the jazz bug. I started collecting records and going to concerts, and began exploring the wide ranging jazz canon, from Armstrong to Ayler.

On the purity of jazz:

I drew upon my own memories of all the early jazz artists I admired, and was very fortunate to have around me a strong team of musicians who live and breathe the music of the 1920s period. It is true that it is an English band, but they do have a very strong feeling for this music which helps give it such authenticity. The last thing one would want to do is offend the spirits of those who marched down Rampart Street… Some of the tracks on The Jazz Age were quite spontaneous, done in the earthy and straight-ahead manner of Louis Armstrong’s bands in New Orleans. The more arranged songs echo the more urbane sophistication of Duke Ellington’s New York Cotton Club Orchestra. It goes without saying that improvised solos are a big part of the success of any jazz record.

On the glamour of the 1920s and how it gels with his image:

Just recently the 1920s does seem to have become once more a rather cool and interesting period. I had found myself in the last few years re-listening to early jazz and re-reading Eliot and Scott Fitzgerald etc., so perhaps there was something in the air… As you know, the Twenties was a rather special era, not only with music and dance, art and literature, but also fashion, architecture, communications and basically the birth of everything modern. Very important also to the mystique of the time is the dark undercurrent of crime (prohibition etc.), which added a certain forbidden flavour.

On why there are no vocals on The Jazz Age:

I had long wanted to make an instrumental album of my songs, where hopefully the melodies I had written over the years could stand alone. This felt like the right time.

On the authenticity of the recording process:

We recorded the album using vintage microphones, and with the band all playing together in a room, as in the old days. But we had the benefit of modern technology where we could mic the instruments separately with complete hi-fidelity. However, as you say, it did ultimately sound cooler in mono and with a certain degree of EQ distressing to give it a more period flavour. I wanted the finished result to sound like an old record.

On his favorite song from The Jazz Age:

We chose a wide cross section of my songs, from both the Roxy Music and BF solo albums – to give it some variety. My favourite is probably the most recent song, ‘Reason or Rhyme’ from the album ‘Olympia’.

On whether his 30-year-old wife is a jazz fan:

Well I would hope that she is at least a Bryan Ferry fan!

#BryanFerry #KRISTIYORKWOOTEN #TheGreatGatsby #RoxyMusic #MUSICNEWS

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