As I sit at my computer in the wee hours, because I am all about the wee hours, I realize that this issue of The Syncopated Times could be with someone who is in the audience at one of my sets at The Hot Jazz Jubilee, Labor Day weekend, in Sacramento! More than likely your copy is on your kitchen counter where the person who collects your mail put it. But, never mind—I really like the fantasy.
My introduction to Trad jazz festivals was over the Labor Day Weekend many years ago: the now defunct Sweet and Hot, in Los Angeles. The first year my mom had to prod me into going. I am not sure what I expected but what surprised me was how many of the tunes I knew. This was due to my near obsession with the MGM movie musical. The men and women Hollywood employed were straight from Broadway and before that Tin Pan Alley. I was hooked, and seeds that had been planted quite a few years before were starting to find a place to take root.
My first big film job was the Steven Spielberg film Hook. I had auditioned for the role of Pirate Wench. In truth, we were the prostitutes and thusly credited. Most of what we did in the film was cut from the final product (Spielberg chose to focus on the Lost Boys aspect and my guess is it’s hard to explain prostitutes to children watching) If our footage was in the film you would have seen us frolicking around the village brothel right in the middle of Neverland, with decorative cleavage in abundance. Hook’s hookers. There was an entire musical number with us and peg leg pirates dancing on one foot, the other foot tied up behind them. A sea shanty rap that was just so amazingly delicious. We were told that when Steven screened our dailies for the creative team there was a standing ovation. Directors often have the producers in to view the previous days film and these are called “dailies.” We filmed on the Sony Lot which was previously the historic MGM lot. We were in full period costumes including boned corsets and you would hear over the walkie talkies, when we could no longer take the discomfort, “Unleash The Tarts!”
I hadn’t sung in my audition; I had only acted and danced. But it turned out we were also part of the score, music by the legendary John Williams, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. I can’t think of another film composer that became a household name in my lifetime other than John Williams. Jaws, Star Wars, ET –and the list goes on and on. You didn’t have to know about music to know who he was.
So there I was being asked to create a character with lyrics, a woman who serviced pirates. The legendary John Williams standing in front of me and he cues the booth and I hear the full orchestra playback. I don’t know how or why but her voice came out of me with a Jamaican accent. I also punctuated one of the lyrics with a deep guttural laugh. The moment it came out of my mouth I feared I had been too bold. And then I learned the lesson of a lifetime. That the best of the best, the geniuses of this planet who collaborate, have the gift of making other artists feel so comfortable that magic can happen. It wasn’t a mistake what I had done; it was the result of his offering up his generous spirit so I could create. My boldness was rewarded. His face lit up, a huge smile took over and I was rewarded with “YES, YES, YES THAT!”
Something happened on that soundstage all those years ago. I was both so excited by these sheets of paper with many lines on them and also hugely intimidated. A very clear voice from the deepest part of me said: I will learn to understand this better and music will one day be part of my life.
I am so excited that I listened to that voice. Sometimes she only says dumb stuff like “you need chocolate” This time she spoke the truth.
I hope I see some of you at the festival!