Mark Winkler: Peeling Back the Onion
MW: Well, outside of "He's A Runner"the son"Time and Love" holds special significance to me. When my mother died, my Dad wasn't very good at keeping himself on the drug (Lithium) that kept him and other bipolar people sane, and during these periods I would take him in from time to time, to make sure he was okay. During one of those times I played piano and sang to him, and the song I played to soothe him was "Time and Love"; I still remember the sheer look of bliss on his face as I sang it to him. I was a terrible pianist, but somehow he got the message. He was a big fan of my voice and music. I've often think to myself that both my parents loved my talent and nurtured it; not everybody has that in their family.
AAJ: As you grew out of your teens and started developing a better understanding of the world and music, how did her music fit into your life?
MW: Well her music never lost its magic for me. The sophistication of it, coupled with its emotionality actually is timeless.
AAJ: How did she impact you as you developed your own musical direction and skills?
MW: She set a wonderful example of someone who was fearless and listened to her own drummer; she wasn't trying to be anybody but who she was, so when I started figuring out who the hell I was as a songwriter and singer, she was my guide. The funny thing is, I don't sound even a smidgen like herI'm a baritoneand I'm much more of a swinger. But she allowed me to go there, proudly. And I am a bit of a rebel; I love to do what people tell me I can't.
AAJ: What is the back story behind the making of the album? When did the idea first come to you?
MW: I've been wanting to do the Laura Nyro CD for about five years. I just wanted to keep her great songs alive and thought that if I didn't do it, who would? But I was also aware that I was a jazz singer and I had to find the songs of hers that lent themselves naturally to more of a jazz treatment. That wasn't so easy. I have seven terrible arrangements done for me by some very talented guys who just didn't get it! They ranged from a Holiday Inn bossa nova take on "Sweet Blindness" to a very schmaltzy version of "Time and Love." A few years back, I read an interview with [pianist] Billy Childs and he said Laura Nyro was one of his favorite songwriters. I had worked with him a couple of CDs back, went to one of his shows and asked him to do the CD with me. But he very nicely told me he was planning to do one of his own, [so] it really wasn't until I met up again with Eli Brueggemann that it all fell into place.
He just got what I was trying to do immediately, and from then on it was easy. I told him I wanted to do a ballad version of "Sweet Blindness" and in a musical microsecond he thought that the melody reminded him of "Moonlight in Vermont" and we should pay homage to [pianist] Ahmad Jamal's version of it from one of his live LPs. He played me the cut, and I sang most of "Time and Love" over it there and then. Then, He did this great New Orleans meets Louis Prima version of "Time and Love" and I was sold.
AAJ: What was the most difficult aspect connected with the production of the album?
MW: As I said, it was choosing the right songs that had a jazz sensibility to them, and also that I could sing as a baritonefrom a male viewpoint. Some of her best songs are very female-centric---"To a Child," "Lonely Women" and "Wedding Bell Blues" come to mind. I also found that her most adventurous songs were just perfect the way she did them, but I knew I had to do at least one and I chose my favorite, "Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp," which is actually a little art song, and was a bitch to learn. But it really captures a side of Laura I had to have on the CD.
AAJ: What was the most rewarding and perhaps most surprising aspect of the production?
MW: The sheer emotionality of it; how personally I am connected to these songs. They really take me very deep into my feelings. I especially love the vulnerability of "Billy's Blues." A friend of mine had just died, and he was very much like Billie; he didn't have a clue about real life, although he was a fantastic songwriter, and I did that song basically in one take. Eric Reed was just fantastic at that session, on piano.
AAJ: Has there been any discussion of taking the show on the road?
MW: I will be doing a show soon in New York. There's just no way to do a CD on Laura Nyro and not do New York. Then after that, we'll see.
AAJ: What was the first instrument that you every played?
MW: The piano. What I learned, after seven years of lessons, was I'm not a very good player. But it does help me in my writing.
AAJ: What was your musical progression and experience like?
MW: Well that question is a book. But it all started with my mom being a Big band singer and sharing her love of music with me. I started writing songs and working in the business in High School, played in wedding bands, wrote lots of bad songs and then took classes and started writing better songs. Then I met up with a wonderful writer named Jim Andron, and did my first LP in 1982 for a little jazz label out of Seattle called First American. [Singer] Diane Schuur did her first LP for them. It actually got some notice, sold pretty well and was a big hit in Japan. Then, at the same time, I started having people record my songs. Singers like Liza Minnelli and Stephanie Mills and LTD. I was actually one of those guys who wrote songs for a big act on the LP that wasn't the Gold one; it happened to me three or four times. Then I eventually wound up doing straight-ahead jazz CDs and writing musicals. And I'm teaching lyric writing and producing CDs, so I'm a busy guy.