Bill Mays: Inventions, Conventions and Dimensions
BM: I think much of what we've talked about today gives a bigger picture of my background. I'd like people to check out the variety of my music; if they're interested in knowing more about me, I'd love them to hear some tracks of The Invention Trio and then some tracks of the great trio I had with Matt Wilson and Martin Wind.
AAJ: And the duo Sondheim, with Tommy Cecil. That was gorgeous.
BM: Yeah, the Sondheim. We're going to record a Volume Two. We've already got some tunes picked out: "Finishing the Hat," "Rich and Happy," and "Send in the Clowns."
AAJ: I heard an apocryphal story about that last onethat Sondheim wrote it for the actress Glynis Johns, who had a limited vocal range.
BM: [Scats melody quickly] Trying to find the lowest and highest notethat's an A flat [sings bridge]. You know, that's interesting. I think the range on that is an octave and a stepa ninthvery far from "The Star Spangled Banner"! Who was the singer again?
AAJ: Glynis Johns, an actress-singer. Even her Wikipedia entry mentions that she was the one who introduced that song.
BM: We're also going to do "Somewhere," from West Side Story, which is Leonard Bernstein, of course, but Stevie-boy wrote the words. .
AAJ: Yes, that was his first big gig. And to this day, he still beats himself up for the lyrics to "I Feel Pretty," because it's unlikely that a recent Puerto Rican immigrant would be singing "It's alarming/how charming/I feel."
BM: True! [Laughs]
AAJ: It reminds me of Gene Lees, who never stopped getting flak for rhyming "stars" with "guitar" in "Corcovado." Some people never let go of that.
BM: That's funny.
AAJ: And now, as we wrap this up, do you have any advice for kids coming up? Any particular challenges that stand out for you?
BM: Well, one thing I tell people in clinics and lectures is, don't feel like you have to move to New York to have a career. Do come to New York and visit. Stay for a few months, study with favorites you have on your instrument and learn and growand then go back to Topeka and Portland and create a scene, or augment the scene. We need more great players in places around the country. There are so many great players in New York City, and not enough work for all of them.
Of course, the second piece of advice is to have a great website with as much media connection as you can so that people stumble across you on the Internet. Because you have to increase your visibility as much as possible, since there aren't that many labels to do it for you. Learn how to use the media intelligently, and I'm talking to myself as much as anybody else because I've had the same website for years. I want to update it and be more plugged in, even though I don't tweet or Facebook.
I'm so lucky to have this new record coming out on a label with a distribution network. Do you know what musicians mean when they say they have a new distribution deal?
AAJ: I give up. What?
BM: They bought a new suitcase.
The other thing I feel is imperative to say to young musicians is to learn more about the history. I'm amazed that young piano players, when you ask who they're listening to and learning from, say people like Brad Mehldau and Robert Glasper. And I say well, those guys have their message and their music, but you need to go back and hear the sound that Nat "King" Cole got on the piano, and the way Teddy Wilson touched the keys, and what Earl Hines did.
You don't need to go out and learn eight solos by each of those guys, but you need to listen to how they played the piano. You should also see films and videos and learn how to be a good entertainer as well as a great musician. They go together.
Tommy Cecil & Bill Mays, Side by Side (Sondheim Duos) (Self Produced, 2012)
Bill Mays, Mays at the Movies (Steeplechase, 2009)
The Inventions Trio, Fantasy (Palmetto, 2007)
Bill Mays Trio, Live at Jazz Standard (Palmetto, 2005)
Bill Mays Trio, Going Home (Palmetto, 2002)
Bill Mays Trio, Summer Sketches (Palmetto, 2001)