Boz Scaggs: Maybe Not Jazz, But Beautiful
“ If there's any single thing I could point to that makes me want to be involved in this material, it's having listened to Bill Evans for many years. ”
Boz Scaggs is crooning Duke's "Sophisticated Lady"? Thee Boz Scaggs? The "Lowdown" guy? The creator of the "Lido Shuffle"? Yep. There's only one Boz Scaggs.
Having done blues, R&B, slick pop music and combinations of the three, maybe it was just time, but the latest singer to tackle the repertoire of the American Popular Songbook is none other the Scaggs, with the release earlier this year of But Beautiful. It's a mellow album, and it is done with a jazz band. There are no attempts to take "Easy Living' and modernize it. The songs are done in a sincere, tender style, backed by a jazz group with pianist Paul Nagel as the point man. He's also the guy that encouraged Scaggs to try this classic music.
Scaggs, who's now 59 and still performs his pop hits with another group of musicians, says he is simply a singer who is moving into new ground, but he is not a jazz singer. "It's a record of standards for me. I'm not a jazz singer. The guys I work with are solid jazz players," he says. "I am not a jazz singer. I wouldn't place myself on that footing. I wouldn't even enter that arena.
The lyrics of the all-ballad disc are sung straightforward, with pregnant pauses between phrases. Not much improvisation - no flights of fancybut a delivery that's pleasing to the ears and not out of character with the song. The music is delivered in good fashion. "What's New" is sung over a soft jumping beat, the lyric intoned without much improvisation. "How Long Has This Been Going On?" is soft and sincere, with a mellow sax break from Eric Crystal. "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" is slow and heartfelt. Nagel is the glue throughout the record. The title song is delivered over a soft pulsing beat. The band is very supportive and the disc is solid. Don't think Rod Stewart's sorry, mundane fumbling through the classics last year. There is naturalness and quality here.
Not a bad effort from this blues, rock and R&B guy raised in Texas and Oklahoma, who cut his teeth with the Steve Miller band and went into some serious blues. He smashed the charts in 1976 with Silk Degrees that contained "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle." He also laid out of music in the '80s and returned in the '90s with more pop and R&B. And now its songs like "I Should Care." It may seem an odd transition to some, but not to Scaggs.
Scaggs says he and Nagel toyed with standards going back three or four years. "I don't think the intention was clearly stated that this was going to become a record, but no doubt each of us had it in mind that it could turn into something that we would enjoy expanding on. I've been doing my other music, writing and touring and so forth, but this material just sort of grew out of its own little space."
About a year ago, April of 2002, it got more serious. "There's a point at which there was time for me and my studio was available. We spent a day playing songs and recoding them. I guess we did about 20 songs that afternoon and I lived with them for a few weeks.
"The questions in my mind were whether I had any business getting into this material. I consider this idiom practically sacred ground. I've seen too many people of my ilk, pop musicians of my generation, getting into this material and becoming a little intoxicated with it and not coming out so well, in my opinion. Not only people of my ilk, but a lot of people in a lot of areas get in trouble in this area. So I wanted to see if I really fit into this at all. I was encouraged by Paul and the musicians. And then after we had some material in hand, some material recorded, I was encouraged by others to go ahead and pursue this project. So we set a recording date last September. We cut the stuff in three days and that's how this CD came to be."
Scaggs is serious about the music. He doesn't plan for it to be a gimmick record. He has a tour ready with this jazz band, and he also hopes to do more CDs of this classic American songbook.
"I'm a singer primarily. I've just been following my instincts. I was a guitarist first off. So I followed my interests in the guitar wherever it took me. I listened to classical guitar and Spanish guitar, as well as jazz guitar players, rock and roll and blues. All of it. I did the same thing with my voice.
"My earliest influences were things I heard in my household. My parents were music lovers and collectors. It was around. You don't have to go too far out of the way to be familiar with hundreds and hundreds of these songs. I've been listening to all kinds of music, including jazz, ever since I was a kid in the mid-50s. I have listened to all the singers, many of whom have performed this work. It's been around. I guess my blues background has led me to singers like Ray Charles and Bobby Bland, T-Bone Walker. Those kind of musicians from that era. They have certainly drifted into the American songbook from time to time. It's there."