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Boz Scaggs Interview - Speak Low

Jazz on 'Speak' easy for Boz Scaggs

Bob Young/Boston Herald
Nov 21, 2008


Boz Scaggs has never been shy about wading into waters far from the safe harbor of hits such as “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” both from his breakthrough 1976 album, “Silk Degrees.”

He has teamed with rockers Steve Miller and Donald Fagen, r & b heavy Booker T. & the MGs, and bluesman Charles Brown. Five years ago he released a CD of standards, “But Beautiful,” that topped the jazz charts. Now, between tending a wine vineyard in Napa County, Calif., running his San Francisco nightclub, Slims, stints with bluegrass and rock groups, Scaggs is back for a jazz encore.

On his new CD, “Speak Low,” Scaggs, 64, interprets material by Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington and others. He performs two shows Sunday at the Wilbur Theatre, with a jazz ensemble led by pianist Gil Goldstein.

Herald: As a nonjazz singer coming at this project, did any jazz players give you a hard time?
Scaggs: I haven’t had any threatening phone calls, and no one has bugged me. As an artist, I’m interested in all kinds of music. Like most people in this day and age, there’s all kinds of music around us. I’m a singer and musician who likes to try a lot of different things.

H: Was there anything daunting about it?
S: I’m not a jazz musician and I’m not trying to be. I’m just singing songs in my own style and with my own interpretation. There’s nothing particularly daunting about it, but it is challenging technically. Some of the songs, like “Invitation” from the newalbum and “Sophisticated Lady” from “But Beautiful,” have some odd jumps of melody and peculiar harmonic stuff. It’s challenging, but that’s why we do it.

H: What was your primary inspiration for the album?
S: The songs were the inspiration. I went through thousands of songs and got down to about 100. From there, it was just a matter of trying them on and exploring them, finding interesting arrangements and songs that fit my style - sort of taking ownership of them to create a new interpretation and put my own spin on them.

H: You’re best known for your pop songs, but you make a point of performing all kinds of styles. Why?
S: I grew up in a time when radio was exploding with a variety of music. Rock ’n’ roll was born, and rhythm and blues was evolving out of New Orleans and Memphis. It was taking all kinds of forms and shapes. The music of the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of this one goes in a lot of different directions. For someone like me who loves music, there’s no reason for me not to try the songs that Jerry Lee Lewis did or Hank Williams did or Bobby “Blue” Bland or Chet Baker did. It’s my lifeblood.

H: Will you sing material from other parts of your career at the Wilbur?
S: It will be a mix. I’ll be playing five or six songs from “Speak Low” and some songs that people know from the radio that have been adapted by this group and arranged in the style of these other traditional songs.

(Boz Scaggs at the Wilbur Theatre, Sunday at 4 and 7:30 p.m.)

Speak Low Video

Speak Low Album Review

Speak Low by Boz Scaggs

Muskmellon’s Blog

Boz Scaggs is now entering his fifth decade as a recording artist. His first claim to fame came in the late 1960s as a member of The Steve Miller Band; Steve Miller had been a high school friend. He played on the group’s early classic albums, Children Of The Future and Sailor, before embarking on a solo career.

His 1976 release, Silk Degrees, sold millions of copies and produced such hits as “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.” He would continue to be a commercial success into the early 1980s with his form of laid back rock ‘n’ roll and occasional dance tracks.

Boz Scaggs has continued to tour and release albums. His sound has matured and increasingly become very mellow. 2008 finds him producing a light and laid back jazz release. He has assembled twelve classic songs by such composers as Rodgers & Hart, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and others and given them a melodic but definite jazz interpretation.

The use of vibes, piano, bass and strings provide a nice instrumental bass for the album. Despite this under pinning, however, Speak Low is above all a vocal album. Boz Scaggs gives some wonderful performances on these tunes. Tony Bennett comes to mind as the vocals do not overwhelm the music but rather exists side by side with them and are both subtle and emotional.

The opening tune, entitled “Invitation,” sets the tone for the rest of the release. The use of a bass clarinet and vibes provide a nice nesting place for Boz Scaggs’ vocals to explore the song.

Other highlights include Scaggs singing counterpoint to the sax lines on “Save Your Love For Me,” the creative vibe bridge of “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” and the bass line-piano combination of “I Wish I Knew.”

If you have followed the entire career of Boz Scaggs, this album makes sense and it is a destination that he has been moving toward for a number of years.

Speak Low is music from the heart and soul of Boz Scaggs. It is meant to be savored and appreciated like a fine wine. It is music for the fire place as it allows the mind to wander. In a real sense he has arrived at a very comfortable place in his musical journey through life.

Speak Low [Tour] Set List

Napa Valley Opera House
October 28, 2008

INVITATION
SHE WAS TOO GOOD
LOWDOWN
SOME OTHER TIME (WITH MS. MONET)
I'LL REMEMBER APRIL
I WISH I KNEW
HARBOR LIGHTS
THIS TIME THE DREAM'S ON ME
SAVE YOUR LOVE
DINDI
LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE TO ME
BABY'S CALLIN'/CALL THAT LOVE
SPEAK LOW
THANKS TO YOU

Speak Low Lands on JazzTimes Top 50

BOZ SCAGGS
Speak Low (Decca)

Vox from the December 2008 issue

- Christopher Loudon

Five years ago, it came as no surprise that But Beautiful, Boz Scaggs’ first foray into jazz standards, was an unqualified success. And it comes as no surprise that his long overdue follow-up is even better. Scaggs accurately describes Speak Low as “a sort of progressive, experimental effort” inspired in part by “the ideas Gil Evans explored.” Embracing a more ambitious playlist than previously—one that extends from Rodgers and Hart, Ellington and Mercer to Weill, Jobim, Landesman and Wolf—and, courtesy of producer and keyboardist Gil Goldstein, working with arrangements that are significantly more adventurous, Scaggs does, indeed, capture the dense, angular beauty of Evans’ finest work.

Speak Low is also shot through with a haunted other-worldliness that is perfectly suited to Scaggs’ still-mesmerizing, if now enticingly coarser, nasality. Though there is not a weak track among the dozen collected here, perhaps the best evidence of Scaggs’ emergence as an exceptional jazz singer is his “Ballad of the Sad Young Men.” It takes impeccable skill and tremendous smarts to take Landesman and Wolf’s bleak, grey landscape and transform in into a kaleidoscope of bittersweet wisdom and reflection. Kurt Elling did it, and Scaggs does it just as superbly.

 

Boz Scaggs - Speak Low

- Boz Scaggs utilizes his talents in a different way this time around on his 17th studio album that is Speak Low. He comes from a more blues and rhythm background, but uses his voice in a very sensual way that is more adventurous. It stirs the pot of emotions round and round as Speak Low remains very low key. They’re mellow and very somber as the jazzy vocals are layered upon emotions and have flickering embers that follow his guided voice. Boz Scaggs showcases his voice as it provides the highlights of the album in a surprising turn from his past records.

Women might feel woozy as they could describe is simply sexy and just very romantic that can get you in the mood with your significant other. The tunes and savvy voice to go along with it fit his customized image. The tempos seem to follow a moderately slow course, but it never falters into phases of depression as it is quite lively and can be a soundtrack to your life. Boz solidifies himself as an artist with true vision as his smooth voice forms a flirting haze around us.

This is jazz that has depth and forms an intimacy with the listener. Speak Low is a genuine treasure that has a wondrous smooth style that we can all appreciate. The songs are subtly spellbinding and coil around us in a very visceral way. Boz Scaggs has a relaxed grasp around us as he shimmies his way around and we look on with praise. Speak Low is new and freshly avid compositions that teeter on the brink of that brash showboating type, but never gets full of itself as it ultimately falls into our lap with smoothly cool smile.

Reviewer: John Berkowitz
Reviewer's Rating: 8

 

Speak Low

American standards seem to have become a rest home for aging rockers, and while it might appear that Boz Scaggs has taken up residence - this is his second straight album in the form, following 2003's "But Beautiful" - the singer has suggested in recent interviews that his stay will not be permanent. While he's here, though, he seems to be making the most of it: "But Beautiful" topped the jazz charts, and with his new release he again proves himself an able and careful interpreter of this music while exhibiting a voice that has retained its distinctive velvety rasp even as its timbre has naturally thickened with time. Scaggs renders material from the likes of Rodgers and Hart ("She Was Too Good to Me"), Hoagy Carmichael ("Skylark"), and Duke Ellington ("Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me"), as a series of intimate, moody ballads, with occasional diversions into mid-tempo swing ("Senza Fine") and bossa beat ("Dindi"). His deft, small-combo backing is changed up a bit this time to fine effect, with vibes and clarinet woven in among the sax and piano and, here and there, touches of strings. "Speak Low" is an elegant and striking return visit.
- Boston Globe Review - Stuart Munro

Scaggs decides to chill out and ‘Speak Low’

PROFILE. Boz Scaggs rose to fame in the ’70s playing a smooth hybrid of disco and rock. But unlike many performers who rose to prominence more than three decades ago, Scaggs is not just rehashing the hits. He’s doing a different kind of oldies show.

Touring behind his new album, “Speak Low,” Scaggs’ set is mostly blues and jazz standards.

“I just sort of follow my interest in music in general,” he says.

This doesn’t mean you won’t hear the same Scaggs tunes that put him on the map; you just may hear drastically different versions of his hits “Lido Shuffle” and “Lowdown.” The latter song, known for the “wonder, wonder, wonder” refrain, has recently reemerged thanks to the new John Legend song “Satisfaction,” which has a generous helping of those wonders.

Scaggs says he hasn’t heard the Legend tune, but he generally enjoys being referenced and even sampled. At least now he does.

“There are ones that made me laugh,” he says. “When rap was first coming out there were some that were not very clever, that were really kind of raunchy lyrics that I didn’t care for very much. But for the most part it’s flattering in some way for people to reference your work.”  - Pat Healy

Blue-eyed soulman Boz Scaggs went the standards route on his '03 album "But Beautiful," and he stays on that road with "Speak Low" (***, out Tuesday on Decca). His low-key but expressive singing is a good fit on Rodgers and Hart's "She Was Too Good to Me" -- his rendition a tip-of-the-hat to Chet Baker's indelible version. Also notable is his moving take of the autumnal "Ballad of the Sad Young Men."

Sure, everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Rod Stewart to Cyndi Lauper has taken a swing at an album of standards, but this one is better than most, with orchestrations as subtle as Scaggs' own voice. - Detroit Free Press - Martin Bandyke

Few artists defy pigeonholing like San Francisco's Boz Scaggs. He has sung blues, rock, pop, funk – even a little disco – all with singular style and impeccable chops. Now we can add jazz to that list. Actually, this is his second foray into the world of jazz vocals. His jazz debut, "But Beautiful," was a triumph of taste and restraint, topping the jazz charts in 2003. "Speak Low" (Decca Records) follows a similar, but more progressive thread, featuring strings and Gil Evans-style arrangements. And it doesn't hurt that Scaggs's unique voice sounds so much like a soothing baritone sax, gracefully caressing the lyrics of jazz chestnuts like "Skylark" and "Save Your Love for Me." "Speak Low" is further proof that the ageless Scaggs can do it all, but beautifully. - The Christian Science Monitor

Boz Scaggs: Speak Low (2008, Decca): Another pop singer running low on juice cracks open the old standards book. Nice, smart versions of things like "Speak Low" and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," but I could do without "Dindi." Still, the main thing is that while there's nothing wrong with Scaggs' singing, there's not much special about it either -- unlike, say, Rod Stewart. Instrumentation, strings even, are always tasteful. B - Tom Hull - Jazz Prospecting

Scaggs scores with jazz CD - January 05. 2009 - Boz Scaggs, "Speak Low."

Boz Scaggs, who played at Chautauqua last summer, has a long resume.

First known as a guitarist in the Steve Miller Band, he's been a star in his own right since his album "Silk Degrees" became a smash in 1976. He's done pop, blues and soul. He's even run a San Francisco club called Slim's.

With "Speak Low," he's back to jazz standards, creating a handsome coda to his 2003 CD "But Beautiful." Scaggs is hardly the first rocker to graduate to standards. And he'd be the first to admit he isn't a pure jazz singer. But his efforts still rank as one of the better ones among his pop-star peers.

Joining with pianist and arranger Gil Goldstein, Scaggs sticks to the melodies of tunes such as "Skylark" and seems unwilling to riff off them. There's a spareness and honesty to his renditions. He gets folksy. There's an echo of Willie Nelson on "Save Your Love For Me."

Mostly his voice works on simple and elegant arrangements of such tunes as "Dindi" and "I'll Remember April." It's just Scaggs and a piano on the beginning of a slowed-down "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," and that proves just fine, especially when the band joins in, with vibraphonist Mike Mainieri doing some fine comping.  - Karl Stark - Philadelphia Inquirer

Speak Low - Boz Scaggs - Four Scoops of Bosco

One thing you can say for Boz Scaggs is that he is not afraid to tackle different genres of music. From singing rock/blues with the Steve Miller Band to his solo pop hits like "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle", he is always exploring and evolving.

So now at the age of 62, it would seem to be a logical progression to venture into the world of jazz standards.

His new jazz album Speak Low is the second jazz album he has put out in this decade and it's another good one as he gives beautiful and wonderful vocal renditions of such standards as Nancy Wilson's "Save Your Love for Me" or Kurt Weill's composition "Speak Low". This album is comprised of twelve classic songs by such composers as Rodgers & Hart, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and others.

In addition to the great use of vibes, piano, bass and strings on this album, the real star is Boz Scaggs wonderful vocals. The balance of his voice along side the instrumentation is impeccable.

The opening tune, “Invitation,” sets the tone for the rest of the album. The use of a bass clarinet and vibes coexist perfectly with Scaggs vocals. And sometimes you forget how great of a guitarist Scaggs is too. This is highlighted in the album as well.

Other highlights include Scaggs singing with the saxophone on “Save Your Love For Me,” the vibe bridge of “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” and the bass/piano combo on “I Wish I Knew".

The only thing for me, and this is true with other artists...Linda Rondstadt comes to mind...The jazz stylings are great and he does a great job with this genre but I want to hear at least one more album like Silk Degrees or even an album of Rock and Soul standards as when Scaggs was recorded on the 80's Rock and Soul Review album. - Allen Bacon, Editor, The Daily Bosco


CD Review: Boz Scaggs, 'Speak Low' (Decca)

Taking his cue from other singers who’ve long been absent from the top of the pop and rock charts — namely Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart — Boz Scaggs started mining the "Great American Songbook” in 2003 with the pleasant if somewhat too-easy listening collection of mom-and-dad favorites, "But Beautiful.” He’s back at it again with "Speak Low,” the second chapter in his reading of old standards, but this time with a new collaborator who adds weightier mood and nuance to Scaggs’ smooth stylings.

Pianist Gil Goldstein channels the light touches and flourishes of the late, great Bill Evans on such sweetly melancholy tunes as the lilting "I’ll Remember April,” the smoky torch treatment of Rodgers and Hart’s "She Was Too Good to Me” and the muted string-underlined yearning of "I Wish I Knew.” Boz even manages to swing in a gently breezy sort of way on the vibe-and-bass-propelled title cut and the romantically humid, bass-flute and tabla-driven "Invitation.”

Fans of the disco-era "Lido Shuffle” Scaggs may be put off, but many jazz aficionados should be impressed with his subtle emotional phrasing and his choice of small, intimate-feeling combo accompaniment over the flashy, Nelson Riddle-style big band backing that has made other retro albums so overbearing. — Gene Triplett, The Oklahoman - November 7, 2008



BOZ IS BACK: Rueful regret suits Boz Scaggs' melancholy voice and sparse, jazz-flavored arrangements oh-so-well on "Speak Low" (Decca, A). One of the classiest "standards" sets of recent years, this construct is built on thoughtful songs of romance where things don't work out.

 

Music Review: Boz Scaggs - Speak Low

David Bowling
November 17, 2008

Boz Scaggs is now entering his fifth decade as a recording artist. His first claim to fame came in the late 1960s as a member of The Steve Miller Band; Steve Miller had been a high school friend. He played on the group's early classic albums, Children Of The Future and Sailor, before embarking on a solo career.

His 1976 release, Silk Degrees, sold millions of copies and produced such hits as “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle.” He would continue to be a commercial success into the early 1980s with his form of laid back rock ‘n’ roll and occasional dance tracks.

Boz Scaggs has continued to tour and release albums. His sound has matured and increasingly become very mellow. 2008 finds him producing a light and laid back jazz release. He has assembled twelve classic songs by such composers as Rodgers & Hart, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and others and given them a melodic but definite jazz interpretation.

The use of vibes, piano, bass and strings provide a nice instrumental bass for the album. Despite this under pinning, however, Speak Low is above all a vocal album. Boz Scaggs gives some wonderful performances on these tunes. Tony Bennett comes to mind as the vocals do not overwhelm the music but rather exists side by side with them and are both subtle and emotional.

The opening tune, entitled “Invitation,” sets the tone for the rest of the release. The use of a bass clarinet and vibes provide a nice nesting place for Boz Scaggs’ vocals to explore the song.

Other highlights include Scaggs singing counterpoint to the sax lines on “Save Your Love For Me,” the creative vibe bridge of “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” and the bass line-piano combination of “I Wish I Knew.”

If you have followed the entire career of Boz Scaggs, this album makes sense and it is a destination that he has been moving toward for a number of years.

Speak Low is music from the heart and soul of Boz Scaggs. It is meant to be savored and appreciated like a fine wine. It is music for the fire place as it allows the mind to wander. In a real sense he has arrived at a very comfortable place in his musical journey through life.

 

Scaggs hones his smart, easy singing style

Dan Emerson
/Special to the Pioneer Press
Nov. 06, 2008

Among rock and pop stars of a certain age, rediscovering the old standards has become as much of a cliched late-career move as going through rehab or suing former managers. Following the crowd has never been an admirable choice.

Fortunately, blue-eyed soul singer Boz Scaggs, who opened a two-night stand at the Dakota jazz club Wednesday, is smart enough to make artistic decisions that set him apart.

Scaggs, whose 1976 rock album "Silk Degrees" made him a platinum-selling household name, maintains a relaxed baritone that's listener-friendly and as comfortable as a pair of well-worn loafers. He doesn't have the vocal range and pitch control to be considered a great jazz singer, but in performance and on his recent CDs, he's been smart enough to choose jazz standards and other quality tunes that suit his vocal strengths and limitations.

One example from Wednesday's opening set was Rodgers and Hart's ballad "She Was Too Good to Me," recorded by the late jazz trumpeter-vocalist Chet Baker.

Scaggs was supported by a gifted L.A.-based backup vocalist named Monet and lush arrangements by Gil Goldstein — one of the most respected arrangers in the business — that blended well with the vocals. Goldstein was part of the five-piece backup band, playing acoustic and electric piano as well as accordion.

Two top-flight horn players, Paul McCandless — a founding member of the jazz-fusion group Oregon — and Bob alternating on tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet and bass flute.

Early in the set, Scaggs obliged longtime fans with one of the "Silk Degrees" hits, "Lowdown," Performed in a slower, jazzier fashion than the driving disco of his youth. Scaggs chipped in some bluesy guitar solos; it was the blues that drew him into the music business, along with his Texas high school buddy Steve ("The Joker") Miller.

Scaggs' relaxed vocal style also has proved well suited to Brazilian songs such as Antonio Carlos Jobim's ballad "Dindi," which he played on acoustic guitar midway through his first set.

On Scaggs' rendition of his hit ballad "Love, Look What You've Done to Me," Monet capped the tune off with some note-stretching improvisation that brought to mind the great Phoebe Snow.

Scaggs reached way back with "Baby's Callin' Me Home," a song he recorded for the Miller Band's 1968 album "Children of the Future."

"It was the first song I ever made up," he told the audience. The bluesy tune has aged well, aided by Scaggs and Monet's soulful vocal blends, a samba-tempo midsection and a slick solo by the versatile McCandless on tin flute.

McCandless brought out a wooden flute for the next tune, a cover of the Buddy Johnson ballad "Save Your Love For Me."

Goldstein played a long accordion intro to a pleasingly ethereal version of the big-band hit "Harbor Lights," featuring more beautiful vocal harmonies with Monet. Scaggs spiced it up with some B.B. King-style string-bending.

As an encore, Scaggs and Monet traded verses on a jazzy version of the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer standard "This Time the Dream's on Me."


Scaggs and his band perform at the Dakota again today at 7 and 9:30 p.m.

Dan Emerson is a freelance writer and musician in Minneapolis.

Boz Scaggs Interview: Speak Low

Soul shuffle with Boz Scaggs

Jon Bream/Star Tribune
October 30, 2008

Silky soul man Boz Scaggs has two outside projects: a bluegrass band (really!) and a jazz combo.

After doing his "Lido Shuffle" R&B act this summer at Lumberjack Days in Stillwater, Scaggs will focus on standards next week at the Dakota Jazz Club.

Although he just released his second consecutive jazz album, "Speak Low," this week, he doesn't claim that label for himself. "I'm not a jazz singer; I'm not a jazz musician." While the songs are arranged for a jazz combo, "I don't possess the super-musicality and the complexity of harmonic knowledge that would make me a jazz singer by any means."

The new disc was hatched after Scaggs happened to walk past the famous Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City.

"It was January or February and I heard this music coming out the door that really captured my imagination," he said recently from his San Francisco home. "I went into the club and it was as if my dreams of my new record had come true. The ensemble seemed just right for what I was searching for."

He chatted up some players in the band he knew and ended up in conversation with keyboardist Gil Goldstein, whose work he knew from the San Francisco Jazz Collective and saxophonist Michael Brecker. Goldstein wound up producing and arranging the new album.

"Speak Low" travels softly, with more obscure ballads -- including Bronislaw Kaper's "Invitation" and Duke Ellington's "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" -- than his 2003 album "But Beautiful," featuring the familiar likes of "Sophisticated Lady" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

Finding songs -- especially uncommon ones -- was a challenge.

"There are a lot of beautiful songs out there," Scaggs said, "but they were often written for stage musicals or films and they express sort of emotional things that are very difficult to make believable in today's world."

Jazz validation

Scaggs, 64, felt he needed permission to go in this direction. "It's sacred ground as far as I'm concerned," he said. About seven or eight years ago, he lent his recording studio to the late saxophonist Cornelius Bumpus, who was working with a jazz quartet. Pianist Paul Nagel encouraged Scaggs to try singing with the combo.

"There was a benefit concert I was asked to do and I played a few song with this quartet of jazz musicians," Scaggs recalled. "And it felt right and I was sort of validated by their encouragement."

Vocally, Scaggs takes a different approach to this material than he does with his R&B-tinged pop, according to his producer. "He uses the lower part of his voice for standards; for rock and pop, he often goes up in the upper register of his tenor voice," Goldstein told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He tries to be faithful to the melody and not jazz it up so much, which is very nice to hear in this day and age, with everybody messing a little bit too much with the song that the composer wrote."

On his current tour, Scaggs will be joined by Goldstein, bassist Steve Rodby, drummer Richie Morales and reedmen Bob Sheppard and Paul McCandless (of Oregon fame).

Will he attempt some of his radio hits?

"There will be a smattering," Scaggs said. "We're going to try out a few things arranged for this little ensemble. But it's primarily material from the new record and some odds and ends."

From blues to bluegrass

Last year at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco, Scaggs fronted the Blue Velvet Band, which included a host of Americana heavyweights: guitarist Buddy Miller, keyboardist Jon Cleary, drummer Ricky Fataar and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz. The singer/guitarist put together the group because one of his business partners runs the festival, which draws more than 700,000 people for the weekend.

"That's another animal," Scaggs said of the Blue Velvets. "We did Hank Williams, early Elvis, some rockabilly, Jerry Lee Lewis, some Bill Monroe, that kind of stuff. It was fun. I hope to be able to make some more music with that band."

But first he'll return to what he's best known for.

"An R&B/blues album is sort of the next stop for me," he said. "I'd like it to be mostly original [songs] but I haven't written much. I'd like to get it done within the next year."

Scaggs started playing the blues in high school in Texas with schoolmate Steve Miller. He followed Miller to the University of Wisconsin in Madison and then to San Francisco in 1967. After working on two albums with the Steve Miller Band, Scaggs landed a solo contract in 1969 with the help of his neighbor, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner.

After an electric-blues-oriented debut featuring Duane Allman on guitar, Scaggs went in a more R&B direction. In 1976, he reached commercial heights with "Silk Degrees," backed by the studio musicians who would become Toto. "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" from that LP became radio staples. In the 1980s and '90s, he went into semi-retirement from performing, co-owning two San Francisco nightclubs. He is still involved with the clubs as well as a vineyard and his own line of wine.

With such a colorful career, who would he prefer to pen a profile of him -- Wenner or Scaggs' son Austin, who is an associate editor at Rolling Stone?

"Austin," Scaggs said. "He has a perspective and point of view that I find interesting. Not that I don't find Jann's perspective interesting. But Austin is more engaged in my world."

©2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Review

Boz Scaggs
Speak Low  (Decca)
US release date: 28 October 2008
UK release date: 27 October 2008
by Will Layman
October 31, 2008

For the record, I’m against pop stars doing late-career albums of jazz standards. After the first one or two (Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson), it became a banal and obvious move, as one-time rebels grabbed for older listeners—and respectability—by feigning sudden reverence for Gershwin and Arlen. The trend has barely abated in recent years (Alison Moyet, Rod Stewart). Let the record reflect: thumbs down on Iggy Pop doing a Sinatra cover album.

So, here is the second standards album by pop/R&B vocalist Boz Scaggs. Late career? Check. Reverence for Gershwin? Check.

But pre-judging Scaggs is a dangerous move. His career is dotted with interesting zigs and zags, even if he is best known for the disco-hip Silk Degrees from 1976 ("Lowdown" and “Lido Shuffle"). Plus, and let’s just be honest about this from the start, Scaggs has a weird-ass voice. It warbles and croaks and on just about every song he sounds like Kermit the Frog for at least a few bars. From the get-go, he’s been an unlikely pop star.

Could it be he has always been a jazz singer at heart? Well, not exactly. But this is far from being cringe-inducing music. Indeed, it has been crafted with intelligence and a notion that there is virgin territory still to be plowed in recording great old songs.

In 2003, Scaggs recorded But Beautiful with a jazz quartet. This was not the typical lushly orchestrated cheese (Rod Stewart, I am talking to your roostery old head), and Scaggs put across a nice late-night feeling that was free of pretension. It was moody stuff—slinky, acoustic, modern. He didn’t wear a fedora or stand in front of an old-fashioned microphone on the cover.

Now Scaggs has recorded a follow-up standards disc, Speak Low, that is more ambitious than his first. This time he is armed with more complex arrangements featuring a lush but atypical band: gauzy woodwinds, strings, and rhythm section. Haunting bass clarinets dodge about. Vibes shimmer and play searching blues licks. Hand percussion percolates. Boz keens, with the occasional Kermit-the-Frogian passage still audible.

The good news is that this is far from typical pop-singer-goes-jazz work. With no brassy flourishes or Nelson Riddle snappiness to fall back on, Scaggs turns to jazz pianist Gil Goldstein for arrangements of crystalline immediacy, with soloists like Bob Sheppard (saxophone) and Scott Colley (bass). Little on Speak Low, therefore, is “standard” even though the songs are well-worn standards. The title track uses a slinky tango groove that is played, however, with pastel gentleness. Ellington’s “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” starts with the rarely heard verse over only acoustic bass, then moves into bluesy barroom sway that invites the strings. “Skylark” is awash in Fender Rhodes and hip tenor sax swing. “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” is simply a revelation: both a lament and a lullaby painted in flutes and harp, clarinet and piano, violin and cello.

Scaggs’s voice acquits itself well in most places. He is relaxed and easy throughout, never oversinging or trying to bring some misplaced R&B affectation to songs that, history has proven, don’t need any bullshit emotionalism. Even though Scaggs grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, he long ago took on the sound of California: easy-going to a fault, cool-like-cucumber, singer-songwritery if a bit Kermitty.

And so the vocal approach here is sort of like the late-election season Obama approach: First, do no harm. Scaggs sings with an accurate coolness. He is not trying to win your vote—he just doesn’t want to lose it.

The weakness is right there: This collection winds up like incredibly tasteful and hip gift-wrapping that conceals… maybe a couple of stainless steel salt-and-pepper shakers. Gil Goldstein’s arrangement are the equivalent of a robin’s egg Tiffany box, but the vocal performance in the middle of it all is merely okay. The “Sad Young Men” arrangement is so sensational that you long to hear the words put across with intensity. Understated intensity, yes, but still intensity. What Scaggs provides is merely good, merely understated. On the tunes that require less, such as the waltzy “Sensa Fine”, the result is forgettable. On the great songs, there is a vague hollowness in the air.

My favorite track here, for Scaggs’s work, is his natural match with Jobim’s “Dindi”. The coolness in Scaggs’s voice lets him float pleasurably through this bossa and makes you wonder why someone—Goldstein, maybe?—didn’t suggest more Brazilian material. Goldstein plays some accordion here, and the combination of lushness and simplicity balances. Here, the elements are well-aligned and Scaggs seems less hollow, but it is the exception rather than the rule on Speak Low.

Old Boz fans, are you digging this kind of fairly hip jazz? Jazz fans, is there any chance that you are going to reach out for standards done thoughtfully by a former pop start? The market baffles, but music continues. Maybe Rod Stewart will hear this record and will go back to singing the blues. Everything happens for reason, right?

©1999-2008 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.

Boz Scaggs Interview

Boz Scaggs hit the books to take a jazz turn

Jesse Hamlin/Chronicle Staff Writer
October 27, 2008

Boz Scaggs was strolling by the Blue Note in New York one rainy winter night when the sound he'd been hearing in his head - an airy mix of strings, vibes, reeds and horns - came wafting from the Greenwich Village club.

"It was magic," says Scaggs, a far-reaching musician known for his taste and integrity. He wanted to sing amid those orchestral colors on the record he was mulling as a follow-up to 2003's "But Beautiful" - his first foray into the harmonically rich world of standards - but was searching for the right arranger to shape the ethereal sound he was after. "I thought, 'Ah, this is it.' "

It turned out be a nonet led by Gil Goldstein, the arranger and pianist who'd apprenticed with master colorist Gil Evans. Scaggs had loved the lean, artful charts Goldstein wrote for the San Francisco Jazz Collective and saxophonist Michael Brecker. Meeting that night, he and the arranger began the collaboration that brought forth "Speak Low," a lovely set of classics and lesser-known gems that comes out Tuesday on Decca.

Scaggs sings these old songs with natural grace and feeling, phrasing through floating webs of sound woven with bass flutes, harp, marimba, saxophone, piano, percussion, bass clarinet and string quartet.

He will serve up some of that repertoire - which ranges from standards such as "Skylark" to the bluesy "Save Your Love for Me" and the lilting Jobim bossa nova "Dindi" - at the Napa Valley Opera House on Tuesday night, the first stop on a national tour. But he'll mix it up with the music for which he's best known: rhythm and blues, his first love, and some of his stylish 1970s pop radio hits like "Lowdown" and "We're All Alone," freshly arranged by Goldstein.

The pianist, who doubles on accordion, will lead a band featuring multi-reedmen Bob Sheppard and Paul McCandless, bassist Steve Rodby, drummer Richie Morales and the female singer Monet, from Scaggs' hits band.

Because most of the songs on the new CD are ballads, "we gotta give the show a little juice. It's gotta have some energy," Scaggs says. He's sitting in his South of Market studio, wearing a white dress shirt, black trousers and a very trim goatee. That's where he and Goldstein chose and shaped the material. They played and sang duets at the Steinway grand with a spontaneous feeling they tried to bring to the record.

"What we wanted to come out of this was the real, pure joy of just sitting here going over these songs, just feeling our way in the dark, as it were, and trying to find where we met musically," says Scaggs, 64, a thoughtful, soft-spoken man who takes his time making records and choosing his words.

"There was a stillness that was alive. The music barely moved, but it worked. We wanted the music to come out of that stillness, out of silence, and we didn't want to break that spell. And that's the feeling that I still get when I listen to it."
Ears for music

The Texas-bred musician made his name in the 1960s as a rocking San Francisco bluesman and hit big in the '70s with elegant pop records such as "Silk Degrees." But he has ears for all kinds of music.

On his studio shelves, boxed sets of Jimmy Reed and Miles Davis share space with Ry Cooder, Kronos Quartet and Segovia CDs. Scaggs always dug jazz, but it wasn't until he hooked up with pianist Paul Nagle that he began developing that part of his musical personality. Nagle turned him on to tunes, jammed with him and set the musical table for "But Beautiful," which hit No. 1 on the Billboard jazz charts.

"I'm not a jazz singer, I'm not a jazz musician," Scaggs says. "I don't have that training or their sensibility, but I was able to enter that world, I think, reasonably effectively. I mean, they played with me. And we did good. We turned some people on."

Singing Jimmy Reed right is no less demanding than doing justice to Rodgers and Hart. But the world of standards, with its complex harmonic language, is more open to interpretation, Scaggs says. And with new possibilities came new challenges.

"The voice becomes more of an instrument, and a much more individual style has to come out of it. You find yourself going into various cliches - landing on a Mel Torme here, a Ray Charles there, a Nat Cole or Sinatra there. You find yourself sort of copying the devices they use. And the job is discard as many of those devices as you can to find your own footing. My devices are rhythmic, tonal and textural. I stick pretty close to the melody. The melodies of these songs are very, very beautiful to me. And with the right arranger, they're just gorgeous."

Scaggs, whose next record will be in more of an R&B vein, recently did a 57-city tour with his hits band. Singing that music came more easily than ever because of what he had to learn to master the standards.

Mastering the standards

"It helped me as a vocalist immensely," he says. "Nothing has so much influenced my voice and expression. This is much more disciplined. It requires a lot more steadiness of tone. It's a trick to get from one expression here to this expression there. The melodies are much more complex. It's an acrobatic stunt sometimes to get from here to there. It's like climbin' a rock face. You have to figure out what you're gonna grab onto next. I've had to learn technique and develop a stronger voice."

Goldstein was intrigued by the way Scaggs sang this music.

"When he sings standards, it's a different-sounding voice, different from the Boz I knew from his records," Goldstein says, on the phone from his Brooklyn home. "He uses the lower part of his voice for standards; for rock and pop, he often goes up in the upper register of his tenor voice. These are very pure vocal performances. He tries to be faithful to the melody and not jazz it up so much, which is very nice to hear in this day and age, with everybody messing a little bit too much with the song that the composer wrote."

Scaggs has been practicing like mad to play these tunes on guitar.

"I'm really gonna be lost if I have to stand onstage and just sing," he says. "So I'm spending hours and hours daily, listening to this record and learning how to play these songs. Up until a year ago, I couldn't play a B-flat minor 7 with a flat 5th. But I can now."

Boz Scaggs: 8 p.m. Tuesday. Napa Valley Opera House, 1000 Main St., Napa 

Boz Scaggs - Speak Low

NICK DERISO: There's a reason it took Boz Scaggs five years to complete the follow up to "But Beautiful," a terrific, small-group collection of American songbook classics that debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard jazz charts in 2003.

Scaggs aimed to add more instrumental complexity to his next recording, but was sensitive to the pitfalls associated with using a post-Connick, perhaps too-obvious big band.

"I knew I wanted reeds, bass flutes and clarinets," Scaggs says. "I wanted to try to sing with strings, but I didn't want it to sound like generic strings."

He continued tinkering on the songs that would become "Speak Low," out Oct. 28 on Decca. He just couldn't achieve the proper balance of melody and feel, couldn't find a way out of the, well, standard way of doing standards.

Until a walk down a New York side street in the Village, where he chanced upon the Gil Goldstein Septet -- vibes, a string trio, a couple of horns.

"This was the sound I'd been hearing in my head, exactly," Scaggs says. "After the set, we started talking, and it was just a really nice meeting. When we got together around a piano, that was it. We knew."

Together, they crafted a set of carefully drawn moods -- emotionally gripping, rhythmically surprising, sensual rather than ribald in a time when that's its own headline.

It's a role Scaggs has played for decades, from his elemental blues picking during the counterculture 1960s, to a very adult soul that offset those flashy disco days of the 1970s, and on through to these contemporary forays into jazz, amidst the cacophony of hip hop and plastic pop.

Scaggs' voice always keenly blended the sway of early hero Ray Charles with Jimmy Reed's toe-tapping delight. On "Speak Low," he's added in romantic elements of Chet Baker and Johnny Hartman with the delicate yet devastating backbeat of Billie Holiday.

That lithe backing group then provides the kind of sophisticated underpinnings long associated with cool-swinging legends like George Shearing and Gerry Mulligan.

Scaggs, Goldstein and Co. slow down Duke Ellington's more typically mid-tempo "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me," but can still add a satisfying groove to Buddy Johnson's "Save Your Love For Me." "Skylark," the soaring Hoagy Carmichael composition, is appropriately dynamic; Jobim's "Dindi" has childlike grace. Scaggs even pays homage to previous signature phrasings on "I Wish I Knew" (Hartman, on the classic John Coltrane "Ballads" release) and "She Was To Good To Me" (so indelibly interpreted by Baker).

It's a terrific mixture of new notions and familiar places -- and another full-circle return to form for Scaggs.

He made his name beginning in the mid-'70s singing sleek, urbane hits like "Lido Shuffle," "Lowdown," "We're All Alone," "Breakdown Dead Ahead," "Miss Sun" and "Look What You've Done To Me" -- most recorded with a sessions group, featuring keyboardist David Paich (who co-wrote "Lowdown," which won a Grammy that year for best R&B song) and drummer Jeff Pocaro, who would eventually coalesce into the popular band Toto.

But Scaggs was originally a budding guitar hero around the Dallas area as a member of an early, more blues-based version of the Steve Miller Band. Still, he wanted something more.

Dating back to 1972's "My Time," an underrated release that contained the driving minor hit "Dinah Flo," Scaggs had taken to putting down his instrument. He quickly discovered a similar technical reach, and a stirring artistry, through his vocal work.

That's continued after a break for much of the 1980s. Scaggs later made successful returns into both Top 40 soul-pop (1988's "Other Roads," which contained "Heart of Mine") and further back into his roots (1997's recommended groover "Come On Home").

Centered in each of his most memorable musical efforts -- beginning with the blues, then on to blues rock, to rock, to soul-pop, to pop balladry, back to blues, and now to an breezy old-school jazz -- is Scaggs' tenor-baritone. He has always had an ear for the never overly expansive, just-right moment.

"Me, I stick close to the melodies," Scaggs says. "I don't go out and jump off the cliff; I try to find my place inside the tunes."

That place is transformative and new on "Speak Low," another crisp, yet cozy reinvention of the Boz Scaggs aesthetic.

 

Boz Scaggs returns to jazz standards in his new album

Gene Stout/P-I Pop Music Critic
October 23, 2008

Boz Scaggs launched his career with such R&B-flavored hits as "Lido Shuffle," "Lowdown" and "What Can I Say" -- each sung in his distinctive husky baritone.

But with his new album, "Speak Low," Scaggs extends his run as a jazz crooner, albeit with the same soulfulness that distinguished his earlier recordings. "Speak Low" is his second album of jazz standards; his first, "But Beautiful," came out in 2003 and featured a more tried-and-true selection of songs: "Sophisticated Lady," "What's New?" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

Scaggs' current tour -- which includes a run of shows at Jazz Alley Thursday through Nov. 2 -- coincides with Tuesday's release of "Speak Low" (Decca Records), which combines jazz standards with blues songs and ballads. Scaggs describes the album as "a sort of progressive, experimental effort ... along the lines of some of the ideas that Gil Evans explored."

The collection features a sumptuous version of "Invitation," the haunting 1952 ballad by Bronislaw Kaper; "Skylark," the Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael classic; and the beautiful title track "One Touch of Venus" by Ogden Nash and Kurt Weill (written for their 1943 show).

Though recording albums of jazz standards has been trendy among veteran rock and pop stars with moribund careers, Scaggs brings a rich, old-school soulfulness to a varied collection that features a number of not-so-obvious gems, among them "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" (Frances Landesman and Thomas Wolfe Jr.) and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" (Duke Ellington and Keith Russell).


Boz Scaggs says his album is a "progressive, experimental effort ...
along the lines of some of the ideas that Gil Evans explored."

Born in Ohio and raised in Oklahoma and Texas (where he picked up the boyhood nickname "Bosley," or simply "Boz"), Scaggs began his career in San Francisco in the psychedelic '60s. There, he hooked up with Steve Miller, whom he had met years earlier while attending a private school in Dallas. Scaggs played on Miller's first two albums, "Children of the Future" and "Sailor."

Scaggs' first solo album for Atlantic Records was a poor seller, despite guest musicians Duane Allman and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. But his second album, "Silk Degrees," was a huge hit. Assisting him in the recording studio were a group of musicians who would later form the band Toto.

Adult-contemporary-minded baby boomers, then in their late 20s and early 30s, salivated over the album's silky soulfulness.

"Down Two Then Left" in 1977 didn't do as well as "Silk Degrees," but "Middle Man" in 1980 yielded two hit singles, "Breakdown Dead Ahead" and "Jojo." After that, Scaggs dropped out of sight for eight years before releasing "Other Roads" (and its adult-contemporary hit single, "Heart of Mine") in 1988.

Another semi-retirement from the music business -- aside from operating a nightclub in San Francisco -- ended with "Some Change" in 1994, followed by "Come on Home" (a blues-influenced album) and "My Time" in the late '90s. "Dig," released on Sept. 11, 2001, was lost in the post-9/11 downdraft.

"But Beautiful" represented a natural stylistic progression from the sound that launched his career, but not without some hurtles.

"It opened up a whole new set of challenges for me," Scaggs says of the album on his Web site. "It's sacred ground, as far as I'm concerned, and the more I got into it, the more I realized how little I know."

©1998-2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 

Boz Scaggs: The Lowdown on Singing Standards

Sal Nunziato/October 27, 2008

Many artists reinvent themselves. Elton John never really disappeared, but it was his foray into Broadway that put him back on top. Rod Stewart's string of lousy records is all but forgotten, thanks to his new career as a lounge singer and four creepily successful albums of standards.

This bring me to Boz Scaggs, an artist who has quietly worn many hats and has always maintained an impressive level of respect. This is a man who started out as a blues guitarist playing with the Steve Miller Band and was part of one of the all time great cult classics, Sailor. He then released his first solo album which featured the now legendary "Loan Me A Dime." In two short years, William Royce "Boz" Scaggs had worn two hats successfully. One as West Coast psychedelic blues guitarist, the other as a southern soul and R&B singer, thanks to that brilliant Atlantic records debut recorded at the famed Muscle Shoals recording studios.

Add to this resume, one the most beloved records of all time, 1976's Silk Degrees, a soulful light in the dark of disco that featured such hits as the oft-sampled gem "Lowdown," and the rollicking singalong, "Lido Shuffle," and Boz Scaggs has a career trifecta in his first 8 years on the scene.

On his new release, Speak Low, Scaggs revisits the Great American Songbook, 5 years after his #1 jazz album, But Beautiful. What makes Speak Low stand out among other "standards" records is that it doesn't really stand out. It is so sublime, so natural, you never for a minute think of Boz Scaggs' past. You simply get lost in the beauty of the record itself.

Backed by an all-star band that features Gil Goldstein, Scott Colley, Mike Manieri and Alex Acuna, Scaggs delivers this selection of songs with the intense intimacy of a singer who has been living these songs his whole life. Boz credits the musicians for helping him get the sound and feel just right. "We'd try different things and they always landed in a really interesting pocket."

There are few artists who have jumped genres as naturally as Boz Scaggs. While some still think of him as a blues guitarist and others only know "Silk Degrees," I've followed Boz Scaggs for a long time, anticipating each new venture. He hasn't disappointed me yet. "Speak Low" is a noteworthy addition to an already prodigious catalogue.

 

ESSENTIAL: "I Wish I Knew"

Boz Scaggs
Speak Low (Decca)

Stuart Munro
October 27, 2008

American standards seem to have become a rest home for aging rockers, and while it might appear that Boz Scaggs has taken up residence - this is his second straight album in the form, following 2003's "But Beautiful" - the singer has suggested in recent interviews that his stay will not be permanent. While he's here, though, he seems to be making the most of it: "But Beautiful" topped the jazz charts, and with his new release he again proves himself an able and careful interpreter of this music while exhibiting a voice that has retained its distinctive velvety rasp even as its timbre has naturally thickened with time. Scaggs renders material from the likes of Rodgers and Hart ("She Was Too Good to Me"), Hoagy Carmichael ("Skylark"), and Duke Ellington ("Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me"), as a series of intimate, moody ballads, with occasional diversions into mid-tempo swing ("Senza Fine") and bossa beat ("Dindi"). His deft, small-combo backing is changed up a bit this time to fine effect, with vibes and clarinet woven in among the sax and piano and, here and there, touches of strings. "Speak Low" is an elegant and striking return visit. (Out tomorrow)

 

Boz Scaggs does standards

Music Review: By Steven Wine/Associated Press Writer
October 28, 2008

Boz Scaggs, "Speak Low" (Decca)

"Lido Shuffle" may be a dumb disco-era song, but anyone who remembers the 1976 hit knows Boz Scaggs can swing. And he can sing.

Both skills are on display on "Speak Low," Scaggs' second album of standards. It's a bit of a leap from "Lido" to Hoagy Carmichael, but Scaggs succeeds where many pop singers of his generation have flopped.

One reason: Scaggs sings like a saxophone, his voice possessing a reedy lilt that gives even a ballad like "Invitation" an appealing pulse. He has the phrasing of a veteran jazzman and an expressive voice at both ends of the register.

And unlike many singers who make a late-career switch to standards, Scaggs chooses his material wisely. The 12-song set includes tunes by Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Kurt Weill and Rodgers and Hart, and they're mostly in the category of you-know-it-when-you-hear it — somewhat familiar but open to a fresh interpretation.

The arrangements feature woodwinds, occasional strings and collaborator Gil Goldstein on piano and keyboards. But throughout the focus is on Scaggs, who wraps his voice around one glorious melody after another, sounding glad disco's dead.

CHECK THIS OUT: "Skylark" resembles a horn duet, with Bob Sheppard's tenor saxophone a clever counterpoint to Scaggs.

 

Boz Scaggs
Speak Low (Decca)

Don Heckman/The International Review Of Music
October 28, 2008

It’s been a long stretch since “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle” and “What Can I Say?,” Scaggs’ hits of the mid-’70s, but the years have served him well.  “Speak Low” is his second CD of standards.  And at first glance the immediate image that came to mind was that of yet another aging rock artist seeking resuscitation in the Great American Songbook.  But the first couple of tunes — “Invitation” and “She Was Too Good To Me” - quickly dissuaded me of that notion.

This is a set of performances from a guy who places everything he has at the service of the music, not vice versa (as in several other CDs of standards by former rock stars).  Scaggs’ vocals, the warm, reedy quality of his sound, the conversational quality of his phrasing, the innate sense of swing, have a lot more to do with Johnny Mercer than they do with Mick Jagger.  Add to that the superb selection of tunes - ranging from “I’ll Remember April,” “I Wish I Knew” and Mercer’s “Skylark” to “Ballad of the Sad Young Men,” “Dindi” and “Save Your Love For Me” — the Gil Evans-inspired charts by Gil Goldstein, and Bob Sheppard’s fine saxophone work.

 

http://www.bozscaggs.org/speaklowbybozscaggs.htm
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