Interview: Roger Kellaway
This Thursday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m., pianists Roger Kellaway and Peter Beets will be appearing together as a duet at New York’s Sheen Center as part of producer Pat Philips’ Jazz on Bleecker Street concert series. They will be performing The Many Moods of McCartney, as in Paul McCartney. For more information and to buy tickets, go here. The concert will be held at the Loreto Theater at 18 Bleecker St. (Box office: 212-925-2812).
Roger Kellaway, of course, is an international jazz treasure. He’s probably best known for writing and playing the closing theme, Remembering You, for the TV sitcoms All in the Family, which ran from 1971 to 1979, and its spinoff Archie Bunker’s Place (1979-1983). Few today can touch his technique. Dutch pianist Peter Beets also knows his way around a keyboard.–
ROGER KELLAWAY: ALL IN THE FAMILY
His music is some of the most familiar to the ears of baby boomers, and we don’t even realize it. Roger Kellaway, one of the unheralded giants of jazz piano, reflects his musical flexibility by means of his latest three albums, tributes to Oscar Peterson, Bobby Darin and Duke Ellington. He’s been a sideman to artists ranging from clark terry to ben webster and Eddie Daniels, keeping one foot on the pedal of tradition, with the other tapping and leaning into the future. No matter what the musical environment, Kellaway serves as a musical compass, keeping the music pointed in the right direction.We recently caught up with mr. Kellaway following a successful duet performance with Eddie Daniels, in which roger took us into his musical background, one which needs to be appreciated in this day of mindless cacophonic note playing.–
Robert Greenberg Recommends: Roger Kellaway
It’s been a while since I blogged about my favorite jazz pianists. A new crush calls me back to the (computer) keyboard.
That pianistic crush is the magnificent, in-every-way spectacular Roger Kellaway.
In fact, whether we’re aware of it or not, most of us have heard Kellaway play, as his performance of his song “Remembering You” concluded the classic Norman Lear-produced TV show “All in the Family” (which ran from January of 1971 to April of 1979).
I first became aware of Roger Kellaway in the very early 1970’s when I acquired his album “Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet”. The album featured Kellaway on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, Chuck Domanico on bass, and – yes – a cellist named Edgar Lustgarten. I liked the album okay, but I sold it – along with most of my records – when I moved to California in 1978. Maestro Kellaway promptly fell off my radar and – boohoo for me – remained thus until about 6 months ago, when a friend came to dinner.–
Eddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway@The E Spot 06.06.15
Bringing to the E Spot the music and songs that won the French equivalent of a Grammy for their Duke at the Roadhouse album, Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway gave tribute to the sounds and inspirations of Mr. Ellington while displaying his compositions in a way that would have made the master nod in approval.
When on tenor sax, Daniels weaved and bobbed between Kellaways musical jabs on a free flowing round on “UMMG” while on a solo read of “They Say It’s Wonderful” Daniels’ filled the room with a majestic aria mixing the warmth of bel canto and the fervor of a Rossini overture. Switching to clarinet, Daniels displayed his joy and flexibility as he and Kellaway went back and forth like a singles tournament on “I Want To Be Happy” where they would deliver unison lines and then give each other a moment in the spotlight. A take of “ Creole Love Call” had Daniels’ ebullient and alarmingly clear tone moan and cry, cutting like a Spyderco knife while Kellaway rumbled and gurgled like a rolling rive.–
Jazz Profiles: Roger Kellaway – STRIDE!
Bill Crow – bassist, author and all-round good guy, has a rule-to-live-by, one which he stresses over-and-over again, and it is that – “Jazz is supposed to be fun.”
To my ears, no one better exemplifies this approach to Jazz than does pianist Roger Kellaway.
But please don’t misunderstand this to mean that Roger isn’t serious about his music or that he is in any way belittling Jazz.
Roger’s music is full of joy, happiness and unexpected adventure and, as such, is full of the fun of finding new wonders in Jazz. Listening to Roger play is like being let into the funhouse at the amusement park. For Roger, as for Bill Crow, Jazz is fun. That’s the point of the whole thing.–
Roger Kellaway to throw jazzy birthday bash in Ojai
It showed in the beautiful notes he pumped out from his shiny black Yamaha piano in a den of his Ojai home one afternoon last week, his eyes closed at the keyboard and his lips mouthing song lyrics, as if he were transported to some special place or moment.–
LICORICE CITY. CLARINETS RULE!
Only in New York! in the space of three days three major clarinetists were feted: Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Eddie Daniels. Jack Kleinsinger’s Highllights In Jazz, celebrating year 40, presented the Peter and Will Anderson Orchestra in a program of the music of Shaw and Goodman at Tribeca Pac. Earlier in the week in Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex the Eddie Daniels/Roger Kellaway Duo held forth for four sold-out sets.–
PART I: EDDIE DANIELS/ROGER KELLAWAY
This is a preview of LICORICE CITY. CLARINETS RULE!. Read the full post (2072 words, 5 images, estimated 8:17 mins reading time)
New West Symphony presents West Coast debut of ‘Visions of America’
// January, 2013
By Karen Lindell
Published Thursday, January 24, 2013
Someone was walking on Abraham Lincoln’s head.
As Ojai photographer Joseph Sohm peered through his camera at the foot of Mount Rushmore, an ambler on Abe’s forehead, wearing a bright-orange jacket, marred his view.
“Please get off Abraham Lincoln’s face!” yelled Sohm, who had been at the monument for several hours, waiting for the ideal swath of light to hit the quartet of set-in-stone presidents.
Sohm waited. Finally, the spoiler walked away, and Sohm got his shot, “not in perfect light, as I had hoped,” he said, “but in near perfect light.”
Sometimes, democracy is like that: unpredictable, imperfect, difficult — and hopeful. Eventually, the light gets in.
// October, 2011
Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway–Live at the Library of Congress, by Jack Goodstein–You might be forgiven for thinking that an evening featuring a clarinet and piano duo in a jazz recital might have a limited appeal. It is, after all, an instrumental combination you’re not apt to come across very often. Indeed the clarinet itself has lost something of its cachet since the heydays of Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and Artie Shaw. Well, if you had been thinking that way about clarinetist Eddie Daniels and pianist Roger Kellaway’s February 25th concert recital at the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress, you would have been wrong—wrong in a big way.
Daniels and Kellaway are two musicians who deserve to be much better known than they are, and the CD release of that February concert by IPO Recordings could do much to remedy that. This is not their first collaboration, they worked together on the critically acclaimed 2009 album, A Duet of One, an album Bilboard lauded as “a wondrous duet date featuring extraordinary musicians taking chances and thankfully succeeding on all levels.” Live at the Library of Congress makes it clear that that previous album was no fluke. Two fine albums should mean something. These are albums where the dialogue between the clarinet and the piano is at times playful and quirky, at times lyrically mellow, at times technically brilliant, and always musically inventive. These men are virtuosos with their instruments and they know how to work together.
This was an exciting concert and it makes for an exciting album. The set list, nine pieces in all, is a mix of original compositions three by Kellaway, one by Daniels and works by a variety of other composers from Thelonius Monk to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. They begin with an eight and a half minute romp through the Gershwin’s “Strike up the Band,” treating the familiar tune with some a variety of inventive rhythms. They end with a Kellaway piece, “50 State Rambler,” which alternates familiar sounding lines with edgy modernism. In between, there’s an unlikely funky exploration of “America the Beautiful” and a lyrically expressive version of “Somewhere” from Westside Story.
Kellaway’s pieces show a similar kind of variety. There’s the simple lyricism of “A Place That You Want to Call Home” and the dynamic energy of his “Capriccio Twilight.” Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” with a clarinet quotation or two makes for a moment of wit and some of the accompanying grunts might remind you of Lionel Hampton. “Etude of a Woman,” Daniels’ tune, is combined with Sondheim’s “Pretty Woman.” It has a haunting melody that seems strangely familiar.
The World Clarinet Alliance called the event a “landmark concert.” In a Jazz CD Review of A Duet of One, Tony Augarde says: “Daniels and Kellaway fit together like hand-in-glove.” Perhaps that is one way of making sense out of the album’s cryptic paradoxical title, and if it was true then, it was equally true in February. The concert at the Library of Congress is nothing short of an eye-opening revelation. You can take a clarinet and a piano, put them on a stage alone together, and make wonderful music. You can, that is, if you’ve got Eddie Daniels playing that clarinet and Roger Kellaway playing that piano.–
All About Jazz
// December, 2009
Live at the Jazz Standard, by Andrew Velez–Pianist Roger Kellaway can swing hard and has played with everyone from Sonny Rollins to Joni Mitchell. His knowledge of music is encyclopedic and his pianism is instantly recognizable for its airy, sparkling quality, flowing from a singular skill he has to incorporate stride, swing, boogie and more into something totally modern. Long an in-demand sideman, Kellaway has too rarely recorded fronting his own group. Which brings us to the happy occasion of this live 2006 Jazz Standard set with his “East Coast group” (he also maintains a “West Coast group”). The opener here is Ellington’s “Cottontail”, on which Kellaway exhibits finger-twisting runs in company with Stefon Harris guesting on vibes. It’s a breathtaking turn that leads into yet more Ellington joy with “C Jam Blues” on which Russell Malone’s guitar propels even more non-stop swinging. If further evidence was needed of Kellaway’s diversity, the Russian classical cellist Borislav Strulev joins the festivities for the leader’s “All My Life”. The chamber-style duet is as deep and passionate as it is resonant. Kellaway’s approach to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” begins lightly and gently skipping; he seamlessly shifts from soft to emphatic chords and, with Jay Leonhart’s bass and Malone’s guitar, builds to a bedazzling crescendo of fresh possibilities. This is followed by a sweet meditation on “The Nearness of You” joined by Malone and Harris. Pushing musical explorations even further, the second disc opens with “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”? Who knew? It’s just further proof of Kellaway’s ability to unearth fresh rhythms and find unlikely places in which to swing. Turning to the more familiar jazz terrain of Redman-Gilbert’s “Cherry”, Kellaway recalls the hard swinging sound of the early Nat Cole Trio. On the closer, Monk’s “52nd Street Theme”, all hands cut loose to go way past the speed limit. When they called this a “live set” they weren’t kidding. Ooooweeeeeeeeee!–
// February, 2005
I Was There–Beyond the Sea, by Carla Rupp–Roger Kellaway’s new solo piano recording coincided with the release of the film biography of Bobby Darin, Beyond the Sea. The recording, titled I Was There – Roger Kellaway Plays From the Bobby Darin Songbook (IPOC1006), features tunes that Kellaway performed with Bobby Darin when he was Darin’s musical director in the late 1960s, and is available at CD retailers around the country and through IPO Recordings distributor, Qualiton Imports. The label website is iporecordings.com. In this interview Kellaway talks about his relationship with Darin and with William F. Sorin, IPO founder and producer of I Was There. “Everybody just loves the CD. I haven’t gotten anything but enthusiastic reaction to it. Everyone is glad to hear from Roger again,” says Sorin.
JazzReview: Your music is so beautiful. I have been listening to it for the last several hours since we set the interview up. What do you think makes the music beautiful and so comforting?
Roger Kellaway: [He laughed.] That’s a very personal question. My wife is using the other phone, so there might be static. This is the fax line, so we won’t be interrupted.
JazzReview: My heart has been singing along while listening to you play the piano. You even sing in one song. What inspiration is it in you that let you play so lovely on the piano?
Roger Kellaway: I play from my heart, and I can’t do anything to how you react to the music. I love the way you react to it, but people will be different in their reactions. There is a certain vibration in my creativity that reacts with your creativity. You’d like to have several million people to the community that reacts this way. I’m looking for several million more like you. The idea is that we put the creativity out there in the cosmos and we’re looking for people to say, “Wow, that’s great.” That’s seems to be what works. The general response to the CD. I’m really happy about the general responses to the new CD, I Was There, especially since I have not been on the scene for a while. I’ve been behind the scenes guy for 25 years, even more–basically since the late ‘60s Basically I’ve spent my life not on the road but part of the industry, doing film scores and doing studio work in general. I did a lot of that. I made more than 200 albums.
You can get it on my website, Roger Kellaway. com. Also, we have four or five of the reviews so far on my website of I Was There.
Jazz Review: Tell me about the reviews.
Roger Kellaway: The reviews…it’s interesting. Some of the reviews really get the point about the swing aspect of the CD, the stride piano aspect. I don’t consider myself a stride piano player, but I can play the concept of stride. I’m a two-handed piano player, as opposed to more modern styles of piano, which don’t use the left hand. The left hand has a rhythmic function, which supports the right hand. In more modern styles of playing the piano, that doesn’t exist. The reason is: in that style it leaves room for the bass to have its space.
But when you’re playing solo piano, it’s good to know how to use both hands, and it’s traditional. Part of what happens with me; there is a lot of tradition. With me there’s also a lot of experimenting, not at the expense of the tradition, but it does go a long way with me.
Some of the reviewers, you see, are people who have been fans of mine for 30 years and are absolutely delighted that I’m back on the scene, which delights me: because it feels very supporting. I’m going back on the road and I’m going to start performing with my new trio.
JazzReview: Tell me about the trio, the people in it?
Roger Kellaway: Bruce Forman on guitar, and Dan Lutz on bass. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do: to have a piano, guitar, and bass trio. Most trios are piano, bass, and drums: that’s the normal trio. Piano, guitar, bass is a different kind of trio. It’s what Nat Cole did and what Oscar Peterson did. Oscar took from Nat Cole. I was influenced by both of them, but chiefly by Oscar.
JazzReview: Have you met Oscar? Tell us about meeting him.
Roger Kellaway: I met Oscar in Milan when he was doing a concert there. I was with my buddy Gene Lees, who was an old friend of Oscar’s and was Oscar’s biographer. Gene asked me, “What is it about Oscar?” I said, “It’s the will to swing,” and Gene said Gene said, ‘”That’s what I’m going to call my book” He lives about a mile from here [in California]. We talk almost every day. I played piano on one of his first recordings, the one of his first lyrics.
Gene wrote the tune Waltz for Debbie [a Bill Evans favorite] and many songs with Jobim. My friend Gene wrote the English lyrics to Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars. These are two of the most well known songs in the jazz literature, certainly Waltz for Debbie. When Gene was the editor of Down Beat, he interviewed Bobby Darin, so that’s kind of full circle.
JazzReview: How was your touring?
Roger Kellaway: You mean with Kevin? Great! Sold out everywhere. It was good timing for me to do a CD tribute to Bobby Darin. I had a good idea there would be some of kind of a tour with the movie. Once I finished the solo album I Was There, I called Bill Sorin and said, “How about a companion tribute?”
[The other telephone rings] That was a call from my friend who has my dog right now. We had four cats and a dog, and they’re all gone; now we have a house that is filled with the kinds of things that animals and children shouldn’t be around– too many knickknacks. But we have a cat Cindy that visits the house and collects all the mouse and rats, little gifts once a week.
JazzReview: Describe Kevin Spacey?
Roger Kellaway: Kevin has a lot of energy. He can be very explicit about the kinds of things he wants in a show, as he is in his own creativity. That is not unlike Bobby Darin; and that’s an easy kind of person to work with: someone who knows a lot about what they want, yeah, and what they want from me as a musical director. What is he like as a person? Very energetic; he’s very likeable. He’s an utmost professional, and those are the kinds of people I really like to work with. He raises the bar very high for himself, and then he goes for it. He challenges himself to a degree that he has to push himself to fantastic odds to meet his expectations and I have a lot of that in my creativity as well.
JazzReview: What movies of his have you seen?
Roger Kellaway: American Beauty, Usual Suspects, Seven.
JazzReview: I saw American Beauty.
Roger Kellaway: American Beauty was wonderful. I really loved it. I was a fan before I met Kevin. I didn’t know he was going to do a Bobby Darin movie. He called a mutual friend and said, “I want to meet somebody who was a musical director for Bobby.” That’s how it all started, in 1999. It might have been 1998, but I think it was in ‘99.
Roger Kellaway: I simply enjoyed the movie, Beyond the Sea, rather than just feeling it was a great movie or not. The movie reminded me of how emotionally connected I still was to Bobby, and the years I was with Bobby Darin and I how much I have felt about him since then..
JazzReview: How emotional were you?
Roger Kellaway: Well…yeah…there were a couple of spots [while watching the movie] I cried. That was a surprise to me. Wow, I still think a lot about Darin. The years we were together were really important to my life, those 2 ½ years–late ’66 through ’68.
JazzReview: Where you then?
Roger Kellaway: I was in California then. In the early ’60s I was in New York. I came out to the West Coast with Jackie Leonard
JazzReview: That was the comedian from the borscht belt I read about in your bio.
Roger Kellaway: The borscht belt. Actually I played with Jackie at the Flamingo in Vegas. I also did the Flamingo with Bobbie. That was the main place Bobbie and I played. We played other places in Reno and Tahoe, but when we were in Vegas we were at the Flamingo. The first guy who opened for us was Richard Pryor. Yeah well, those were amazing years.
JazzReview: I lived in Lake Tahoe briefly.
Roger Kellaway: I had a condo in Tahoe, but I never visited it. It was one of those ski properties that several of us went into as a rental.
JazzReview: I’ve stayed at the Flamingo. I liked it. One time they were doing some renovations.
Roger Kellaway: We played the Wayne Newton Theatre at the Stardust Hotel.
JazzReview: How did you like it?
Roger Kellaway: Well, anything in Vegas is tough if you’re a non-smoker like I am now. I was a long-time smoker and now I’m a non-smoker. They still let everybody smoke at the machines, and you can’t get to your dressing room without walking by the machines. The answer to your question is that it’s difficult.
JazzReview: How about Atlantic City?
Roger Kellaway: The Taj Mahal has much better air conditioning than the Star Dust, which is an older hotel. If you’re sensitive about smoke, Vegas is difficult with that smoke. This is probably the second time I’ve been to Vegas since I left Bobby Darin, maybe the third time. That’s as long as I’ve done studio work.
Certainly I’ve had projects that have taken me all over Europe, including Italy, and in Cologne, Germany. I was in a wonderful trio out of Denmark. I’ve done a lot of traveling, but basically my life has not been about being on the road. It’s like I might go on a Scandinavian tour, then come home and go on another tour six months later. It’s not constant road tour for me.
JazzReview: Do you like the road?
Roger Kellaway: The month I was on the road with Kevin: that’s the longest time I was on the road. No, that’s not right. The longest time I was on the road was in 1988 when I was in Japan for six weeks.
JazzReview: What was that about?
Roger Kellaway: I did it five times: might have been 1987. It was called “100 Gold Fingers,” a Japanese concept. There were 10 piano players.
JazzReview: Who were the others?
Roger Kellaway: You could mention Hank Jones and Kenny Baron in the “100 fingers” group, and Tommy Flanagan and John Lewis were also on it. Eighty-six [’86] was the first tour I did. That was a great tour: piano players usually don’t get to hang out with piano players. There are CDs available. It could be called a “Piano Playhouse.” The CDs that we got were Japanese. Here, I found one from 1991. I have a CD: it is called “Fujitsu Presents 100 Gold Fingers, Vol. 1,” King Record Co., printed in Japan.
JazzReview: How did you like the Rose Hall in New York City?
Roger Kellaway: Loved it. New York was terrific. I loved the new hall. That whole building is really quite impressive. Everything. The whole architecture.
JazzReview: When are you coming back to New York?
Roger Kellaway: I think I was coming back in March, but it will probably be delayed because I’m working on a CD with a Russian cellist. We’re going to record in New York, but we got behind. You probably heard on the news we got 12 inches in Ojai. We got landslides and all kinds of things here in California. Everything is closed, we have one lane in and out.—still.
JazzReview: How did you fare?
Roger Kellaway: Actually, I didn’t go out for three weeks. We did fine, though. We did a considerable amount of building on our house because of leaks we had. This time it proved that everything we did was fine.
JazzReview: There’s you and your wife?
Roger Kellaway: Yes, and we have a boy, Colin.
JazzReview: What does he do?
Roger Kellaway: He does several things. One of the things he does is computer tech. He assists my wife (Jorjana) with her graphics, and she and I are in business together with our company, which is Kellaway LightWorks. It is our CD company which I would have recorded for, but then Bill Sorin came along. At the bottom on the CD, it says Roger appears courtesy of Kellaway LightWorks, because I am essentially signed to my own company.
JazzReview: How does the jazz business in this century compare to the decades of jazz in the last century?
Roger Kellaway: I don’t know how to answer that, except one of the things I feel is my legacy to the swing, and the reason for that is that some of the music I’ve heard in the last few years is that it doesn’t know anything about the tradition of jazz swinging–and most of the people I’ve done that with are gone. So I feel a responsibility about swinging.
JazzReview: In my courses in jazz, we learned that jazz equals swing.
Roger Kellaway: I’m 65 years old, so that comment makes total sense to me, because in the music in the years I grew up with came from that tradition. So my feeling is that it’s important to get that concept out there. It’s something I know how to do; it’s something I love to do, and it’s important to do it. Now there’s a lot of swing on I was There–it is solo piano style, but still there is intent to swing. When you hear Just in Time, or I’m Beginning to See the Light, or any of the tracks that aren’t ballads, it’s to swing.
There is also the intent to explore, because I’m always thinking that way. I’m always exploring. The trick is not to leave the swing behind. But I love the exploration. It’s good you’re getting this now, because you’ll hear it when you hear the new trio CD–we’re putting the cover on it now–Bill is working on producing it.
Our first gig in New York after doing the trio will be at the Iridium, but it’s not firm, but that’s the idea. What do you thin about the Iridium? No I haven’t seen the room. The last club I’ve played in New York was Birdland on 44th Street. It was with Bill Charlap. We did two pianos. How was that? Loved it. That was great. I’ve known Bill since he was a baby. He has a wonderful talent.
JazzReview: Where did you grow up?
Roger Kellaway: Boston, actually Waban, Massachusetts.
JazzReview: How does Atlantic City compare with Las Vegas?
Roger Kellaway: Atlantic City, we arrived at during the night. I was sick. I was losing my voice. We had one day off, and I spent 10 hours in bed. It was that bronchial cough. So I had that most of the tour.
JazzReview: Come on: give me some great Bobby Darin stories, could you? You said he was so cool, so energetic.
Roger Kellaway: You know, most of the time we spent together was on stage. I’ve told these stories several time, but not in print yet. Here’s one. He said that whenever he turned around that I had to be looking at him. I said, “How do I do that and conduct the band at the same time?” And he said, “That’s your problem.”
JazzReview: What did you do?
Roger Kellaway: I worked it out. He needed the psychology of my always looking at him.
JazzReview: Did Kevin Spacey want you to do that, too?
Roger Kellaway: Kevin didn’t ask me, I just did it. That’s the way Bobby trained me.
JazzReview: Is it something that makes the performer seem more important?
Roger Kellaway: I would say so…it’s a feeling of security for the performer. He gets the feeling that I’m supporting him. That’s what accompanying is all about.
JazzReview: Right, it’s making the person feel comfortable.
Roger Kellaway: Yeah. It’s my job to make all the musical decisions about the band and how they play the arrangements. When I did this with Kevin or Bobby Darin did, they didn’t have to think about the band, because they know I’ve taken care of it. That‘s what a musical director wants. If you were on stage, that’s what you would want: a team of people making every thing so simple that you don’t have to have a thing to think about except your creativity.
JazzReview: Is that what made Darin creative?
Roger Kellaway: I can’t say that. He was already creative. I was there to support his creativity with my creativity. That way we do a show as team.
JazzReview: Will you work with Kevin again, or is it over?
Roger Kellaway: I don’t think it’s over. The question is, “When could it happen?” My feeling is that he’ll probably want to do it again. And if he asks me, and if the timing and the schedules work, I’ll do it. I imagine that it would be in Las Vegas. I do. But it all depends on schedules now. My projection is not to be doing studio work. It is to be out and performing, doing clubs and concerts.
JazzReview: Tell me about your early piano teachers. Who were they? What did they say?
Roger Kellaway: I started at seven years of age playing classical piano in this lifetime, and that teacher was not happy with me when I started being interested in jazz at the age of 12. I started pursuing that which led me into improvisation. And that led me into Dixieland, which led me to playing bass, which was my second instrument. That’s what happened in the Boston years. I was going to the number three high schools in the country. We were doing incredible things musically. We had a jazz band, a symphony orchestra and a marching band. The school I went to with the impressive music program was Newton High School. I played the bass for 10 years actually in the jazz band and in the orchestra. I couldn’t play bass in the marching band.
I stopped playing bass in the early ’60s because I couldn’t devote my life to composing, playing the piano–and anything else. Composing and arranging and playing the piano: that’s three lifetimes right there. So I’m not a bass player, and I write well for the bass– and I write well for the orchestra because I’m a bass player. You’ll see some of the ballet and some orchestras I’ve written for on my website.
JazzReview: You look so happy in the photo on the newest CD. Why?
Roger Kellaway: Happy period in this life. It’s a good photo. The photographer was playing the music of Theolonius Monk all during the photography shoot. I was happy because I like Monk. I thought it was a very creative photographer, Kent Lacin, on the job.
JazzReview: Where are you from? I’d love to know some growing up revelations about you.
Roger Kellaway: You know, one of the most important times in my life was from around ages 16 to 19, which were the years I specifically played a lot of Dixieland. Playing a lot of Dixieland is how you learn to do swing in a traditional way, so there’s a very important correlation between those lessons I was learning from players who were twice my age–and you get the benefit of that on the way I play in I Was There.
JazzReview: Maybe that’s why I liked it so much?
Roger Kellaway: Well yes, that might be a key to something what you like: this is joyous. Maybe that traditional aspect is something you like in a player and I spark that. I have many people I know who like the tradition of jazz but don’t particularly like me. I have great respect for the tradition of jazz, but I am a risk taker. I like jumping off the cliff and seeing where I land. I take more risks than a traditional player takes. In other words, there used to be many Dixieland parties around the country and none of them hired me because I was too far out. That’s my sense of adventure. Whatever my sense of adventure, you like that. There’s something what I play that feeds a sense of joy with you. That’s great. That’s all I want to do is to take you for a ride, and I hope you like the journey.
JazzReview: I’m going to keep playing this CD after I’m done finishing this article.
Roger Kellaway: There’s a lot of tradition in the playing, in I Was There, and in all my playing–and there’s a lot of modernism.
JazzReview: Is your mother still alive? Does she like your music?
Roger Kellaway: If I don’t get too far out–and I play things she can sing along to—she likes my music.
What’s her name?
Alice. She lives in Massachusetts. She just moved into an elderly housing. She’s 88. She used to play the piano and she played standards. That’s one of the things she used to always like. She’s much more conservative than I am.
JazzReview: But she must have been always proud of you.
Roger Kellaway: Yeah, she gets to hear my theme on the end of “All in the Family,” the TV show. That’s one of my claims to fame–not the opening theme, but the closing theme. So she hears that everyday. She watches that show, I think, everyday and she loves that.
JazzReview: And your Dad?
Roger Kellaway: My Dad died in ’92. His name was Ralph. He did play the piano, and he only played one song that I remember: which was “The Bells of Saint Mary,” and I copied him playing that song at the age of seven–and that led to my studying piano. I didn’t know at that time I’d been doing it for hundreds of years. I always say seven [years of age] this lifetime [that I started the piano]. It always stops the conversation. It generally does. I guess I don’t talk to too many people who believe in the concept of reincarnation.
Somewhere in my twenties, I started asking myself the question, “Why is it that the creativity comes so easy to me and it’s so difficult for some other people?” And the answer was to me…actually I went to a few psychics and asked some questions…that I’ve been doing this for about 400 years, science and music. (I’m interested in mysticism anyway.) I’m sure it’s been longer than that. One psychic reading said it was more than 2,000 years. We’ve all been around for a while!
We grew up Protestant, actually Congregationalists, in my home when I grew up, and that’s about as loose as you can get in terms of dogma. I sang in the choir for about 11 years. That was some of the best training I could get.
JazzReview: Do you use the Internet to look up your interests?
Roger Kellaway: No, not really. I have DSL now, and I didn’t used to use the Internet as much because it was too slow, but now if I have to sit for an hour and do email I get angry. Well I went to the Internet recently because my wife typed in “Kevin Spacey” with “Roger Kellaway,” and she got 164 hits of interviews with Kevin that mentioned me. So I had to see that all for myself.
JazzReview: I remember when he was interviewed on television not long ago.
Roger Kellaway: He [Spacey] mentioned me on Larry King’s show. He’s been pretty good about that. Larry wanted to know how he started the movie and he said he was thinking about the movie for 10 years but started working on the songs with me about 1999. It wasn’t so much the adjectives and compliments Kevin gave me, but that he mentioned that he was happy that he had as his musical director one of Bobby Darin’s musical directors. I was flattered by that, and it was the truth. I liked it when he put it that way. The reason he came to me was because I knew Bobby and I knew Steve Blauner, Bobby’s manager, who’s still around. When Kevin did the Larry King show, he did it with Steve and Dodd Darin, the son of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee.
JazzReview: Did you meet Sandra Dee?
Roger Kellaway: My wife says yes, but we haven’t seen Sandra since we were at a party at Bobby Darin’s house in 1968. I hadn’t seen Dodd since them. He came up to me at the Wiltern Theatre recently and said hello; I remember him as very young, four years old, maybe. There’s also biography of Darin that just came out that I’m mentioned in [it].
JazzReview: How long have you known your wife?
Roger Kellaway: Thirty-nine years; she was there too. That’s why I wrote the original song, “I Was There.” I wanted an original song; I was thinking about Bobby, and I wanted to call it, I Was There.
JazzReview: Was it amazing being there?
Roger Kellaway: Yeah, and I thought that the song speaks the title well and the concept of the music. And it also works nicely for Bobby. It feels like the kind of a song that he might have sung. [I think you ought to know that I’ve moved on to a nice Cabernet [wine] after an hour and a half of talking together.]
JazzReview: I remember Bobby also, only from records and TV.
Roger Kellaway: Oh, you never saw him live?
JazzReview: No, I didn’t. I wish I had. It seems sad that he died so young.
Roger Kellaway: He was extremely intense because of that. He had rheumatic fever when he was very young–and was told he wouldn’t live past 15. When we were together, feeling living past 30 was a blessing. Every moment was a gift. He didn’t think he was going to make it to 30. He made it to 37.
JazzReview: Do you think it takes a lot of character and strength to be a musician?
Roger Kellaway: Yes, to be a good one. Well, to be in the arts in the first place, I suppose that alone is a testament to strength; it’s so precarious [in the arts], and there’s very little security. But what else would I do. I’ve had this blessed life, playing with some of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz—and classical, too, for that matter. And then somebody great like Bill Sorin comes along—and asks me to do a solo CD as a tribute to Bobby Darin. It has been wonderful. I didn’t know he knew that I was there. I thought he thought this was just a marketing idea. But he sent me an email that he knew I was there.
Bill Sorin asked me to make a solo CD to one of the most important people in my life. That made me very happy. And how much happier could I be? All of the songs were performed on stage with Bobby. They were all selected from a huge number of songs we performed. I picked the songs I could have the most jazz fun with.
JazzReview: Is jazz fun?
Roger Kellaway: Yeah. If it isn’t [fun for you,] you better get out of it. But if you don’t get out, don’t play with me. You’ve heard the CD. There’s something about the fun aspect that I communicated.
JazzReview: You made me have fun [listening to the CD] while washing dishes, which I hate.
Roger Kellaway: I’ve had many people tell me what they’ve done listening to my music. When you mention jazz, joy is one of the first things that always come to mind. The only real hit is “Beyond the Sea” on my solo CD, and it was the biggest hit–and for more of the biggest hits, you’ll have to wait for our trio CD. Carla, I’m walking around the house while we’re talking on the phone.
JazzReview: What was the story behind your work with Barbra Streisand?
Roger Kellaway: Barbra Streisand? We worked together for months, in fact I wrote the closing gospel arrangement for Streisand when she played Vegas in the 70s, and I think that’s one of the reasons she called me for Star is Born.
JazzReview: Did she like what you did?
Roger Kellaway: [He laughed] I don’t have another hour and a half. She’s… I’ll give you a capsule. Barbra Streisand is the only other person other than Bobby Darin that I’ve ever worked with who is such an incredible expert on her own talent. What I mean by that is she knows what she wants, and she knows herself so well that she knows what she wants musically. Bobby is the only other person I have worked with who is that way. Now what’s interesting about that…Are you into astrology? They are both Taurus’s. I found that incredibly interesting. So again I got along with Barbra. She’s very demanding, and we had a good time together. That was also my first film. Phil Ramone produced the music for Star is Born. I was responsible for the music for the dramatic score.
JazzReview: What are you working on now?
Roger Kellaway: I have a writing deadline. At the moment, I’m proofreading a piece of mine for tuba and piano for a Swiss publisher, and then I’m going to do another trio CD for Bill Sorin. The first trio CD is done and will be out in two months. It will be called the Roger Kellaway Trio. We’re going to remember Bobby Darin: it’s going to be a tribute also, these songs also performed on stage, but you will hear Mack the Knife and Splish, Splash. They work well on a trio, but they didn’t work well on the solo album. I tried them as solo, but didn’t like them as solo material. They work perfectly on the trio album. Bill wants another trio album, and that’s what we will be recording.
JazzReview: Thank you so much, Roger, for this interview. It was great. I hope to see you in New York at the club! I’m glad Jim Eigo [of Jazz Promo Services], Suzi Price, [my editor from JazzReview.com], and Bill Sorin, your producer, could hook us up for this interview. We sure covered a lot of things.
You’re right. Goodbye, Carla. I enjoyed the interview.–
// January, 2007
Interview with Roger Kellaway, by Joe Montague–It is not very often that one has an opportunity to speak with a music icon as celebrated as Roger Kellaway and it is even less often that one gets to talk to him on his birthday (67th). I had the opportunity to do both recently and found the pianist/composer to be one of the more congenial people that I have spoken to inside or outside of the music industry. Kellaway took time to reflect about the relationships he has forged, time spent in the late sixties as the arranger and pianist for Bobby Darin, the numerous films he has scored and his forty-one year marriage to Jorjana.
Now entering his sixty-eighth year Kellaway is not a man stuck in the past but quite the contrary. He spoke of the need to ensure his own music and career is more firmly entrenched in the digital age. Inspired by Maria Schneider’s success in the digital age Kellaway says, “I am much more interested in it right now than I ever have been because I just don’t think there is any other possibility (for selling music on a large scale).”
He talks about new projects and musical adventures he would like to pursue. You can hear the vitality in his voice whether he is recalling a fond memory or in his responses to questions that solicit his opinion.
Kellaway revels in what he refers to as a ‘forty-one year art lesson’ at the hands of his father-in-law, his wife and her uncle. It is fitting then that although he did not design or have input to the cover of his most recent CD Heroes it is very Picasso or Degas like. “The cover that I like the best is Heroes. Everyone seems to like it the best,” he says.
Speaking of Heroes I asked Kellaway why he chose this particular time in his life to create this type of record. “These days particularly in the last few years and with the last few CDs I have been looking for a common theme. Heroes is dedicated to the first two Oscar Peterson trios. The first one was with Barney Kessel and the second one with Herb Ellis,” he says.
Kellaway made a point of doing some heavy-duty research about the Peterson trios. It also helped that he had played with Herb Ellis and renowned bassist Ray Brown who had also performed with Peterson. Familiarity with the Peterson repertoire made song selection for Heroes easy.
Kellaway says the reason for recording songs such as Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe”, Duke Elington’s “Cotton Tail” and Kellaway’s original composition “I’m Smiling Again”, “was to commemorate the person who was the single most prominent force during my teenage years. Oscar (Peterson) was a tremendous force in my (musical) upbringing.” After he had introduced Kellaway to Peterson, jazz historian Gene Lees asked Kellaway for his opinion of the jazz legend. Kellaway replied, “The [will to] swing.” Lees thought that was a great phrase and adopted it as the title for his book.
The album Heroes is part of a bigger mission that Kellaway has embarked on. “This is what my new trio is all about. I am feeling a legacy about swinging because most of the people that I learned it from are gone. The younger generation seems to be responding to swing at least in terms of dancing. It certainly is a part of jazz that needs to should be addressed.
With twenty-six film scores to his credit including titles such as A Star Is Born, Breathless, The Paper Lion and Invasion of the Body Snatchers it was surprising to learn that Kellaway is not overly eager to return to that medium.
“I have looked at film music again but colleagues have told me horrendous stories of working with people in the industry that essentially don’t know anything about music. There are projects with (as many as) fourteen producers so I have decided not to go in that direction,” he says.
Recently however Kellaway finished writing a score for a documentary his wife Jorjana was completing. Other than Jorjana’s project, he has however decided against, “Going back into music per se unless someone comes along that just adores what I do. It has to be a small independent project with some parameters to it. (It cannot have) fourteen people with opinions. That isn’t how music is made!”
Kellaway says three vocalists in particular stand out in his mind when he thinks back over the years he has been associated with jazz, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Bobby Darin. About Vaughan he observes, “When I did piano bars in the sixties I used to sing a lot of those swooping phrases of hers. I always loved her style. You are talking about a time when singers actually sang the melody (versus) what happens nowadays. You are talking of a time when songs were made of melodies. Not only were the songs melodic but the singers were melodic oriented.”
Kellaway enthuses about his relationship with Carmen McRae. He created arrangements for her in 1975. He says he loved working with both Vaughan and McRae and you can still hear the fondness in his voice.
“The other person whom looms largely in my life is Bobby Darin. I was with him from ’66 to ’68. In ’67 after taking a year of dictation he gave me Dr Doolittle,” says Kellaway. He describes Darin as, “an expert on the kind of things and orchestration that he wanted to hear,” and, “We were the first people to do the music of Doctor Doolittle.”
Other influences early in Kellaway’s career included, working with Clark Terry from 1962-64. He played with Bob Brookmeyer and was a part of quintets led by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims (1963). The music of George Shearing, Billy Taylor and Horace Silver served as a magnet for the young Kellaway.
Kellaway credits Dick Sudhalter with introducing him to Dixie Land jazz. Those ties were strengthened when Kellaway had an opportunity to hone his craft at Boston’s Mahogany Hall a venue owned by George Wien and adjacent to Wien’s Storyville jazz club.
With the diversity of music that influenced his early career it does not come as a surprise to Kellaway that his own music is very eclectic. He says, “If I am writing something that is very melodic and harmonic I can only go so far before I want to do something serial and twelve tone.”
Kellaway says, “Every aspect of music has its own language and message.” If that is true than we might easily conclude, that Roger Kellaway is a connoisseur of languages. We would be hard pressed to think of any other individual who has become so accomplished in as many different aspects of his craft as has been the case with Roger Kellaway. He has performed with Bobby Darin, Elvis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Joni Mitchell, Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini. He received a Grammy Award for his music on Memos From Paradise. His film score for A Star Is Born received an Academy Award nomination. He was commissioned to write the music for a ballet presented by choreographer George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet. He has recorded and written chamber music, jazz music and classical charts.
Despite all of his accomplishments, I never once got the impression during our all too brief hour together that Roger Kellaway has become self absorbed or convinced that there is not more to learn about his craft. He remains optimistic about his future and the future of jazz. He is grateful for his experiences and the numerous friendships they have brought him.
Roger your in-laws may have given you an art lesson but you have given me a life lesson. Thank you.–
// January, 2009
Live at the Jazz Standard–“Let’s say life is a wheel, I just choose to have more spokes on the wheel. It’s something that interests me and makes my life interesting. I am hoping that when people come to hear me play, or they hear anything that I record, that it is a nice journey for them, no matter what it is that I do, whether it is the cello quartet, or it is Russell, Jay, Stefon, or Borislav. The Live At The Jazz Standard CD is kind of an interesting mixture, because now that I have a cello back in my life, I am extremely happy. I don’t know whether I like it more than the piano or not, but it is really a major instrument in my life,” jazz pianist and composer Roger Kellaway told me, while discussing his recording of Live At The Jazz Standard, released in November, but originally recorded between May 25th- 28th, 2006, at the New York City Club. He was joined on that night by guitarist Russell Malone, bass virtuoso Jay Leonhart, cellist Borislav Strulev and vibraphonist Stefon Harris.
Kellaway was responding to my question as to whether or not he thought that his eclectic musical stylings have helped his career or perhaps kept him from receiving an even more elevated status in the music industry, than he already enjoys, which would be difficult to imagine, considering, he served as Bobby Darin’s Musical Director for three years, served as Kevin Spacey’s Musical Director for two years in conjunction with the filming of the 2004 movie Beyond The Sea, and recently served as the Musical Director for Van Morrison’s live CD / DVD recording at the Hollywood Bowl. Kellaway’s ability to combine diversity and excellence has gained him the respect of those throughout the music industry. His recordings with his cello quartets early in his career, have recently been released again. In addition, he has in the past received commissions that included a ballet for George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet, orchestra compositions for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The National Symphony, the New Amrican Orchestra, a concerto for the New York Philharmonic, and chamber works performed at Carnegie Hall.
“In terms of the general public, I think that it is confusing. Let’s take Erroll Garner (jazz pianist / composer) for instance, somebody who could play for a very short period of time and was completely recognizable. Because I do so many different things, it is harder for my public or my fans to understand what the center is,” says Kellaway.
Kellaway’s fondness for the music of Oscar Peterson, and that of Duke Ellington is in evidence on his current album. In fact Kellaway chose three Ellington tunes among the first five tracks of Live At The Jazz Standard, “Cottontail,” opens his set, “C Jam Blues,” follows, and the fifth track is, “I’m Beginning To See The Light.”
“Duke Ellington wrote some great melodies, and when we look at the ability of the younger generation to do melody, it’s extremely frustrating, because they don’t know how to do it, which is too bad. Again, like Oscar Peterson is an example for my life, for sound, structure, imagination and melody, Duke fits in there, and they are great tunes to improvise on,” says Kellaway.
As for why Kellaway settled on these three Ellington songs, “It just kind of turned out that way. “I’m Beginning To See The Light,” was already in the book, and “C Jam Blues,” was easy to pick, because we can throw it into any set and not have to worry about rehearsing anything. It is just the blues. “Cottontail,” was also in the trio book.”
Kellaway readily admits to the Oscar Peterson influences on Live At The Jazz Standard, “This takes me back to when I first met Oscar in Milan, I was with Gene Lees (book: The Will To Swing) and Gene turned to me and said, what is it about Oscar that you love? I said, ‘The will to swing, and that became the title of Gene’s book (an autobiography of Oscar Peterson).”
“In this day and age so many young musicians don’t even know what the word swing means, let alone how to play it. Most of my buddies who I learned it from, aren’t here anymore. I am torn between the legacy of it, and the necessity to continue doing it, but it isn’t the only thing that I want to do in my life. Live At The Jazz Standard absolutely represents the swing aspect, and it represents the Oscar Peterson Trio in the fifties,” says Kellaway before launching into a history lesson, “You know that he started out with drums (in his ensemble). His first trio was a drum trio, but somewhere around ’51 he hooks up with Barney Kessel, and in ’54 I think is when Herbie (Herb Ellis) comes in, and ’59 is when Oscar goes to drums (drummer Ed Thigpen). He never really looks back, even when he has Joe Pass (guitarist-1970’s).
There are other great writers represented on Live At The Jazz Standard, such as, Hoagy Carmichael and Dinah Washington, with the recording of the seventh track, “The Nearness Of You.”
Kellaway recalls, “The Nearness Of You,” was Stefon’s idea, and the name of that game is called, let’s play a ballad, and what do you want to play? (he laughs) He just started playing.”
On Live At The Jazz Standard, Kellaway also nods to saxophonist Sonny Rollins with his cover of, “Doxy,” and to pianist / composer Thelonious Monk, with the inclusion of the, “52nd Street Theme.”–
Picks of the Week
// January, 2013
By Shane Cohn and Michel Miller 01/24/2013–
NEW WEST SYMPHONY Friday, Jan. 25, and Saturday, Jan. 26, 8 p.m. The New West Symphony will present the West Coast premiere of Visions of America: A Celebration of Democracy on the third concert of its 2012/2013 Masterpiece Series. The multimedia work is a “Photo Symphony” featuring projected photographs by “American’s Photo Historian” Joseph Sohm, accompanied by the music of Grammy Award-winning composer Roger Kellaway. Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard; and Saturday at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks.
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