MUSICIANS - Growing Up With A Jazz Man
The Jazz Composer from the 40's
Who could imagine that I would write about my father ten years after he passed away. Some times when you write about someone who is famous in their own right, it is hard to actually talk about how it was growing up with such a force.
I would rather not mention his name because I feel that it will take the intimacy away from this very personal writing. You see growing up with such an amazing composer and lyricist in itself is a challenge. I spent many years in his social circles of the ultimate creative and talented icons of his time. A few experiences in the presence of Frank Sinatra and icons of that time sort of summed up my upbringing if you were to see it in a film. I spent times at a very young age being served orange juice by topless women at mansions in Palm Springs and in Century City and most of the time no one ever noticed them. There were artists at the piano like in a factory with one product after the other trying to up the other so they would not be discarded from the conveyor belt. I listened to Mickey Rooney talk about "Being Born Again" and when his third or fourth wife spoke to me I thought they were all crazy.
On a positive note, I have to hand my father credit for being there for me all of the time. Infact he never left the house unless there was some sort of gathering of old friends. He was amazing at the piano even though he never had a lesson in his life and infact he wrote many of his hits without an instrument at all. One particular hit he wrote while sitting on the toilet and he loved telling this story! He loved telling me his stories about his days with Duke Ellington and whoever else he knew "way back when." He was a bit protective of me and he once chased my very German boyfriend out of the house overlooking the ocean and called him all sorts of names. I began to understand when I was a teenager that he did have me when he was 60 years old and this could sort of put a damper on my dating schedule. There were many times I would walk out in a short mini skirt and high heels and he would say things like "Don't Be A Broad." When I dated a French Millionaire and he gifted me with a car, I drove it home and my father waiting at the door said, "Please give that back." I asked "why?" And he said "It you keep it you will have to do things for him." So, I gave it back even though I did not want to. This was my life with my father who was a Jazz Man.
Back to the music. The strangest thing is when I was growing up in the house, he never played music at all. I would have loads of parties with bands playing and I would perform at some of them, but he would never just play music in the background or listen to something classical when I was growing up. If someone gave him a CD of an artist that recorded one of his songs, he would listen to it and criticize it. He once called up Mel Torme or someone close to him and blasted "Mel" for not singing the right lyrics like he felt "disrespected." I always felt the lack of music in my home was sort of strange based on the success of his compositions which I still license "worldwide" today. I took guitar at a young age and when I hung out at Stevie Wonders house when I was really young, I wanted to be a a singer even then. I sort of understood him being upset about people singing his songs wrong, but I also chalked it up to him having way too much "free time" to think about it. Plus he was getting a bit older and a little more eccentric as time passed.
The problem in my home where a struggle ensued was that my father always wanted me to be a famous actress. He was friends with many beautiful women from that time and he often compared me to Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida (who came to see me in the hospital when I was born) and whoever came to mind in that particular conversation. When Mel Ferrer was over or Frank Sinatra was mentioned he would compare me to Ava Gardner and when Jose Ferrer was over they would go down the roster when they saw me. It became a "war of who I looked like most." Looking back it was very entertaining!
I think the best thing about being the daughter of this crazy and talented guy was the people that I met thorough the years. I had many uncles that I was supposed to make feel like family even if I could not stand some of them. One in particular used to run 20th Century Fox and used to always yell really loudly and my father and him would put on a show I tell you! He used to use a cane and evidently one day my father sawed it down without telling him and he went to pick it up and fell over! This was the sort of immaturity that I witnessed weekly. As a young girl some of these antics could be quite embarrassing! Another character from the music industry that comes to mind is a guy named Mr. Frankel. One day he picked me up and as he drove me home on the wrong side of the road on Sunset Blvd. heading for the beach proceeded to tell me to "marry rich." We were in his convertible Jag and I wanted to "jump ship" but decided to play the game and ask him why. He then decided to tell me that it is just as easy to fall in love with someone wealthy then it is with someone who is not. Did I mention that this guy lived in the same house as his wife for 20 years without speaking a word to eachother? Did I also mention that I was only thirteen?
As an artist myself, I was always looking for some sort of approval from my father and when I played him new tunes I wrote he listened to everything. The clash of the ages came when he was in his 80's and I would play ballads that I had written on the guitar. He would ask me why I did not want to play it on the piano and when he came to see my band playing in Hollywood he said that everything was a bit "noisy." I saw how his age and his background in Jazz affected the way he looked at "Rock n Roll" and he had a hard time accepting the production with lots of loud guitar solos and hard beating drums.
He always smiled when I performed with a piano though and this I feel made him feel like he was in the "old days." Before he died I sang some new songs I wrote without any music at all in our home with the marble floors and the white pillars. The echo of my voice sounded like it was in a temple and this made my father listen and focus on my voice. He would listen by closing his eyes and bending his head back and would stay completely still. He was happiest then and I was proud to give him a gift that made him so happy. When he died, I went in to record some ballads with just minimal music and when others heard it they would always say "You sound better with less." I'm still finding it hard to go there, but there are projects in the works and one day I will do a tribute album to him. I'm just not ready to go there yet and maybe it is just because the industry expects me too. A lot of powerful people in the music industry have asked me why I do not just sing my dad's tunes. I have recorded a few, but Jazz has never been enough for me. Especially traditional Jazz. Plus I always think of Natalie Cole and although she is very talented, her father is always mentioned which isn't a bad thing. Maybe it is better for me to do it when I'm older and done with the music I'm writing for my album and other projects right now. Maybe it is just too painful and I'm not fully healed yet. I will never do it unless I truly want to do it. This is how I lead my life now and this makes me happiest. I do love to sing about love.......