RR LogoElli Fordyce Interview 2009 headline

Interview by Joe Montague

Elli Fordyce Interview 2009 photo 1During these past few years New York City jazz vocalist Elli Fordyce has become a good friend to me, so to suggest that this interview was objective or the writing thereof is not subjective, would simply not be telling the truth, so having said that, allow me to introduce you to one of the most fascinating women that I have known.

Three years ago, through a mutual friend and her publicist I was introduced to a lady whose vitality belies her age, which we shall say is stuck at thirty-nine, and her album Something Still Cool, released in 2008 and which was greeted with critical acclaim by the jazz community. Recently she followed up the 2008 recording with this year’s release of Songs Spun Of Gold, and Fordyce is once again in rare form, as she breathes new life into the opening track, Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser’s “Let’s Get Lost,” a song on which Ed MacEachern’s elegant guitar, Mark Wade’s bass and Phil Stewart’s subtle and stylish drumming, provide the perfect accompaniment for Ms. Fordyce.

Fordyce says, “Something Still Cool got a lot of airplay, Kate Smith got me into a lot of places. This CD (Songs Spun Of Gold) has made a quantum leap above that one.”

Prior to working on the album Something Still Cool, Fordyce had been absent from the music scene for a number of years, so it seemed natural to pose a question as to whether or not she was surprised by the response that the CD evoked from critics and jazz fans alike.

“Oh my God, shock is more like it! I worked on that album off and on for eight years, for various reasons, most of which was money. In 2006 I got a very wonderful windfall and I was able to finish it in the best way that I could think of. By the time that eight years had rolled around, I was like, ‘Let’s get this thing over with.’ It was only expected to be a calling card, it was never expected to do anything. Everybody that I knew was doing CDs. You couldn’t even get a local gig without a one. You could no longer give someone a little demo and get gigs out of it. The competition was too stiff, so I needed a CD and that was the impetus for it. At first, I was having trouble getting the vocals the way that I wanted them, so I switched producers, and then I ran out of money. Someone else wanted to produce it for me and pay for everything, so I went with her, but she disappeared, before it got to the plant. The stuff was kept in ransom, because she didn’t pay her studio bill, so I never got the separated tracks. I got a CD that was a mix of eight songs and I wanted more than eight songs. Then I started working with someone else who was an expert at ‘cheapo production,’ and making the best out of what I had. I ran out of money again. Then when I could I went back to Patrick (Lo Re) and I said, ‘This is what I have done with this and these are all of the renditions.’ He listened to it and said that they had copied it at the wrong speed; he could tell because two of the songs had been done on his Steinway and this was not the key on his piano. They had speeded things up, so we didn’t even want to use those tracks.  We took the original instrumentals, which were on ADAT, way back in the dark ages. Patrick, who was using his ADAT machine as a door stopper at that point, was able to recapture all of the original tracks and we were able to edit them down for airplay times. Then I sang the vocals that you heard (on Something Still Cool) and did more duets. That CD was the outcome from the eight years. (She laughs) it was never supposed to be good, it was just supposed to get finished!  Then Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) nominated it for Best Jazz Vocal Recording.”

Contrary to the original intent for Something Still Cool, Elli Fordyce drew rave reviews, and as you listen to the current album, on which she coos “Desafinado,” penned by numerous writers, the most notable of which was Antonio Carlos Jobim, you fully appreciate Fordyce’s phrasing and the authenticity that she brings to lines such as, “There’ll be no desafinado / When your heart belongs to me completely / We won’t be out of tune / You’ll sing along with me.”  She rekindles the romantic flame of this beautiful song.

The title of the album Something Still Cool was inspired by the June Christy song (and solo album), “Something Cool,” and the current recording Songs Spun Of Gold takes its inspiration from the line of a song.

Fordyce explains, “We had six songs that would have made good album titles. There were ‘Where Or When?’, ‘Where Am I Going?’, ‘Where Do You Start?’ and ‘Oops!’ but I thought that ‘Oops!’ might become a self fulfilling prophecy and we don’t want that (she laughs). The title of the album comes from the bridge of ‘Waltz For Debby,’ (fourth track) where it goes, “In the sun she dances to silent music / Songs that are spun of gold / Somewhere in her own little head.” One day when I was singing it I thought, ‘That’s it, the title, Songs Spun of Gold.’ I used to sing that in a jazz choir and I would just weep, then I heard it by Tony Bennett with Bill Evans and it stopped me in my tracks.”

“Oops!”, the album title that could never be, does appear as one of the tracks on Songs Spun Of Gold, as Jim Malloy and Elli Fordyce collaborate for a fun and enchanting duet on the Harry Warren / Johnny Mercer tune, from the MGM movie The Belle Of New York.  The deep rich voiced Malloy channels Louis Armstrong during the last verse and as he joins Fordyce on the chorus. Savor the moment people, because this is the way a jazz duet should be sung. The duo captures all of the fun and the flirtatiousness that you want to hear in a song like “Oops!”

Why did Fordyce decide to include “Oops!” on Songs Spun Of Gold? “I believe that I first heard the song when I was a teenager in New York (where she became a high school friend of Bobby Darin) and I believe it was recorded by Louis (Armstrong) and Ella (Fitzgerald).  I always had this song in the back of my mind to do, because it has such a nice groove to it and it has such a fun lyric. About twelve or thirteen years ago when I started doing a lot of performing, I started looking for the song and nobody had heard of it. I asked Michael Bourne on WBGO, who hosts Singers Unlimited every Sunday for four hours, and he had never heard of it. I asked Anne Phillips who has been a professional singer since she was seventeen and she is older than me, but she had never heard of it. It was ridiculous. Finally, a guy who has wall to wall DVDs and CDs in his apartment and who knows everything about everything from the Great American Songbook knew that it was from The Belle Of New York, and he loaned me the video. Eventually, I got a cut of it and somebody transcribed the chords for me. First I was going to sing it as a solo, but then Patrick said, ‘Let’s get Jim back for a reprise for one song.’ He asked me which one I wanted it to be and I said let’s do ‘Oops!’ because we hadn’t done a vocal on it yet.”

Surely Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart who co-wrote “My Heart Stood Still,” could not have envisioned what took place in the studio, during Elli Fordyce’s recording of the love letter.

“I recorded it, ‘My Heart Stood Still,’ in the studio and they got a video of it with my dog, my five pound Minty. I sang ‘I took one look at you / That’s All I meant to do / And then my heart stood still,’ and she (Minty) put her head down on my chest at that very instant. She just rested herself there,” recalls Fordyce.

Elli Fordyce takes her craft seriously and is more concerned about the music than merely recording something for the commercial success, having said that I am sure she would be happy to accommodate your request to book her for a gig.

In talking about how she settles on which songs to record or perform, Fordyce says, “For me it is very individual, because there are a lot that I don’t like and that I don’t sing.  There are some that I will only do as requests. One of those was ‘You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,’ which I did until I hope that I never have to hear it again. ‘All Of Me,’ is a song that every singer who only knows one song sings at an open mic or a jam session. ‘My Funny Valentine,’ I like, but it is just so overdone. Everybody sings it and so many people sing it badly, especially students that don’t know the song and have learned the wrong melody from some record.  There are many popular standards that I don’t want to hear and don’t want to do, so I don’t go near them. Even if I like the story, but there is something about the lyric that I don’t like, then I am not interested. There are a few (standards) that I will do just because I like the melody or the way that it is written so much, for example, ‘Where Do You Start,’ which has the most incredible lyric and is really sad. It is really evocative. Wow!”

When you listen to Elli Fordyce sing on her current album Songs Spun Of Gold, you can be sure that each tune was carefully thought about and chosen with the same care and attention, to which one might attach buying a gift for that special someone. In this case the gift is her incredible voice and the equally outstanding tunes that she has recorded, and you, the listener are that special someone.

You can visit the Elli Fordyce website at www.ellifordyce.com

Interview by Joe Montague, all rights reserved, protected by copyright © November 2009  Return to Our Front Page