I try never to bluff the musicians and colleagues with whom I am working. I am always forthright about being a comparative novice in the notated form. However, I had written more than 200 songs before I learned to write music down. It hasn't been too much of an inhibition. I did once appear on a TV special in the '80s with Tony Bennett and Count Basie and his orchestra. I had lost my voice at an Attractions show the night before, and that was as close as I ever got to feeling the way you describe. Still, I wouldn't trade anything for having shared the stage with the Count. I got to sing with Tony on his Unplugged show, so he knows I can do a better job, and I even got to sing with the Basie band in London many years later, and I think a few in the saxophone section were surprised to find that, on a good night, I can hold a tune.
What music are you enjoying lately?
Dr. Ralph Stanley's new album [titled Ralph Stanley] on D.M.Z., Tom Waits' remarkable new albums Alice and Blood Money, and Solomon Burke's Don't Give Up on Me. I should declare an interest in this last choice. My wife, Cait, and I have a song called "The Judgement" on that one.
I hear a lot of artistic malaise about and wonder if this isn't a response to the world at large—the Bush presidency; the consolidation of power to the top 1 percent; global warming; innocents killed to revenge the death of innocents; and ever so much more. There certainly aren't too many singers today chirruping, "We can change the world" with any conviction. What keeps you motivated?
In the words of Oscar Wilde (later borrowed by Chrissie Hynde—you go, girl), "We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
Aterballetto Co.'sA Midsummer Night's Dream at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 740-2000. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. $15-$55.