It?s become one of the best formulas for kick-starting the third act of the aging pop musician: The standards album ? songs you know and love, revived by someone you?ve known and loved in another genre.
Rod Stewart has to be the most successful recent example. Michael Bolton quickly comes to mind. Throw in everyone from Elvis and Rita Coolidge to Cyndi Lauper, Carly Simon and Aaron Neville, and the track record is proven.
So why not Boz Scaggs? The easygoing ?70s pop singer who flooded radio with sing-alongs like ?Lido Shuffle,? ?Lowdown? and ?Look What You?ve Done To Me? before taking a lengthy hiatus in the ?80s and making a comeback in the ?90s, has found new life in jazz standards.
His first collection, ?But Beautiful,? debuted at No. 1 on the jazz charts in 2003. Now on his second album, ?Speak Low,? he hits the ground running, teaming up with pop-jazz arranger Gil Goldstein for classics by Johnny Mercer, Kurt Weill, Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart and Duke Ellington.
Soft-spoken and occasionally taking long pauses between sentences, Scaggs at 64 is careful to point out, ?I?m not a jazz musician.? Later, he adds, ?I don?t even know who listens to my records.?
Making the short trip from his spread among the vines and olive orchards on Mount Veeder in Napa County, he drops by to play the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. He took a break from ?packing the shaving kit? and prepping for the road again to talk about jazz, wine and the nightclubs he co-owns in San Francisco:
Q: You were walking by the Blue Note jazz club in New York one night and heard a sound you were looking for?
A: Well, I was back East meeting with an arranger that I was looking to collaborate with on a new record and it wasn?t going real well. I wasn?t finding what I was looking for. I had a few days off in New York and I happened to walk by a club and it struck a note with me as to something that I was looking for that I wasn?t finding with my arranged meeting.
Q: What is it in jazz that?s opened things up for you and allowed you to explore new tones in your voice and new areas?
A: In my first album, I was working with a quartet and the voice in that role is more of an instrument than it is in the other genres that I come from, let?s say in pop music or blues or rhythm and blues. There?s just a lot of open space. In those other genres, it?s sort of like the other instruments in the song itself are in a supporting role to the lead singer. Whereas in this other context, with these jazz musicians ? I?m not a jazz musician but they are ? the role in that is different. We?re all supporting the music in a more equal role.
Q: Did it seem daunting at the time because as you say, you?re not a jazz musician?
A: Yeah, it did seem daunting. The kind of stuff that I had come up with before, which was mostly blues and kind of rock, is pretty much within a context that I?m familiar with, the chord changes are pretty basic and they don?t stray too far from basic patterns.