How was it like growing up in a town known for its jazz pianists?
Well, first it was known for its automobiles. That’s what made the culture so high-level over there. All the people who was at the top of their game in music coming from Detroit was so good, because everybody at a certain period could afford to go out and hear the music that they love. And there was music everywhere. It was a wonderful place to grow up learning and playing this music.
Do you have a particular direction in your music? Describe your sound.
I think of my sound as a more orchestral. I think of the piano as an orchestra. Maybe the organ would be the universe with all the overtones. Haha.. But to me the piano is an orchestra and I try to make it that way when I’m on full, so to speak, when I play well, when I can hear properly… I love the piano. I can use it and think of it as an orchestra.
You play the clarinet too. How did that come about?
Well the clarinet was very important in my youth. I started learning the piano when I was 4 or 5. I asked my mother if I could and she said okay! When I went to intermediate school, they had a band and an orchestra. I couldn’t think of being in a school that had a band and an orchestra and not be in it! So I wanted a sax, but the band-leader gave me a clarinet. That ended up being my scholarship in college, my job in the army and also the first money that I made playing music. It was not with the piano. It was with a clarinet in a marching band.
Who is Damita Jo and how did she play a part in your musical career?
Damita Jo was the first big act that I went on the road with for 5 years. I became her conductor and she was on par with Shirley Bassey. We played all these hotel chains in America and some outside. In Japan…Australia…many places. She was with the Red Caps which was a big show group back in the 50s. When she went on her own, she had Albert Dailey on the piano. When Albert left, they chose me and I never looked back.
Why No Black Tie?
Because I don’t have to wear one in here! Well…the wonderful Evelyn asked me to come through Sigfried. She came to Paris, not just to meet me, but she did and we set it up and here I am. And I’m very happy to be here.