He shimmied in shiny suits to the glam rock sounds of his band Roxy Music in the 1970s, brought sexy back with Boys and Girls in the 1980s, and sang breathlessly forlorn versions of 1930s Cole Porter classics in the 1990s. Yet, to no era does Bryan Ferry's image belong more fittingly than to the 1920s.
Mystery! Tuxedos! Girls in pearls! What's not to love? Here's the catch: The Bryan Ferry Orchestra's brand new monaural recording of Roxy Music and Ferry hits called The Jazz Age is performed by a throwback prohibition-esque combo whose star performer (not Ferry) is a clarinetist. In other words, the entire album contains no vocals. All ye slaves to love who expect a lushly-produced pop record will be forced to imagine yourselves huddled in the corner of a speakeasy with the now 67-year-old heartthrob snapping his fingers to the rhythm rather than singing to you. Without Ferry's crooning, there's still much to be desired - including some serious swing up in this joint!
Blatant Fitzgeraldian references abound, so it's no surprise (and only slightly coincidental) that The Jazz Age makes its debut as a gentle predecessor to director Baz Lurhman's highly-anticipated remake of The Great Gatsby, which opens the 2013 Cannes Film Festival in May. Ferry says his orchestra, whose arranger and pianist Colin Good deserves primary kudos, also contributed tracks to the film's soundtrack (along with the likes of Jay-Z and Jack White) and will stage a headlining concert at England's Love Supreme Jazz Festival in June (there'll be singing at that gig, don't you worry).
I caught up with Ferry last week to find out about The Jazz Age and how he put a suave spell on yet another decade (and me). (Excerpts below, read the full interview here.)
Bryan Ferry on why he has a fascination with the 1920s:
There was a lot of jazz to be heard on the radio in the mid-1950s, and that's when I was smitten by the jazz bug. I started collecting records and going to concerts, and began exploring the wide ranging jazz canon, from Armstrong to Ayler.
On the purity of jazz:
I drew upon my own memories of all the early jazz artists I admired, and was very fortunate to have around me a strong team of musicians who live and breathe the music of the 1920s period. It is true that it is an English band, but they do have a very strong feeling for this music which helps give it such authenticity. The last thing one would want to do is offend the spirits of those who marched down Rampart Street... Some of the tracks on The Jazz Age were quite spontaneous, done in the earthy and straight-ahead manner of Louis Armstrong's bands in New Orleans. The more arranged songs echo the more urbane sophistication of Duke Ellington's New York Cotton Club Orchestra. It goes without saying that improvised solos are a big part of the success of any jazz record.
On the glamour of the 1920s and how it gels with his image:
Just recently the 1920s does seem to have become once more a rather cool and interesting period. I had found myself in the last few years re-listening to early jazz and re-reading Eliot and Scott Fitzgerald etc., so perhaps there was something in the air... As you know, the Twenties was a rather special era, not only with music and dance, art and literature, but also fashion, architecture, communications and basically the birth of everything modern. Very important also to the mystique of the time is the dark undercurrent of crime (prohibition etc.), which added a certain forbidden flavour.
On why there are no vocals on The Jazz Age:
I had long wanted to make an instrumental album of my songs, where hopefully the melodies I had written over the years could stand alone. This felt like the right time.
On the authenticity of the recording process:
We recorded the album using vintage microphones, and with the band all playing together in a room, as in the old days. But we had the benefit of modern technology where we could mic the instruments separately with complete hi-fidelity. However, as you say, it did ultimately sound cooler in mono and with a certain degree of EQ distressing to give it a more period flavour. I wanted the finished result to sound like an old record.
On his favorite song from The Jazz Age:
We chose a wide cross section of my songs, from both the Roxy Music and BF solo albums - to give it some variety. My favourite is probably the most recent song, 'Reason or Rhyme' from the album 'Olympia'.
On whether his 30-year-old wife is a jazz fan:
Well I would hope that she is at least a Bryan Ferry fan!