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Jazz Singer and Guitarist John Pizzarelli

John is the son of jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. John's albums include Live At Birdland, The Rare Delights of You and Kisses in the Rain. This interview first aired October 23, 1997.


Other segments from the episode on June 13, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 13, 2003: Interview with Branford Marsalis; Interview with Chris Elliott and Bob Elliott; Interview with Ellery Eskelin; Interview with Andre Dubus; Interview with…


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Branford Marsalis discusses his musical career and his

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

On this archive edition, we're celebrating Father's Day by featuring sons
talking about their fathers. One of those sons is saxophonist and composer
Branford Marsalis.

(Soundbite from 10/21/02 interview)


You grew up in what is now America's probably most famous jazz family, the
Marsalis family. Your father, Ellis Marsalis, is a pianist. When you were
growing up, liking the pop music that you liked, did you feel about his music
the way, say, I felt about my father's old Benny Goodman records?

Mr. MARSALIS: I felt about my father's music the way that my next-door
neighbor felt about his father, the chauffeur driver. That was just what he

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. MARSALIS: How did you feel about your father's Benny Goodman records?

GROSS: Oh, yeah, I guess I didn't--I really disliked them until I got much
older--well, in my 20s, anyways.

Mr. MARSALIS: Well, jazz is not for kids. I know there's an argument--my
brother says jazz can be for kids. I don't think--jazz has a level of
sophistication that's just way too hip for kids. It's not a music for kids,
and it certainly wasn't the music for me. But it wasn't like he'd play them
and I'd go `Aaargh!' I would just leave the room.

GROSS: You just didn't care.

Mr. MARSALIS: I'd turn on the television in the other room until it was my
turn to listen to my music. And then I'd put on Cheech & Chong and Elton John
and James Brown and whatever I wanted to put on, and my father would stay out.
And then when James Brown came on, he'd come in and say, `Yeah, kid, yeah
Jack. I like that.' And then he would always dance to it. And when he'd
dance to it, he would snap his fingers on two and four, which is the funniest
thing in the world, you know.

GROSS: That's great. Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. MARSALIS: You know. "Cold Sweat's" going on, you know. (Singing) `Like
a cold sweat--dun, dun, dun, doo-bah, da-doo-dee, dee.' My father's going
`Yeah,' (snaps his fingers; sings) `Doo-doo-da-doo-dee, da.' I'm, like, `No,
Dad.' It was just too funny.

GROSS: On the one.

Mr. MARSALIS: Oh, yeah. It was classic. It was classic.

GROSS: Oh, that's great.

BOGAEV: Branford Marsalis talking to Terry last year.

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Ellery Eskelin discusses the career of his father,
the late Rodd Keith, who set other people's song lyrics to music

Jazz saxophonist and composer Ellery Eskelin never knew his father. His
parents divorced shortly after he was born, and his father died in a
mysterious accident or suicide when he was a child. His father, Rodd Keith,
was a musician as well with an unusual day job. Terry spoke with Eskelin in
1996. She asked him to describe the music his father was known for.

(Soundbite from 12/3/96)

Mr. ELLERY ESKELIN (Saxophonist): It's called song poem music, and I consider
it a genre unto itself. It's the result of those ads that people have
probably seen in the backs of magazines in which companies solicit the public
to send in their lyrics. Their lyrics then get the full studio treatment by
Hollywood's finest, set to music, and recorded, and with that, you're on your
way to fame and stardom.


So the idea is, you write a poem, you write a lyric, you mail it in; and for a
fee, the composers who work for this company will set it to music and give

Mr. ESKELIN: Exactly.

GROSS: ...a studio recording of it...

Mr. ESKELIN: Exactly.

GROSS: And then do they make you any promises about what's going to happen to
that recording? Did they promise you're gonna become a famous songwriter or
star or...

Mr. ESKELIN: Well, that's the inference. As far as promises, I don't think
the promises went much farther than the fact that the records might be sent
around or even played on radio stations. Whether those promises were honored
in every case, well, that's open to conjecture. So song poems, that's the
polite way of putting it. The people who were in it, interestingly, called it
song sharking.

GROSS: Why did they call it that?

Mr. ESKELIN: Well, I guess because it's something just short of being a scam,
in a way. You're sort of preying on people's instincts for, you know, fame or
notoriety. I can't really defend the practice much more than to say that
there were a lot of clients who I think were just simply thrilled to have
their music on a disc and have their name on a record because, in fact, there
were many repeat clients. It was all, you know, sort of a vanity thing for
many people. As to whether they thought they were gonna get famous, if they
did think that, it was unfortunate, and that's where the possible scam comes

GROSS: So your father would crank out up to 30 melodies a day for these

Mr. ESKELIN: Yeah. He was a very gifted musician, and he was able to do this
kind of work very easily. It was sort of his--oh, I guess you might call it a
day job inasmuch as it was his means to make a living while he pursued--I'm
not quite sure what else he pursued, but this is what we have left.

GROSS: Why don't we hear the title track of the new record that you've
produced of the songs that your father did while working for one of these
companies--actually, while working for several of these companies. And the
title track is called "I Died Today." And we'll hear your father, Rodd Keith,
singing and at the keyboard.

(Soundbite from "I Died Today")

Mr. RODD KEITH: (Singing) It was a dark and a rainy night. My headlights
were really too bright. I was thinking of my kids and of my darling wife. My
sales were down, my pay was small, and I needed money bad. I couldn't pay the
mortgage to even keep the things we had. Then through the night there came a
light. A hobo wanted a ride. I brought my old car to a stop. He got in by
my side. We continued on, just we two. His presence seemed to calm my
nerves. But the road was wet and my vision blurred, and I didn't see the
curve. When I awoke, I saw the flames and the people through the trees. I
knew from their conversation they thought the hobo was me.

BOGAEV: That's "I Died Today," the title track from a compilation of Rodd
Keith's recordings, produced by his son, Ellery Eskelin. We'll continue
Terry's 1996 conversation with Eskelin after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, we're celebrating Father's Day on FRESH
AIR. Let's get back to Terry's interview with Ellery Eskelin, son of
composer-for-hire Rodd Keith.

(Soundbite of interview)

GROSS: Now your father was sent lyrics that were supposed to fit into every
genre, so he had to write songs around every genre--dance crazes, novelties,
romantic ballads, patriotic anthems.

Mr. ESKELIN: Right.

GROSS: Let's hear one of the kind of hippie dance tunes that he did. This is
something called "Hippie Happy Land."

Mr. ESKELIN: Right.

GROSS: And again, he's singing and, I guess, on keyboards. Anything that you
know about this song or any feelings that you have about it?

Mr. ESKELIN: Again, just that I would--as is the case with most of these
songs, you know, they're just sort of what they are, but I think Rodd really
brings to each one a surprising little twist or just a little bit more than
you might expect from these proceedings, if you will. When you listen to the
words, sometimes they can be funny or even a little inane, but he really
brings himself to it with a lot of vigor and a hundred percent of himself,
even if it might be a little tongue-in-cheek. And, you know, that's certainly
the case with this one.

GROSS: Let's hear it. This is "Hippie Happy Land."

(Soundbite of "Hippie Happy Land")

Mr. KEITH: (Singing) We're a hippy happy family, now shake the hips for me.
Now hop and skip and twirl your girl. We're living in a happy hippie happy
world. We're a hippie happy family, now shake those hips for me. Now hop and
skip and a-twist your girl. We're living in a hippie happy world. What are
those hippies asking me? The funny-looking folks you see with their heavy,
thick beards and their wavy long hair. Well, that's the life for me.

GROSS: Now you never really knew your father. Your parents separated when
you were very young...

Mr. ESKELIN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and your father stayed in Los Angeles. You and your parents moved
to Baltimore, I believe?

Mr. ESKELIN: Mm-hmm, that's where my mother is originally from.

GROSS: So in a way, I mean, the only information you have about your father
is what relatives have told you and what you've heard from these records.

Mr. ESKELIN: Yeah.

GROSS: Have these records changed your idea of who your father was?

Mr. ESKELIN: I guess they haven't changed it so much. I think they represent
an accurate, if only partial, picture of who he was. When I was growing up, I
was told many, many stories of my father's talents and idiosyncrasies. He was
described as being quite the charming eccentric. And as I became serious
about music myself and began playing saxophone at age 10, these stories really
started to have a profound effect on me. Unfortunately, Rodd died in 1974
very tragically, and before I ever had a chance to really make his
acquaintance or communicate with him in much of any way, you know, it was
over. So I've had these stories as part of my life now.

I'm 37, and this music has recently come to my attention only in the last
maybe two years. I was aware that Rodd did this kind of stuff, and I had even
heard a few examples when I was a teen-ager, and at the time, I wasn't that
impressed because it just didn't seem to sort of coincide with the sort of
genius that everyone had been talking about. But now that I've heard so many
of them and I can put them in a context of just exactly what the nature of the
business was and just imagine what it must have taken to be able to accomplish
the task, I'm actually quite impressed. He had to have been quite an
imaginative guy, I think, to be able to do as many of these things off the top
of his head, is the way I'm told that he could do them. It was just almost

GROSS: Well, as I said before, he wrote in all kinds of genres--novelty dance
tunes like "Do The Pig" and "Do the Turkey" and romantic...

Mr. ESKELIN: Right.

GROSS: ...ballads. There's even a patriotic anthem that you have on the new
record called "I Am a Real American."

And for listeners just joining us, again, my guest is Ellery Eskelin, and he's
a jazz musician. His father, who died in 1974, specialized in setting other
people's lyrics to music, and he basically worked at a house where this is
what they did. They advertised in the backs of magazines and asked people to
send in their poems and lyrics, and they'd tell you professional musicians
would set it to music and mail the results back to you.

So here's one of the results. This is a lyric that was mailed to your father,
"I Am a Real American," and we'll hear your father doing the voice on that.

(Soundbite of "I Am a Real American")

Mr. KEITH: (Singing) First of all, allow me to make myself perfectly clear.
Dear Lord, help us to love each other instead of beer. I believe in the
Constitution of the USA. I respect the holy Bible, every word it says. I
believe in human rights regardless of color, and I will not allow myself to
mislead others. My utmost aim in life is to love and respect my wife. My
family, neighbors, love them all as one, for this God gave his only Son. I
believe utmost in integrity and unity, education, oh, equality with divine

GROSS: Are these records the only times that you've heard your father's

Mr. ESKELIN: Yes, they are. They are. I was just trying to think if there
were any other--no, this is exactly it. And so that's been pretty interesting
because along with the stylistic compass that Rodd used, which was pretty
wide, he was very agile with his voice, and so on a country tune he's got a
certain sound, and on a rock tune he's got a slightly different sound, and he
was a little bit chameleonic with it. There's very few instances of his
speaking voice that I've found yet, with the exception of some old studio
tapes where he's introducing or slating the song in between the vocal, and
there might be a little bit of joking around or asides or something like that,
which are pretty interesting. He had quite a knack, I understand, for
linguistics in general, and he would do things with a play on words and even
make up his own words and talk backwards and everything else. So that's a
pretty intriguing question, actually. That's something I've thought about a

BOGAEV: Terry spoke with saxophonist Ellery Eskelin in 1996. Eskelin
produced a collection of his father's songs. It's called "I Died Today."

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR. Here's Ellery Eskelin playing
"Twistin' The Jug," recorded in 1996.

(Soundbite of "Twistin' The Jug")


BOGAEV: Coming up, talented sons of talented fathers. Writers Andre Dubus
III and Ben Cheever remember the lives and loves of their late dads. And John
Pizzarelli talks about his musical family. His father is jazz guitarist Bucky

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Ben Cheever on his book about his father, John Cheever

There are parts of most parents' lives that are hidden from their children.
In 1988, Ben Cheever wanted to learn more about his father, the late Pulitzer
Prize-winning novelist and short-story writer John Cheever. So Ben edited a
book of his father's letters. The collection includes John Cheever's letters
to and about such literary figures as John Updike, Robert Penn Warren, Saul
Bellow and Philip Roth. There are also some very personal letters written to
his wife and to the women and men who were his lovers. For Ben, the most
difficult revelation was the extent of his father's homosexuality. Terry
spoke with Ben Cheever after the publication of the collection. She asked him
to read a letter his father had written to a male lover.

Mr. BEN CHEEVER: `Dear'--blank, comma--`I'm truly sorry to hear about your
father, and I'm much too old to have anything fresh or useful to say. I felt
that I must strike some peace with my own father, although we both tried to
kill one another. I made him into Leander and struck a useful peace after his
death. I think you must do something of the sort. You must try to understand
the man. I've told my own sons that when they find me lacking, they can
continue to love me and find other men who will wear underwear, pitch
no-hitters and invent the telephone. It seems to work. I think I've known no
man who has not accomplished this.'


Did he, by the way, directly or indirectly make that clear to you that when
you found him lacking to continue to love him and look for the traits that you
were missing in other men?

Mr. CHEEVER: Well, he did say that he had had many fathers and that I should
try and have many fathers, too. Interestingly enough, my relationship with
him was sufficiently intense that I rarely had an older mentor, and I'm only
beginning to make good friends with older men now that he's gone.

GROSS: Were you afraid, when you were going through the letters that your
father wrote, that you'd find information about how he felt about you,
information that might surprise or disturb you? And did anything like that

Mr. CHEEVER: Well, I was afraid--it wasn't as clear as that, but, yes, I
think I was afraid that I would have to come to grips with things that would
make me uncomfortable. And certainly I did. You know, part of the good news
of my father's life is that he loved a lot of people. He loved a lot of
people passionately. He loved a number of women, and he loved a number of
men. This is good news because he was also lonely sometimes, and I'm pleased
to know that he loved all these people. At the same time, I'm not so big that
I'm not a little jealous and a little hurt by the letters that he wrote to
young men he loved. He was often very loving to me, but, you know, he was
passionately in love with some of these guys.

GROSS: You know, in trying to think about--because I know that you say that
the most disturbing revelation about the letters for you was the extent of his
homosexuality. And it never occurred to me, but I see that now, that one of
the things that would have disturbed you was a sense of jealousy that he had
lovers who were probably around your age.

Mr. CHEEVER: Well, that's right. And it's odd. You know, I certainly
wouldn't have wanted him to consummate his relationship with me in the way
that he consummated his relationship with some of these other men. At the
same time, it raises serious questions. I've been told by some of the men he
was in love with that he would talk about me sometimes as someone who was
physically attractive to him. I was completely unaware of this when it was
going on because he was very stern in his public denial of bisexuality
throughout most of his life. But it raises some interesting--I mean, I wonder
because a lot of the time when he was angry at me--some of the time he was
angry at me because I was a pest; I think all children are, having children of
my own. But some of the time he was angry at me because he loved me.

And I was just reading his journals, and there's an incident in which I went
to pick blueberries. I guess I was 11 years old. And I don't even remember
the friend I went to pick blueberries with. It wasn't someone I particularly
liked. And I come back from picking blueberries, and he's sore at me because
I haven't picked a lot of blueberries. Well, I didn't know why he was angry
at me. Well, it turns out he was angry at me because he thought I was off in
the woods with this other kid doing something unspeakable. Well, I wasn't,
you know. I don't know what we did. We just didn't find a lot of

So that's very confusing for me. Playing back, when I play back my life, you
know, what was love and what was hate? What was genuine disappointment, and
what was his projection of his own problems on me? It's hard to figure out.
I'm sure it's hard for any son to figure out.

GROSS: Were you jealous that attention he was paying to other lovers was
attention that he could have been paying to members of his family?

Mr. CHEEVER: Well, one of his lovers, who I talked with--and a couple of them
have been very friendly; they're friends--said that to me. He said, `I felt
that I was taking love from your father that maybe you or your sister or your
mother could have had.' And I really feel, and I say in the introduction,
that you have to take the people you love pretty much the way you find them.
You can't say, `Gee, wouldn't it have been wonderful if he'd never had a
drink? Wouldn't it have been wonderful if he'd never loved another man or
another woman?' Well, he wouldn't have been himself. And love isn't like
marbles. You have three of them, and you give one to someone and then you
don't have one to give to someone else. It's a mysterious thing, and I think
probably the love that he had from these people enriched his life, and the joy
he got from it probably enriched mine.

But I don't mean to say that, having come to this understanding, that I'm not
capable of petty jealousies because I am, because I am. But I think when you
really examine it, as I had to, you realize that any dramatic change in him
would have also changed the man I loved in ways that might not have been

BOGAEV: We're listening to a 1988 interview with Ben Cheever recorded after
he edited a collection of letters by his father, the late writer John Cheever.
Ben wrote the introduction to the book. Here's a short reading.

Mr. CHEEVER: The introduction is titled "The Man I Thought I Knew." And it
begins: `When my father stopped breathing, I tried to start his lungs again
by blowing air through his lips. Then I put my arms around him. My mother
and sister joined in the embrace. I could hear my sister and my mother
crying, and then I could hear myself. We were standing at the end of the bed
when the man from the funeral home arrived. All three faces were wet with
tears. My father was naked, except for a fresh white cast on one leg. He had
taken a bad fall earlier in the week. His skin was pale and luminous, like
parchment, and I remember thinking that it looked as if it still had many
years of wear in it.'

GROSS: I was wondering if it was very hard for you to write that in the sense
that I think when you're the son of a famous writer, that it's easy to feel in
the shadow of your father, at least for a while, and to wonder, `What would
they think if they read this?' And here you were actually describing the
moment of his death. Was that hard to do?

Mr. CHEEVER: Well, interestingly enough, this book wasn't hard in that way
because he wasn't here to write it, you know? If he'd been here to write this
description, that would have been fine, and I wouldn't have tried. And I
tried because he wasn't here. And, I mean, the part I like best in the
introduction--it's a little bit later on in the first page--the undertaker
comes, and the undertaker is, as I guess they usually are, rough, you know,
with the sacred body. And as he got ready to put it in his station wagon, I
said, `Be careful with him, or he'll bite you.' And he turned to me and said,
`Oh, you know, don't worry about me. I handled Rockefeller.' And I said,
`But Rockefeller was dead.'

And I really felt, in working on this book, and I still feel very strongly,
that my father is not dead in the sense that I had always understood death
before that afternoon. It may be that nobody dies in the way that--I know I
sound like a crank spiritualist. But I don't burn candles and I don't--but,
you know, there were periods of time in my life when I didn't get along with
him. There was a period of about seven years when we only spoke in curt,
telegraphic sentences. And, in many ways, he was gone from me more then than
he is now.

Of course, it's changed for him; that's the hard part. It hasn't changed for
me as much as it's changed for him. He can't write anymore. If he was alive,
we'd be finding manuscripts somewhere. But I do think, you know--I run a lot,
and I'll come around a bend in a park, and I really honestly will expect to
see him there.

BOGAEV: Ben Cheever from a 1988 interview.

We'll hear another father-son story after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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