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'Steel Guitar Jazz'

Music Review: 'Steel Guitar Jazz' from Buddy Emmons



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Other segments from the episode on June 9, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 9, 2003: Interview with Stephan Bognar; Commentary on language; Interview with Barbara Carroll; Review of Buddy Emmons reissued album “Steel Guitar Jazz."


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

Interview: Stephan Bognar of WildAid discusses rebuilding the
Baghdad Zoo

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Stephan Bognar is an animal care specialist who spent six weeks in
Baghdad helping to rebuild the Baghdad Zoo and caring for the remaining
animals. Only about seven of the 600 zoo animals remained when he arrived in
Baghdad. The zoo was in disastrous condition. It had been a battle zone in
which Saddam Hussein's troops had dug trenches. Some of the infrastructure
was destroyed by shelling. The looters made off with what was left. They
stripped the electrical wires, the irrigation systems, the cage bars, the
doors, windows and even toilet covers. Bognar works with WildAid, an
international group based in San Francisco whose mission is to stop the
illegal trade in wildlife. When Bognar got to Baghdad, there were some wild
animals wandering the streets. The military found a baboon and returned it to
the zoo. I asked him what happened to some of the other zoo animals.

Mr. STEPHAN BOGNAR (WildAid): Because it was a major battle zone, some of the
enclosures were ripped open and some of the animals had escaped. And because
of the looters, some of the looters took the animals. We assume that either
the animals were taken, probably some of the birds for consumption, or to be
used as exotic pets or to be sold in the black market. There are two black
markets that operate in Baghdad. If you get there at 7:30 in the morning, you
can get the good animals, but, yeah, you can get--it's illegal. There are
wildlife laws in Iraq and it's illegal to sell Iraqi brown bears. It's
illegal to sell eagles. It's illegal to sell hyenas, but surely, these are
animals that you can purchase out on the black market.

GROSS: Were there animals that you personally rescued?

Mr. BOGNAR: Well, we actually brought back a lot of Odai's personal
collection. Odai had two sets of animals that he...

GROSS: This is Odai Hussein, one of Saddam Hussein's sons.

Mr. BOGNAR: That's correct. That is correct. And he loved large cats,
absolutely just loved large cats. We rescued two cheetahs, five lion cubs
about one year old, and two lion cubs about four months old. And we brought
the first set back to the Baghdad Zoo for care and maintenance. The second
set remained at one of his palaces. And the Special Forces Unit #5 asked me
to first take care of these lions throughout my stay in Baghdad. And they
actually named the lions. Brutus(ph) was the male lion. Zeena(ph) and
Heather(ph)--they named them after old former girlfriends.

And Zeena, when I was there, gave birth to six cubs. So all of a sudden, we
had three large cats and six new cubs to deal with. And after that, you know
that each large cat requires over five kilos or 10 pounds of meat a day. So
one of the challenges that we had was to secure a food supply for these large
cats. I mean, now we had Odai's three large cats at his palace and then we
had all these large cats at the Baghdad Zoo. So we had over 19 cats to feet,
which is quite costly. You know, there aren't too many zoos in the world that
have 19 large cats.

GROSS: Where did you find enough meat? I mean, people were having trouble
finding food.

Mr. BOGNAR: Well, when I arrived in Baghdad, I went via Amman. And in
Amman, I bought about maybe 57 kilos worth of meat and that was just for one
day. So when I arrived in Baghdad, I immediately brought the meat to the
animals and we went to feed them. And then it was daily trips to the market.
I would go and try to find bones. I would try to go find meat. And you're
able to find meat, but you're able to find frozen meat or buffalo meat from
India and you're able to find local meat as well. So it was daily trips to
the market to purchase the food to feed the animals. So that was a daily task
and it was quite challenging to do that every day.

GROSS: Now I read that you had to buy four donkeys on the black market to
feed the lions?

Mr. BOGNAR: That's correct. It's inexpensive to buy a donkey. It's about
maybe $4 to buy a donkey. And we needed to procure donkeys to feed our cats.
So, yes, you know, we'd have to travel approximately about 60 miles outside
the city to get donkeys to feed our animals. Some people obviously don't like
to hear that, but it was a necessity, it was a requirement; we had to feed
these animals. I mean, these animals were captured and brought to the zoo.
It's our responsibility to take care of them.

GROSS: Could you also argue, though, that, you know, why should you sacrifice
the donkeys for the large cats?

Mr. BOGNAR: Well, what we were doing also--when I arrived in Baghdad and when
I went to work with the Baghdad Zoo, my mission was to not only save the
animals, but it was also to work with the people. So when I arrived and fed
the animals, there was a zoo manager there with the lead veterinarian and a
South African, Lawrence Anthony, and I said, `Well, we need to get all the
employees back at the zoo. So let's offer them supplementary salaries. Let's
reach out to them. Let's start giving them some money. And by the fourth
day, about 95 percent of all the employees came back to work 'cause they
heard, `Oh, here's a foreign organization and they're providing salaries,
they're providing money.' So naturally, all the employees came back to work,
and now they're receiving supplementary salaries. They're receiving meals.

I'm going out to buy the cleaning supplies and teaching them how to start
taking care of the animals. They lack basic animal husbandry techniques in
Iraq. You can be a vet, but animal husbandry techniques do not exist. They
have a trouble bonding with the animals. An animal is supposed to be put in a
cage, concrete floor, bars, looked at, fed and that's it. There's no bonding
with the animals. They have trouble touching them, so, you know, here I am in
trying to teach them basic animal husbandry techniques, practices to reach out
to the animal, just not let's feed them; let's take care of these animals.

So I was working with both. I was trying to implement a system with the
personnel and also working with the animals, but I must say it's more
challenging working with people and especially individuals that, you know, are
used to an ancient regime and we have to try to bring them into a new system,
you know, accountability, responsibility, transparency, all these concepts
that, you know, they had no idea what we were trying to do. But daily, you
know, for five weeks, they started to understand, `Well, this is performance.
We want them to work. We're looking at results. We want them to reach out to
the animals.'

GROSS: The animals that are still in the zoo or that...

Mr. BOGNAR: Yes.

GROSS: ...were recaptured and taken back to the zoo, were they traumatized by
the bombing?

Mr. BOGNAR: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And especially we do have three
ostriches at the Baghdad Zoo and, you can see, I mean, you know, one of the
wings broken, the legs. You can tell these animals were traumatized, even the
lions and the tigers. You can just see in their face, in their behavior,
their mannerisms, you can see they were traumatized, but I think the biggest
thing was that they were all starving. So once you start feeding them and you
start, you know, cleaning their cages, you already start seeing a change in
their behavior. So it was a priority to definitely start feeding them. When
I walked in, I couldn't believe the cages, absolute filth--I mean, just filth
everywhere, feces on the wall. It was quite disgusting. It was a disastrous

GROSS: I guess cleaning it wasn't very pleasant.

Mr. BOGNAR: No, but it had to be done. And it's interesting, you know, I
actually had to start showing the employees how to really scrub a cage. Like
I said, all our employees came back to work, but we did have some exceptions.
Our gardener, for instance--I found out that our gardener who is now one of
the zookeepers was a former Iraqi soldier who had defected and became our
gardener. So we have interesting stories like this.

GROSS: Were there security precautions you had to take about who was on the

Mr. BOGNAR: No. I mean, because we had our zoo manager and we had the lead
veterinarian and they helped us identify all the personnel and they all did
come back, the security issue that we had, like I said, was making sure the
looters weren't coming to the zoo every day and stripping it or taking the
animals. And the zoo is located in what the Army called the green zone.
There are two zones in Baghdad, the red zone and the green zone. The green
zone is everything that's basically cordoned off by the Army. That's because
the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance is located into this
green zone. And the zoo happens to be into this green zone. So that's why
the zoo was still closed and is heavily guarded, but there are still a lot of
looters, you know, that manage to actually get onto the zoo grounds 'cause
it's such a large zoo. It's one of the largest in the Middle East.

GROSS: The museums weren't secured by the US military during and after the
war, and consequently, great treasures were looted immediately after the war.

Mr. BOGNAR: Yeah.

GROSS: What about the zoo? At what point was it secured by the military?

Mr. BOGNAR: Well, after the major battle took place, the zoo fell into the
green zone. So just because of its location in the green zone, it was going
to be protected by the US military. Unfortunately, the museum was in the red
zone, so that's why right after the war it wasn't secured immediately after,
but the zoo--don't get me wrong. Like I said, there were a lot of looters
getting into the zoo back and forth, but it is in the green zone, so it has a
little more protection just because of the very nature of its location.

GROSS: Now you've said that you think Iraqis don't really understand much
about animal husbandry. Are pets popular in Iraq?

Mr. BOGNAR: Very good question. I learned that--no, the answer is no. And I
saw that because my first reaction when I saw some of the dogs, that some of
our, you know, local staff didn't want to touch the dogs, and it was explained
to me that animals are seen as dirty creatures. And because they have to pray
five times during the day, that if they touch an animal, you know, therefore,
they can't pray, because they must be clean before they go pray. So, no,
amongst them, the Arab Muslim community, animals or pets are very not popular.
So amongst the Christians, though, which I found that you had a lot of
Christian Arabs in Iraq have dogs, have pets. And I also found out from
sitting with the zoo manager and our personnel that, you know, they were
frowned upon because they worked at the zoo and because they had to touch
animals and it was reflected in their salaries. I think they received, I
think it was quoted, $3 to $4 a month. That was their salary.

GROSS: What's the most amazing adventure with an animal that you had during
your stay in Iraq?

Mr. BOGNAR: Because I was responsible for Odai's personal collection or the
Special Forces collection at Odai's palace, I had to go there daily to bond
with Brutus and Zeena and Heather, and I started to watch the cubs grow and I
was the first person to actually hold these cubs because these mothers
recognized my scent since I was there daily. Just holding these cubs--you
know, it's interesting that here's death and destruction all around and all of
a sudden we have six new living creatures brought into this world, and bonding
with them and seeing them grow was quite a magical or spiritual experience for
me. It was a real relief to be there and sometimes I would just spend 45
minutes there and just sitting on the ground and in the background you're
listening to the mortar shells or, you know, the gunfires. So it was really
a nice break to be there 'cause I was there about six weeks. So it was quite
peaceful to be in that environment with the six cubs.

GROSS: My guest is Stephan Bognar, a field agent with the group WildAid.
We'll talk more about his work, rebuilding the Baghdad Zoo, after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Stephan Bognar, a field agent with the group WildAid. He
returned last week from Baghdad, where he spent about six weeks helping to
rebuild the zoo and care for the remaining animals.

Now in addition to your adventures with animals, did you have any run-ins with
militias or, you know, other people with guns?

Mr. BOGNAR: Yeah, actually I think it was the first day I arrived and I found
myself on the ground and there was an exchange of gunfire and some of the
bullets hit trees and then the bark actually went into my eyes and actually
paralyzed my eyelid for about a week and a half. That was...

GROSS: A piece of bark from the tree went into your eye?

Mr. BOGNAR: Yeah, that's correct, because the exchange of gunfire just--you
know, Terry, listening and feeling the whizzing of a bullet over your head, I
can't describe that feeling, but I now know what it feels like. Also I can
actually detect that sound. I can still remember exactly that sound over my
head. That was one situation, and another situation I was walking--there are
curfews and again I lived in the red zone. So you had to be in usually before

And I was walking back to my hotel, and right in front of me two Iraqis were
gunned down and the only thing I remember was just seeing these two guys
falling right to the ground and someone, I think it was an American soldier,
that said, you know, `Get out of there.' And you freeze. You know, what do
you do? I mean, you know, you want to help out, you want to reach out.

I remember I was going to the market and my translator's in the back and my
driver's trying to push me to the ground of the car and are yelling and I'm
trying to figure out what's going on. And then I look right in front of us
there was a carjacking where these three guys--two guys jumped on the back of
the truck and one guy opened the door with three machine guns and, you know,
I'm staring at the guy's face and they're just dragging him out.

So, yeah, I still have fresh memories of my experience with these militias in
Baghdad. Security was an issue. Definitely security was an issue. The
American forces--there were not enough soldiers to patrol the streets to
ensure security, and that was the biggest complaint from Iraqis is that they
did not feel safe and secure to go to the markets, you know, to send their
kids to school. I mean, security was an issue.

GROSS: Were you wearing anything that would identify you to the people of
Baghdad as being an aid worker and not a member of the military or, you

Mr. BOGNAR: 'Cause I went to the Baghdad Zoo with one pair of pants, two
T-shirts, a pair of boots, a couple pair of socks, that was it for six weeks.
So I was a civilian and I looked like a civilian, but because I only had one
pair of pants when I was working at the Baghdad Zoo, actually I was wearing
military fatigues and I had a Special Forces T-Shirt that I was wearing, but
every time I left the compound, I definitely made sure that I had my regular
pair of pants I wanted because I was the guy working, going and getting the
food, going and getting the meat, you know, trying to get these engineers to
come and fix the zoo. I wanted them to see me as a civilian, not as, you
know, some soldier and I didn't want to--and also I was shot at several times,
I did not want to bring more attention to me by wearing, you know, military
fatigues every day especially, you know, in the red zone.

GROSS: I bet you've gotten both praise and criticism for the work you've done
at the Baghdad Zoo, praise for helping to rescue animals who were, you know,
kind of in the cross fire of this war, but maybe criticism for spending the
time and energy on the animals when so many people are suffering. Did you get
it from both sides?

Mr. BOGNAR: Absolutely. Not only did I come under fire from the militias but
absolutely. The real fire came from the humanitarian organizations that were
working in Baghdad. There are two things I'd like to say on that. Again,
because of our policy, our program called Surviving Together, WildAid works
with both communities. And, you know, we were there not only to work with the
animals, but we were there providing meals to all the employees, providing
them supplementary salaries, coaching them, working with them. They weren't
out on the streets, you know, shooting themselves or attacking. They were
there working.

Interesting, I have to say, throughout my stay in Baghdad, you had all these
humanitarian organizations, Terry; a majority of these organizations were
doing assessments. So they would spend days and days going to hospitals or
wherever doing assessments, a lot of paperwork, and were not providing any
immediate assistance. So a lot of these organizations were going there
without even any funds. So my response was, `So you've just done a complete
assessment at one of the hospitals. So after you've done this assessment,
have you gone out? Have you gone to procure sheets or blankets or pillows or
clothing or food?' The answer was, `No, we're just here to do these
assessments.' Well, you know, that's fine, but in such a situation, you need
to reach out to the people right away. You need to make a difference today.
You just can't keep waiting.

So, you know, when we went to the zoo, it's, like, we had the funds with us.
You know, it was a quick assessment, quick decision. Let's go there, let's
provide immediate assistance. People have to see tangible results. That's
why at the Baghdad Zoo, in the press releases, we had seen so many
organizations, `Oh, they're already in Baghdad working with the Baghdad Zoo.'
That's wasn't the case. That wasn't reality. They were waiting to go into
Baghdad before they felt, you know, safe enough to get in. When I was there,
it was, like, it's me and that's the situation, that was reality.

You know, when I left, it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to the staff. Our
staff didn't want to see me leave and they kept on saying, `You know, you guys
are the really true assessors. You're here to work with us, with the people.'
Absolutely. You know, I reached out to the communities. When we started to
repair the lion closures, we could have relied on the military to--you know,
they have their welders three, the civil engineers department, and we did, but
I made sure to tell them that, you know, `We need to go to the community and
hire some of these guys who know how to build these things. We need to reach
out to the communities together to build this.'

GROSS: You had a hard time getting out of Baghdad. What was the problem?

Mr. BOGNAR: Correct. There are two ways to get out of Baghdad. Either
you're going to get a military plane to get you to Kuwait or you're going to
take a convoy to Amman and then you fly home. And because I had all my
possessions in Israel--prior to my arrival in Baghdad, I was working on a
project. I was trying to recruit agricultural specialists to take them back
to Cambodia, where we're working on a community development program. I had to
go, you know, with a convoy to Amman, and that's, like, a 14-hour trek through
the desert. When I say a convoy, how it works is there are four GMCs. You
know what a GMC is, like, large SUVs. And you go in packs of four to ensure
security because what happened is that after the war there were hardly any
soldiers protecting this road going from Baghdad to Amman. So you had a lot
of these Rali Babas(ph) that were setting up these false roadblocks. And so
you think it's a checkpoint, but it's not and that's where they attack you.
So when I left, there were two convoys ahead of me that were attacked. Thank
goodness I wasn't attacked, but it's a 14-hour trek through the desert.

And then when I finally got to Israel to the border, to that checkpoint, they
actually detained me for over seven hours and questioned me and questioned me,
different angles, different people and the assumption was that I was a
possible spy because what was I doing in Baghdad, what was I doing in Amman.
`How could you be working with the Baghdad Zoo?' I mean, they couldn't grasp
the concept; even though I had papers from the State Department that I was
working with the Baghdad Zoo, it was beyond their understanding that here's a
guy coming from Baghdad. He has to be--you know, I'm sure he's some sort of
spy. So they detained me.

And after answering questions for seven hours from different angles, you
almost break down. You say, `OK. What do you want to know? I'll tell you
anything you want to know. Just I need to get out of here.' So it was quite
an ordeal just to get out of Baghdad. And when I got out of Baghdad, it was
another ordeal. So it didn't end there. The adventure continued.

GROSS: And now you're in San Francisco, which is where WildAid is

Mr. BOGNAR: That's correct. WildAid is headquartered in San Francisco. So
I've come back to San Francisco to regroup. I've gained some weight back,
started working with my staff again and start--I will be going back to Baghdad
in about a month and a half to make sure that all of our--because right now
we've collected quite a bit of money and we are going to be distributing this
money. We're actually working with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association
to channel this money through them to make sure that they're going to start
rebuilding the zoo.

GROSS: So what's the future of the Baghdad Zoo looking like? Is it going to
be ready to be open to the public any time in the near future?

Mr. BOGNAR: No, I don't think so, and that's because the zoo is located in
the green zone, and again, that's the cordoned-off area. So right now it's
shut to the public and I don't think it's going to be open for at least a few
more months. There's a big debate now on what we're going to do with all
these large cats. And we finally have permission from the administration that
we can actually take some of these large cats and give them some form of
passports, and we think we're going to bring actually some of them to South

GROSS: Well, thank you so much. Good luck in your travels.

Mr. BOGNAR: Thank you so much. Bye-bye.

GROSS: Stephan Bognar is a field agent for the group WildAid, which is based
in San Francisco. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: Coming up, we meet jazz pianist and singer Barbara Carroll. She
recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Kennedy Center. Jazz
critic Kevin Whitehead reviews the Buddy Emmons reissue "Steel Guitar Jazz."
And linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the modern fixation with acronyms.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Analysis: Developments in the use of acronyms since the word's
appearance 60 years ago

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Whether you're listening to NPR on AM or FM, whether you're in a BMW or an
SUV, or just on the MTA, there's no way to get around the modern fixation for
forming words out of strings of initials. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg has
these thoughts on the first appearance of the word `acronym' 60 years ago.

GEOFF NUNBERG reporting:

TLAMs and RPGs, MREs and SSCs, EPWs and WMDs--the language we were hearing
from the Iraq War had a decidedly alphabetic ring, but then that's only
appropriate. The word `acronym' itself was first used 60 years ago to
describe military coinings like WAC, ANZAC and radar, all drawn from the
initials of longer phrases. By 1942, the process was familiar enough so that
servicemen could make fun of it with the term snafu, for `situation normal,
all fouled up.' Well, `fouled' is only an approximation.

Of course, the American fondness for acronyms and abbreviations began well
before World War II. After all, ours was the first modern nation to be known
by its initials. Nineteenth-century Americans gave the language items like
COD, SOB and PDQ, and that's not to mention OK, which is certainly the most
successful American contribution to the languages of the world, even if
nobody's sure what the letters originally stood for.

But it wasn't until the mid-20th century that acronyms became the linguistic
wallpaper of modern life. One of the most successful acronyms of the '50s was
veep, which was used affectionately for Truman's vice president, Alben
Barkley. It was largely abandoned in 1953, when Richard Nixon took over the
job and made it known that he didn't like the appellation. Nixon wasn't a man
to whom the phrase `lighten up' had a lot of meaning. But the Republican
administration compensated by introducing other acronyms, like RIF, for
reduction in force. That was the first bureaucratic euphemism for layoffs,
and as it turns out, a surprisingly resilient one.

Some sticklers insist that the word `acronym' should only be used for a string
of letters that's pronounced as a word, like RIF or like NATO. Items like FBI
and LSD they call initialisms. I suppose that's a valid distinction, but most
people can't be bothered with it. And anyway, it misses the main point.
However they're pronounced, the crucial thing about these expressions is the
way they come to live lives of their own as separate words. AC in a
real-estate classified is just an abbreviation for air conditioning, but AC/DC
is a distinct word when it's used to describe a sexual orientation. I mean,
if you heard somebody's sexuality described as alternating current/direct
current, your thoughts would run in a very different direction. And you may
have your doubts about UFOs, but nobody denies the existence of unidentified
flying objects.

It's astonishing how pervasive these coinings have become over the past 60
years. I'm not thinking just of the ones that come from bureaucracy and
technology. Those are mostly used for efficiency. Strings like SEC and EEG
flow a lot more trippingly from the tongue than Securities and Exchange
Commission and electroencephalogram. But by now acronyms are piled up in
every room in the American house. BLTs, PB&J and OJ in the kitchen, GTOs, RVs
and SUVs in the garage, and TP in the bathroom, provided that somebody
remembered to stop at the A&P. In the living room we turn on the VCR or put
on a CD by REM, ELO or UB 40. In the bedroom we slip out of our BVDs and cop
some Z's. Yuppies and WASPs, LSD and PCP, TGIF and BYOB, CBGB's and MTV; you
could sketch the whole social history of the postwar period just by listing
the initials it's carved on the walls.

Items like these don't have much to do with a propensity for conciseness. In
fact, most of them barely save any syllables over their spelled-out
equivalents. The urge to acronymize goes deeper than that. It's as if we're
moving toward a purely analytic language, where the shape of every word
reveals its meaning to the initiates who possess the secret key. In that
sense, acronyms are the slang of a textual world. There's a mysterious sense
of destiny to these names. The Cabalists used the process called Notarikon to
form new names for God by combining the first or last letters from phrases or
biblical verses. And the Tudors stuttered their verses with acronyms and
acrostics, though probably not nearly so many as scholars have claimed to find
in their efforts to prove that Shakespeare's works were written by somebody

That's the same impulse that leads people to rig the game. They start with a
plausible acronym, and then contrive a description to fit it. As best I can
tell, the first of these was WAVES, the name the Navy coined in 1942 for
women accepted for volunteer emergency service. And in later years, the same
process has given us organizational names like CARE, NOW and MADD. Nobody's
more adept at this than legislators. Over the past few years we've had the
RAVE Act, for reducing Americans' vulnerability to ecstasy, and Operation
TIPS, the Terrorism Information and Prevention System. And then there's the
anti-terrorism act that goes by the name of Uniting and Strengthening America
by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.
That acronymizes as USA Patriot, a happy accident indeed.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University's Center for the
Study of Language and Information, and he's the author of the book "The Way We
Talk Now."

Coming up, pianist and singer Barbara Carroll. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Barbara Carroll discusses her career as a jazz pianist
(Soundbite of "In Walked Bud")


Pianist Barbara Carroll started recording in the late 1940s when a woman jazz
musician was still considered quite a novelty. Last month, at the Kennedy
Center's Women in Jazz Festival, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
We're listening to her play Thelonius Monk's "In Walked Bud" from her latest
album "One Morning in May."

(Soundbite of "In Walked Bud")

GROSS: Barbara Carroll also sings. For 24 years she played and sang at the
Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan, the hotel that has also been home to Bobby Short.
On most of Carroll's recordings, she sings on a few tracks. Here's another
track from "One Morning in May."

(Soundbite of track from "One Morning in May")

Ms. BARBARA CARROLL (Jazz Musician/Singer): (Singing) Here we are at last.
It's like a dream, two of us, a perfect team. It's an awful pity we've never
met before.

GROSS: Barbara Carroll, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. CARROLL: Thank you, Terry. Very happy to be with you today.

GROSS: You started performing at a time when there were very few women jazz
musicians, or at least successful ones. How did you feel about always being
referred to as, like, the lady pianist? I imagine you were thought of as
almost like a novelty act because you were a woman.

Ms. CARROLL: Well, you put it very nicely. You're saying a lady pianist.
Actually what people would say, when they were giving you the ultimate
compliment, was `Gee, you play good for a girl' or, worse still `You play just
like a man.' You know, so when I was growing up those were the accolades that
one got.

GROSS: Now you sing, as well as play piano, but on your records you usually
just sing a few tracks on each recording. Were you ever afraid, particularly
when you were getting started, that if you sang too much you would be thought
of as a singer and not so much as a pianist, and it would take away from your
reputation as an instrumentalist? You'd be, you know, regarded as, like,
another girl singer?

Ms. CARROLL: Well, actually, I must confess, Terry, it wasn't that. I was
afraid to sing, not because they'd think that I was a singer, because they'd
think I wasn't a singer. And I always knew a lot of lyrics. I knew the
lyrics to everything that I played. I had a sister who was really crazy about
all the good songs, and she knew the lyrics to everything. She had a voice
that was, well, not terribly attractive sometimes, but that didn't keep her
from singing. So she used to sing everything. I learned all the words to
everything, but I was always afraid to sing because I didn't think I had the
voice. I didn't think I had the range. You know, I was totally insecure
about it.

And today I don't think of myself as a singer either. I think of myself as a
pianist who sings. And I have come to the conclusion that the important thing
when you're singing is to tell the story. And I console myself with that, you
see; I'm telling the story. And I love to sing, but essentially my first love
is playing the piano.

GROSS: Do you remember the first time you actually sang in public?

Ms. CARROLL: I sang a little bit on my RCA recordings, which were some of
the first records I made in the 1950s. And then when I began playing at the
Carlyle I was just playing the piano, and then people would always say, `Oh,
sing it.' You know, they'd hear a certain song that they loved, and they'd
`Sing it, sing it,' you know, and so I would sing it. And little by little I
gained some confidence in singing, and it's a great joy to sing.

GROSS: Well, you mentioned that you sang a few tracks on some of your very
early records. Why don't we hear one of those? And this is from your 1956
recording "It's a Wonderful World." And we'll hear "At Long Last Love," in
which you're featured at the piano and on vocals.

(Soundbite of "At Long Last Love")

Ms. CARROLL: (Singing) Is it an earthquake, or is it a shock? Is this the
good turtle soup, or merely the mock? Is it a cocktail, this feeling of joy,
Or is what I feel the real McCoy? Is this for all time, or merely a lark?
Is it Grenada I see, or only Asbury Park? Is this a fancy night worth
dreaming of, or is it at long last love?

GROSS: That's Barbara Carroll, piano and vocals, recorded in 1956 from her
album "It's a Wonderful World."

You know, it's interesting. You said you were never trained as a singer, and,
you know, you were very shy about your singing; you didn't think you were very
good. You were trained as a pianist. You studied piano from the time you
were a girl. You went to the New England Conservatory of Music. Did you, in
that sense, think of your singing and your piano playing as mismatched because
you were so untrained as a singer?

Ms. CARROLL: No. You see, I began playing the piano when I was about four
or five years old. I had two older sisters who had been given piano lessons
and violin lessons and all kinds of lessons, but they didn't want to practice
and they weren't really interested in playing. And I was about 10 years
younger than my middle sister. I was the youngest in the family. And by the
time I came along my parents were rather disenchanted with the idea of going
for all that money for the piano lessons again because, you know, they had had
bad experiences with my two sisters. So I was playing when I was five and
six, and I really wanted to study, and I finally prevailed upon them to let me
study classical music, which I began studying when I was eight years old. I
studied classical music until I was about 15 in Worcester. And then, as I
say, I went to the Conservatory for a little bit.

I didn't feel--you question was did I feel mismatched because I had had formal
training in playing the piano and I had not in singing. No. In jazz,
actually, I don't know that you have to have formal training in singing. I'm
sure it might help, but I'm sure that many of the great jazz singers did not
have that formal training.

GROSS: I think most did not.

Ms. CARROLL: I would say that, yes. Absolutely. And as far as formal
training in playing the piano, I certainly think it's helpful in giving you
the ability, the technical ability, to play the piano and play whatever you
want because if you have the technique you can go ahead and play jazz or play,
you know, whatever comes to mind.

GROSS: How were you first exposed to jazz?

Ms. CARROLL: Well, when I was in Worcester I used to hear the radio. I
listened to the radio a lot, and there were live--you know, in those days
there were remote broadcasts--that's what they called them--which meant they
were live performances from jazz rooms, from hotels, from places where there
were bands and there were instrumentalists playing wonderful jazz music. And
that's what I heard when I was in Worcester. And I heard Nat King Cole and
his trio, and that was as if a light went on for me because Nat Cole was my
very first favorite pianist. He was a marvelous pianist. A lot of people
remember him as a great singer, which, of course, he was, but for me he was
the excitement about playing jazz piano. And then, after that, I heard Art
Tatum and, oh, later on Thelonius Monk and Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson,
etc., etc. But it was Nat Cole first.

GROSS: In 1957, I know you were playing in a trio with your husband, the bass
player Joe Shulman. This is your first husband, your late husband. And was
it helpful having a husband who was also a jazz musician--and here's what I'm
thinking--because a lot of men in general and jazz musicians in particular, in
this instance, might have thought of you as, like, an available woman, you
know, like a chick who plays, but we know what she really wants? It could
have really kind of interfered with your ability to just play and not be
misinterpreted, if you know what I mean? So, like, if your husband's there,
then, like, OK, you're no longer, quote, "available," so you're just, like, a
piano player. You're just there for professional reasons. No one could
misinterpret that. Was that helpful?

Ms. CARROLL: I don't know if it was helpful or not helpful. I only know
that we had a really wonderful marriage. He was an extraordinary musician,
and we had a marriage that was unusual because we worked together and we were
together all the time, so it was really quite wonderful. Unfortunately Joe
died when he was 33 years old. We had only been married for three years, and
he had a heart attack...

GROSS: That's so young.

Ms. CARROLL: ...suddenly. We were on Fire Island. We had taken the summer
off because we were working so much and we just wanted a little down time, and
just out of the blue this happened.

GROSS: Was it hard to get back to work after he died, I mean, to resume your

Ms. CARROLL: Yes. Yes. After he died it was very difficult because I
wanted to work. I wanted to go back to work. But, you see, I was working
with the trio and I needed a bass player, and so I had to audition bass
players. And it was extremely difficult because nobody played as well as he
and, of course, nobody could fill his shoes in any way, so it took a long
time. But it didn't take a long time to get back to work. I went back to
work rather quickly. It took a very long time to get over that.

GROSS: Right. A question about clothing for you. On your latest recording,
"One Morning in May," you're wearing a black turtleneck sweater and you're
seated at the piano. On your recordings from the 1950s, at least the couple
that I have with me, you're wearing more like, you know, a cocktail dress or
an evening gown, something with straps that--you know, with bare shoulders,
you know. So what was expected of you in terms of your image in the 1950s,
when you were one of the few women pianists recording?

Ms. CARROLL: Exactly what you said: bare shoulders, cocktail dress, you
know, a little cleavage if you were fortunate enough to have it. And that's
the way it was. You know, I look at old photographs of myself, professional
photographs that were taken during that time...

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. CARROLL: the 1950s, and they're all very sultry and glamorous.
There were photographers at that time like Maurice Seymour and James Kriegsman
and Bruno of Hollywood, and they took these marvelous pictures with lighting
and shadows and, you know, just made you look terrific. And it was all
glamour, and it was wonderful. Things have changed, though, you know. I
don't dress that way now. I don't wear things that are bare shoulders or
anything cut out. I'm more casual, and keeping, I think, with the spirit of
the time.

GROSS: And speaking of the glamour photos, on your album "We Just Couldn't
Say Goodbye," which is from the 1950s, you're at the piano wearing, you know,
a cocktail dress with straps with the cleavage and the bare shoulders, and
there's three men in suits with their elbows on the piano, listening intently
and staring at you admiringly.

Ms. CARROLL: Well, I'm glad you said staring at me admiringly. Actually
what happened was that they needed a cover photograph, and somebody at RCA
Victor got the great idea of, you know, `Let's get a couple of guys standing
around the piano looking at Barbara while she's playing.' So they called in
some of the fellas who were in the corridor there and they said, `Would you
fellas please come in and look at Barbara admiringly?' And that's what
happened. And...

GROSS: That's really funny. How did you feel about the cover, about the
album photo?

Ms. CARROLL: I wasn't crazy about it because I always remembered the
circumstances under which it happened, you know. But that was the idea.
Whether that feeling came through, or whether that translated on the cover,
I'm not sure. They were supposed to be overwhelmed with what I was playing.
I'm not sure that that's the expression that they had.

GROSS: Well, Barbara Carroll, I want to thank you so much for talking with

Ms. CARROLL: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Barbara Carroll's latest CD is called "One Morning in May."

Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a reissue of the Buddy Emmons
album "Steel Guitar Jazz." This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Reissue of the Buddy Emmons album "Steel Guitar Jazz"
(Soundbite of music from "Steel Guitar Jazz" album)


The sliding sound of steel guitar originated in Hawaii and spread to the
mainland a hundred years ago. The modern pedal steel guitar is a
signature sound of country music and is heard in black Pentecostal churches,
in Nigerian juju bands and on Bollywood soundtracks from India. But this
almost universally useful instrument has made few inroads into jazz. Critic
Kevin Whitehead reviews a reissue from 1963 that tried to fix that.

(Soundbite of music from "Steel Guitar Jazz" album)


Buddy Emmons on pedal-steel guitar, with Jerome Richardson on tenor sax.
Emmons hails from Indiana, where he studied Hawaiian guitar before turning pro
in his teens. In 1963, at age 26, he went to New York to record the quintet
LP "Steel Guitar Jazz" with a solid rhythm section, including drummer Charlie
Persip and sometime-Coltrane bassist Art Davis. This is a welcome reissue,
not 'cause it's always great but 'cause there's so little like it.

(Soundbite of "The Preacher")

WHITEHEAD: "The Preacher," by Horace Silver. Some early recording artists we
now stamp as country and western saw themselves as jazz musicians, like Bob
Wills of The Texas Playboys. Western swing hotshot Bob Dunn dreamed of making
steel guitar a jazz instrument, and the modern steel, with pedals to change a
string's pitch, was developed to bring fancier, jazzier chords within reach.

(Soundbite of music from "Steel Guitar Jazz" album)

WHITEHEAD: Country musicians loved jazz's easy swing, but their concept of
jazz harmony often needed an update. And when Buddy Emmons plays something
like a hip, modern jazz lick, he can lean on it like a joke, as if it's hard
to take seriously. It's an odd case of the ironic outsider clashing with
earnest New Yorkers. He was ready for 'em. Here's Emmons on the jazz test
piece "Cherokee."

(Soundbite of "Cherokee")

WHITEHEAD: That works, but Buddy Emmons and his jazz pals don't always mesh
quite so well. Still, everyone tries to get along. Sometimes pianist Bobby
Scott tosses in some rippling Floyd Cramer country licks, which themselves
mimic a steel guitar slide up several notes.

(Soundbite of music from "Steel Guitar Jazz" album)

WHITEHEAD: The "Steel Guitar Jazz" album didn't make Buddy Emmons a jazz
contender, but he's done all right. Also in '63, he joined singer Ray Price
for five years, and he went on to play on lots of country and pop records.
Later he recorded with jazz guitarist Lenny Breau and made a batch of albums
with the word `swing' in the title, playing country standards and jazz goldies
like "Perdido" and "Take the A Train." Buddy Emmons never gave up on jazz,
even if he didn't pick up the New York accent.

(Soundbite of music from "Steel Guitar Jazz" album)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for the Chicago Reader and the Chicago


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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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