(Reprinted from L. A. JAZZ SCENE - March 2004)

by Brett Fox

It was a rainy afternoon in January when I found myself on the doorstep of Marilyn Harris' home in the Valley. I barely had closed my umbrella when her three Schnauzers greeted me at the door-and amidst much doggie tumult and yelps, I was ushered into her living room. She had to take a phone call, so it left me a few minutes to look around-and peruse the premises. This is always my favorite thing to do-get a feel for the person before they give you the authorized version. On the wall she had 5 gold records and some tasteful pics with celebrities, another wall was all CDs, cassettes and LPs and I couldn't help noticing the full grand begging to be played in the corner. An opened sax case and lots of charts definitely announced this as the home of a working musician. I had been playing Marilyn's new CD "Future Street" all morning and couldn't wait to talk to this lady about it. This wasn't one more project by a chick singer covering "Satin Doll" for the 1,000 time-but an album full of original songs, so good they could be called "new standards" .But the biggest discovery I had made while listening to "Future Street" was what a good singer she was. With range and great pitch and a wonderful sense of swing. Where had she been all my life? Well, Marilyn came back into the room, and I soon was to find out-

> How did this CD "Future Street" come about?

I'd been thinking about doing a strictly jazz album for a while. My first CD was too eclectic - a little pop, a little R&B, a little Latin, a little all over the place, if you know what I mean. I've always loved jazz, but as a songwriter I didn't have that much material that was truly "jazz". Fortunately I started writing with Mark Winkler last year and we came up with 5 new songs together, including the title cut, FUTURE STREET that are more in the jazz pocket. He sort of got me in touch with my cool side.

> I love the original songs on your CD, can you tell us how some of them came about?

You never know where or when inspiration will strike, or what the Muse will bring you. I read Dan Savage's column SAVAGE LOVE pretty regularly - it's a sort of Dear Abby for the Kinky. A few months ago he had a letter from a 21-year-old writer who was ashamed of some youthful indiscretions, and Dan's advice was to not tell prospective lovers what she'd done when she was young. His combination of witty insight and compassion made me laugh initially, and the next day DON'T WANNA KNOW pretty much wrote itself.

> One of my favorite songs on the CD has the wildest lyric "My Dissapation", how did that one come about?

Well, I woke up one morning with the line, "I'm afraid your dad and I were bad, we didn't save enough for you to get a decent education," and wondered where THAT thought had come from, since the only children we have are the canine variety! But I followed it, just to see where it would lead, and it led to MY DISSIPATION, which is a distillation of profligate behavior and consequences. Through writing it, I've discovered that you can say darn near ANYTHING: "I'm a serial axe-murderer," for example - so long as you do it in the context of a Samba!

> How did you get such great musicians on the CD?

L.A. has the most fabulous musicians! Dave Carpenter is one of the best bassists ever - incredibly inventive and FUN to work with, as is drummer Bob Leatherbarrow. Each of the horn soloists brought something unique to the project - Wayne Bergeron's lyricism, Pete Christlieb's almost supernatural flow of ideas, Dan Higgins' brilliance, Bill Liston's soulful bari sax wail, Warren Luening's fluidity, Andy Martin's inventiveness and humor. These guys are all tops - there's a reason why they work all the time!

> You recorded this CD with your husband, Mark Wolfram, as the producer. How was that?

Mark and I had a professional relationship long before we started dating - and after 25 years, we know each other pretty well. I've learned that I can trust his ears implicitly - and most of the time he's right about everything else that's going on, too!

> What's your background?

I started playing piano when I was 10, and took up flute in college, then added alto sax (my heart's desire!) a couple years ago. I'd begun writing music to cover up my inadequacies as a piano player - I figured that if I'd actually written the music, then nobody could tell me when I'd played it wrong! I've had the typical checkered career of many musicians - cobbling together a livelihood from various gigs, playing piano bars, writing arrangements for Bette Midler and other entertainers, copying music for Gil Evans and members of his band, which led to a long stint in the jingle business in NYC and Chicago. For the past 8 years or so I've provided musicology services to lawyers and advertising agencies - music analysis can be very compelling, if you're already curious about the way songs are structured and what makes 'em tick! I always wanted other singers to cover Jackie Paris recorded a few. Lately my involvement with the Jazz Vocal Coalition has led to some great L.A. singers like Cathy Segal-Garcia, Cheryl Barnes, Angelique and Judy Chamberlain becoming interested in covering my songs, which is just what I hoped would happen!

> Did jingle singing/writing help you with this CD?

I got into the jingle business like a lot of jazz musicians did - it was incredibly FUN to work REAL fast in a great variety of styles, and advertising people seemingly had money to burn. Studio singing is a special skill, and I really enjoyed working with so many outrageously talented singers, like Don Shelton, Cheryl Wilson, Linda November and Bonnie Herman. It's like playing tennis with Andre Agassi - it's bound to improve your game!

> During the International Association of Jazz Educators this past January you led a panel on the New American songbook, what was that like?

I got the idea for BEYOND THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK because I wanted to have a chance to talk with some of my songwriting heroes, and I thought other jazz buffs might also be interested. Well, they were! We had a full house - over 400 people - to hear Bob Dorough, Lorraine Feather, Mark Winkler and Bruce Brown talk about, and then play and sing their new songs! Afterwards people kept coming up and telling me that it was their favorite event of the whole IAJE conference!

> Loved Bob Dorough's liner notes, how did they come about?

I'd toyed with the idea of inviting Bob to sing a duet with me, but none of these songs seemed a custom-fit for his voice and persona. Then I remembered he'd written liner notes for Diane Hubka's first CD, and provided comments for Chicago singer Joanie Pallatto's recordings. When I saw him perform with Dave Frishberg last fall at the Jazz Bakery, I just sorta blurted out my request! I wanted him to write about the songs, and he did - but in his own unique hipster parlance!

> How will you be promoting the new CD?

We've got a radio promoter working the album, along with a publicist. We're sending the CD to various reviewers, and starting to set up club appearances. For example, I'm going to be sharing the stage at Catalina's with Mark Winkler on March 18th - to celebrate the CD release and perform some new songs we've just finished.

> What differentiates you from other jazz singers?

It'd have to be the songs. Mind you, I have nothing against the wonderful standards of yesteryear, but there HAS to be room for freshly-minted songs in the jazz repertoire, too. There are new things to say about love and life, and jazz is the perfect place to say them, since the music is sophisticated rhythmically and harmonically, while still being accessible. In such an adult context, there's the opportunity to examine other things beyond "moon-June" rhyme schemes and "hubba-hubba" sentiments. We can look at complex emotions, savoring the cleverness of the lyrics coupled with musical sophistication - it's really music for grownups!


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