husband and manager Marshall Fisher talking to
Our philosophy is based on musical integrity. Everything that I do is directed into music—the sound. And I also feel that the best judge of the material that she should do, and the way she should do it, is Sarah. There’s simply no other considerations, in my opinion. I work on the perimeter, to direct it all towards making it possible for her to do what she wants to do.
As regards performance venues—there are maybe three clubs in the world the Great American .Music Hall in San Francisco. and the Roxv in LA. In those places, you don’t have to go in and hope that you don’t have a bunch of drunks who are going to raise hell and cause a problem for the rest of the audience, who came to listen. We’re not working the hotel rooms as much; we just have a couple of hotels that we like to work. There happens to be a new Hyatt Regency in Durban, Michigan; it’s a nice room, well-run, good organisation and so forth—we’ll work it. As for some of the rooms that have gotten so expensive, because of their reputation mainly, the type of people they draw due to the great expense tends to make it kind of a stiff room: they really can’t get in and relax, because they’re all in there trying to impress the rest of the people, who are watching to see who came.
Our average gigs now are Sarah in concert self-contained, or Sarah with the symphony—those are average for for us now. The symphony dates have been absolutely beautiful, from in front of the stage and from behind the stage. You’ve got a Symphony Association organisation, a hundred musicians and us—and the only thought we have is the production of beautiful music. Which is what the people come to hear. It is the most satisfying thing we’ve been doing.
As soon as we go back, we work with the Atlanta Symphony. Then we come back to New York, and do a New Jersey public television special.
After that. it’s Carnegie Hall self-contained. with the addition of Clark Terry; he’ll be integrated in the show—not two separate acts. Sarah, the trio and Clark—it’s going to be dynamite.
Dick Gibson, in Colorado, has the Jazz Parties every year; Clark played with her up there a couple of years ago, and it was inspirational. He plaved as well as I’ve ever heard him play, and apologised afterwards for not knowing the tunes—and he just ate ‘em up!
A lady is starting a Newport Festival in Rhode Island again. and we’re going to do that, opposite ‘Thad and Mel, and George Shearing. In August, we’re doing the Houston Symphony for two days; we’re doing the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in the Bowl, for two days, with Earl Klugh, Bobbv Hutcherson. Carmen McRae—it’ll be a happening. Later on, we’re doing four dates in upstate New York with the Rochester Symphony—Chuck Mangione recorded with them. Which is great, because you have one rehearsal, and you can then do four shows with them—it’s nice work. These are the things we’re doing.
We’re not working Bimbo’s Basement Brunt Club or something any more. We don’t do it in Japan, or anywhere in the world.
I’d like to mention a particular audience. From my standpoint, as a witness, probably the most attentive and the most demonstrative audiences have been in Italy. They’re so emotional—but they just won’t buy bad music. A couple of years ago, we worked Teatro La Finice in Venice—beautiful, like a small La Scala; red and gold and gorgeous. They had the full season’s posters around the building, and the entire season was classical music—the Vienna Symphony with Karl Bohm, Rudolph Serkin and so forth—with the exception of Sarah and her Trio. Of course. it was sold out: we have Sarah’s individual poster. all in Italian. at home. The hall was dripping with musical history. In Bologna, we worked another tvpe of place we’re generally staving out of—a sorta arena. holding six thousand people. You know how audiences start to clap when they recognise a tune, just as she’s starting it: in Bologna, a few people among the six thousand started to clap at the beginning of some tunes, and everybody else went “Shhh!” Then there was absolute stony silence until the very last note had left the hall—and a tremendous explosion of sustained applause. It was amazing.
In Bari. Italy, a fishing, village on the Adriatic, it was the first time they’d had not only jazz, but practically any foreign popular music. In this theatre, we had two thousand people in front and three hundred people behind her onstage. We were an hour late, through problems of transportation from Rome, but they waited patiently; she got on, gave them a performance, and the reception was sheer insanity. The next morning, they had headlines in the paper, thanking her for making musical history in their town. It was that kind of thing in Italy—they really let loose. And what I try to create is the place and the time.
Actually, I’ve been in love with Sarah since 1947. My mother first took me to see her when I was sixteen, at the Blue Note in Chicago—because, of course, I was too young to get in by myself. Since then, there’s been no other singer even equal to her, in my estimation. So it’s the answer to a dream for me to be able to have some kind of effect on a direction that she wants to take, and that she’s able to take.
The only thing I try to do is tell her what was rotten before—which she already knows. For instance, “Waltzing Down The Aisle With You” is one of my all-time unfavourites. Nor would she, of her own volition, have done “Broken-Hearted Melody” —probably the biggest seller she’s ever had.
I spoke of musical integrity. Neither of those words apparently have any place in the record business: they certainly don’t pay much attention to music or integrity. So the only way we can have that is in personal appearance, if we’re in control of what’s happening. But where recording is concerned, we’re going to be in control from here on; otherwise there’ll be no recording—fortunate or unfortunate. It’s my opinion now that we have to leave things for the archives; she’s probably not going to be singing for another thirty-five years. Therefore there’s no sense in doing any material that she doesn’t want to do: whatever she wants to do is first-class. Of course, even with a mediocre song, if there’s anything there, she’ll get it out. I think she could sing the Yellow Pages with a metronome—but I’m prejudiced.
If I hear a particularly great tune, certainly I’ll tell her about it. But I think I’d be very presumptuous to cross that line. In that sense, I don’t step on the stage. I try to insulate her from all the crap around her, but 1 stop at the stage. What I’m saying is: there’s nothing I can tell her about singing. Labels are difficult, but I would say that in my opinion Sarah is one of the two greatest singers in the world. I’ll qualify it slightly—female. It’s her and Leontyne Price. And some day I would like to have them both on a stage together—that would be an event. Maybe Leontyne will read this.
Regarding the future—I think Sarah’s capable of doing anything she thinks she can do. Whether that’ll be a Broadway musical, for instance—a show built around her music and abilities. Commercial television in the States I don’t think is ready for her. I’d love to do it—and it’s a problem for the British, too—when and if the television people decide finally to broadcast sound. In the States, of course, the sound is FM; they’ve got the greatest sound in the world that could be broadcast, and they try to bring it in on an inch-and-a-half speaker. But hopefully that will change; it may not be immediately. but certainly, I think, within the next ten years they’ll be broadcasting in Multiplex on big speakers and so forth, and get some dynamite sound on television. The way it is today, they are preoccupied with picture, and they think absolutely nothing of sound. Because they can really screw up some sound; there are certain programmes, that I won’t name, where you can be certain every time you hear them, that the sound men will have everyone on the edge of feedback, all the time. The picture’s beautiful, but I don’t under- stand how they can’t hear that, Your picture is much better than ours—because of the difference in the scan rate, I guess.
One final parenthetical thought: there’s no doubt that Sarah is an institution; how can someone think that they are able to judge an institution, and prevent an album from being released?