Phone interview recorded April 19, 2011
Dionne Warwick is celebrating her 50th anniversary as a recording artist this year and doing it in style: her latest album, "Only Trust Your Heart" is making waves not only on the U.S. R&B and pop charts but also, for the first time in her illustrious career, on the jazz charts! She's understandably thrilled as she shares with David Nathan...
DN: I would like to welcome today to SoulMusic.com a lady who, in one sense, needs no introduction—that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give her one, but she really doesn’t need one. And I could speak volumes about how long we’ve known each other; I could say that I’ve probably written more about her than I’ve written about anybody else; I might have written more about her than anyone else has ever written, if I think about all the interviews we’ve done and the liner notes I’ve written, and on and on and on. But I will say this before we actually begin the formal part of our interview, and as I have said in print before, if it wasn’t for this lady’s music I might have been doing something entirely different in life. And we have joked about that, but I have to say that every time I think about all that I’ve accomplished with SoulMusic.com and all the things that I’ve done, I always bring it back to that one recording, “Walk On By”, in 1964. So anytime I get an opportunity to speak to Dionne Warwick it is always a thrill and a pleasure. And in this particular instance particularly so because we are celebrating her 50th anniversary and of course she has a brand-new CD out, and that’s going to be the subject of our conversation today, primarily. So welcome to SoulMusic.com the music legend Miss Dionne Warwick.
DN: How was that for an introduction? Was that all right?
DW: That was a magical introduction, thank you.
DN: You’re welcome. Well, I want to talk to you about this project because it is, of course, ONLY TRUST YOUR HEART. And what is particularly interesting to me, and probably for many of those who’ve been following your music, is that this album is actually—and you can correct me if I’m wrong—but it’s your first chart entry on the Jazz—or your most successful entry—on the Jazz charts. Is that correct?
DW: Yes it is, absolutely, and it’s unbelievable.
DN: Did you know when you made the record that that was a possible outcome?
DW: Not at all. In fact, I didn’t even give it a thought that it would be considered jazz at all. It was just songs that are known as the Great American Songbook: Sammy Cahn, one of the premiere writers of those class of songs, along with Jack Wolf. It was quite an elating surprise, I must say.
DN: And do you have any explanation why people have responded to it as, essentially I guess, a jazz album?
DW: I don’t have a clue, but I’m happy about it. I think it’s wonderful to be recognized in another genre. And also, it’s also charting as Pop and R&B.
DN: Well, let me ask you before we go on to talking about the content of the record itself: since we’re talking about jazz, in your own life and growing up, did you hear much jazz? Were you influenced by jazz? Was jazz in your household at all?
DW: Oh, absolutely, we listened to it all the time. My father was a huge jazz buff and also a very good friend of Sammy Cahn’s. My mother went to school with Sarah Vaughan, and she was always in our house or we were in her house. And I mean, who better knows jazz than Sarah Vaughan? She was a major influence on me. Basically it was Sarah but we listened to Nat King Cole Trio, we listened to Herbie Hancock—jazz was always a part of the music that was listened to in the house.
DN: And I’ve always heard it said that some Burt Bacharach-Hal David compositions do even have a jazz flavour to them—not all of them, but obviously certain ones actually do in some ways reference certain jazz phrases. Would you say that’s correct?
DW: No, I never considered any of their compositions to be jazz.
DN: Okay. All right, well, we’ll scratch that and move on quickly! ?
DW: [Laughs] Okay.
DN: So tell us a little bit about how this project actually came about and also the fact that it is done, of course, with a small ensemble of actually, basically, four musicians? How did that all evolve and come about?
DW: Well, my agent, Carlos Keyes received a call from John Titta, who is the CEO of MPCA, the recording company that this is recorded on and for. And they inquired as to if I would be interested in singing songs of Sammy Cahn, since they owned the catalogue. And I thought it was interesting since I had not done anything of this nature—a project of this nature—since the recording of Cole Porter songs. They sent me almost a zillion songs to listen to. I didn’t realize that he had written that many songs until I started reading about him and noted that he actually had recorded well over ninety-nine of his songs. And what beautiful songs. I recognized a few of them, and that’s because most of them were from film. And I said it would be an interesting thing to do, and one thing led to another; I went into the studio, recorded and came out with this magnificent piece of product.
DN: Well let me ask you about a few of the songs, but also, before we get to that, a little bit about the fact that you actually, as I said, worked with essentially four musicians. How was that, working with a—I guess we could really say a quartet?
DW: It was no different than the way I travel with my rhythm section on the road when I do concerts. If you listen, the way I record it was synthesizers. Other than that, it was a quartet.
DN: And I know from having been in the studio for a part of one of those songs, one of those sessions, that it was essentially live—so it was you singing and them playing all at the same time.
DW: Absolutely. It was a joy to get back to the way I was accustomed to recording without having to sing over tracks that were done by a computer, which you can’t change any of the inflections or the feeling. And working with these brilliant musicians was an absolute joy.
DN: And did you find the musicians, or the producer found them?
DW: The producer did.
DN: Okay. And how easy was it, once you met them, to kind of get into the groove with them? Were they pretty easy? I mean, they understood what you were doing and you understood what they were doing, obviously; was it a pretty easy marriage in the studio?
DW: Oh, undoubtedly. We had an absolute ball. I got to know them very, very well and we just clicked. It was a magical moment within the studio at all times.
DN: Well, one of the songs I wanted to talk to you about was a song called “I’m a Fool to Want You”, which I actually did not know had been cowritten by Frank Sinatra—it was only when I checked the credits. And I actually first knew the song from Billie Holiday, and it’s a great song.
DN: I’m assuming—well, I shouldn’t assume—but so they sent you over a zillion songs: did you actually make the final selection, and what prompted you to choose that particular song?
DW: Yes, I did make the final selections. The version that I heard of “I’m a Fool to Want You” was Dinah Washington…and what a magnificent performance she gave on the recording. When you choose songs that other people have recorded, especially of that ilk, you gotta be kind of careful. And I wanted to do the song because I was familiar with it, first; and secondly, to see what kind of a take I would give it. And I’m very, very pleased with it. I still revere Dinah Washington’s recording of it—I mean, what can you say about Dinah Washington?
DN: Yes. Yes, and I believe there is a connection there too because, if my memory serves me well, you actually did some background sessions with Dinah Washington quite a while ago. Am I correct?
DW: Well, yeah—quite, quite, quite, quite a while ago [laughs].
DN: Right, so there was a personal connection there also.
DW: Well, aside from doing background work with her, her recordings were in our home as well as my cousin’s, Leontyne Price. We had a variety of music going on at all times.
DN: Yes. One of the other songs I want to talk to you about is the song “Pocketful of Miracles”, which I think most people know from a film. Am I correct?
DW: Exactly, yes. Frank Sinatra was starring in a film, and this song was written primarily geared around children. That’s the way it was sang—in a playground, I believe, if my memory’s correct. And I loved the song and remembering the song in that vernacular. I asked Ray and the producer, I said, “You know, because it’s dealing with children, from what I can remember, let’s treat it like a lullaby.” And I deciphered the words and came up with what is really a beautiful song.
DN: It is indeed; it really is. And of course again, when we talk about connections and connectivity, of course I know that you and Frank Sinatra shared the same birth date—not the same birth year, but—
DW: Birthday, not date.
DN: —not date, no.
DW: Please—not yet.
DN: Not yet—and that of course you knew each other well.
DN: So I’m sure that this also has a personal significance for you, doing some of the songs on this album which were associated with him.
DW: No doubt. But there were many songs on the CD that he recorded many, many years before I even thought about a Sammy Cahn recording. But it is very, very personal and I’m certainly hoping that up there where he is—and all the rest of my gang—that he’s enjoying what I’ve done.
DN: Well, another song that I wanted to talk to you about is a song that, of course, when I again saw the credits—I guess probably along with a lot of other people who’ve purchased the album and are now becoming familiar with it—is a song that has, amongst its two writers, a certain Mr. Bacharach, “Keep Me in Mind”. Now did you know that he had written a song with Jack Wolf, or was this a surprise to you too?
DW: It was an absolute surprise, and I didn’t know the Burt Bacharach that I know had written it until I called him and said, “Did you write a song with Jack Wolf?” He said, “Yeah, my goodness, a long time ago—‘Keep Me in Mind.’ ” I said, “Well, I’ve recorded it.” I’ve given it a little different treatment when we did it, but it still got done.
DN: Have you heard his feedback yet?
DW: No, I haven’t heard from him yet.
DN: Okay. So it was a surprise to you when you saw his name on there, obviously.
DN: Now I know this is always difficult asking anybody this question, but are there a couple of songs that I haven’t mentioned that you particularly want to draw people’s attention to?
DW: Oh, my goodness. “I Fall in Love Too Easily” is one. “I Fall in Love”, Chet Baker did a magnificent job on that himself, so be able to do a song that I truly, truly adore was a joy. And I didn’t notice that Sammy Cahn had written that either until I’d listened to all those others. Of course “Pocketful of Miracles” is very dear to me. And you know, to choose one over the other of the ones we have recorded becomes kind of difficult based on the fact that they all have a wonderful feeling for me.
DN: Well, let’s just say, so that we can make sure we do include this—the title track, “Only Trust Your Heart”.
DN: Would you like to say a few words about that particular song also?
DW: Well, I heard it by Astrud Gilberto, and she did a wonderful job on it. And she is Brazilian, which as we all know is my second home, so I thought it was wonderful to be able to include something that represented Brazil as well. And I love the groove that we gave it that it has a Brazilian feel to it, along with a bossa kind of connotation. And it says something that everybody should pay attention to, which is only trust your heart.
DN: Now have you started including some of these songs in your live shows?
DW: Yes I have, and the reception has been incredibly wonderful.
DN: Which ones are you currently doing?
DW: Well, of course I’m doing “Only Trust Your Heart”. And I’m doing… what else am I doing? “I’ll Never Stop Loving You”.
DN: And you said people are responding really in a fantastic way?
DW: Exceptionally well.
DN: Wow. Do you plan at any point to do an entire show of all these songs, do you think?
DW: I’m planning on that. I’m planning on doing an evening with Sammy Cahn.
DN: Oh, fabulous—wonderful, wonderful. Well, before we move on to a couple of other subjects, let me ask you: because of the response of this and the kind of reaction that you’re getting in live performance, and I know it’s gotten some great reviews—I mean, great reviews.
DW: Someone suggested I’m paying for them. That’s how wonderful they are.
DN: Well, they are deserved. I mean, it is a beautiful record—it’s a really beautiful record. That’s really the only word that I can find that I think really sums up what people are going to hear. It’s beautifully made, it’s beautifully sung… this is kind of a cliché, but it’s real music.
DW: Thank you so much, that’s exactly the way I’m feeling about it. And apparently that’s what people have been waiting for: music that sort of soothes the ears a bit now.
DN: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, what I was going to ask you: has that inspired you to want to do more albums in this kind of vein with a small ensemble, maybe trying some other songbooks since you’ve done Cole Porter and now Sammy Cahn?
DW: Yeah, in fact, the company has already asked me if I would consider doing a volume two of Sammy Cahn.: They are just over the moon with the way that it’s been accepted and how people are sending them emails of how much they’re enjoying it. It’s just as I said, it’s a new career for me, as has been said by those have been reviewing it.
DN: Well, there is of course, in some ways, there’s a precedent going way back to Ella Fitzgerald when she did various different songbooks—Cole Porter, Gershwin—
DW: Oh, yeah.
DN: So I think back to those records and how well they were received, because people like the continuity of taking a songwriter or songwriters and having someone put their personal touch on a whole group of songs by one individual.
DW: Yes, indeed, I totally agree with that. She did masterful work on what we call the American Songbook writers. And listen, I can’t even begin to think to be put into the same category, recording the American Songbook writers. Nothing would please me more.
DN: Well, great. Like you said, to quote somebody, “This could be the start of something big”—a little song title in there.
DN: I had one other question for you related to the Sammy Cohn project, which we’ve talked about before, and that is: did you ever actually meet Sammy Cahn?
DW: No, I never had the pleasure of meeting him. But I heard an awful lot about him and how jubilant he was, and always had a joke for everybody, and that he was one of the rare few that everybody happened to have loved.
DN: The last question about that is, had you recorded any Sammy Cahn songs before you did this album?
DW: Not to my knowledge. I don’t think I have.
DN: And there was one song I wasn’t sure about called “Here’s That Rainy Day”, but I don’t know if he wrote that. I know Van Heusen wrote it, but I’m not sure—
DW: No, I think that was written by someone in Mexico.
DN: Okay. All right, well, thank you.
DN: Dionne, of course as you know, we recently in London reissued two of your Arista albums, one of which we referenced to earlier in this interview, which was the SINGS COLE PORTER album and the AQUARELA DO BRASIL album. I’d just like you to let us know how you feel about those albums and the fact that they’ve been reissued.
DW: Well, I’m thrilled with the reissuing that’s been done. I think they’re both wonderful, wonderful product. Cole Porter, as I had said was a project of Arif Mardin’s, and it was a absolute privilege to work with him and it wonderful to sing the songs of Cole Porter. AQUARELA DO BRASIL is one of my favourites. It kind of represents my feelings about Brazil, singing songs that were written by Brazilian composers. And I’m thrilled that it’s just available again.
DN: Well we are too, and I’m sure so are the many people who’ve been asking for them for a little while. The fact that you can now buy them, of course—buy them at your shows as well as buy them online and everywhere where records are sold, as they say.
DN: All right, well, let’s talk for a few minutes about your 50th anniversary and the fact that this is a celebration of your fifty years as a recording artist. And before we talk about a couple of things related to that, just how do you feel about a landmark and a milestone like that?
DW: You know, I never believed that I would be in the business this long. I really didn’t. I always said, “Oh well, I’ll give it twenty years. Maybe.” And after the twenty went by so fast, before I knew it we were at our fortieth year. And it went by much more quickly than I thought it would. And it’s quite a milestone. I’m thrilled to have been able to continue to do what I love doing, singing and recording, and willcontinue to do it.
DN: Obviously if we look back to 1961, ’62 we could look at the charts and we would see many different names: some people who are no longer with us and some people who are still around but not singing anymore. What do you think it is that has allowed you to have fifty years as a recording artist? What do you put it down to?
DW: I’d truly have to say it’s the music I’ve chosen to sing, the composers I’ve been privileged to work with and the consistency— the words have been used on so many occasions of many other artists who decided to jump out of the area of music that they were known for and do other people’s music. And that’s been appreciated by those that have supported this fifty-year career.
DN: Essentially you’ve been with three main recording companies over the years, although of course there are projects you’ve done for independent labels. So I just want to ask you to take a very quick walk down memory lane and if you could single out—and again, I know this is difficult—a very particular album from each of those recording companies that still stands out to you as amongst your best work. So let’s start at Scepter. Is there a particular Scepter album that is just your prime favourite?
DW: You know what? I could not choose just one out of Scepter. All of the records that I recorded with Scepter, being the first label I was ever on, they all are my favourites.
DN: Okay, so there’s not one in particular that you’d just say—?
DW: No, I can’t.
DN: Okay, all right. Well, let’s try Warner Bros., see if we’re any more successful in choosing one there.
DW: Well, because the success of recordings was not that great at Warners, but I did do, I think, some wonderful work with them. And one that immediately comes to mind is TRACK OF THE CAT, Thom Bell’s album.
DN: Yes. All right, well then, let’s move on to the third label, which is Arista. So is there an Arista album that stands out for you amongst your favourites; amongst the ones that you personally enjoy listening to?
DW: Well, you know me well enough to know that I don’t listen to my CDs—once they’re recorded, they’re recorded. But I have to admit this particular one, my current one, I have been listening to. It’s easy-listening: I can walk around the house and do a couple of errands, that kind of thing. But with Arista I’d be foolish to not say my very first one. It also gave me two Grammy Awards and also gave me my very first platinum album.
DN: Now, you said that you don’t listen to, once things are recorded, other than this current album. Has that always been true, have you never listened to your recordings afterwards? Have you just gone, “Wow, that’s really good, that sounds really great,” or is it really a matter that once they’re done, they’re done?
DW: No, once they’re done, they’re done. You know that, because I am my worst critic. And if I listen to them I will find a reason to say ‘there’s a note in there that’s not quite right’ so I kinda leave it that I got my work done that has either purchased it or is hearing it on the radio
DN: Well of course, as those who have followed you know, you have done many duets over the years. Are there any duet partners you haven’t yet sung with that you’d like to sing with?
DW: Someday I’d like to do something with Earth, Wind & Fire
DN: Okay, okay, okay.
DW: We keep threatening each other but our schedules just don’t coincide.
DN: Okay. Anyone else?
DW: My goodness. I’m sure there are ninety thousand of them, David, but right at this moment I can’t think of one.
DN: All right. Well, in terms of… since we are focusing here, of course, on your music and your recording career, there are so many milestones. What would really be the next thing that you would want to accomplish in terms of recording?
DW: In terms of recording?
DW: I don’t know if there is anything else in terms of recording, because I will continue to do that. The only things that have not happened for me yet, and I intend to pursue that, is the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys.
DN: Okay [laughs]. I think I might have heard you say that before.
DN: And just really in conclusion, have you heard from any of your peers and the people who’ve come up with you about how they’re responding to this particular new album?
DW: No, I haven’t heard anything from anybody yet.
DN: Well, I’m quite confident that when you run into them they’re all going to say the same thing, which is that they are really delighted and that they are also quite… you used the word elated. But there’ll probably be a few people who’ll be a little surprised that you’re on the Jazz chart, but in a good way.
DN: Actually, I was going to ask you, have you spoken with any of your jazz… what would you call them? Chart-mates, I guess you could say.
DW: No, not yet. I haven’t run into anybody yet but I’m sure I will.
DN: Well, do you have any final words on this project or on your fifty years? Anything else you would like to conclude with?
DW: Yeah, I’m thrilled that so many people are as happy about this recording as I am and will continue to support it. And regarding my fifty years in the business, what can I say but a great big thank-you? People have just continued to embrace me, and that’s a wonderful feeling.
DN: All right. Well, I don’t usually run out of things to say—
DW: I know, David. What’s going on?
DN: —especially to you. Well, because I think we’ve covered some… over so many years we’ve talked about so many things there probably isn’t really much else to ask you. And I really wanted to make sure that we focused in particular on this record because I do agree, I think it’s a beautiful piece of work and I think it is just really… I love hearing a great singer in a setting like this. I really think that it’s just magic: something about the intimacy of it—you’re not lost in there, it’s just really front and center. And it is how I, of course, love to hear music myself, so I’m just delighted and thrilled that people are responding to it this way. And I just smile at the fact that you’re on the Jazz chart.
DW: Well, thank you.
DN: And I hope that it will inspire you to do more recordings—another volume of this, maybe some other songbooks—and just because it is a whole other world, and it’s a world of great music.
DW: Yes it is, and thank you so much for your comments.
DN: Well, you’re most welcome. It’s been a delight, as it always is, and I look forward to seeing you somewhere in the world—no doubt I will.
DW: I’m sure you will too.
DN: And again to all those listening, you’ve been listening to one of the true legends in music, who has made a great record and continues to provide great music to everyone when she performs—Miss Dionne Warwick, thank you so much for your time today.
DW: Thank you, David.
Transcription by Penelope Keith - You can e-mail Penelope here for transcription service info
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.