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All Songs +1: David Bowie Fulfills His Jazz Dream

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All Songs +1: David Bowie Fulfills His Jazz Dream

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All Songs +1: David Bowie Fulfills His Jazz Dream

All Songs +1: David Bowie Fulfills His Jazz Dream

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/460023894/460134663" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

David Bowie's new album, Blackstar, comes out Jan. 8. Jimmy King/Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Jimmy King/Courtesy of the artist.

David Bowie's new album, Blackstar, comes out Jan. 8.

Jimmy King/Courtesy of the artist.

Tony Visconti. Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist.

Tony Visconti.

Courtesy of the artist.

It's long been a dream of David Bowie to make a jazz record with a big band. On Jan. 8, 2016, Bowie's 69th birthday, we'll hear his dream realized. The path to ★ (pronounced "blackstar"), Bowie's 25th album, is filled with chance meetings with all the right people, but the two main characters are his long time friend and producer Tony Visconti and his new found friend/saxophonist and band leader Donny McCaslin.

Donny McCaslin Nick Chao/Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Nick Chao/Courtesy of the artist.

Donny McCaslin

Nick Chao/Courtesy of the artist.

I wanted to know how this dream into jazz came to be fulfilled, and as it turned out, Visconti and McCaslin had a good tale to tell about how the album came to be.

"It wasn't actually spoken out loud, but we were going to make a David Bowie album with jazz musicians, but they weren't necessarily going to play jazz," Visconti told me. "If we used rock musicians trying to play jazz, it would have been a very different album." The younger McCaslin grew up on many of the same musicians as Bowie and Visconti — Charlie Parker and Charlie Mingus, for example — but he also grew up on David Bowie, and that made him the perfect partner to explore this new territory.

To get a good taste of just how exciting it is to have David Bowie back and diving deep into the world of jazz, we have a new song from Blackstar called "Lazarus."

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Tony Visconti: "He had one key jazz player in his band for well over a decade, maybe two decades and that was Mike Garson, who is a very accomplished jazz pianist. And so, he always had a hint of jazz in sort of the earlier things. And David has a remarkable knowledge of jazz chords. I don't think he quite knows what they're called. I mean, I don't even know what they're called, but they have things like 13th in them and flatted 9ths and all that. And you don't hear that in an average rock song. But they were well hidden in the recordings of the past. Or alluded to."

Donnie McCaslin: "It progressed pretty steadily from a song or two, to a few songs, to kind of a whole recording project. I was, of course, absolutely interested in doing it. I mean, I love him so much. Love his work and so I got back to him, told him I was into it and just one thing led to another. He sent me, I can't remember how many tunes, maybe six or seven before the first time we got together to record, and every song was really strong and the demos were really strong. And in fact, when we ended up recording, we pretty much were true to the demo forms he had sent. So it was tremendous."