Judy Wexler on 'Dreams and Shadows' Wexler grew up hearing jazz, and after a while, she decided to try singing it. The jazz vocalist, noted for her versatility, speaks with Susan Stamberg about the songs on her new second album.
NPR logo

Judy Wexler on 'Dreams and Shadows'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/88756094/88827137" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Judy Wexler on 'Dreams and Shadows'

Judy Wexler on 'Dreams and Shadows'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/88756094/88827137" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(Soundbite of music)


From the evidence on her new, second album, "Dreams and Shadows," Judy Wexler can sing almost anything. She can be slow and sad without being goopy.

(Soundbite of song "Almost Blue")

Ms. JUDY WEXLER (Singer): (Singing) Almost blue, almost doing things we used to do.

STAMBERG: And Judy Wexler can straight-out swing.

(Soundbite of song "Don't Be on the Outside")

Ms. WEXLER: (Singing) Don't be on the outside looking on the inside. If you're on the inside looking on the outside…

STAMBERG: And she can take a classic jazz riff and keep riffing even with words.

(Soundbite of song "Pent-Up House")

Ms. WEXLER: (Singing) Come meet the early bird who's up with the dawn, putting socks on kiddies who groan and grouse, and stuffing cocoa puffs in faces that yawn, waken dear John, my bleary, ungroomed spouse…

STAMBERG: We'll get back to this one, a Sonny Rollins tune, soon. But first, hi Judy Wexler there in our bureau in Culver City.

Ms. WEXLER: Hello, Susan.

STAMBERG: It sounds as if you grew up with most of these tunes and you know, lots of singers don't when they attack music like this and they're used to singing in other forms. They sound as if they're sort of learning it note by note. You do not.

Ms. WEXLER: Well, thanks. My whole life I've been involved with music and studying it, but with the jazz idiom it's actually not something that I grew up per se with. It's something that I came to later in life, yeah.

STAMBERG: Oh, oh, so you weren't listening to Ella Fitzgerald when you were in diapers?

Ms. WEXLER: Well, actually, no, well actually I was, because - I lied. My dad had music on all the time. He was, you know, probably my first influence. He had Benny Goodman, he had Ella Fitzgerald, he had Sarah Vaughan, he had, you know, really I would say probably World War II music was really what was going on in my house when I was a little kid.

STAMBERG: Hmm, well those were the great days of golden songs, right?

Ms. WEXLER: Yeah, and so - and my father was a, you know, he loved to sing. He was always singing and, you know, my mother and he would dance in the living room, put on music and dance and that was very joyful.

STAMBERG: Well here's one that you probably grew up with, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg from the "Wizard of Oz."

Ms. WEXLER: My favorite movie.

(Soundbite of song "If I Only Had a Brain")

Ms. WEXLER: (Singing) I could while away the hours, conferring with the flowers, consulting with the rain. And my head I'd be scratching while my thoughts were busy hatching if I only had a brain.

STAMBERG: Judy Wexler, we all know the tune, but you are totally turning it on its end. You're doing - it may be a waltz, but I never heard it waltzed the way you make it waltz.

Ms. WEXLER: You know the waltz, the feel of it has a very joyful energy and even though what the lyrics are saying is, you know, if I only, then I could have you. You know, basically that's it.

STAMBERG: Yeah, it's sort of a lament, really.

Ms. WEXLER: It is a lament, you know, if only I were smarter, you know, you'd be with me, but there's something very self-effacing and you know, joyful in admitting it, I think.


Ms. WEXLER: And I love Harold Arlen, and I love his background. His father was a cantor and so he was highly influenced by cantorial music, and he admitted putting a lot of those ideas into his compositions.

STAMBERG: With these Yip Harburg lyrics, though, for "If I Only Had a Brain," you sing a section that I have never heard.

(Soundbite of song "If I Only Had a Brain")

Ms. WEXLER: (Singing) I would not be just at nothing, my head all full of stuffing, my heart all full of pain. And perhaps I deserve you, and be even worthy erve-you, if I only had a brain.

STAMBERG: Who ever heard of erve-you?

Ms. WEXLER: That is actually how he wrote the lyric.

STAMBERG: Isn't that amazing?

Ms. WEXLER: I deserve you and be even worthy erve-you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WEXLER: And I was thinking, should I say that? I mean, it rhymes, so maybe I should, but it also adds a, you know, a little comic element into it, so I thought eh, okay, we'll do it.

STAMBERG: Yeah, yeah. Well, "If I Only Had a Brain" is something very familiar to us. Here's one that, for me anyway, was completely new.

(Soundbite of song "Bye Bye Country Boy")

Ms. WEXLER: (Singing) Bye bye country boy. You've been a joy, shiny toy. Glad we played here at county fair, I'm glad you came to see me there.

STAMBERG: This one tells a terrific story.

Ms. WEXLER: I know it, I love the story.

STAMBERG: Can you tell it to us without singing it?

Ms. WEXLER: Yes. A singer who's out on the road doing county fairs sees this young man looking at her while she's singing, and they connect. There's a connection. And she starts singing to him. And he - after the show he goes backstage, and they hook up. But he's a country bumpkin and they spend a week together and I think, you know, she's older and wiser, and I think she educates him a little bit, and it's time for her to move on and continue her tour and eventually go home and there's a lot of sadness, I think, in saying goodbye to this innocent, young, adorable man who just is completely infatuated.

(Soundbite of song, "Bye Bye Country Boy")

STAMBERG: This is a Blossom Dearie song. Blossom Dearie didn't just write the music, but she sings it as well.

(Soundbite of song, "Bye Bye Country Boy")

Ms. BLOSSOM DEARIE (Jazz singer, Pianist): (Singing) Bye-bye country boy. You've been a joy, a shiny toy. Glad we played your county fair. Glad you came to see me there. I sang that song, looked right at you. You came backstage like I knew you'd do.

STAMBERG: That voice, what do you as a singer - how do you react to Blossom Dearie's voice?

Ms. WEXLER: Blossom is unique and inimitable. And she has a girlish, sweet, innocent quality that really communicates the lyric in a pure, sincere, heartfelt way.

STAMBERG: I remember a column that Whitney Balliett did about Blossom Dearie in the New Yorker magazine years ago, and he said her voice speaks of porcelain and limoge.

Ms. WEXLER: Wow.

(Soundbite of song "Pent-Up House")

Ms. WEXLER: (Singing) …made us start to get the tots off to school join (unintelligible) that's just the start. Steady, dear heart…

STAMBERG: Judy Wexler, it's your voice that we listen to most, and I wanted to get back to this one because this is your big jazz number.

Ms. WEXLER: This tune is a Sonny Rollins instrumental…


Ms. WEXLER: …for which Jack Prather, a wonderful bass player here in Southern California, wrote lyrics. And I always said I want to learn this tune. I must do this tune, and when we were picking songs for the CD, I thought, you know, one way for me to be sure that I learn this tune is to record it.

(Soundbite of song "Pent-Up House")

Ms. WEXLER: (Singing) No more dishpan hands or splotches on the floor. No more bites around that seem to be from Hades. To have a season in the sun where I can dream ...

Ms. WEXLER: You know, it just reminds me, kind of, of my mom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Why, what do you mean, housekeeping?

Ms. WEXLER: You know, she's just harried with these three kids.

(Soundbite of song "Pent-Up House")

Ms. WEXLER: (Singing) But there's the phone and there go all of my schemes, all of my dreams. Hello reality. No time to fantasize of Reno divorce, back on the horse, there's no way out for me…

STAMBERG: Well, I wonder how hard it is to sing these lyrics as quickly as you do. I mean, how hard is that to learn and then perform?

Ms. WEXLER: I just had to sing it over and over and over again.


Ms. WEXLER: You know, to - it's not the lyrics that are so difficult to get out, but I think singing the melody that quickly is - you know, you just want to make sure you really hit it.

STAMBERG: Did it make you envy Sonny Rollins because he didn't have to sing it, all he had to do was play it?

Ms. WEXLER: Well, not in this case because obviously Sonny Rollins didn't know these lyrics or have these lyrics in mind. But I just love the idea of instrumentalists knowing and learning lyrics before they play their instrumentals because it informs their playing, you know.

STAMBERG: Can you say them real fast?

Ms. WEXLER: Come meet the early bird who's up with the dawn, putting socks on kiddies who groan and grouse, and stuffing cocoa puffs in faces that yawn, waken dear John, my bleary, ungroomed spouse.

STAMBERG: Whoa. You know I didn't think you'd be able to do it, silly me, excellent, excellent. Thank you so much.

Ms. WEXLER: Oh, thank you so much, Susan.

STAMBERG: Judy Wexler's new CD is called "Dreams and Shadows." She joined us from our bureau in Culver City.

(Soundbite of song "Pent-Up House")

STAMBERG: You can hear full songs from Judy Wexler's new album at npr.org/music.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg.

(Soundbite of song "Pent-Up House")

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.