How did you first hear about Nancy Lamott and what do you recall about your first meeting with her?
Nancy and I moved in similar cabaret circles for many years, with others like Laurie Beechman, Alan Menken, David Zippel, Karen Mason, I think I was always aware of Nancy. What I would consider my first eye-opening experience of Nancy was when David Zippel asked me if I would come to a reading of a musical of his called Just So, based on the Kipling Just So Stories with an eye to having me music direct. The presentation was held at the Central Park West apartment of Director Julianne Boyd, and Nancy was one of the principle people singing the songs. I think this was the first time I really recognized what an extraordinary talent she was. In fact, I was shocked and amazed at how brilliantly she sang and acted the songs, and the unique once-in-a-lifetime quality of her voice.
After that, I began actively following Nancy, going to her club acts whenever she was on. One night, at her Irving Berlin show, I was so impressed that I walked up to her and said, “You are amazing. You should be making records.” She responded, “Yeah, I know, people tell me that all the time, but who’s going to do it?” And I heard myself say, “I will.”
Now at that time, people weren’t making their own CD’s. I had made a CD with Alix Korey in 1988 that was one of the first of its kind, followed by Laurie Beechman’s first CD, so I had some experience, but I had no idea where I was going to get the money or how I was going to do it. But I didn’t have to think about it for a while because Nancy never called me back. Apparently, by that time, she was so used to being disappointed that she didn’t even believe me.
About 6 months later, Scott Barnes ran into her at a reading of the Broadway show The Life, and said, “You know, you should call David. He’s serious.” So she called me.
Nancy and her close friend, lyricist David Zippel, and I got together one morning at a deli, and between the three of us hammered out a plan. David and I would put in half the money each, I believe at the time it was a total of $16,400. I would produce the first CD.
I produced the CD, (Beautiful Baby) and when it sold 1000 copies, I was able to pay David Zippel back. I then financed the second CD myself, (Come Rain or Come Shine) for $25,000, it sold 2000 copies and was able to pay myself back in a year, financed the third CD myself, (My Foolish Heart) for $35,000, it sold 5000 copies and made enough profit in the first year to pay for the 4th CD, which cost $40,000. That CD (Just In Time For Christmas) sold 5000 copies, and then, after paying myself back for the previous 2 CD’s, I went for broke to fulfill Nancy’s dream of making a CD with full orchestrations, orchestrated and conducted by the legendary Peter Matz, who had done all of Streisand’s early CD’s. I put up the $155,000 myself and we made the CD. (Listen To My Heart.) It came out on November 15th, 1995. Nancy was dead less than a month later.
The CD sold 155,000 copies and I next arranged to make a posthumous CD (What’s Good About Goodbye?) with Peter Matz putting orchestrations behind existing vocal tracks. Just after this came out, and just as I was ready to distribute several hundred thousands of dollars in profits to the family, to myself (the first money anyone had ever made on Nancy’s CD’s because our unique arrangement was that I had the option of either paying everyone, or paying no-one, not even myself, and turning all the money back into the CD’s) the family started a legal action to try to get possession of the company. This caused the company to close down and all the money and more to be spent on lawyers. The result was that no Nancy LaMott CD’s were made or distributed publicly for 8 years.
Finally, several years ago, when everyone was far enough from the pain of losing Nancy and more understanding was achieved, with the diplomatic help of Nancy’s amazing arranger and pianist, Christopher Marlowe, all the rights to Nancy’s image and the right to run the record company exactly as Nancy and I had run it were worked out. I now, once again, have the sole right to produce Nancy CD’s and do whatever I see fit with them, without interference, with the profit-sharing arrangement being exactly the same as it was when Nancy was alive, with the family being the beneficiary of anything that would have been Nancy’s.
I have since made a live CD from Tavern on the Green, a 2-CD set called Ask Me Again with Nancy singing classic standard, and 2 DVD sets, one a retrospective of her career from her early San Francisco days to the present, and the other containing 4 complete club acts from Nancy’s legendary days at Don’t Tell Mama in New York.
Plans are in the works for Nancy’s next CD, which I’ll tell you about later.
What was it about Nancy Lamott’s voice that spoke to you as a producer and to all of her fans who loved to listen to it?
OK. Nancy’s voice. I think Nancy was one of the greatest singers of American popular standards because of many things. In terms of pure voice, she had a smoky yet clear sound that could do anything. She could sing a smooth, jazz sound, she could belt like crazy, her range extended both up and down way past where you expected it would, and she had an impeccable sense of musicality and pitch.
But Nancy was much more than this. Nancy had a connection between mind and voice that was amazing, and had an extraordinary sense (often unusual and quirky) of what a song was about. Every time Nancy sang there was a naturalness that indicated that Nancy was somehow pulling the song straight from the universe, through her instrument, so that we could get a glimpse of something that came, as it were, from the spirit world.
I’ve always said that one of Nancy’s most extraordinary qualities was that she could put a song through her instrument, through her body and soul, and on the way through the song would pick up the deep sadness she had experienced, the pain she had suffered throughout her physically and emotionally challenging life. The amazing things was that she would not add anything to that, she wouldn’t throw in histrionics, she wouldn’t in a way, comment on what was there, just let it pass through unobstructed. So we were able to get pure pain and pure joy at the same time when she sang, and thus identify, on the deepest level, with what she was singing.
I often said that with many singers you find yourself saying, “Wow, what a voice.” With Nancy, you usually found yourself saying, “Wow, what a song!”
This is why Nancy was a songwriter’s dream. She would take your song and filter it through her unerring sense of interpretation, vocalism and pitch and give you something greater than you had imagined. Even if a song wasn’t so great, she made it great.
There were times, for instance at John Znidarsic’s In Celebration of Life benefits, where I would write a song for Nancy (i.e. We Can Be Kind, We Live on Borrowed Time) and because she or I was out of town, we would essentially meet on the stage and she would sing it with me for the first time, live. An invariably, the song was impeccably sung, just the way I would have wanted to hear it. In fact, Nancy’s recording of We Live on Borrowed Time, live at In Celebration of Life, was the very first time we had sung and played that song together. And it’s perfect!
Nancy Lamott passed away at the point where everything professionally was going well for her as she was starting to reach a wider audience. If she were still with us today where do you think she’d be in her career?
I have often thought (with no disrespect to Ms. Krall, who is an amazing singer) that Diana Krall got Nancy’s career. When Nancy died she was planning a Carnegie Hall concert, it was December and she already had $260,000 worth of bookings for the following year (whereas the year before that she’d earned $60,000 and in years before that never more than $20,000.) I think she would have made many high profile records, we would have signed her with a major label and distributor so she could really get her stuff out there, her songs would have been heard in movies and on television, and she would be someone who was in the consciousness of all of America and all of the world.
I promised her, on her deathbed, that I would see to it that the whole world would hear her sing and I continue to do everything within my power to make that happen. I have some new ideas which I’ll share later.
You have written many songs since Nancy Lamott passed away. What is the one song of yours that you would like to have heard her perform?
Well, when Nancy died I became despondent and thought I might never write again. People would ask me what I was going to write, and nothing was coming. Other people were sending me songs about her death, but from me nothing.
One day, about 4 months after her death, I was walking down the street, when a song came to me, so full blown, that I had to run into a stationery store to write it down before it got away. And considering how I felt about Nancy’s death and about life in general at that point, I was amazed at the content of the song. So positive. So life affirming. It was from this song that I really began to learn that I don’t write songs, they write me. That songs don’t come from me, but rather come to me from the place where they are already written. The invisible world of spirit. All I do is open up to them and allow them to come through.
And I had the deep experience that Nancy “gave” me that song, so of all my songs, the one I wish I could hear Nancy sing is that one, Trust The Wind.
Can you please tell us if you are planning to release any more Nancy Lamott recordings?
Yes, plans are in the works for Nancy’s next CD and we’re going to do it a little differently. As I mentioned about David Zippel, the brilliant Tony Award winning and Academy Award nominated lyricist, was one of Nancy’s closest friends and was instrumental in helping me start her record company. We have many recordings of Nancy singing David’s songs, some with Marvin Hamlisch at the piano, songs from City of Angels, The Goodbye Girls and other shows. Nancy was David’s go-to girl for demos, so often these are the original demos that he used to sell the songs to the larger venues in which they ended up.
We’re going to make a CD of Nancy singing David Zippel. And we’re going to enlist the help of all her friends and supporters by doing an Indiegogo campaign.
When we went through all the challenges with the family, the company’s resources were not only completely depleted on legal fees, but the combination of those enormous legal fees plus the fact that we were not operational for 8 years caused me to have to lay out approximately $300,000 to cover all the expenses. I have never recouped that money, so as strange as it might seem, even though Nancy has sold over 300,000 CD’s, I’m still personally $300,000 in the hole.
This means that whenever I make a Nancy CD I have to work to raise the money myself, and this takes me years. Not only that, but once the CD is produced, there’s never anything left for publicity. So in line with my promise to see to it that the world hears Nancy sing, I’m going to enlist the help of friends, fans and supporters so they can be a personal part of helping me fulfill this dream of Nancy’s. Essentially, for the minimum contribution people will be pre-buying a CD. For more, we have all sorts of thank you’s, ranging from a free set of all of Nancy’s CD’s, to a personalized song being written by David Zippel and myself, and lots in between.
We’re hoping to raise $50,000 so that we can properly produce this CD (which in addition to the usual costs will require meticulous editing and sonic work because of how old some of these recordings are and the cassette or early video tape media in which they were originally recorded). And we will also use a large portion of this to do the kind of publicity campaign Nancy deserves.
I would also be interested in having a larger company buy out the Nancy company, with me staying on as artistic producer, so that she could be distributed with the proper budget and contacts she deserves. Nancy’s voice has never been heard in a movie or TV sound track, and with the exception of Folger’s coffee (she was heard in the radio ad, Rosemary Clooney in the TV ad) she has not been in a commercial.
There’s lots of mileage left in Nancy in that everyone who hears her seems to love her. As much for the sake of people’s listening pleasure as for the sake of Nancy’s memory, I still hold the hope that everyone in the world will hear her sing.
I sincerely hope that all those thousands upon thousands of people who have already been moved by Nancy will jump in and be a part of her next CD and the fulfillment of her legacy.
I always ask that you remember Nancy Lamott all year long but here is a musical holiday message from David Friedman and lyricist David Zippel. Here is the title song song from Nancy Lamott’s Christmas cd Just in Time for Christmas.