Jazz legend to bring laid-back style to ToledoWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Nobody has more fun writing songs than Michael Franks. Listen to any track and you’ll hear his witty wordplay.
From “Now That the Summer’s Here”: “I can spare some wherewithal/ Listening to Ahmad Jamal/ ‘Poinciana’ says it all/ Now that the summer’s here.”
Or “Island Christmas”: “While others plod through ‘Jingle Bells’/ We’ll roam the beach collecting shells/ I understand flannel pajamas/ Are not allowed in the Bahamas.”
And, of course, “Popsicle Toes”: “You got the nicest North America/ This sailor ever saw/ I’d like to feel your warm Brazil/ And touch your Panama/ But your Tierra del Fuegos/ Are nearly always froze.”
“I like to spend a lot of time with a composition; it’s a very enjoyable part of my career,” Franks said. “I’ve always tried to emulate the great era of American song, the people that I considered to be the greatest — like Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Gershwin-type writers, Harold Arlen.”
The mustachioed musician has been creating quintessentially cool songs for nearly four decades — and performing them with distinctive delivery.
“I just sing the best way I can. It’s not so much an affectation, that’s just the voice,” he said during a call from his home in Woodstock, N.Y. “I love Peggy Lee and Mose Allison and people who I guess in the past I’ve been sort of grouped with, which is a pleasure.”
In 1975, the singer-songwriter’s relaxed style flowed into the music world with his second album, “The Art of Tea,” which combined jazz, pop, soul and R&B.
Producer Tommy LiPuma tracked down Franks’ wish list of musicians for the record.
“I’ll never forget this — [LiPuma called and] said, ‘OK, we’re all set.’ And I said, ‘Well, who did we get?’ And he said, ‘We got The Crusaders (guitarist Larry Carlton, keyboardist Joe Sample and bassist Wilton Felder) and (drummer) John Guerin,” Franks said and laughed. “I was afraid as well as being happy and excited because, wow, I’ve got to work hard to play with these guys and practice all these tunes.”
That 35-minute vinyl classic went smoothly.
“We recorded that album in 12 hours, which is just amazing to me now,” the jazz superstar said. “Now it seems I spend 12 hours on two vocals.”
His 2011 disc, “Together Again,” also features an array of guest artists, including guitarist Chuck Loeb, pianist Gil Goldstein, saxophonist Eric Marienthal and trumpeter Till Brönner.
“I end up writing in the first person and it’s probably 90 percent originating from my personal feelings or observations,” Franks said. “On this record, the title song was about our dog, Flora, and then ‘Charlie Chan in Egypt’ was about the experience of being in airports and seeing these poor kids come home from the Middle East sort of broken, if not physically broken, kind of spiritually broken, and I guess their families financially broken too, and trying to make a comment about that.
“I seldom make any social comments; the only other time in fact was the title song for [1987’s] ‘The Camera Never Lies,’ which was about apartheid, which was still existent in South Africa.”
On the lighter side, “Mice” chronicles his adventures of finding freeloaders in the 1791 farmhouse he lived in at the time.
“Three times I thought the same ones were just reappearing after I’d taken them far away and released them, but I couldn’t figure out how to tag them, so I don’t know if that was true or not,” he mused.
Franks will perform at 8 p.m. July 21 at Stranahan Theater; the concert will also spotlight Brian McKnight. Tickets range from $49.50 to $69.50.