The Music Maestro : Clive Davis

Sep. 30 2009, Published 4:57 a.m. ET

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Adding yet another plume to his cap, music industry heavyweight Clive Davis has co-produced the beautiful new Harry Connick Jr. album, Your Songs, a romantic stroll through classic love songs like “Just the Way Your Are” and “(They Long To Be) Close To You” backed by a jazz band. Here Clive tells how it all happened. Tell us how your collaboration with Harry came about.

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CD: I love the idea of seeing how long songs can be reinvented and the idea of perpetuating really great copyrights for decades into the future, so I really looked and said, well which artist would I like to embark on a new project, picking great material and having one of the best contemporary voices in the world do it. And so I called Harry, knowing he’d never collaborated with anybody before, and suggested that we meet. And he came into my office and I said I want to really work with you in effect in a collaboration to see if we cannot pick 14 songs that we both love that you would arrange them, and keep your individuality, we would meet, go over the arrangements, discuss them, and he loved the idea. And then what was the process like?

CD: We got to know each other. He came in every Wednesday where we would spent about 5 or 6 hours together, we’d discuss possible songs, we’d go over material. He has a studio in his house in New Canaan in Connecticut and he would lay down a mock demo, we’d go over the arrangement, the tempos, we’d discuss possible guest musicians – which ended up with Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis, Leroy Jones and Roger Ingram. And that’s how we developed it, really over a six-month period of time.

Article continues below advertisement When you’re dealing with songs like these, that are part of our cultural fabric at this point, how do you come at it so you’re bringing something new to it but still staying true to the original?

CD: Well that’s the challenge. I didn’t bring in an arranger, I worked together directly with Harry, he took the first crack at them and I think that was our challenge and I feel really good about it. I think he found the essence of these songs and he brings something new to it, so that they’re fresh and yet they really hit the identity of what makes the song great to begin with. And you know we took it from every era, as you see, it goes from the Beatles’ “And I Love Her” and it touches upon “Mona Lisa” by the great Nat King Cole, yet it brings it up to date with Elton John’s “Your Song” or Billy Joel “Just the Way You Are,” so that he’s versatile, he sings great and there’s a musical freshness to each cut that you do, whether your have a dinner party with your friends, you want everybody to hear this album. Have any of the contemporary artists, like Elton John, Paul McCartney and Billy Joel, heard the versions yet? Have you gotten any feedback?

CD: No, this is the first week it’s out. I did get a call from Sammy Cahn’s widow, Tina Cahn, who happened to have heard “All the Way” the first day the album came out she called me and she loved it, wow, Sammy would just love it.

RadarOnline: Will Harry be doing any live performances with this album?

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CD: He’s using television, he just sang on Oprah and he did the Today Show and I know he’ll be doing, over the next few weeks, a number of television shows to spread the word. I was happy to see on Amazon it went to Number 2 or 3 already. What was the biggest challenge in making this album?

CD: I think the major challenge was in some of the newer material because he certainly had a reverence and tremendous respect for some of the older great songs that he’s reinterpreted on there. But I think before we met, he had associated newer songs as more performance songs, and then as we explored it, and we went over say a “Just the Way You Are” or “Your Song” he did see that fitting this criteria that we had for great copyrights for those songs that could be sung by others many years from now. I mean he didn’t feel that others could sing necessarily “Born In the USA” or “Hungry Heart,” even though he loves Bruce Springsteen, and understands his importance. But once he got into “Just the Way You Are” and “Your Song” he felt more and more comfortable and they survived the process.

Paul McCartney Were there any songs that you were insistent about being included?

CD: The only principle that I had was that there are great songs that are written by modern younger composers, as far as venerable classics, so they should be represented. So the principle of finding material such as “Just the Way You Are” and “Your Song” I felt strongly about, but I never said you must record this song.

Article continues below advertisement Were there any songs that Harry was insistent about?

CD: “Besame Mucho” really came from Harry’s dad. That was one song that was very important to Harry’s father that Harry record. So we came up with a different twist where he does it both in Spanish and in English, but he grew up knowing that was his dad’s favorite song. So that song was very personal to him. Do you think these old songs will appeal to a younger generation, who might not be familiar with the originals?

CD: I don’t peg it young, old, indifferent, I mean, I think that Harry is really in the forefront and though he’s obviously had a successful career, the idea he’s so gifted, both as an interpretive singer and as a musician, he has such a natural feel and he’s so likeable, as well as a great singer, that I think that his career is very much in front of him. Part of my mantra, so to speak, is not only to look for new artists, whether it was the artists who I had discovered in my career, or to look for those artists whose careers were still very much in front of them. And whether years ago it was Dionne Warwick or Aretha or Luther, I think that Harry is young at 40 and that his potential is bigger than even he with his success has enjoyed to date. And I think with this album, where every song is a terrific song and a copyright, he breathes new life into it and he comes up with great arrangements in a matter so that these songs can be heard again.

Article continues below advertisement I read something where you said—I think it was in reference to Rod Stewart—when Volume 1 works you do a Volume 2. Is this record something you could see that happening with?

CD: You know, if this record does well and it’s enjoyed, there’s no question that we would do a Volume 2 because the principle holds up and it’s certainly not limited to these 14 songs. And do you think you’ll do an album like this with any of your other artists?

CD: Right now I’m finishing Leona Lewis’ new album, I’ve just completed Whitney’s album. We’re working on Jennifer Hudson. I’m working with Carlos Santana he’s going to do a different kind of concept album – Carlos is doing the greatest guitar classics of all time, a rock album. He’s doing pretty much culled from Rolling Stone’s all time great guitar classics. So Carlos is in the studio right now and we’re working on that album. But you know the Whitney album and the Leona album and the Jennifer album and a new artist named BC Jean, who wrote “If I Were a Boy,” that’s all based on new material and new songs. So take these projects separately and you get involved in the ones you really believe in.



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