When an artist produces an incredibly superior album, it is not only the result of exceptional talent coming together in the performance thereof, but from a passion deep within that inspires remarkable results. Such is the case with David Klein’s latest CD, "My Marilyn," a stunning jazz tribute to Marilyn Monroe.
Begin with the passion, combine the remarkable talents of David Klein-tenor sax, Mulgrew Miller-piano, Ira Coleman-bass, Marcello Pellitteri-drums and Miriam Klein-vocals, then exquisitely perform a selection of the best songs from Marilyn Monroe’s movie career (a feat never before accomplished in jazz circles), include rare photos, compose a 20-some page booklet and enclose it in a deluxe CD box with cover photography by Bert Stern. The result: a stunning collector’s album with superb jazz and a fitting tribute to one of America’s most beloved stars.
Many are not aware that Marilyn Monroe was a passionate jazz fan. "My Marilyn" is David Klein’s personal inspiration having been an avid fan and admirer of Monroe for many years. "I was inspired to record this tribute to Marilyn Monroe after watching her publicist cry on camera when talking about her," said Klein. "I knew then that she had to be an amazing person underneath her star quality persona to evoke such feelings, which is what we were trying to capture when making this recording in honor of what would have been her 75th birthday."
Capturing more than Monroe’s persona, Klein is quick to credit fellow musicians on the project choosing Mulgrew Miller to lend just the right balance to his top-notch sax harmonies, a rhythm section soaring under their own steam, and a most impressive vocal interpretation of these beautiful melodies by none other than David’s mother, Miriam Klein. Where has she been hiding?
While Swiss born David Klein has performed with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Billy Cobham, Kenny Clarke, and others, it would appear that at least one of his earlier jazz influences was during the 60’s & 70’s when his mother, Miriam Klein, recorded two albums, "Ladylike" with Dexter Gordon, Roy Eldridge and Slide Hampton, and "By Myself," with Sir Roland Hanna and George Mraz. Her vocals on "My Marilyn" are filled with depth, feeling and playful insight.
First released in the European market, "My Marilyn" quickly received rave reviews from critics and records were flying off the shelves. Now available in the United States, American jazz fans have the opportunity to find out what all the fuss is about. You don’t have to be a Marilyn Monroe fan to cherish David Klein’s exceptional jazz CD. Its pleasure is in the listening.
Let’s join David in a conversation about his passion and music, and "My Marilyn," which is sure to become a collector’s item.
JazzReview: Your album shows you put an enormous amount of thought into this Marilyn Monroe tribute album. How did that all come about?
David Klein: Actually I’m like a real fan. I have all the CD’s, the movies I have a 150 books, poems, everything. Then I came across this photograph of her and Ella [Fitzgerald] and that’s when I thought I should do something like a tribute that was connected with jazz. At the same time, I am fascinated with tragic destinies of people, like Camille Claudell or Frances Farmer. The connection with jazz was very evident with Marilyn Monroe, but what was actually the core of my intention was to give back some of the dignity that was taken away from Monroe during that short life of abuse, humiliation, and disappointment. That was the main thing I wanted to accomplish.
JazzReview:I’ve never heard any artist in the jazz community improvise upon the songs Monroe performed in her movies. It is quite refreshing and new, and absolutely beautiful. I must congratulate you.
David Klein: Thank you. It was almost like a miracle to me that nobody ever did that. It wasn’t a complete secret that she was a jazz fan. She loved Sinatra, and the story with Ella and everything. It was pretty obvious the way she sings. It’s not the way like, for instance, Doris Day would sing. She was floating over the changes and pretty much interpreting in her very special kind of way, all these songs. And I thought typical jazz.
JazzReview:I was amazed at who I thought was perhaps your wife, to discover that it was your mother singing on this album. She has an amazing voice. Was her singing on this album something you planned together or?
David Klein: A lot of people ask me, ‘Is it difficult to work with your mother, how was that?’ I grew up listening to her singing. You know, this kind of singing where I believe every word. It is very scary when I go to the record store and I hear all these CDs by famous singers and I realize it’s dishonest. When they sing, I don’t believe what they’re singing. With my mother, I believe every word. To me it was clear she had to do this. Also, there are a lot of parallels in her life to the life of Marilyn Monroe, and a
JazzReview:So she had a feeling for the songs.
David Klein: Yes, she understood what I was trying to do and what we were trying to accomplish together. She never tried to go far away from Monroe. She never tried to go close to Monroe in her interpretations. She thought about Monroe’s life and then she sang the songs the way she felt them.
JazzReview:Mulgrew Miller was a brilliant complement to your sax on this CD. I saw him at the North Sea Jazz Festival with Stanley Turrentine in a quartet setting, so it is nice to hear that format with a vocalist on your CD.
David Klein: Mulgrew is a god! The way he handled these sessions and the way he completely and totally understood that we didn’t want to imitate, but to do our own impressions and show a little bit of the dark side of Monroe’s life. He just sat down and he played these tunes in a way, [laughs] I mean I couldn’t believe it! He is so sophisticated and so supportive.
JazzReview:How did that all come about that you approached Miller for the project?
David Klein: I went to school in Berklee with Ira Coleman and Marcello Pellitteri, the drummer. Several years ago I put together a trio for my mother for one of her tours, and I asked Ira if he knew of a great piano player, one who is also great in accompanying singers. Because you know when you hear Mulgrew playing with Roy Haynes or the way he used to play with Tony Williams, he’s like all over the piano. And then on this project, he’s almost not there and he’s totally there. He never overplays or plays something that is not in complete harmony with what’s going on at the moment. He was perfect and on top of that, he never made one mistake. My mother is a first-take singer. If the first take doesn’t work, then it’s gonna get complicated. He understood that right away and played flawlessly.
JazzReview:The project was recorded in Switzerland and released in Europe first. Was this the natural plan to release in Europe first and then on to America?
David Klein: Yes. Matthias Winckelmann at Enja Records has distributors all over the world, but we had to do Europe first, because in America they needed a little more time to prepare things. We released in the United States in mid-February.
JazzReview: "My Marilyn" was very well received in Europe. I read some of the outstanding reviews by the European press. Have you been touring for your album?
David Klein: Actually we haven’t done any touring and that is the amazing thing about this CD because immediately after it was released in Europe, we sold 30,000 copies right away. I mean I’m not famous. I’m not a well-known musician or anything.[laughs] It all went because of the story that is behind the CD. All the newspapers wanted to write something about it. So without one concert, we sold a stuff-load, pardon my French, of CDs. It was amazing, Matthias Winckelmann at Enja didn’t know what hit him. I wanted to be with a label where I know the owner. You know. When you call Enja Records, Matthias picks up the phone and he’s done that for 30 years. I didn’t want to go with a major where every two weeks, there’s a new A&R guy, who doesn’t know who you are. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea. At first, I had to convince Matthias to release this CD and then all of a sudden it was like, bam!
JazzReview: How did you go about convincing Enja to release the CD?
David Klein: I pretty much recorded everything at my own risk. I wanted to do it, knew I had to do it, and was going to do it. I’m pretty much like the guy who doesn’t like people mingling and saying, ‘maybe you should record this tune or that tune, Happy Birthday, Mr. President’, or I don’t know what. I just wanted to do my thing and then send it to a label. So I called him when I was finished and he said, ‘send it to me and I’ll listen to it.’ Then I went to Munich and I talked with him for several hours, convincing him to release it.
JazzReview:Besides the magic of the wonderful music, the packaging is so remarkable; the box, the booklet with all that beautiful photography of Ella and Marilyn together, the quotes and the story behind your project. It was so tastefully put together. Was that all your idea also?
David Klein: Yes, I did everything and I had to fight for every single page.
JazzReview: Then you had to obtain the rights to include the information on Marilyn Monroe and the photography too?
David Klein: That was another thing. I never thought about that. I had the whole thing finished and then a photographer asked me, ‘did you contact the Marilyn Monroe Estate?’ I didn’t even know there was a Marilyn Monroe Estate! I contacted them and they made me an offer of $70,000 and a ridiculous amount per CD. Then I talked to this woman from the Estate who knew exactly where I was coming from. I talked to her everyday for two weeks. In the end, I got a deal that was acceptable. I have to say, without this woman, I couldn’t have done this project. I had to explain the whole distribution thing to her, and how little money the musicians make on their own CDs. Oh, I was sweating of course, because Matthias was ready to release and I didn’t have the license to use Monroe’s name or pictures. I was at the brink of nervous breakdown [laughs]. It was the same thing with the sexual abuse issue. You know, in the first chapter of the booklet it is mentioned.
JazzReview:And I notice in the booklet you have links to various Monroe websites and a few helpful websites regarding sexual child abuse.
David Klein: Yes, absolutely. That was very, very important to me. She (Monroe) was the very first person to openly disclose sexual child abuse. I had to send all the text and the photos to the Estate to have it approved.
JazzReview:Oh my goodness. What an undertaking. How long did this take?
David Klein: Well, that took several weeks while we were waiting to release the CD and when the first text (draft) came back from the Estate, all the parts about sexual abuse were crossed out, replacing the words ‘sexual abuse’ with ‘personal tragedy.’ I didn’t have a deal with them yet, but I didn’t want to change any of the text. I thought the text was perfect. It described Marilyn Monroe perfectly. I told her, yes I agree that sexual abuse is a personal tragedy, but not every personal tragedy is sexual abuse. Do you want to taboo, how do I say this in English? Do you want to make a taboo out of something that is so important? I said, ‘God beware, somebody you know experiences sexual abuse. Would you think it would help this person to just not talk about it? There was a long silence on the other end of the telephone. Then the woman said, ‘you are absolutely right, we’re going to keep the text as it is mentioned in the booklet.’
JazzReview:That is marvelous. Your vision and passion for this booklet contained in the boxed CD is more than one would normally expect to receive. Your music alone is inspiring.
David Klein: Every experience I had in connection with this project was very special.
JazzReview:Can you tell me a little bit about your background David?
David Klein: I was born into a musical family. My father is a traditional Chicago-style trumpet player and my mother, of course, is a singer. I have two sisters and one brother. I grew up making music. Actually, I started out with the guitar and I play drums with my Klezmer band, Kol Simcha, with which I’ve played Carnegie Hall, but I started playing the saxophone when I was 24.
JazzReview:Twenty-four years old? You sound as if you’ve been playing sax since you were five.
David Klein: My parents thought I was completely mad, you know, because I was already an accomplished guitar player. I played with Roland Hanna and Billy Cobham and then I changed in the middle of my life. I wasn’t comfortable with the whole comping scene. I didn’t like accompanying people on guitar and I wasn’t comfortable with the whole electronic scene either, with strings, and amps and effects. I just wanted an instrument that I could grab and go ahead and play. Then I saw this guy, Bob Mover, play. He’s like a very well kept secret, an alto player an amazing alto player! When I went to Berklee, I saw him play at Michael’s Pub and I thought, aaaah, I have to play the saxophone. Funny enough, it was him that made me take up the sax.
JazzReview:How long did it take you to accomplish that, where you felt comfortable with the saxophone? I mean that was quite a daring move.
David Klein: Oh, let me see. It took me how old am I now? [laughs] It took me 15 years.
JazzReview:You certainly made the right move. Your sax playing is exceptional. I see that your mother, Miriam, also made a few CDs with notables such as Dexter Gordon.
David Klein: Yes. She has a wonderful tribute to Billy Holiday, called "Ladylike." It was on a label called MPS, I think. The label doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a shame because it is a wonderful, wonderful record with Dexter, Roy Eldridge and Slide Hampton.
JazzReview:So getting back to promoting this record. Will you be thinking of touring now?
David Klein: We now have a great agent who also represents Dee Dee Bridgewater and other famous acts He has already set us up for a tour beginning in January 2003.
JazzReview:Will that include the United States?
David Klein: I hope so. We already have the schedule for Europe, but I don’t know about the U.S. It’s hard finding an agency, but ours has connections to the States and all the big festivals.
JazzReview:Can people purchase your CD in the U.S. now?
David Klein: I sincerely hope so. You can get it at Borders and Barnes & Nobles. It is also available on Amazon.com. It is distributed by Koch Records.
JazzReview: Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
David Klein: I will be doing another record with Enja, but this time it will be in a more funk kind of vein. I can’t really tell you about it now, but there’s also a story behind the project.
I’m also a member of the renowned Klezmer band, Kol Simcha (www.kolsimcha.com). Klezmer is Eastern European Jewish music. We write our own music inspired by this style. We are presently mixing a recording we did with the London Mozart players, a great chamber orchestra. We have five other CDs out and we are going to release two new CDs soon. One is a quintet CD and the other is a record of ballet music, which we wrote for a ballet company.
Like Billy Wilder once said, ‘I like to make movies that I would like to see.’ The same is true with my music. I want to make music that I would like to listen to. That doesn’t mean I only like to listen to the kind of music I did with the Marilyn Monroe tribute. I’m open to all kinds of styles. I’m going to do jazz, but not the same kind of jazz all the time. It wouldn’t be enough for me. I like the sound of a symphony orchestra. I like funk and all kinds of things. I especially like music that has content, a story behind a tune. It’s not so much that I like A minor 7th, D7, G, and a nice melody over it. I like something that goes with the music, which gives it a meaning. That is very important to me.
JazzReview: Thank you David for the opportunity of this interview. I’m hoping our readers will take some sound advice and rush to purchase your outstanding "My Marilyn" CD. It’s a must-have for any jazz collection. Best of luck to you.
David Klein: Thank you.