INTERVIEW: Duncan Lamont - interviewed by Duncan Lamont Jr. (606 Club, 30 August)

Duncan Lamont Jr. and Duncan Lamont
Photo taken at Alan Grahame’s 90th party

As this interview reminds us, saxophonist and composer DUNCAN LAMONT has performed with... Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jr., Paul McCartney, George Shearing, Gil Evans, Benny Carter and Neal Hefti. His next London appearance is at the 606 Club on 30 August with Esther Bennett and Sarah Moule. In this preview of that gig, he is interviewed for LondonJazz News by his son, the saxophonist Duncan Lamont Jr.: 

Duncan Lamont Jr.In a recent video featuring your song Stark Reality performed by Sarah Moule, you mention that you like “to write a song a day”.  Do you ever have writer’s block, and if so, how do you work through it?

Duncan Lamont: I try to write a song a day. It might not be a good song but the important thing is I’ve produced a song. To me, it’s like practising scales or doing physical exercises and if I’m lucky I might write something worthwhile. I keep thinking I’m going to get writer's block before I start a song but then it disappears when I sit at the piano.

Blossom Dearie once asked me, “How do you get around to writing a song?” I answered, “Well, I know I have to write a song and I just do it.” Blossom said, “I like that!” As a result, I have written a huge amount of material and many vocalists have recorded quite a few of them - in America, artists such as Natalie Cole, Mark Murphy, Nancy Marano, and in the UK, Tina May, Norma Winstone, Liane Carroll, Elaine Delmar and many others. Cleo Laine recorded my song I Told You So in New York which went on to win the Sesac Best Jazz Ballad of the Year award.

LJN: From the viewpoint of a professional musician and songwriter, what are your thoughts on the saying “Success is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”?

DL: Yes, I would agree with that statement. Writing songs is hard work although I find it easier when I have a specific project. For instance, John Dankworth rang me up once in a panic as he’d written a suite for the BBC Proms and needed lyrics urgently for Cleo Laine to sing. I wrote them over a weekend which proves that having a deadline really helps. Sometimes a tune or a lyric appears from nowhere but the main thing is the project in hand. Inspiration is all well and good but, for me, I have to graft at it.

LJN: During your long and varied career, were there some particular experiences that really stand out, either because they were so wonderful or because they were so challenging?

DL:  Regarding wonderful experiences, for me it has to be working with Frank Sinatra. I never got caught up in the adulation trap but I admired him professionally as a consummate singer who was so happy to sing with a big band. I’m sure he preferred that to anything else in the world - after all, he rediscovered The American Song Book and even influenced American politics with his support for JFK. We’ll never see his like again. Also playing with Frank was a challenge in itself.

LJN: As a songwriter and musician, was there some aspect of your work that you found particularly difficult? What was your greatest obstacle and how did you solve it?

DL: As a musician, I took up the saxophone late in my career but within a couple of years I was being booked on recording sessions, often as a featured soloist. I was wholly inadequate playing the other doubles, i.e. clarinet, flute, etc. This meant I was always apprehensive every time I went to a session. The pressure really got to me but I didn’t want to deal with it through drink or drugs. Instead I tried yoga and within a week my mind was transformed. I found I could deal with whatever came my way and it even helped me with regards to the creative side of composing. Eventually I stopped practising yoga but it gave me what I wanted at that time.

LJN: You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the music business, from Bing Crosby to Fred Astaire, Paul McCartney, Henry Mancini & Frank Sinatra. What was it like to work with such high profile artists? 

DL:  Sinatra apart, it was wonderful playing with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. You can’t believe you’re in the same room with people who have become part of your life. Sammy Davis was wonderful too and Paul McCartney is a very sweet guy. All in all, a wonderful ride.

However, all these wonderful artists were just part of my working life and I didn’t know them on a personal level. That said, I’ve been lucky to have become friends with some of the real giants of music, amongst them George Shearing, Gil Evans, Benny Carter and Neal Hefti. This has given me an insight into them as people away from the spotlight. Less well known were the great songwriters that also become friends and occasional collaborators such as Matt Dennis (Angel Eyes), Johnny Mandel (The Shadow Of Your Smile), Jack Segal (When Sunny Gets Blue) and not forgetting Blossom Dearie who also wrote great songs herself and recorded many of my compositions.

Top-bottom: duncan Lamont,
Sarah Moule, Esther Bennett

LJN: What material will you be performing at the 606 Club gig on 30 August?

DL: I’m fortunate that two highly talented singers, Sarah Moule and Esther Bennett, are performing my songs at a club I have such a high regard for. They’ll be singing music I’ve written during the last 40 years and also some brand new material I’ve written specifically for this gig. We’ve also got an outstanding rhythm section consisting of John Crawford, Oli Hayhurst and Steve Taylor. I’ve included songs that cover a wide range of subjects; from unrequited love to Fred Astaire! It’s going to be a wonderful evening and I’m looking forward to it.

The Duncan Lamont Songbook featuring Esther Bennett & Sarah Moule will be at the 606 Club on Wednesday 30 August, 8:30pm £12

LINK: 606 Club

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