Marc Jordan – Both Sides

The Multiple award-winning Canadian singer, composer and producer Marc Jordan has released his first solo album in six years this spring. His new album “Both Sides” is an emotional exploration and re-interpretation of own tunes, stunning jazz standards of the Great American Song Book as well as classic compositions of legendary artists – including hits by Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Curtis Mayfield and many more. WEST COAST SOUL talked to the legendary artist about his new album, musical influences, the 40th anniversary of his classic West Coast album “Blue Desert”, and the secret of great songs.

Marc, the famous jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald once said: “Everybody wants to know about my style and how it came about. It’s no big secret. It’s the way I feel.” Feeling and emotion are also important elements in your music throughout your career. How big was the influence of female artists like Ella or Billie Holiday on your musical development?

My father was a classical singer and he always told me if you want to connect with a lyric you need to listen to the great women, singers like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone, because they connect with lyrics more profoundly than men do. And that was his opinion. And I have to say I think he was right, and I’ve always looked at the way women have approached lyric and learned from them.

The access to Jazz and to the Great American Songbook was made possible not least by your father Charles Jordan, who was also a passionate music collector. Was it him who inspired you so much for music that you wanted to become a professional musician?

Yes, my father had a great influence on me. I learned about the American Songbook just listening to them in his library, and when I do American Songbook songs today, I feel a deep connection with my dad.

You said that “Both Sides” is the fulfilment of a long held dream that has been waiting for the right moment to be realized. Why is now the right moment to release it?

It was the right time to release “Both Sides” because I had talked to my new producer Lou Pomanti about this project and he wanted to do it with an orchestra. And so we talked to the label and they were onside with it. That was a great plus! And because I’ve always wanted to do this album with an orchestra, we did it with the Prague Symphony.

With Lou Pomanti (Blood, Sweat and Tears) you have found a congenial producer for your project. How long have you known each other? And how did it come to this collaboration for “Both Sides”?

I’ve known Lou Pomanti for about 20 years and I’ve admired his playing. One day on the radio I heard something he did for Matt Dusk and it sounded like it was Nelson Riddle. It just sounded so wonderful! So I picked up the phone and called him.

Marc, exquisite musicians have always played on your albums Tell us a little about the musicians you worked with on “Both Sides” and about the recording process.

Well, there are some great players on this record like Larnell Lewis, the drummer of Snarky Puppy. Lou Pomanti did the piano and he’s amazing. Marc Rogers on bass is also a wonderful lyric player and I worked with a lot of horn players and singers on that album. Of note was Randy Brecker, whom I sent the record, and he loved it and said he’d play on two or three things, and the addition of him was amazing. Also the great Canadian opera singer Measha Brueggergosman sang on “Calling You”.

We did the backing tracks in Toronto with drums, bass, scratch vocals and piano and sent that with charts and click tracks to Prague. Then we tie-lined Prague into Lou’s Studio in Toronto and it was like we were right there in the room.

Not least due to the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the album is characterized by a rich, orchestral, if not cinematic sound. In your youth, you studied film at the Brock University in St. Catharines, Canada. Would you say that your music has always a certain cinematic quality?

This record was definitely influenced by my film studies. I’ve always loved those big, lush Hollywood orchestras in movies when I was growing up as a kid. And I wanted something beautiful and big and lush for this album. I think it turned out pretty well.

Your songs have been interpreted and recorded by countless artists. Just to name a few: Joe Cocker, Cher, Rod Stewart, Chicago, Kenny Loggins and many more. What attracts you as an experienced songwriter to interpret the songs of other artists?

I have always experimented with melodies of songs that I write and of songs of other people. I think of melody as language and so I always try to bring subtext to every song I’m singing by playing around with the melody.

Marc, you recorded many songs from the 60s and 70s for “Both Sides”. What makes this music of this era so special for you?

It wasn’t that I was looking for a certain era. I just like these songs. I think they’re beautiful songs that are beautifully written and they’re songs that still means something to me today and I hope to other people as well.

With Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” you recorded a song, which you called as “one of the great songs ever written”. What’s so special about this song?

I think the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now” is one of the great songs. I heard her sing it when she was young. And it meant something to me back then. I heard her sing it with the London Symphony Orchestra when she was in her 70s and it took on extra meaning for me. And I think that’s the hallmark of a great song that it morphs through the ages and it reflects the human condition no matter what era you sing it in.

Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” is another album highlight. In direct comparison with the original, your version seems to be less aggressive, more atmospheric, and more contemplative. Do you wanted to give the listeners the opportunity to rediscover this classic song in a new way?

I think “Walk On The Wild Side”, one of Lou Reed’s masterpieces, is the glue between Beat poetry of the 40s and 50s and hip-hop. It’s a brilliant song that connects those two genres of American music perfectly.

Can the choice of “Walk On The Wild Side” be understood as a homage to your birthplace, New York City?

I have always had a great connection to New York. I was born in Brooklyn. I have relatives all over Manhattan and I spent a lot of time in New York. It’s one of the great cities of the world. Back in the 60s and 70s it was filled with art, art galleries, sculptures and the greatest pop music and folk music in the world. That’s my opinion.

Marc, you wrote the tender “He’s Going To Break Your Heart” for your teenage daughter when she started dating her first boyfriend. A difficult and very personal subject for any father. You struggled a long time with yourself to release this song. Why was the right time now?

“He’s Going To Break Your Heart” was written about my daughter’s first boyfriend. And of course I thought her heart would have been broken. And my heart was breaking thinking about her heart being broken. She told me later her heart wasn’t broken at all, that she broke his heart! Ha, ha, ha… So I felt I could put it on the record as a homage to the strength of my daughter Zoe.

In a way, you seem to take the listener with “Both Sides” on an emotional journey through your life – from the early enthusiasm for jazz that you shared with your father, to the music of the 60s and early 70s that influenced your youth, to intimate family moments. Was that your intention?

No, this was not my intention to take people on a journey through my life. But I’m delighted that you see it that way and I’ll have to think about that. But I think you’re just as I look at it now, absolutely right.

You said that the album is also a huge statement against “Ageism” and all the other ugly “isms”. “Isms” are very popular again – whether in America or Europe. Many of the songs you have interpreted on “Both Sides” come from a period of social change and revolt. Does music today still have the power to change something in the world? What role can it still play today?

This is a huge question and I could go on and on about it. But music always has the power to change every age group. Every generation needs its anthems to go along with its own myths. And I think right now, although it’s changing, we’ve been through a period where there haven’t been songs that really reflect what is going on. Below the surface of the culture, they tend to deal superficially.

Marc, your second solo album “Blue Desert” celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. This album is one of the most important West Coast albums of the late 70s. What significance does this album still have for you?

I just talked to Jay Graydon about ten days ago and we were talking about “Blue Desert” and other things and it’s still a very dear record for me and Jay has become a dear friend. I’ve known him so many years and even though we live on different sides of the continent, we stay in touch all the time.

On “Blue Desert” you were accompanied by countless studio musicians who belonged to the elite of the L.A. Sound of that time – among others Michael Omartian, Ray Parker Jr., Abraham Laboriel, Jeff Porcaro and of course Jay Graydon. How was it for you to work with these musicians in the studio back in the days? Are there any special anecdotes?

I’ve played with many of those players on the album “Mannequin” before I did “Blue Desert”. But I guess the funniest thing was that when Jay Graydon did a number of the solos on that record which are so complex and beautiful, I stood behind him and hold down certain strings on the neck of his guitar and then he played around it. So it was almost impossible to reproduce it. Later I’ve watched guitar players tear their hair out trying to reproduce those solos, because what they didn’t realize was that I was holding down a few of the strings behind Jay. Ha, ha, ha…

How do you remember the L.A. music scene of that time?

I remember that the L.A. scene in the 80s with tremendous fondness. It was a great time to be a writer, a musician and a singer. It was a great time to be in the studio scene and it was a time of phenomenal innovation. I feel very blessed to have been part of that.

Marc, you are now 71 years old and you can look back on a career spanning more than 40 years with countless successes and awards. Your songs have appeared on over 35 million records. What does music and playing in front of an audience mean to you today?

I used to hate playing live when I was young, but now that I’m older I love it. I love the exchange between performer and audience. I love the fact that I can give some joy to people and the audience gives me a great deal of joy in playing with a great band like I have. It’s just a blessing and I feel like my whole life has been blessed by music.

Your son Ezra has released his brand new single “Low” in March. Are you happy that the musical tradition continues in your family?

My son Ezra is brilliant and he has just released his new single “Low”, and as you say, I just couldn’t be happier for him. He’s like me, he gets tremendous joy, satisfaction and pleasure from creating music and he’s so good at it. I’m just amazed at every song he writes and then he’s getting better and better and better. My daughter Zoe is also a brilliant singer-songwriter who lives in Nashville.

What can we expect from you next? Will you go on tour with the album, maybe also in Europe?

I do hope I can tour in Europe. We’re looking at that now. We’re definitely going to Japan and I’m going to try to get to Europe as well. I’ll know that in about two months.

Marc, thank you very much for the interview.

Photo: Marc Jordan

This interview was published for the first time on May 3, 2019

BANDCAMP