Bryan Ferry Jazzes the Gatsby

Bryan Ferry is one of the most iconic figures in British pop music. In 1971 he co-founded and led Roxy Music, a group far ahead of its time. Although its first seven albums contained little commercial music, other than “Love Is The Drug,” they set the stage for various styles such as glam, art-rock, new wave, new romantic and techno. Ironically, their biggest commercial success came in 1982 with Avalon, the band’s final studio album. Roxy Music’s trendsetting extended to their daring album covers as well. The designs had more in common with fashion and Hollywood glamour than the hippie rock of the early 70s, features such models as Ferry’s then girlfriend, and future wife of Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall. The band members’ influence on the music industry continues. The group launched the career of Brian Eno, the founding father of ambient music and super producer of David Bowie, U2, Coldplay, Talking Heads and countless others.

Ferry has released 14 solo albums of original material and covers since 1973. His latest project is The Bryan Ferry Orchestra and its album The Jazz Age (BMG/Chrysalis) featuring jazz arrangements of Roxy Music songs without any Ferry vocals. Some of the music will be used in The Great Gatsby remake scheduled to release this month. From his home in London, Ferry spoke about his new album, literature, art, fashion, Eno and all things Roxy Music.

Long Island Pulse: You’ve covered songs from the jazz age and the great American songbook in the past, when did you decide to do this album of mostly Roxy Music songs in jazz-age arrangements?
Bryan Ferry: It’s forty years since I made the first Roxy Music album. I wanted for some time to make some instrumental versions of these songs and this felt like a good time to do it. I have been a jazz fan since I was about ten years old and in the last couple of years I had been listening to some of the early jazz that had made such a strong impression on me. I became curious to see how my own songs would sound done in this period style.

LIP: Why didn’t you participate as a vocalist?
BF: Simply because I wanted to focus on the tunes rather than the words. Most of the jazz music that I have listened to over the years has of course been instrumental rather than vocal.

LIP: If you tour with this group will you sing these songs live using the arrangements on the album?
BF: We are doing some shows here in Europe, starting in April through to December. I will be doing songs from The Jazz Age, both instrumental and vocal, and I will have my rock band there as well.

LIP: How did you get involved in The Great Gatsby film?
BF: Well, I’m a great fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. When I heard Baz Luhrmann was making a new film version I sent him a copy of my The Jazz Age record, which I’m pleased to say he liked. I was delighted when he decided to use a couple of our tracks in the movie. In fact, he’s also commissioned some new pieces for us to record for the film.


LIP: Art and photography have always played a big part in the way your solo and Roxy Music albums are presented. Are you particularly drawn to the art of the 1920s?
BF: Paul Colin’s illustrations did seem to capture the mood of the music. There was a lot of great art produced during the 1920s, all with a sense of energy and excitement that matched the restless rhythms of the time. From an early age I was drawn not only to the music of the period, but also the literature, art and fashion. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot were and still remain a great inspiration. Over the years I developed a keen interest in British painting from between the wars, particularly the work of Wyndham Lewis and Vanessa Bell; and obviously the European masters such as Picasso and Matisse. Duchamp is another artist I admire tremendously, and in fact one of my albums, The Bride Stripped Bare, is named after one of his great works.

LIP: You must be aware of Calvin Tomkins’ book on Gerald and Sara Murphy, Living Well Is The Best Revenge. Are you aware of Amanda Vail’s book Everybody Was So Young, a much more detailed and lengthy study of the Gerald and Sara Murphy and their time?
BF: Yes, I have these books and I have always been fascinated by all things Fitzgerald and Duchamp. For me, it’s a very romantic and glamorous period. Yet at the same time, it’s when the cutting-edge ideas of modernism were formed, making it a much more complex and interesting period than is sometimes made out.

LIP: Olympia, your previous solo album, features many former members of Roxy Music, including Brian Eno. Was the album ever intended to be a Roxy Music album?
BF: After the reunion tour in 2001, I did think another Roxy Music album might be possible. We were in the studio together for a short while, but for various reasons I decided not to go ahead and went on to make Olympia. At one point I did consider turning some of the early demos into a Roxy record, but this did not work out. We did regroup in the studio for a few days in 2005, but very little from those sessions made it onto the Olympia album…as far as I know Brian never tours. However, if it had happened it could have been interesting.

LIP: You were recently in New York for fashion week. Any particular designers you wear?
BF: I like Berluti shoes, Rubinacci ties, shirts from Sean O’Flynn and Anderson & Sheppard suits. I worked in a tailor’s shop on the weekends when I was young, so I learned early on to appreciate sartorial craftsmanship.

LIP: Which form of American music is your favorite?
BF: American music has played a big part in my life…which genre more than others, I’m not sure. Let’s say from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, through Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Leadbelly, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Prince—these are some of my favorites.

LIP: Do you see Roxy Music recording and/or touring any time soon?
BF: Not really. There’s too much going on with The Jazz Age.