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Two-time Grammy winner Peabo Bryson returns to Jazz Alley, May 2 — 5

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Two-time Grammy winner Peabo Bryson returns to Jazz Alley, May 2 — 5

It was 1984 when I first heard the name Peabo Bryson. His hit song "If Ever in Your Arms Again" had peaked at number 10 on the Hot 100 and number 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart for four weeks. In July that year, a new soap opera, Santa Barbara featured the song as the love theme for the characters of Joe and Kelly. Continuing the trend, in 1985, Bryson sang the theme to the soap One Life to Live, which was used until 1992. In that year, his song "I Found Love" was used on All My Children for Erica and Dimitri during their love story set in Budapest; the song was nominated for a Daytime Emmy in 1993.

Then he went from soaps to Disney: the pop versions of "Beauty and the Beast" (with Celine Dion) and Aladdin's "A Whole New World" (with Regina Belle) each won Grammys.

For Missing You — the 20th album of his career, his first in eight years, and his first for Peak Records — Bryson continued to do what he does best on 11 tracks that showcase the broad palette of his skills. He's at his intimate best, a legendary vocalist offering a timeless mix of pop and soul as only he can. Bryson has amassed a loyal fan base, critical acclaim, and an avalanche of awards by being one of the "truly best friends" a song could ever have.

I chatted with him via Zoom in the past week. Here are excerpts of what he had to say on various topics:

On the show
It's matured over time. And we've changed some things here and there to try to make it more interesting. Portions of it feel unplugged, because there's quite a bit of dialogue, followed by music and explaining the music and my connection to those particular artists and all that. So it's quite informative, but also it's philosophical... It's about me and my views on love and the industry and all that stuff... When you're around for a long time, you have something to say, and you have stories to tell. So there are some amusing stories about iconic people... And then I play their music... Most of them have gone on to their glory and their rest, and I want to celebrate that. I think it's important that we always remember, because nothing ever dies as long as you remember.

On Jazz Alley
I enjoy going to Jazz Alley just in general. It's a great place. The patrons are very astute music lovers. It's different when you perform in front of an audience that is musically and historically astute, where music is concerned. It's a pleasure. They enjoy mostly everything that you do, and especially if you do something that's unexpected. They're very appreciative of the artistry of music and all that, and that's something that you don't see these days.

On constructing a hit
Oh my God, I had to sing ["If Ever in Your Arms Again"]. I sang it every day, eight hours a day for about four or five days. There were 120 something vocal tracks, and [Michael Masser] made a comp using all of them. ... Anything that had any extra feeling in it, he took it out. ... He wanted it to be straight. ...He suddenly turned [it] into like a musical from Neil Simon.

On Roberta Flack
I still to this day have no idea of why she chose me [for "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love"]. Wow. It was an absolute and complete surprise to me. ... When...you realize that part of them choosing you is to replace perhaps ... one of the greatest singers of all time — and that would be Donny Hathaway — I mean, those are some shoes [to fill], that's not for the faint at heart. You better know what you're doing, and you better be committed to it, and you better have the goods, or it's not going to work.

I didn't even like [the song], by the way. I was only recording it because she wanted to do it. Really. I didn't get it. I didn't get it. I didn't get it partially because Michael Masser was singing the melody to me, and he's ... in my top three worst vocalists on the planet. ... "The Greatest Love of All," "Touch Me in the Morning," he wrote all these iconic songs. But as a singer, oh my God, just horrible.

On Burt Bacharach
He's a micromanager. It's just in his nature. All the great producers and writers are like that. They micromanage in some way, shape, or form. ... First, he was leaning over Greg Phillinganes playing the song while we were recording the track. Then Greg said, "You want to play?" And he said, "No, no, I want you to do it. I want you to do it. I want you to do it." But he kept doing it.

And then he started singing the melody to me ... I think it was for the Harry Hamlin movie [1982's Making Love] or something like that. ... It was a great song. ... Here's the thing. He was trying to sing the melody to me, and I started laughing. Yeah, it was so funny. I said, you are the second worst thing I've ever heard in my life. And it got really quiet in the recording booth.... And so he hit the talkback and said, "Well, who's the first?" And I said, my manager is the first. ... He didn't take offense to it. He knows he's a really terrible singer.

I kept the work tape for years and for decades afterwards. And when I felt bad or was depressed or something, I would play it and it would make me laugh. I mean, it would still make me laugh. But that didn't take away from his talent. And it didn't ruin our relationship. He later on in life asked me to come out and record "Alfie."

On Celine Dion
She is a singular talent and a singular personality. She is unique in every single way. She lives to sing. I don't care what anybody tells you. It's like breathing air for her.

If I would give her any advice at this particular point in her life, [it] is to never stop singing. I don't care what. Because ... she's a person that won't speak all day long, saving her voice for the singing. Because you can hurt your vocal cords [by] laughing and chatting with people. You can — it can happen.

I was on tour with her, and she's one of the few people on this planet... she was like Marcus Aurelius. Nobody ever heard Marcus Aurelius raise his voice to another human being, and that's what Celine is. That cutesy, cutesy, soft thing that you see — it's not fake. That's exactly who she is 24-7.

She was telling me about an experience she had when they were doing this Divas [Live in 1998] thing. ... Celine said Aretha was thinking of all these things that they could do and all that kind of stuff, and they were all listening. And Brandy was standing there and... said, "Why are we listening to her?" And Celine said she took three giant steps backwards and threw both hands up. ... The rumor is that Aretha went outside and coughed up a few oysters and came back inside and laid waste to everybody. They woke up the tiger. Never, never wake a sleeping tiger. Let it sleep.

On Julie Andrews
She got to sing a little bit of "We Kiss in the Shadows," but that was the first re-recording of The King and I in 35 years. And while I was recording it, Julie Andrews was in the booth with me. Wow. I know, right? Yeah, oh my God. Nobody knew that.

So it's being recorded, the music and the dialogue is being recorded both live.... So you got the entire Hollywood Bowl orchestra out there. So they started the song. ... I listened to her do her dialogue prior to... my singing. And so when she finished her dialogue, she just kind of turned to me and extended her hand. I had no idea what she wanted, so everything stopped. And it started again. And she did her dialogue again, and then she extended her hand out to me like she was waiting on me to say something. I had no idea what she was waiting for. So I said, "I'm sorry, are you waiting on me to say something?" And she looks at me and she says, in a very sweet way, "You're Lun Tha, darling." And I said, "Excuse me?" She said, "You have dialogue." And so she pointed to [where] Lun Tha has dialogue, but nobody mentioned dialogue to me. No, I had no idea. It's one of those moments where you die right then and there and stay dead and never rise again — or you ... rise to the occasion.

And so she looked at me — she was very sweet. She said, "You need a minute?" I said, "Please." And so I'm looking at this dialogue. I mean, I'd seen the film and all that... So wait a minute — you're asking this guy right now from Greenville, South Carolina, trapped in a recording booth with the great Julie Andrews, to look at a script in this moment, and suddenly become, transform himself into a 14-year-old Siamese teenager. Really? Really? Would you like to be in that moment? Would you like for that to be you? Of course you would. I still crack up every time I play that thing.

So the orchestra starts again, and she does her dialogue, and she points to me. And by the way, she only gave me 60 seconds, not a second more. She asked me if I needed a minute, and she gave me a minute. I can't make this stuff up. So she did her dialogue, and she points to me. I turned around, looked her square in the eye, and said, "I am Lun Tha. You are a teacher." Hey, I'm suddenly a 14-year-old Siamese teenager! We have been friends from that moment to this one.

On Barbara Bush
After that, I did Christmas in Washington, and I got a chance to actually sing with Neil Diamond and Julie Andrews. And you know, I admired Bush Sr. as a president. I thought he was strong, and he made me feel safe. But he was not my choice. So... the press secretary knocked on my dressing room door and said, "Mr. Bryson, photo op with the president." .... So I waited. ...Ten minutes later, he comes back and he says nothing. He's just standing near my door. And suddenly a SWAT team burst from behind him into my dressing room with drug-sniffing dogs. And he said nothing. And I said nothing.

He said, "Photo op with the president." This time he was being emphatic. He wasn't asking. ...So I'm standing between the president and his wife. And I don't know, the devil gets in me sometimes. ... So I said out loud — I was holding one in each arm and I said, "Well, one good thing about this moment is that we'll never have to meet like this again." And the next thing I knew, I was bent over. Something had hit me right in my doggone liver or my kidney or somewhere around in there.

And a voice said, "Straighten up and act right." I said, "Yes, ma'am." Barbara had hit me and folded me up like a cheap accordion ... What do you do? I knew who the real president was in that moment. It wasn't him. It was Barbara Bush.

Let me tell you something. She was like every aunt or grandmother or cousin I've ever had that was no nonsense. She was all no nonsense. I said, "Yes, ma'am." And I stood up and cheesed like, well, I was cheesing personally, because I was in pain.

On Kenny G
He's phenomenal in that regard in terms of performance and all that. I did 80-some dates with him. It was great. It was a great experience for me. And it exposed me to an audience that knew my music but didn't know my face and didn't know my performance. So it was the right thing to do for him and for me.

On being an LGBTQ ally
Always have been. I started supporting people's rights to choose long before that was an actual slogan, and I lent my talents pro bono to the original Gay Pride, the one that Harvey Milk started. Oh, wow, San Francisco. It's what you do. It's right to choose. It's right to choose. And rights are rights. Yeah. That's, you know, that's how I see it. You grow up, you grow out, and you grow wiser. You know, it's a right to choose. Nobody has the right to bother that.

Catch Peabo Bryson May 2-5 at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley. For more info, go to https://jazzalley.com

MK Scott is a Seattle-based arts blogger and the editor-in-chief at
Out NW Magazine.