Don Was Is Busy: Talks Rolling Stones, Van Morrison & Detroit Love
Grammy Award-winning producer and Blue Note Records president Don Was (the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan) is giving some love to his home town's jazz scene.
Was (ne Fagenson) is back in Detroit this week for his annual All-Star Revue at the 20th Concert of Colors festival. But while the four previous incarnations of the show featured Detroit rock and R&B legends (and rising talent), this year's focuses on jazz, with performances by artists such as James Carter, Regina Carter, Sheila Jordan, Dennis Coffey and Marcus Belgrave, among others.
"There's tremendous breadth to what's going on with the music in Detroit," Was tells Billboard.com. "At Blue Note we're having a lot of success this year with (Houston artist) Robert Glasper, and I don't see him so much as a hybrid between hip-hop and jazz but really just another step in the evolution of jazz. And it's interesting that guys like (Coffey) were trying things like that 40 years ago. So we're putting the added weaponry of Blue Note Records behind it to do something cool and also something that will be helpful to the city."
Was' Revue takes place on Saturday, but he's also been in a recording studio with the artists this week to cut tracks for an album of new recordings that he'll combine with Detroit artists from Blue Note's past -- such as Donald Byrd and Joe Henderson -- for an album called "Detroit Jazz City," which will raise money for the city's Focus: Hope charity, which should be released in the fall. "Like anything else, when it's great we'll put it out," Was says.
That's one of several projects Was has his hand in these days, however. At Blue Note he's overseeing upcoming releases by Van Morrison ("Born to Sing: No Plan B") and Anita Baker. He says the latter is "classic Anita Baker," with production by The Underdogs, while Morrison's self-produced set features "great, really incisive songwriting. It's a cool record." Was himself, meanwhile, has been at the board for Kris Kristofferson's next album as well as a forthcoming set of doo-wop songs by Aaron Neville that was co-produced with the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards.
"I think (Neville) has always wanted to do a doo-wop album," Was says. "He just picked his favorite songs; he had a list and he just abandoned the list in the first two hours. He'd call out songs, and if the band didn't know it we'd download it, listen to it and go out and play it. We cut 23 songs in five days." Richards, meanwhile, also has an affinity for doo-wop, according to Was. "When we were doing 'Voodoo Lounge,' I had the hotel room next to Keith for six weeks in Dublin, and he played (the Jive Five's) 'My True Story' over and over and over. He loves that stuff, so I thought he would bring something all new to play it while appreciating what's at its core, and I think it worked well."
Despite his close association with the Stones, however, Was prefers not to guess when -- or whether -- the group will hit the road and/or record as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. "They're getting together, and there's a number of plans on the table, but what they'll do is still coming together," says Was, who's still buzzing about playing bass with the Stones for May rehearsals that were filmed for an upcoming documentary. "It was intoxicating, man," he gushes. "They're the best band ever -- really. It's a joy to play with them. They get a groove going...I was situated to the left of Keith, with Charlie (Watts) on my left, and you can ride that all day. It's an amazing groove cushion. It was fun. I was really sorry to see it end."