Dudley Moore talks with Studs Terkel
BROADCAST: Jan. 6, 1963 | DURATION: 00:41:03
Dudley Moore discusses his influences and process, and performs original works such as "Little Miss Britten".
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel We're seated at the Gate of Horn, this is Sunday early evening, empty and yet not empty. There are some people seated here, friends, acquaintances, of our guest, or perhaps we're his guests, too, Dudley Moore, one of the--how can you describe Dudley Moore? Certainly those who have heard the recordings of "Beyond the Fringe" or those who have seen "Beyond the Fringe" in New York, perhaps some have in London, will recognize the name and the talent. One of the four, witty is a much overused word, yet so applicable here, who takes off on the foibles of so much that bugs us today. Dudley, you also, this is a coincidence, I find a very happy one, was the composer of the soundtrack of a film made by Denis Mitchell, but the hero of that film has not seen it. The hero of the film is Chicago, and it was a marvelous soundtrack for those of us who had the good fortune of hearing it as well as seeing it. Where do we begin with Dudley Moore at the piano? I think at the piano might be--you're seated here. You and music.
Dudley Moore I never know how to begin, you know, I wouldn't, it's like it's the sort of question people say when they ask, "What sort of composer are you?" I just don't know. You know, I don't know what idiom I'd say I compose in or exactly what I would call myself, you know, in any particular way. It's very difficult for me to start playing in other words and say, "Well, this is me, or that isn't" I'd have to sort of say, "Well, this is maybe a bit of what I like doing, you know, this minute."
Studs Terkel Yeah. Well, that might be perhaps a better way, Dudley, just this what you like to do this minute and perhaps as we use, if we use this approach as we go along, we'll find out more and more of Dudley Moore, the man and the artist. What this minute say, would you like to do? It's rather cold outside. We're here among friendly people at the Gate or just talk. Would you rather talk for the moment while we warm up a little?
Dudley Moore I know what I'd like to do is I'd like to play a version of "I Thought About You". It's just a little sort of Bachian prelude I did on the tune. But I just feel like playing, I haven't played a piano for--well, it's a day now, so, and I honestly, I didn't get a chance to relax apart from the show. So that's what I'd like to do. [content removed, see
Dudley Moore Well, I've always had an interest in Bach and doing--I mean, this is where the whole business of parody or satire comes in, you know, copying styles and doing jazz themes in contrapuntal style and so forth, although the other way round I think it's a bit more difficult doing classical themes in jazz style, because it does tend to be a bit vulgar because the--unless you're very careful, the--it just sounds cheapened rather than enhanced.
Studs Terkel This point you raise I'm sure is one that is often made by musicians, composers, taking a work, a classic, a masterpiece and jazzifying, if I use a phrase. This is dan--you see it and hear a danger
Dudley Moore I think this is a very dangerous practice. Also, I mean, in jazz now there's a trend towards trying to make it respectable and rather more learned, you know, in a self-conscious way. People come onto a music stand with their musicianship badges on their lapels, you know, saying I'm going to play music that has some intellectual worth, you know, whereas it should be rather inbred in the music than just merely superimposed. The whole business about jazz is that it starts from a point which one doesn't reach until after some years in a normal classical training. You have, you use exotic chords and harmonies and you learn them by numbers. You know, D 13th with the flattened fifth and all that sort of thing. But you miss out a whole massive chunk of musicianship which they then, after they've got the chords at their fingertips, try and pull in rather awkwardly into their music.
Studs Terkel I think we should point out, Dudley, to the audience that you led a jazz group for quite a while, didn't you, at The Establishment in London where Second City were there, where we had this exchange.
Dudley Moore Well, I'm, I suppose, basically more interested in the cultivation of a beat more than anything, and it sounds pretty basic, but it's far too often ignored in jazz today. The people are so concerned with as I say making jazz more erudite if you like.
Dudley Moore That they forget about the actual presence of the beat. You know, they have something going, they have the top cymbal of the drums going and the bass walking along, and then they forget that the beat has to be cultured and nourished. And this is what I'm mainly interested in at the moment, and I feel that the musicianship should somehow creep in unobserved, you know, and should be there anyway and not have to make this rather stylized entry.
Dudley Moore No, the awful thing is that it's very difficult to illustrate what I'm talking about without a bass player and a drummer to give the beat. But this one comparison that I could make, I mean, for me the main pianists today are Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner despite the fact that there is a great tribe of very interesting subtle pianists around. I find that Peterson and Garner are the two pianists best aware of the importance of a beat. I mean, Erroll Garner in his way sort of pulls the beat around, and no other pianist does this. You know, he sets up this--and then, but Peterson deals with it another way. You know, he eliminates this guitar-like left hand and he leaves it to the bass and drums to give this beat, but it's not just the bass and drums who make the beat ride. It's the way he timed his playing around the net. He pushes the beat up, you know, by sort of jabbing it on each side. He somehow makes it froth a bit. And there is a moment which is communicated to any audience, and certainly to the musicians, when you just feel that you can do nothing wrong and suddenly the beat really takes off. About, I don't know, six or seven months ago, a drummer started playing with me, a Greek Australian drummer who came to England, and the first night he played with me was extraordinary. You know, I'd never played with a drummer like this who set up the beat so beautifully for me to knock it down. And we had a tremendous time for about three months, and then suddenly we lost it and we couldn't get it again, and our playing was becoming very stilted and then gradually it came back. I was trying to bring it back by artificial means, by trying to think technically of how I was doing it, but it was very difficult, and I was only approaching it slightly again. It's a sort of an instinctive thing, and you've got to be relaxed. You've almost--you've got to force yourself to relax, you know, if that's possible.
Dudley Moore And unless you can, unless you come onto the piano with a basic lack of inhibition but you're in control the same time, which is a bit of a paradox you can't achieve this beat. You know, it's a beat that's pushing forward aggressively all the time and it's very heavy, but it's also leaning back and it's very light at the same time. There's this combination
Dudley Moore I think so. I think this isn't very present in much jazz today even in the cool school, you know, they don't really sort of achieve this beat as often as it should be achieved, they don't get this right. Mainly I think because they don't--they don't really feel it. They don't set it up enough.
Studs Terkel Is this the point you made earlier, seems to be connected with this, the self-consciousness that setting in, this is art with a capital A, or this is music I'm playing and the result of the self-consciousness, this relaxation you talked about earlier may not be there.
Studs Terkel When I asked earlier, there was a marvelous takeoff on Erroll Garner earlier, I think this proves a point, a point that several people said about you, why you're such an excellent mimic, that is musical mimic, as well as verbally. Is that your basis? You're so well-grounded, we opened with Bach, you do a bit of Garner, I think we should know something about Dudley Moore himself, beginnings and music. You were born on Primrose Day we're told and you presented to your mother as a hot cross bun. How did she take to it?
Dudley Moore I think she was half surprised, half delighted, half appalled. That makes one and a half. Well, I wanted to learn the violin first, and then--but she insisted I do the piano Good for her. And when I was 11 I did the violin and when I was about 17 I did the organ. I did about six years at the Guildhall School of Music in London, which it was a rather useless period, actually, for me. I mean, it was six years going every week to a music school, but I was learning music under students of music who were not too sure of their own status themselves so they could hardly be expected to teach us particularly well, but it was useful. But the real opening out came when I went to Oxford. You know, I went up not really knowing how many symphonies Beethoven had written and so forth and literally knowing very little about, certainly, the historical aspects of music. And there was a lot to be tapped, you know, at that time. When I go back to Oxford I often wonder how I ever stuck it, you know, but I would never have missed the opportunity to have gone there. The whole feeling for mimicry, I suppose, came up mainly through a devotion to a couple of composers like Bach and--well, Bach was really an obsession with me in my early days and, well, it still is. And that made me try and play in the style of Bach and all my, in fact all the satire I do is purely out of admiration, you know. When I heard Garner the first time, which was when I was 17, although there's a lot of Garner I don't like, especially the ballads where I think he becomes too sentimental and ornate, which is why I have a complete anathema for Art Tatum, which is another story. Anyway, when I--
Dudley Moore Yeah. I can't, I really can't take him at all, which is, I know, very offensive to many people, but it's the whole conception with rhythmic and harmonic, it just doesn't appeal to me, but when I heard Garner it was the feeling. It's always been feeling in music that's appealed to me, and it was the feeling for the beat that got me straight away, and I spent the next five years listening to all his records and just trying to play like him, and he's been the greatest influence on me for about the last--well, from the years when I was 17 to about 25 or something like that.
Studs Terkel You know, I'm leading up to something, of course. I think that--there's so many hilarious moments in "Beyond the Fringe", but certainly one, about to say it's a devastating takeoff, yet it's one of endearment really. It's--you said a moment ago that your takeoff, your satire is done with admiration.
Dudley Moore Yes, well, I was, I've always been a tremendous admirer of Britten's music, you know. I mean, to me he's the most direct of English composers. Also Peter Pears. I adore his voice. You know, there's something about the quality of his voice that knocks me over. And the combination of the two, of course, is irresistible. I was talking to somebody just a few moments ago, as a matter of fact about the peculiar vibrato that Pears has. You know, it's sort of very wide literally vibrato which he gets when he sings [sings] and slightly constricted sound as well. It's a very delicate noise, you know, halfway between a countertenor--I was going to say, an Italian tenor, but it's not that. It's a very sort of gentle noise and a very sensitive subtle musical approach.
Dudley Moore Jonathan.
Dudley Moore That's right, yes, who--I can hardly remember it myself after two years. He says "The Little Miss Britten" referred to in the song is believed to be the daughter of the entomologist of--the 17th century entomologist of the same name, which is rather a nice little introduction. But--
Dudley Moore No, as a matter of fact they haven't. I met them very recently. I did a program of poetry and jazz at the [Marlborough?] Festival in England just before I came away. And of course they organized the festival and I was very surprised that they allowed jazz to be played there. But anyway I met them afterwards and as I had hoped, Benjamin Britten was a charming and warm and sincere person and Peter Pears was very nice too, I only met him very briefly. But the thing is I think they've had so many, I don't know, inept takeoffs in reviews before, that they were rather afraid of yet another one. I don't know if they've heard the record.
Studs Terkel Well, what you've done here, this fascinates a great many you hear this, particularly musicians, just earlier you were doing the takeoff on Erroll Garner, you knew Garner so well. Only here you handled Britten, whatever they call, the harmonies or something. Fantastic, it's Britten.
Dudley Moore Well, it's, I don't know. In a way I've been most influenced by Britten of all the English composers, you know, the way--just in a equality, in the sense of quality, that's the only way in which I approach music, you know, unless it has something, some quality about it, then I can't get interested in it. I don't care--I mean, the musicianship should always be built-in, therefore this extraordinarily direct quality comes right out of me, you know, and I can identify myself with it immediately, although with the Garner thing it was more difficult because it's a very, well, it's a difficult thing to play if you're not, if you've not sort of been born with that particular feeling, you know. But I found more and more it was what I wanted, how I wanted to play for a long time anyway.
Studs Terkel Before I hope that you know, we're imposing upon your art, really, but I know Chicagoans will like this very much as anyone would, but perhaps I might ask about you in jazz, too. You speak of jazz. You work two worlds. You span two wor--you always have spanned the two worlds, haven't you? Here are, here are you, might I ask this, you're aware of the self-consciousness that seems to be creeping into jazz. Academic, academicians' work you're up against, you mentioned feeling, yet you yourself span both. You recognize the musicality, too.
Dudley Moore Yes. I think, you know there's a--I used to get very worried about the fact that I liked jazz and serious music, I used to feel that the two were not reconcilable, but in fact they are, you know, and one can listen to a piece of Oscar Peterson and then turn immediately to the Mozart "Requiem", there's no, there's nothing wrong with that at all, although I used to think there was. But the trouble is, as you know, jazz is a very young art and it's sprouted up very violently and at the moment is going through a very curious state where it's trying to prove itself to be a status symbol as well. And there is of course the opposite extreme to the very, very musical type of jazz that is a sort of rhythm and blues type, which I must say I prefer, you know. But again, that's become a bit of a fad, you know. And it's something about the beat that is very limited, this is sort of--how can I describe it? The beat is played straight and the jazz is played very much on the beat. It's a very on the beat thing which has a tremendous attraction but only up to a certain point, and it takes somebody like Oscar Peterson to be able to play around with the beat, you know, to I don't know, push it from either side, not get quite on the beat, you know. So he would go [piano chord]. I can't really demonstrate it without a bass and drums,
Dudley Moore Yes.
Dudley Moore Yes.
Studs Terkel That Chicago has not seen, and being so impressed, didn't know who you were, saw the name, music by Dudley Moore, so I first heard the soundtrack. That was a jazz track as I remember primarily.
Dudley Moore Yes.
Dudley Moore That's right, yes. Well, it seemed to me when Denis Mitchell asked me to do the score that there was only one possible way of doing it, and that was with a jazz score, especially when I saw the film, and the way he'd--the impression he'd given of Chicago was a very sort of almost a funky look at it in a way. And I remember feeling in the first sequence where he panned around a view of the skyline that I'd always wanted to write some, you know, pretty dirty jazz, and this was a good opportunity.
Dudley Moore Yes. With meat, you know, and I remember being very pressed for time and writing the score on, well, the bulk of the score in a couple of days where it suddenly, you know, took fire and the first sequence was a very, you know, a very sort of gruff sort of thing had a little ostinato going on. [content removed, see catalog record] I can't in any way give the idea.
Studs Terkel Fantastically exciting. As I remember, that I'm talking now about the visual impression and the sound both, it matched so well. A funky view of Chicago. We've got to hear some more, other people whom you admire. I'm thinking French singers, you like French singers
Dudley Moore Well, I suppose it's really the idea of French song, you know, the slightly--the precious in music really rather amuses me at times, which is what amuses me about Britten. Despite, I mean, despite the fact that I absolutely adore what he does. You know, there's a certain amount of preciousness both in his music and in Peter Pear's voice which is not really a criticism, it's, if you like, a really sharpened-up sensibility. But you get it in French songs as well, and the Faure song that I do in the show is really a salute to him for this slightly fey pictorialism that he has in his settings.
Dudley Moore Yes. It's called "La Nuit C'est Pas Nuit Dans La Vie S'Angletant". I've sung it so much, and the vowels get so twisted up when I sing them that I can hardly speak the title properly. Jonathan Miller introduces it as describing, I believe--what is it now? So awful, I can't remember my own show. He says the lover bemoaning the lover on the other side of the bank or something like that, it's something fairly vague, anyway. "La Nuit C'est Pas Nuit".
Dudley Moore There's so much water in Faure's music, you know, you get soaked at the end of every song. I don't know why I particularly picked on that. I think at the time it was through, probably through lack of material. I've often been prompted into writing things just out of panic, and I have a feeling I needed a third--yes, I'm sure it was that. I needed a fourth solo and desperately thinking of something to take off musically.
Dudley Moore Yes. Oh, yes, it was--well, there's one chord on the piano where you can--well, it sounds a very exotic chord where you can use all the black notes, which is when I do this sort of glissando [plays piano] and also [chord] with the elbow.
Dudley Moore There's certainly a chance, but we don't really know what's happening at the moment. We're doing a year probably in New York because we're booking through to September. After that it's difficult to say. We might hope to continue on Broadway or take it on tour. I'd like to tour, because it would give me an opportunity to see places in America that otherwise I don't think would have the opportunity to see.
Dudley Moore Well, the trouble is once you live in a country you almost, all the observations you make get absorbed somehow into your natural thinking. You adjust yourself to the way of life and suddenly all your observations are part of you rather than something outside, and only the most naive and basic observations come to mind. The things like, you know, it's just very convenient living in New York, you know, I mean you find places open at two o'clock in the morning where you can get groceries and that sort of thing or buy a record, which is extraordinary in London. Traveling is more convenient in the whole set out of New York. Well, I'm talking about New York of course, because I can hardly really talk about anywhere else, not having lived here.
Studs Terkel Well, we should perhaps mention, I think we can't let this pass. The nature, the political humor of "Beyond the Fringe" and the reception it's receiving in these days that are so filled with tension. There's a moral here somewhere, isn't there?
Studs Terkel I wasn't thinking about that, no, I didn't mean that, I didn't mean your impulse, I'm talking now about the phenomenon of this being so enthusiastically received at a time of such great tension.
Dudley Moore Well, yes. Yes. I think probably people want--well, the only alternative to laughing at the political situation is to get hysterical and shoot yourself. So, you know, we find pleasure in satirizing the situation ourselves. But in fact at the back of it lies a rather horrible menace of nuclear war and so forth, all the things that come up in our revue with rather mad and, you know, sort of careless abandon, the way in which civil defense is treated is a completely nonsensical, useless, and farcical business. And well, I mean it is, you know, there's no doubt about it. But one either admits it seriously or has a laugh.
Dudley Moore In the good sense. Not so much as--I mean we're not, shall we say we're not conscious about this so much. I mean, it just happens. That civil defense, capital punishment appealed to us as subjects to satirize not necessarily because we feel directly strongly about these subjects, although we do, you know, but that's almost--it's combined with the desire to satirize as well. Unlike Lenny Bruce, you know, who's more of a--
Studs Terkel More
Dudley Moore I mean, one could definitely say he's a moralist. I mean, the whole attitude of his act. When I saw him in London I found myself not so much laughing, although now and again I was, you know, on the floor with it, but gasping at what he was saying.
Dudley Moore I mean, we get some fatuous letters now and again. People who don't understand some of the sketches, well, one of the sketches in particular. We do a sketch about the fact that Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller had a public school education, which means a private school over here of course, I don't know, a rather sort of, it's a very aristocratic sort of conception, and Alan Bennett and I come from working-class backgrounds, went to grammar schools you know, mixed schools, and that sort of thing, and we were taught, Peter Cook says that about us, he says, "Of course, we had public school education, but Alan Bennett and Dudley Moore have come from working-class families and have worked their way up. But I would like to say that Jonathan and I are working together with them in the cast and treating them as equals," to which Alan retorts, "Well, of course I wonder how many people--we are working class, but I wonder how many people realize that Jonathan Miller is a Jew," and I say, "Yes, well, he is a Jew, but one of the better sort," and he says, "Well, I'd rather be working-class than a Jew." And I said, "Oh, there's no comparison, but just think of the awful situation if you were working-class and a Jew, you see," and he said, "Well, of course there's always somebody worse off than yourself," but there's always some mad Jew or Jewish organization that takes offense at this, you know, and says, "You know, you're having a nasty stab at the Jews." Which is exactly the opposite, you know. And you get sort of, you get blue-rinsed ladies sort of writing in saying--
Dudley Moore Yes. "Loved your show, but strongly objected to the Jewish sketch and the capital punishment. You know, I don't want to see anything like that on the stage," you know, which is ridiculous. You know, they get the wrong end of the stick altogether. We do a sketch about a rock and roll vicar, you know, who's a very sort of very hearty man, he says--we do, we start the sketch with a sort of a rock and roll song, you know. And he says, "[unintelligible] boys, that's very good. Really had my feet tapping, now let's get down to God. God, who is he? Where is he? Why is he and above all, where is he and where is he above all?" or something like that, I can't remember exact words, and he goes on in this, you know, ridiculous fashion. Terribly hearty, "Now tell me, is there anything in the Bible that really puts you off religion?" And we get everything mixed up and so forth, but it's, you know, it's a satire against the sort of parson that you meet in England who does try and promote religion by becoming one of the boys, you know.
Dudley Moore Or you meet over here. It's very funny, we've had a lot of American clergymen in the audience. Very hip, very--you know, laughing raucously. It's a very strange feeling. You know, they're normally in the second row. His white collar's flashing, you know. But people do, I mean, people do get the wrong end of the stick sometimes and it's very annoying.
Studs Terkel Well, the nature of satire itself, the nature of sat--you said earlier, you know, it's just as you satirize something musically, your full knowledge of it, and so in satire, you turn the coin up, you flip the coin.
Dudley Moore Well, of course, the thing is about music I'm on a very easy ground here because you can't really offend anybody by taking off Benjamin Britten, except Benjamin Britten, he's the only one it can offend. But mine is all done out of good will, but a lot of satire is done out of sheer hatred, you know, and malice, which is inevitable, you know. But everything I satirize is through love of that, but you know the funny thing is that we're all becoming rather fond of the figures we're satirizing. I mean, Peter Cook, I mean he does this Macmillan sketch and he used to think Macmillan was really a rather ludicrous figure, but we've all grown to feel--
Dudley Moore Yes, it's sort of feeling he's rather a homely old boy and rather nice to have around, you know, and of course Macmillan is now appearing on record as a pop singer, which is very funny. During a conservative conference, he was describing the Labour Party's reaction to nuclear disarmament, the problem of nuclear disarmament is very ambiguous, you know, saying well, she didn't--they didn't say yes, they didn't say no, you know, saying all the time that Labour is dithering between its different sides as to what policy it should follow. And he sort of satirized this himself by singing an old song and I can't remember the words, I am ashamed to say, something like , she didn't say yes, she didn't say no. She wanted to stay. She was too--she was afraid to go, something like that, ending up with, but she--what is it? I can't remember. Do you know the words of it? She--oh, goodness. Diddley-dah, she stopped to the [wall?]--who?
Unidentified Man Jerome
Dudley Moore Jerome Kern? Is it really? Anyway, he sings this song to the Conservative Party. Oh, you know, sort of monotones are his: "She didn't say yes. She didn't say no. She wanted to stay. She wanted to go." And it goes on in this. And they've done a marvelous thing in England of putting a rock and roll background to this. So it's sort of, "She didn't say yes. Ta-diggety-dah. She didn't say no. Ta-diggety-dah." And It's a fantastic record, it's so funny, but we've all become rather fond of this, you know, it's becoming a bit ludicrous, sort of, but this is what happens to satire in England anyway, because you just get absorbed by the people you're satirizing.
Studs Terkel Before you do that, I want to point, you mentioned about British humor or satire, the Second City cast in London when they went there, they were somewhat shocked at what they felt was the English audience's tendency to go more for the, what they call lavatory humor, not getting the subtleties of their performances. Do you feel this is justified?
Dudley Moore It might have been that the audience was trying to listen to what they were saying having difficulty with the accent, just as a lot of American audiences over here have difficulty hearing our accent. When they complain, they say we were a little inaudible. In fact, I think what they mean is they can't understand the accent, and so it's probably why an audience in England is slightly quiet, subdued and listening when the Second City is performing. The thing about lavatory humor, it's always been a thing in music halls all over the country in England. Lavatory humour is just laughed at very loudly and self-consciously because it's, you know, treated as a part of the English way of life to laugh at lavatories. And so when the word lavatory, if you want to be a success in a nightclub, say 'lavatory' and you'll get your first big laugh, you know. But I don't think it means anything sociologically.
Studs Terkel Dudley Moore, we have to have a sequel, when you come back to Chicago again, I hope with "Beyond the Fringe", but you're here for one day now, and I've taken about an hour and a half of your time, and you're hungry, and the waitresses have to come in--we should point out we're at the Gate of Horn. It's a Sunday night, and [unintelligible] all this week Oscar Brown, Jr. and not only Oscar Brown, but the very marvelous comic team of Greco and Willard, whose humor is very original, by the way. You may be seeing them tonight. Seeing Oscar Brown tonight. It's an excellent bill. But we may--we have this plug. Now, this is just--
Dudley Moore There is, indeed. This song, which I must say, find to say briefly, if it doesn't come off when I do it, I'm not trying to inspire the audience into reckless laughter. But if it doesn't come off when I'm doing it in a show, I feel very embarrassed because it's really a music hall turn, you know, in many ways, although it's accurate musically, if I can say it myself. It has, you know, it has a flavor of the music hall about it. But anyway, I won't excuse it any more, it's a sort of a takeoff of "The Erl King" sung by a bass and soprano. [content removed, see
Dudley Moore It's
Dudley Moore You should get both of course, ladies and gentlemen, because one contains items that aren't to be had on the other. They, the Capitol recording is, has, you know, certain items like the Shakespeare sketch, the skit about the war and others, that don't appear on English, but they're very good buys, both of them.