Over the last few weeks I have been sharing some of the creative artist interviews from the last few years and although many of you enjoy the music column hosted by William Price King, you might not have been around for the start of our collaboration.
I saw William on Twitter and was looking for guests for my first creative artist interviews beginning in April 2014. I tentatively asked him in a message if he would be my first guest and was delighted when he said yes. Since then William has shared the lives and music of the most iconic of the jazz, classical and contemporary singers and musicians across the last 90 years.
Since William is a talented performer himself, I am going to share some of his own recordings during the interview.
And some news about the Music Column next year. From January 5th William and I will be hosting The Breakfast Show every Tuesday featuring the top hits in the charts between 1960 and 1985 with each of us selecting two to play for you. Once a month we will also be inviting special guests to share their top hit from a particular year.
I hope you will enjoy the interview and the music.
Welcome William and perhaps we could explore the inspiration behind your musical career. Did you grow up in a musical family?
My parents loved music. Both of my parents sang in Church. I studied piano at an early age and played for the Church choir. I also sang in the Youth Choir. When I went to High School I studied the clarinet and joined the marching and concert bands. That was thrilling because I got the chance to perform in parades, do half time shows at football games, and perform in classical concerts. This opened me up to music on a broader level.
My parents also took us (I had one brother and two sisters) often to the Atlanta Symphony concerts in downtown Atlanta and to the Opera. Music played a major part in my growing up. I was not into rock n’ roll, but loved ballads and beautiful voices. I remember watching and admiring Nat King Cole on TV. I loved his voice, his piano virtuosity, and his songs. I could identify with his emotions and his smooth way of phrasing.
Singing, for me, came from the soul. Playing the clarinet and the piano were more intellectual. So, when I got to Morehouse and majored in music I dropped the clarinet and took up voice training. Of course that meant singing the classical repertory, which suited me perfectly. I sang in the College Glee Club and Quartet and that enabled me to travel across the US on concert tours. Being a student at Morehouse was a privilege.
The Morehouse Glee Club did many concerts with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, of which I was one of their soloists. I sang my first Nat King Cole song (written by Mel Torme) “The Christmas Song” at a gala in honor of MLK’s parents.
At Morehouse I had the honor of hearing Martin Luther King speak during one of his rallys. I heard Sidney Poitier speak at a graduation ceremony, and also had the immense honor of meeting Mahalia Jackson who sang at King’s funeral (as I did in the Glee Club). Jazz was not taught at Morehouse. My training was completely classical. I studied and sang lieder, English, French and Russian melodies, as well as Opera.
You obtained your Masters degree in music from Yale and can you tell us more about your studies?
I auditioned for the School of Music at Yale University and was given a full scholarship as a singer. Once at Yale I continued my studies as a classical singer and traveled to Europe with the Yale Symphony as a soloist. Yale was completely different from Morehouse in that it was a mixed school (men and women) whereas Morehouse was all masculine. Yale was mostly white as opposed to Morehouse which was mostly black. The north had always been more “liberal” than the south and I appreciated that.
At Yale my studies were concentrated totally on music and the arts. I met many young composers and conductors. Music filled the air and life was so easy and smooth. There were concerts every week and the standard was very high. There were master classes given by big Opera stars and it was a privilege to be in their company. The only time I saw a non classical concert was when Nina Simone gave a concert on campus. She was fabulous. I was often featured in musical productions at the University and took pride in representing Yale on many occasions.
What followed your time at Yale?
When I graduated with a Master’s in Music from Yale I went straight to New York only to learn that I was much to young to go into Opera (I was 23). New York City was another planet. So many opportunities and challenges. But, it was a city without a heart – every man for himself was the air one breathed.
My talent was recognized but my voice was too “classical.” So, I changed direction and headed for Broadway. My voice was much too operatic for them, too, so I had to untrain myself and take the “classical sound” out of my voice to have a sound that would “fit” in a non classical world. It took me two years to do that.
In finding my “voice” I happened upon a record by Mel Torme – Stardust. I was shocked to see how similar our voice textures were, how his sense of melody was close to mine. Without ever copying him or really listening to him at great lengths I realized that we had a lot in common as far as “melody” goes. The other side of Mel was his sense of “scatting.” He was a master at that, equal at times to Ella Fitzgerald.
Scatting is not my thing. I always found scatting too intellectual, though it doesn’t come across that way. That’s probably because of my classical training. And that’s where Mel and I differ. I was, more than anything else, encouraged by what I heard from Mel, my classical training and untraining had finally paid off. I found myself, at last. Thank you, Mel.
Can you tell us more about your jazz trio?
I had met lots of singers in Manhattan who performed on Broadway and who wanted to do other projects as well. So, I auditioned many and chose two with whom I thought I could really create something special. That’s how “Au Naturel” was born. We were three singers and our repertoire was jazz and pop. That helped me to hone my technique into a “lighter” style of singing. I did all of the musical arrangements. We auditioned for record companies as well as agents. We were lucky enough to get agents who booked us all over New York and into the famous Rainbow Room, where I was lucky enough to see Cab Calloway perform.
At that time Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, and Sarah Vaughan, and Carmen MacRae were performing in New York. They were considered to be among the best in the world and I saw each of them just before leaving for Canada and Europe. The impact they made on me accompanied me on my adventure. Their musicianship was impeccable. Each of them had a strong sense of “melody.,” like Nat King Cole and Mel Torme.
At what point did you feel it was right to pursue a solo career?
We were touring Europe and had stopped in France. I met a lovely french woman whom I started dating. We fell in love and that was the turning point. I felt I needed a new start and this was the moment. So, when our contract in Europe was over I left the group and came back to France to get married and to start a new life. That was the beginning of my solo adventure.
What was the Jazz scene like in Paris in the 1930s and now?
When I was in New York I longed to go to Paris to get into the music scene there. All of the great American jazz artists had played in Paris and had loved it. Music was in the air and jazz was hot. But now, and perhaps because of the economic crisis, the jazz scene is rather poor. Musicians are not paid enough money and are exploited more and more. The music scene is very commercial and club owners only think about “box office” as they call it, meaning “how much money they are going to make” as opposed to the quality of the artists. If you’ve made a name for yourself then it’s pretty easy to get a gig, though not much money, because “name power” will attract crowds. I guess it was like that before as far as “name power” is concerned, but at least new artists were given a chance.
Today, if you don’t know the right people, or have a record playing on the radio then you just cannot get into the right clubs in Paris. I know because I’ve tried. I’ve contacted jazz clubs and they ask if I have a record on the “air” meaning on the radio, and when I say no then they tell me they can’t hire me because I don’t have a name – meaning no box office appeal. The radios refuse to play my record because I don’t have a record company behind me and record companies refuse to sign me up because I don’t have a name. It’s just business. The nostalgia of the 30s has long died out.
The music industry has evolved dramatically in the last 80 years since Nat King Cole and other Jazz artists were performing and can you share some of the more important changes?
Yes, technology has paved the way for musicians to do what was almost impossible years ago. One person can be an orchestra all by himself/herself. Wow. New sounds have been created and there will be even more in the future. That said, jazz is somewhat like classical music. In “classical or contemporary music” you may have all sorts of musical inventions but it stays “strict,” unlike popular music. Jazz is pretty much the same. One can enjoy traditional or modern jazz, contemporary jazz, jazz rock, electronic jazz, cool soulful jazz, etc. What matters in jazz is the “freedom of expression” but guided by certain rules of harmonisation, and rhythm.
I am a melodist, meaning one who puts the melody before everything else – of course the melody must be sustained by rich harmonies and rhythm, so I’m inclined to be more in the traditional jazz bag where this happens more. I don’t really make a difference between lieder, french melodies, or jazz melodies. For me it’s the melody that counts the most.
Who are the new artist coming on the scene?
I like Sachal Vasandani, a really good young singer/composer/musician. He has a style which stands out from the crowd and a perfect sense of melody. His voice is smooth and his approach to singing is like velvet. I also appreciate Gregory Porter, who is the opposite of Sachal Vasandani but whose style is reminiscent of the RnB jazz singers of the 70s and 80s, like Al Jarreau.
9. Do you see yourself living in France permanently?
I’ve been in France now for over 30 years. I’m practically french and I have dual citizenship. I would love to go back to the States to perform, especially in New York though the jazz scene is much different from when I was there years ago. As far as living in the States is concerned I don’t think so. I’m very European and I’ve noticed that when I go back to visit I always count the days to get back to France.
My thanks to William for such a wonderful six years of music and looking forward to the year ahead with the new column starting on January 5th 2020. You can listen to more of William’s music on his channel on YouTube
William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.
His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.
While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.
His debut jazz album was entitled “Home,” and was a collection of contemporary compositions he composed, with lyrics written by his wife Jeanne King. His second album was a Duo (Voice and Guitar) with Eric Sempé on the guitar. This album included original songs as well as well known standards from contemporary jazz and pop artists. The “King-Sempé” duo toured France and thrilled audiences for more than three years before going their separate ways. King has formed a new duo with French/Greek guitarist Manolis, and is now exploring new ideas, in a smooth jazz/soul/folk direction.
In addition to singing and composing, King has been collaborating with author Sally Cronin over the past few years on her blog “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life,” with the series “A Man And His Music – Jazz, Contemporary, Classical, and Legends” and now, the “William Price King Music Column.” Working with author Sally Cronin has been an exhilarating experience in many ways and has brought a new dimension to King’s creative life. King has also created a micro blog, “Improvisation,” which features and introduces mostly jazz artists from across the jazz spectrum who have made considerable contributions in the world of jazz; and also artwork from painters who have made their mark in the world of art. This micro blog can be found on Tumblr.
His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé. King has a distinctive wide-ranging voice which displays a remarkable technical facility and emotional depth.