Deeper Than Words - How I Sang With My Own Voice

Deeper Than Words - How I Sang With My Own Voice


I heard a story about Robert de Niro that fascinates me.  He came into an audition one time and read for a part.  The producer remarked that he was astounded by De Niro because while all he seemed to be doing was reading the lines, it was utterly convincing.


I find it interesting that De Niro ’s performances are always “him.”  He doesn’t seem to be “acting” that differently in each movie.  And yet the characters he plays could never be mistaken for one another.


How does he do that?  I think he avoids trying to “become” a character, determining what kind of walk they’d need, or how they would say the words.  Instead I believe he asks this question:  “If I were this person, how would I walk and how would I say these lines?”


He recognizes that he can only be convincing playing himself, and yet by speaking lines and doing things that he never would do, he can essentially become someone else.  Contrast this with other actors that seem to try really hard when they act, so that all you see is their work.  You might enjoy their work, but it won't necessarily feel real to you.


It’s hard to resist the urge to transform oneself when the opportunity arises.  I know I’d rather be someone else sometimes, when I act, when I sing, when I write.  And yet the results of that kind of play are always artificial at best.


Twenty years ago I recorded an album called The End of the Beginning.  The only track I wasn’t satisfied with was a song I wrote for my wife called “Deeper Than Words.”  For years and years after I released the album I couldn’t stand to listen to it and seriously wished I could do it again.


I took the tempo monstrously slow.  I sang it very straight, very sincere.  The result in my opinion: a boring, amateurish track that could have been so much better.


I’ve done lots of tracks since then and had the opportunity to produce “better” stuff, more fancy, more polished.  But I got to thinking about De Niro.  And I listened again last weekend.


All of a sudden, for the first time, I heard something diferent.  It was me, it was acceptable, it was successful.  I recognized what I had been trying to do twenty years ago. 


I wasn’t trying to be someone else, a character, a star.  I had been asking the question: “How would I sing this song?”  And I sang it that way.  


For the first time in twenty years I liked the track.  Instead of an amateur, I heard a thirty-year old newly married man  who had the guts to sing like himself over a tempo so slow he wouldn’t be able to finesse it, lie on it, pretend to be someone else.  That guy had guts to do that, I thought, and he should be honored.


So I’m honoring him now.  It ain’t Vandross, but it sure the hell is me.  And while my honesty may read as amateurish to most listeners, I no longer regret the decision.


Care to offer your opinion?



News From a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books

I completed work on a new version of the Front Porch Session Players song "Oriental Rug."  I've been working on this track since last July!  You can hear it here.

Three features this week:



Leave a comment

Add comment