Pianist Ronnell Bright on Doris Day.

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howard
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Pianist Ronnell Bright on Doris Day.

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Excerpted from a 2008 JazzWax Magazine interview with pianist Ronnell Bright:


RB: Back in 1967, I got a call from Sid Feller, the arranger. We had worked together with Nancy Wilson. Sid asked if I was available to do a date with Doris Day. I said, sure, absolutely. I had always loved Doris Day’s voice. I thought, and still think, her tone and interpretations are so pure and lovely. She is truly exceptional.

JW: Was it a big date?


RB: Oh yes. When I got to the studio, there were a lot of West Coast heavyweights there: Barney Kessel, Irv Cottler and others. We did the recording over several days. When released, the record was called "The Love Album." On the final day of recording, Sid came over and said Doris wanted to know if I could stick around afterward.

JW: What did you think?


RB: I thought I had messed up or something. All the guys were packing up to leave, and they kept looking back thinking I had done something wrong.

JW: What was the problem?


RB: Hang on, hang on. After everyone cleared out, Sid came back and said Doris wanted to meet me. I asked if I had done something wrong. Sid said, “No, no, it’s a good thing.” When I walked over with Sid, Marty Melcher, Doris' husband was there, not Doris. Marty said that he and Doris were aware of my talents and that they enjoyed my recordings with Sarah and Nancy.

JW: What did he want?


RB: Marty says, “How would you like to write the theme song to Doris’ next picture?” I said, “You’ve got to be
kidding.” Marty said, “No, seriously.” I said absolutely. I had just finished writing a song with Paul Francis Webster, who wrote "The Shadow of Your Smile." I asked if they wanted me to call Paul. “No, no, Ronnell, we know Paul,” Marty said. “We want you to write the words and music yourself.”

JW: Did you take on the assignment?

RB: Oh yes. They delivered the script the next day. It was about the New York City blackout of 1966. It was called, "Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?" So I wrote and wrote and wrote the whole week. I figured that if Doris didn’t like one song, I could always show her another.

JW: So you scored the movie?


RB: About two days before I was to meet Doris at her office on Canon Drive, Don Genson, her record producer, calls. He says, “Ronnell, I’m so sorry. Marty is unpredictable. He’s already made an agreement with someone else who’s going to do the score. We told him we already had someone to do the title song. But he complained that if he’s going to do the score, he also wanted to write the title song. So Marty made an agreement to let him do it.”

JW: What a lousy break. Who wound up writing the title song?


RB: That was the funny thing. When the movie came out in 1968, it didn’t have a title song.

JW: So they tied you up for weeks and that was it?

RB: No. Don Genson said, “Doris is very upset about this and wants to meet you at her office to make it up to you. She wants to do another project.” Man, my spirit was so down at that point. But I went anyway.

JW: What was Doris like?


RB: Doris was sweet, just like she is in the movies. You looked into her face saw that her eyes were soft and she smiled so easily. She was timid but pompous in a protective sort of way. She sat on a tall stool, and I sat at the piano playing. She said, “You know, Ronnell, how would you like to do an album with me — just the two of us?" I said I’d love to.

JW: Who else was in the room?


RB: Don Genson and her rehearsal pianist. Doris says, “I’ve got a book of sheet music from different Broadway shows. I'd like you to pick a selection of songs from these shows and arrange them in my keys." Doris is a beautiful singer, and I was honored. She said, “If you can come back in a week’s time, we’ll meet and try them out.”

JW: What did you think?


RB: I had just finished staying up night and day writing music for the movie job that was taken away. Now I had to do more homework. But that was fine. I arranged about half the music in her key by the time we met the next time.

JW: How did it go?


RB: Back at her office, her rehearsal pianist was there again. He was throwing me dirty looks the entire time. He didn’t appreciate my being there, and I could understand completely how he felt. And I felt bad for
him. Doris and I worked for about an hour. Then I took a break in the hall. I felt awful and couldn't really concentrate with the guy hovering around me.

JW: Did Genson get the picture?


RB: When Don Genson came out, I said, “Don, I appreciate this opportunity. But why is her piano player here? He’s shooting me dirty looks and coming up to the piano and checking out my hands. I can’t work like that. I have to be free. Is there any way to tell Doris not to bring him next time? I want to check out her singing and phrasing on these songs. I also want to communicate with her musically. But this guy is making me nervous.”

JW: So Don took care of it with Doris?

RB: About 15 minutes later, Doris came out with a powder puff, took it out and started powdering her face. “Alright Ronnell, you played for Sarah and Carmen but you don’t want to play for me?” Just as I opened my mouth to explain, she turned and left with Don.

JW: What do you think happened?


RB: I have no idea what Genson said to her. He must have gone inside and said “Well, Ronnell's all steamed
up and doesn’t want to play with you under these conditions” or something like that. Whatever he said must have hurt her feelings to produce that kind of reaction.

JW: Why didn't Doris ask you directly for an explanation?


RB: In those days, I think Doris was insulated by the people around her. Maybe there was an insecurity. I have no idea why she didn't jump in and find out the truth for herself.

JW: If you could tell Doris Day something right now, what would it be?


RB: I'd tell her what I didn't have a chance to say that day. To me, Doris was on the same level as Sarah, Carmen, Ella and Nancy. When she sang, she had the love coming right through her. I so enjoyed her singing, and it was a joy to play behind her on "The Love Album." I think had we been able to record an album with just the two of us, it would still be considered a jazz and pop classic. But you know how things go—they often happen or don't happen for a reason. If she wanted to record an album with me today, I'd be only too glad to do it.
Like Irene Dunne done.

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Jas1
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Re: Pianist Ronnell Bright on Doris Day.

Unread post by Jas1 »

What a fabulous article Howard, thanks for sharing. What an album that would have been! Wonderful to hear someone so talented giving Doris her vocal dues... just wonderful. Wonder what tunes they rehearsed that day?

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howard
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Re: Pianist Ronnell Bright on Doris Day.

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I wish I knew!
Like Irene Dunne done.

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jmichael
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Re: Pianist Ronnell Bright on Doris Day.

Unread post by jmichael »

One of the rare times I've heard Doris described as pompous. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard anyone else refer to her that way. This leaves the impression there were two many handlers running interference for her and that contributed to the disconnect with Mr. Bright. I can't imagine Doris walking away from someone who was just trying to explain his position. Regardless, I enjoyed reading this and love the inside scoop on the recording process.

Howard, thanks so much for sharing it.

Michael
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howard
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Re: Pianist Ronnell Bright on Doris Day.

Unread post by howard »

Glad you guys enjoyed it!
Like Irene Dunne done.

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Re: Pianist Ronnell Bright on Doris Day.

Unread post by unadka »

Thank you,

I have read this article before, but don't know where. I was so sorry for the man, he must been very disappointed, but not angry on DD.

The story of "The man who invented love" was very similar and sad for the writer.

Nada

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