Best selling author Michael Connelly is a big jazz fan, something that is clearly evident to readers of his crime novels featuring fictional LAPD detective Harry Bosch. He likens the improvisational nature of jazz to writing a book and highlights some of his favorite tracks from the genre, alongside a pick from a blues rocker and an anthemic pop song. Michael’s latest book is called “The Black Box”.
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1. Lullaby by Frank Morgan
2. Patricia by Art Pepper
3. But Beautiful by Boz Scaggs
4. Bell Bottom Blues by Eric Clapton
5. Anna Sun by Walk The Moon
Eric J Lawrence: Hi, I’m Eric J Lawrence and I am here with best-selling author Michael Connelly. Many of his crime novels have featured fictional LAPD detective Harry Bosch, who happens to be a big jazz fan. But today ,we’re going to be talking about songs that have inspired Michael himself over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Michael, thank you so much for coming down.
Michael Connelly: Thanks for having me on.
EJL: So, what’s the first track you got for us?
MC: The first one is “Lullaby” by Frank Morgan.You mentioned Harry Bosch, and I consider this his anthem. I didn’t grow up liking jazz and when I started writing about Harry, I started looking for jazz, learning about jazz, and appreciating jazz. One of the first artists that really connected with me, and therefore Harry, was Frank Morgan.
He’s got a great back story of redemption, of overcoming the odds. He spent almost thirty years in prison before recording “Lullaby,” but it’s a very strong saxophone solo that is to me sad, yet resolute, and it kind of speaks to redemption. It’s strange when you’re writing these books you can mention music, but the reader can’t hear it, it’s on the page. But if you can describe it and put it in terms of character, I think it works. Almost by osmosis, it gets into the reader and they get an understanding of the character and that’s what I try to do with jazz. I often play it to start my day of writing, kind of like, you know, raising the flag, because it really drops me into thinking about Harry Bosch and his kind of lonely pursuit.
Song: Frank Morgan -- Lullaby
EJL: What is it about that character that really made you think jazz as his preference?
MC: The architecture of Harry Bosch is, in short, an outsider with an insider’s job. I grew up loving the private eye novels and these were outsiders, people who were suspicious of a corrupt state. That’s what brought me to the table as a writer, but I was also a newspaper reporter for a long time. I covered places like the Los Angeles Police Department, and I felt I had an in, so when it was time for me to write novels and create a character, I didn’t want to go the private eye route, I wanted to have the guy have a badge, and a gun, and represent the state, but I wanted him to have some of those dimensions of the private eye, kind of feel like an outsider. And to me jazz is an outsider’s music, especially, saxophones. It’s just, I think it’s innately a lonely sound and that would be what Harry Bosch is about, his lonely pursuit of truth, of understanding about himself.
EJL: Well, here it is a selection from Frank Morgan. The track is “Lullaby.”
Song: Frank Morgan - “Lullaby”
EJL: That was “Lullaby” from Frank Morgan selected by our guest Michael Connelly. So the next track you’ve got for us is another jazz saxophonist, Art Pepper.
MC: Yeah, this is a song that connects again to Harry Bosch, but also to me more recently. I happen to know that Patricia is the name of Art Pepper’s daughter, and he was, you know, a consummate road warrior always playing clubs and traveling, and he also spent some time in prison, so he, his choices in life took him away from his daughter, separated him, and he tried to put together his love of his daughter, in a way his apology, in this one song.
As far as Harry Bosch goes, there’s a kind of built-in mythology in the novels where Harry grew up not knowing who his father was, but there were Art Pepper records around the house. His mother liked listening to Art Pepper and hung around places in L.A. in the ‘50s, the jazz places, Shelly’s Manne Hole, and things like that, and saw Art Pepper, and so Harry, needing a father, made one up and he, he believed it was Art Pepper.
EJL: Well here’s Art Pepper with “Patricia” selected by our guest Michael Connelly.
Song: Art Pepper – “Patricia”
EJL: That was “Patricia” by Art Pepper, as selected by our guest Michael Connelly. When you write do you use music in the background?
MC: I try to use music where I can, but it can be intrusive. I mean, jazz is not intrusive to me, so when I’m writing about Harry Bosch, I’ll have some jazz on and that helps set the mood.
EJL: What’s the next track you’ve got for us?
MC: “Bell Bottom Blues” by Eric Clapton. This is music that I grew up with, that I loved as a teenager, and continue to love. I’m into rock ‘n’ roll, but, like, the blues edge of it. Eric Clapton was my favorite musician growing up. I had a friend who lived kind of outside his family’s home in a garage and we could really blast music in there, and so my earliest memories of listening to music for myself was in that garage apartment listening to Eric Clapton. “Bell Bottom Blues” has got it all. It’s got the rock-edge of the guitar, but it is a very blues-based sound.
EJL: Well here’s Eric Clapton with Derek and the Dominos from the classic “Layla” album. It’s “Bell Bottom Blues.”
Song: Eric Clapton – “Bell Bottom Blues”
EJL: That was Eric Clapton with “Bell Bottom Blues” as selected by our guest Michael Connelly. Do you consider songwriters sort of fellow writers? Are they using sort of the same sort of tools that you do as a writer, do you think?
MC: It’s interesting, I think there is a triangle relationship between music -- whether you’re, you’re talking about writing of lyrics or the actual composition of the sound -- writing long form like I do, and, and the visual arts of painting. And it’s hard to put the finger on what the relationship is, but I can draw inspiration to write from music, from seeing a painting that somehow affects me. And getting back to jazz for a minute, the improvisational nature of jazz composition I think is very much like writing a book. I don’t outline; I sit down and write and see what happens and I think that’s how many jazz musicians do it.
EJL: What’s the next track you’ve got for us?
MC: This one’s a little unusual. It’s “But Beautiful” by Boz Scaggs, and, of course, “But Beautiful” is a classic standard. What I like about this is, is how people can transition through life. Boz Scaggs, when I was a teenager, and into rock ‘n’ roll, he was kind of like a blues stylist, rock ‘n’ roll stylist, and now all these years later he’s put out a few records of old standards, and he handles this one really beautifully. There’s something inspiring about that, knowing that whatever you do at one point in your life does not have to stand for you forever. You can change, you can explore, and, I think that’s the inspirational point of this song.
EJL: Well, here’s Boz Scaggs with his take on a standard, “But Beautiful.”
Song: Boz Scaggs – “But Beautiful”
EJL: That was Boz Scaggs with “But Beautiful” from Michael Connelly’s picks here as guest DJ. Jazz wasn’t sort of an early music love of yours. Has it become a type of music that you listen to a lot these days?
MC: You know, I think it’s some of the transition anybody makes. You know, my father listened to some jazz and because that was more his music, I had to kind of reject that as, as you do as a teenager, and I went towards blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Then it’s interesting to come full circle and come back to it. When I was first orchestrating the character of Harry Bosch, my father was sick, and he was, he was dying, and, so I wanted to acknowledge him a little bit with some of this music.
EJL: Well, the last track you got for us is something pretty contemporary. It’s, the band Walk the Moon.
MC: Yeah, “Anna Sun” by Walk the Moon. This, I guess this is the wild card on my list here. It comes from the idea that music is a great connector, a connector of generations. I have a teenage daughter and I’m always trying to meet her on a musical level. I tell her about stuff that turns me on, she plays stuff that turns her on to me. This one in particular, because it has a anthemic type quality to it that is full of, like, teenage exuberance and the idea of charging forward. There’s the repeated line in this song, “We’re gonna rattle this ghost town.” It’s full of the hope of youth.
EJL: Well here it is. Walk the Moon with the song “Anna Sun.”
Song: Walk the Moon – “Anna Sun”
EJL: Michael, I want to thank you so much for coming down and sharing your picks with us.
MC: Thanks for having me on. It’s something different, it’s fun to do.
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.