For this installment of Diversions we caught up with Beach Fossils’ Dustin Payseur on the heels of his project’s new lp, The Other Side of Life: Piano Ballads. A stylistic turn, this latest work grew out of the artist’s love for Lester Young, Chet Baker, Bill Evans and Coleman Hawkins – specifically their ballads. As such, we caught up with Payseur to discuss these influences, and how their work plays into the vibe of the new album. Payseur‘s playlist, along with notes on his selections, below.
Lester Young, Oscar Peterson Trio – Stardust: Lester Young is my favorite saxophonist of all time, his playing was just so unbelievably cool and relaxed. Young’s never trying to wow you with his technical abilities, I think that’s something most of my favorite artists have in common, keeping it understated. I can listen to his playing all day and not get tired of it.
Coleman Hawkins – For You, For Me, Forever More: Well, something you’re gonna notice quickly about my selections, these are all songs you can melt into your couch listening to. I mean the album that this is from is called At Ease With Coleman Hawkins. He’s taken this Gershwin classic and make it supremely mellow and gorgeous. Again, understated playing going on here.
Hank Mobley – Darn That Dream: Hank Mobley should have been a household name. Not unlike a lot of other jazz musicians, Mobley struggled with heroin addiction and later on homelessness. Many years ago, a friend of mine was trying to kick heroin told me, “You know all of that jazz music you listen to? How beautiful it is? Heroin makes me feel like how that music sounds.” Drugs are an escape, and music is an escape. A lot of artists get tied into both. We’re all searching for some type of beauty in the world. You can reach serene heights with music and can do it all you like, that’s the beauty of music. But please don’t fuck with heroin, that shit will ruin you.
Ben Webster, Oscar Peterson – When Your Lover Has Gone: This is the second track on this playlist with Oscar Peterson, I’m a big fan, Peterson is one of my favorite pianists and Ben Webster is a genius. Also the reverb on this track is gorgeous. If you’ve heard Beach Fossils you already know I’m a sucker for reverb… and it sounds so fucking nice on a saxophone.
Chet Baker – It’s Always You: Chet Baker is one of my favorite singers, he rarely uses vibrato with his vocals, and when he does it’s very tasteful and subtle. Don’t get me wrong, I love crooners who go all out, but again this goes back to my love of an artist performing in an understated way. In my own music I keep my vocals pretty flat as a creative decision, and I have no doubt that Baker could have totally let loose if he wanted to, but he chose not to and I love him for it.
Bill Evans Trio – Elsa: I mean what else can you say about Bill Evans that hasn’t already been said? So I won’t say anything. I want to focus on drummer Paul Motian here. This song comes from the album Explorations and I absolutely love the drumming on this album. When we were recording The Other Side of Life I linked up with Henry Kwapis who is an excellent drummer, and he asked me for a reference so he would know how to play on this record, I sent him this song and I think he fucking nailed it. Again, the drumming on this song is so understated and laid back that you might not even notice it upon first listen, but every hit is deliberate and perfect, nothing going over the top, he’s playing exactly what the mood of the song calls for.
Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning: This is from my favorite Frank Sinatra record called In The Wee Small Hours. It’s one of my most listened to albums and it stays in heavy rotation because the mood always hits just right. I’m an insomniac and this is such a perfect late-night album. Sinatra is obviously well known for his big, over-the-top swinging hits, but he was a master when it came to ballads.
Milt Jackson – Lillie: Milt Jackson is one of my favorite musicians. I think I’ve said that about almost everyone on this list, but I’m excited so let me be. This is Jackson performing with the Thelonious Monk Quintet, so you already know the playing is going to be tight. Jazz vibraphone is extremely underrated and there’s not enough of it. Now that I think about it, I should have used vibes on The Other Side of Life.
Stan Getz – You Go to My Head: I think this is the only song I ever bought off of iTunes back in the day. After the first time I heard it, I couldn’t find it anywhere for some reason and I had to listen to it over and over. It still hits.
Cannonball Adderley – Autumn Leaves: Let me get some technical shit out of the way first so I can tell my story. This song comes from an album called Somethin’ Else which was supposed to be released as a Miles Davis album but due to contractual issues with Blue Note and Columbia, they released it under Cannonball’s name. Anyway, this song changed my fucking life. And I’m not exaggerating. When I discovered this song I was 17 years old and was at a time in my life where I refused to listen to anything that wasn’t UK-82. My parents had a Miles Davis compilation album and this song was on it, I remember hearing it and thinking it was amazing, so I borrowed the album and listened to it non-stop. Like straight up nonstop. It was the first music that ever made me cry because I thought it was so beautiful. There I was being all punk in my leather jacket and my mohawk crying to a Miles Davis album in my bedroom. And in addition to that, I had a heavenly moment with this song which was the closest I’ve had to a religious experience with music. That same year, my parents were out of town and I was alone in the house during a snowstorm. My friend came over and the storm knocked out the power to the house, but for some reason there was still some power in the back yard, so we ran a line into the house and I plugged in the stereo. There was a kerosene lamp going for heat and it was the only light source we had, it created this really nice mood where we were snowed in and there was nothing to do but get stoned and listen to music. So we smoked blunt after blunt and got extremely faded. I put this album on and laid down on the couch, when this song came on I was in this half-awake / half-asleep state of mind and I felt like I was living inside of the song, it was my entire universe, and it was pure bliss. It’s hard to explain without getting flowery and poetic. But specifically from the 8:36 mark until the end of the song; I could not understand how something so beautiful existed, I still don’t. To this day I think that is my favorite section of any song I’ve ever heard in my life. When I work on songs, I always think about how I felt in that moment and try to get to a place where I can feel that way with my own music. It’s kind of my eternal muse.