One contemporary act that's not about cheap beats and big pecs is saxophone master Grover Washington, Jr., who contributes scintillating sax to the demo on "The Morning After." Mann met Philly's favorite jazz son and they became friends. "He was an idol," Mann says. "I got to deal with an idol on a personal level and now he's like a human being. I was so used to experiencing him musically, he's such a big figure in Philly, that I got used to him as two-dimensional through photos, TV, and records. I met him andjust fell in love with his whole family." Mann typically refers to the sax man as "G," and fondly recalls hanging out at the Washington home, shooting pool and talking music.
"I played on his demo for a lot of reasons," Washington, currently completing his own new album, Next Exit, says by phone from Philadelphia. "When I first heard Billy, it was at a musical presentation, and his voice struck me. I met him through my son, who has a studio, and was working with him. I found out he writes, too. I realized he's more than a one-dimensional guy. When he came to our house, I got to know him, and I realized he's a great guy away from the bandstand. And another reason is that I always look for ways to learn from different people, even if they're younger than me. I like to do different kinds of things, not just for the sake of being different, but to enhance what is going on and to learn. Plus I can beat him shooting pool."
Billy Mann is at the keyboards now, singing a song. It's a rich and gorgeous song full of smart lyrics about teen angst, about remembering youth's green glories. It shoots shivers through the two people listening. A Jackson Browne song this grand could not be so obscure as to be unrecognizable. It's not a Springsteen piece, or Boz Scaggs. It must've been a hit, at least an A.O.R. hit, for somebody sometime. Mann is asked the title. "It doesn't really have one," he says. "It's just something I wrote when I was about sixteen."
Have mercy. "The exuberance of youth," says Freeman with a smile. "He has a great energy, and I don't want to knock that out of him. I want to capture that energy on record." Mann chimes in, "I'm just a kid." Maybe, but he's a kid with a voice that's going to knock music lovers across the land right on their futons.
"Neither of us believed the other - everybody's a singer, everybody's a producer - but a week later we were recording.