GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” and our June show with my guest, the best-selling thriller author, Stuart Woods.
KAPLAN: If he were a composer, he’d be a Mozart at least in terms of productivity. He turns out three novels every year and with the last 23 of them all hitting the New York Times bestseller list – including his most recent release Santa Fe Dead. His books have been described as “offbeat thrillers with a wicked sense of humor”. Perhaps not what might have been predicted for someone whose mother was a church organist and whose pre-service preludes provided the only live classical music in the small Georgia town in which he was born. Stuart Woods, welcome to “Mad About Music”.
WOODS: Thank you very much. It’s nice to be here.
KAPLAN: Now, I read in the newspaper you just got married.
WOODS: I did! A month ago today, as it happens.
KAPLAN: And I only ask you about that because this is a show about music. Was there any music at the wedding?
WOODS: There was. We were married in Buford, South Carolina, aboard a 1935 motor yacht that I’m a partner in, and we had a Baptist Gullah Man’s minister, the Gullah group is former slaves who inhabit the low islands of South Carolina, and we had a wonderful minister with a great booming voice, and he brought a gospel quartet along with him from his church. And when we said, when he pronounced us man and wife, they burst into “Oh Happy Day.” It was great fun.
KAPLAN: Wonderful. So there was no music to come down the aisle on the sea.
KAPLAN: All right, well, that’s music in your life, we’re going to return to that a little bit later in the show, but let’s talk about music as it connects to your work, because, from what I understand from our earlier discussions about your music list, your next piece, which is Beethoven’s “Pastoral” almost could have served as a sound track for one of your books.
WOODS: That’s perfectly true. The summer of 1977, I think it was, I had a book contract to write about the round Britain Yacht Race, which is a two-man race around the British Isles, and the race turned out to be a bust because there was no wind; but I persuaded my publisher to let me write a book which came to be called, A Romantic’s Guide to the Country Inns of Britain and Ireland, and I drove 12,000 miles around the British Isles that summer, England, Scotland, and Wales; and most of the time in the car, this music was on my radio. So, I’m sure that Beethoven was thinking of a different landscape when he wrote it. But it works very, very well for the British countryside and see if you think so when you hear it.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from the opening movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony – “The Pastoral”, The Vienna Philharmonic led by Claudio Abbado, the first selection of my guest on “Mad About Music”, best-selling author Stuart Woods whose just released thriller, Santa Fe Dead, immediately hit the best-selling list in the New York Times. All right, let’s talk about music in your life. As a child, did you ever study an instrument?
WOODS: I studied the clarinet as a small child. I was a failure as a piano student; I was too antsy for that, I think. And I wasn’t very happy with my teacher, either. But my mother was a wonderful pianist, and a church organist for 20-odd years. And she was a very fine musician, and she always played organ preludes, Schubert especially, I think, before church services. And I think it was probably the only time in my small Southern town when people got to hear live classical music. People were transfixed by that.
KAPLAN: So, I gather, then, you gave up on music quite early?
WOODS: No, I didn’t. I gave up on the clarinet fairly early, but when I was about thirteen or fourteen, I switched to drums. I much preferred the drums. And when I was in college, I had a little jazz group, and we played at weddings and bar mitzvahs and fraternity parties, and once in a while, after a couple of beers, I would actually sing with that as well. I continued the singing into my thirties, whenever there was a piano player nearby, and I had a wonderful time doing that. The first night I was in New York City, in 1960, I was walking down Bleecker Street, and I passed a bar called “The Surf Maid”, which for all I know, it’s still there on Bleecker Street, the door opened, and I heard a piano, a jazz piano being played and I wandered in there, and there was a nine-foot concert grand, and a wonderful pianist, and a bass player. And I became a regular there, and there were a dozen or fifteen failed professionals or enthusiastic amateurs who would get up and sing, and I did that for two or three years until the pianist moved on, and I had a wonderful time doing it.
KAPLAN: What did you like to sing?
WOODS: I sang sort of in the Sinatra-esque and Mel Tormé-esque range of things, the standards, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, that kind of thing.
KAPLAN: Well, these are all well-known composers, and in fact, so is your next one, Franz Lehár. But the work you’ve chosen is not so familiar. I’m curious, how did you first come to hear it?
WOODS: My mother had a record collection when I was a small child, of 78s, from the old RCA and Decca 78s, the Bing Crosbys and so forth; but she loved classical music. And among the things she had was a recording of this Lehár song, without lyrics, just an instrumental thing, and so it sort of stuck in my mind. And when I first heard the Three Tenors concert from Rome, I was struck by the Domingo recording of this song, which translates, I am told, to “My Whole Heart Is Yours”. There’s some doubt in my mind about that, but it’s very hard to get the German sorted out. But I think this is very beautiful piece of music, and I think that it proves, if anything, that Lehár is underrated. I think this is as beautiful as anything in Puccini.
KAPLAN: Franz Lehár’s “My Whole Heart Is Yours” from the Operetta The Land of Smiles – the land the title refers to being China. Here sung by Placido Domingo in the debut concert of the Three Tenors with the combined forces of Orchestra del Maggio Musicale of Florence and the Rome Opera Orchestra with Zubin Mehta on the podium. Music chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music”, author Stuart Woods – author of the recently released and already best-selling thriller, Santa Fe Dead. Well that was an original introduction to Lehár. For most people it would have been The Merry Widow. Have you seen it?
WOODS: Yes, I once saw due to circumstances beyond my control, a production of The Merry Widow entirely in Finnish, which was, of course, in Helsinki, and I was struck by it. It was wonderful not being able to understand the language, actually, it made it if anything more entertaining. And I know that there was at least one other American there, because they sold us both the same seat, and I was fortunate enough to get there first.
KAPLAN: That’s funny. All right, let’s talk about music in your books. Or should I say, the lack of it. Now, Stone Barrington, who was a homicide detective and later became a lawyer, is probably your best known character, and I don’t think it’s unfair to say there is some autobiographical overlap there if nothing else your book usually opens with a scene at Elaine’s Restaurant, I gather you’re a regular there? Yourself?
KAPLAN: He flies his own plane. So do you. But you love music. So how come we never see Stone Barrington going to the opera, putting on a symphony at home?
WOODS: Well, I often say that Stone and I share a tailor and a love of Elaine’s and her osso buco, but not really much else. We’re not the same person at all, but they say you should write about what you know, so I transfer to Stone some of the little things in my own life just to add a bit of color to him, I suppose.
KAPLAN: Well, all right. If you wanted to expand his character to include music, what might be a composer he would like?
WOODS: Oh, I think he would like Gershwin a lot, as I do. You know Gershwin, as far as I know, only wrote a rhapsody, a concerto, an opera and these three preludes. There may have been something else that I’ve forgotten, but those were the only…
KAPLAN: A lot of show music…
WOODS: Yes, but those were the only things that would have been thought of as serious music. And he was not taken very seriously at the time he wrote them. I think he’s taken more seriously now. And this prelude is from an album by Dave Grusin, who is a fine pianist and a brilliant arranger and he writes movie scores. And he and I were neighbors in Santa Fe, and we met on one occasion, and I got to talk to him about this, and he had unearthed these preludes from somewhere, I had never heard of them. And then I went to the opera, the Santa Fe Opera House, rather, to see the Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Company perform, and the opera begins at nine o’clock, just as the sun goes down in Santa Fe. And when I arrived and sat down, and it got dark, the back of the stage was open, and the sky above us was open as well. And the sun had set behind the Jemez Mountains, so that the sky was a copper color. And then I heard this familiar Gershwin prelude begin to play, it’s called an etude in the program, actually; and Baryshnikov came out and danced alone to Gershwin, on this beautifully back-lit stage with a dying sunset, and it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, in the world of the arts.
KAPLAN: George Gershwin’s Prelude II written for solo piano but here in an arrangement for jazz ensemble by Dave Grusin – music heard by my guest author Stuart Woods to accompany the legendary dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov at the Santa Fe Opera House. When we return, we’ll hear Stuart Woods’ wildcard selection.
KAPLAN: This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music”, author Stuart Woods. Now I’d like to return to your principle character, detective turned lawyer Stone Barrington. He’s a great ladies man, and when you set the scene for his seductions, it struck me you never mention that there’s music on, what music it might be. Perhaps you subscribe to the view expressed by Dr. Ruth Westheimer when she was on the show—you know she’s the foremost sex therapist—well she said that one should never have music on during sex because it gets in the way of fantasies.
WOODS: I would disagree!
KAPLAN: Well, we all disagree! I tried to lecture Dr. Ruth on that, but she was -
WOODS: It’s hard to lecture Dr. Ruth. I’ve met her a couple of times.
KAPLAN: All right, so my question for you is, as Stone Barrington is a great seducer, he would have music on, wouldn’t he? And what might he play?
WOODS: Oh I think he would probably play Sinatra. There was no better seduction music than Sinatra. Actually, Jackie Gleason made a series of albums as a conductor, with a big, lush orchestra, and Bobby Hackett, the old-time trumpeter and cornetist, playing these beautiful ballads, and they were all – they were uniformly slow and dreamy and romantic. So, if you were in the midst of making love, nobody jumped in with a fast-tempo jazz tune to spoil the mood. Those were quite wonderful, too.
KAPLAN: Well, music in context, now, it brings me to ask you about one of your hobbies, which is flying, and I know that you must listen to music when you’re flying as well as when you’re not. Is there a difference of what you might put on when you’re up in the air than if you were just sitting in the apartment?
WOODS: Well that’s interesting, you know, that I mentioned the experience of driving through the English countryside and listening to the Beethoven Pastoral. I found that that didn’t work for flying. I would be as likely to be flying over Kansas or the Mojave Desert and somehow it just didn’t click with the landscape. But I listened to some Gershwin, I listen to some Sinatra, to a lot of jazz artists, to the Three Tenors. I have a ten CD changer and now I have satellite radio, so I have four or five channels that I switch among the classical and jazz and Broadway music, and that’s great fun, too.
KAPLAN: All right. Well, let’s continue on with your passions, which, as we discussed already and in my introduction, I mentioned that you like to fly and you like to sail. What is not known to most people, I think, or maybe anyone but me, because we’ve talked about it, is that you are also a passionate New York Times crossword puzzle solver. And I must confess, since I love the puzzle, rather disgustingly, you solve Saturday’s as well. In fact, I saw your name as a clue, as the object of a clue, in a Saturday puzzle— and it reminded me.
WOODS: Yes, that was the second-greatest accolade of my life. The greatest accolade was when the town fathers of my home town voted to put on the city limits signs, “Home of Stuart Woods.” Nothing will ever surpass that.
KAPLAN: All right. Well, we had on this show the editor of that crossword puzzle series, Will Shortz, who by the way doesn’t like classical music, but we talked about music in the puzzle. And so I thought, since I described you as such a star in solving the puzzle, I would give you a little bit of a musical challenge.
WOODS: Oh God.
KAPLAN: What composer shows up the most in the crossword puzzle?
WOODS: I don’t know.
KAPLAN: Well, I didn’t know either, so I don’t feel too badly. It’s Thomas Arne, the British composer.
WOODS: Oh, yes, I’m sorry. Except it’s never Thomas, just Arne, they do love the four-letter words in the thing. In fact, it was in yesterday’s, or last Saturday’s puzzle, I think.
KAPLAN: And the other question is, what is the musical term that appears the most? And it’s another four-letter one, it’s the third most popular four-letter word in the entire puzzle.
WOODS: Would it be clef? That comes up from time to time.
KAPLAN: Think vowels.
WOODS: Got me again.
KAPLAN: Three vowels. Aria.
WOODS: Ah, yes, of course. You’re right.
KAPLAN: I’m sorry I had to do this to you, but you do solve Saturday’s puzzles, so.
WOODS: If I had as long as I usually have to solve the Saturday puzzle, I could have come up with that.
KAPLAN: I’m sure. All right, so if that was a wild diversion, lets us come to the part of the show we call the “Wild Card,” where you have the chance to talk about music other than classical music, so what did you bring us today?
WOODS: There’s a wonderful album that was done back in the sixties by Michel Legrand, who is the French movie composer, pianist, songwriter, and he had an all-star band of jazz musicians in New York, and he wrote all the arrangements for this, and he had people like Miles Davis and Hank Jones, just the great guys, all in one room at the same time in one studio. I think there were probably three or four sessions, so the personnel changed from time to time. But the one I like best is “The Jitterbug Waltz,” which is an old Fats Waller tune that Legrand did wonderful things with in the arrangement. It features a piano solo, I think by Hank Jones, which begins it, I’m not positive about that, and a very nice solo by Miles Davis. And it changes from three quarter to four-four time, right in the middle for Miles’s solo, and it’s one of the most effervescent and refreshing jazz recordings I’ve ever heard.
KAPLAN: Fats Waller’s “The Jitterbug Waltz” performed in an arrangement by Michel Legrand with jazz stars including Herbie Mann, Miles Davis, Bill Evans and John Coltrane. The “wildcard” selection by my guest today on “Mad About Music”, best selling author Stuart Woods. All right, let’s continue our discussion about music in the context of your work. Do you keep music on when you write?
WOODS: Very often I do, usually classical. I use the satellite radio, that comes with my satellite television, and I’ll just put the pops classical channel on, and that makes a nice background for the clicking of the keys. Actually, I could play jazz, I could play anything and write at the same time, because I have a peculiar talent for focusing on what I’m doing. People come into the room, vacuum, all sorts of things, when I’m working, and I don’t let it bother me, and certainly the music doesn’t bother. I don’t know if it helps, but it doesn’t bother me.
KAPLAN: But you like to have it as a background environment?
WOODS: Can’t hurt.
KAPLAN: Well, for some people it would hurt. I mean a number of people, writers, who have been on the show, and they say they couldn’t possibly work with music on. And then one lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, said he couldn’t write legal briefs without Wagner blasting around the room. O.K. Now, I would compare you in music in a way to Mozart, not that I say you are as talented as him (or as I say, you’re as different as him), but just as maybe prolific as him. Mozart could turn out things constantly. Now I know that when I read your biography initially before the show, it said something about you’re writing two books a year, and I could have attested to that, because I am a fan; and now I have read that you have been asked to go to three books a year. How is it possible to do that?
WOODS: Well, my publisher had asked me to do this, and I had been writing two novels a year for some time. Oddly enough, the hard thing was to get a publisher to publish two novels a year. They didn’t want to do that, they thought that they would wear out my audience. And then I suddenly had a publisher asking me to write a third novel, and that sounded like a fifty-percent pay raise to me, so I said, absolutely. And I think they were a little concerned about whether I could actually meet my deadlines and whether the quality of the work would suffer. And they liked the first three, and now I’m into the second of the second three, and it seems to be going very well. I wish I had started as young as Mozart had. I’d have written 150 novels by now.
KAPLAN: I’m sure. At the rate you’re going, you’re going to have a lot anyhow. Because as I said at the beginning of the show, you’re already up to thirty-seven, thirty-eight or something.
WOODS: That’s true.
KAPLAN: Tell us a little bit about how you work. This is not in the character of our show, because normally we don’t talk about someone’s work, but I consider writing and composing not so different from one another, and some composers work all day, all night. Some couldn’t write at all. I mean, what is your pattern for writing?
WOODS: Well, in the beginning, when I first began writing fiction, I discovered that I liked writing a chapter at a time. I write short chapters; five, six, seven pages. And it would take me four hours a day to do that; two in the morning, two in the afternoon. Then, as time passed, I got a little better and more confident, and I began doing that in two hours; and now I do it in an hour. I have writer’s block every morning about ten; I get over it, I do my e-mail, and then at eleven, I start a chapter, and I’m done by the time my stomach tells me it’s noon.
KAPLAN: So that’s all you “work” is one hour a day?
WOODS: Of course, I’m thinking all the time. Twenty-four hours a day.
KAPLAN: Well I suppose composers do that too, I mean how different is writing a novel from composing a symphony?
WOODS: Musically, I think it’s close to playing jazz piano because you state a theme and then you improvise. So I start off with a scene, really, if it’s a Stone Barrington book, it always begins at Elaine’s, because that’s Stone’s favorite joint and mine, too, in New York. And then I wing it. I improvise all the way through. When I write a chapter, then the next day I read it and make small changes, and that sort of sling-shots me into the next chapter, and when I get about 50 chapters into it, I start looking for a way out of the corner I have painted myself into, and thus far, I have always been able to find the way out. Let’s hope that continues.
KAPLAN: Is the end often more difficult than anything else? Because you want it to be good, and not just be a quick escape.
WOODS: No, it’s like going through a funnel. Everything runs faster, the closer you get to the bottom. And there’s a certain inevitability about the ending, because you’ve eliminated so many possibilities, so you’re down to the bare bones, and you know that something has to be done there to make it end properly. So the ending can be surprising, even to me.
KAPLAN: Well, surprising wouldn’t be a word I would use to characterize your next choice because it’s a second appearance. Here again, Gershwin.
WOODS: This is something that has been part of my life since early childhood. My mother had a recording of Oscar Levant playing the Concerto in F, and Levant was personally close to Gershwin, and at that time, he was said to be the best interpreter of Gershwin’s more classical music. And we had a recording, a very good recording, of Concerto in F which I listened to over and over as a child, and then Levant played it again in the film “An American in Paris.” It was very gimmicky, he was also the conductor and played the cymbals, and was a member of the audience and several other things; but it was still a very good recording. So, I’d like once again to hear Levant play Concerto in F.
KAPLAN: The conclusion of George Gershwin’s Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra, the legendary Oscar Levant at the piano with the New York Philharmonic led by André Kostelanetz, music chosen by my guest today on “Mad About Music” author Stuart Woods. When we return, we’ll hear Stuart Woods’ final selection and I’ll be asking him to reveal, as I always do, his musical fantasy.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest today on “Mad About Music”, author Stuart Woods whose latest thriller Santa Fe Dead continues his streak of books to make the New York Times best-seller list. All right, let’s try to fill out your musical profile as a listener a bit further. Do you have as a favorite – and here I’ll be asking you about a few categories, so let’s start with composers. From what you said before, I suspect it might be Gershwin.
WOODS: Among American composers, it would come close, yes. But there are a dozen composers out of the middle third of the 20th century that I’m extremely fond of, and their work has now come to be known as the American Songbook, but I think it’s the best popular music this country has ever produced. And Gershwin is right at the heart of it. If he had lived longer, he might have been as dominant as Irving Berlin.
KAPLAN: Are there composers, mainstream composers, that everybody would know to whom you just don’t connect at all?
WOODS: Oh, I connect with very little today.
KAPLAN: No, I don’t mean people composing today, I mean –
WOODS: Well, I don’t enjoy dissonance very much, so a lot of the modern music just goes right past me. The musical minimalists, although I’m a literary minimalist, I don’t appreciate them quite as much. I like the romantic composers best.
KAPLAN: You think they appreciate you?
WOODS: Who knows?
KAPLAN: Favorite conductor?
WOODS: One of the great musical experiences of my life was hearing Leonard Bernstein conduct Mahler’s Ninth at Lincoln Center. That was overwhelming. When the baton came down at the end, I heard something I have never heard in the theater before. There was a great, huge shout, as one man from the audience, and everybody was on their feet, clapping, weeping, shouting, and I’ve never had quite such an overwhelming experience as that evening.
KAPLAN: You know, Leonard Bernstein said about the ending of that symphony, it is the closest any composer has ever come to describing the act of dying musically.
WOODS: Well, you would have thought that Bernstein was about to die when he finished it. He was dripping with sweat, he was exhausted, his arms were hanging limp at his sides, and he looked positively relieved, as if he had just gotten into heaven.
KAPLAN: The riveting conclusion of the third movement called “Rondo Burlesque” of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, the Concertgebouw Orchestra with Leonard Bernstein on the podium. Hearing a live performance of Bernstein and the Ninth was an overwhelming experience for my guest on “Mad About Music”, author Stuart Woods. All right, we’ve been going through your list of favorites. How about opera singers – any favorites there?
WOODS: All the usual ones, of course. Domingo, and the Three Tenors are irresistible, and the first opera I saw as a young man was in Atlanta. It was a Met production, traveling Met of Otello and Simon Estes sang the leading role, and that was a very impressive experience. He was marvelous, that great, booming voice; he was the perfect Otello as well; and then later, I got to go to the old Met once, and hear Don Giovanni. And it was a wonderful costume piece, and this gigantic grand opera house, the first I’d ever been into, I’d been into big movie theaters before but never into a really grand opera house. And then, when I lived in Atlanta, I subscribed to the Metropolitan, and I would come to New York once a month, sometimes I would fly my own little airplane, and I would go to Elaine’s on Thursday night and meet some writers, and then I would go to the opera on Friday night, and I would go to Elaine’s on Saturday, and I would fly home on Sunday. And I think I got to see a lot of wonderful things at the Met during that time.
KAPLAN: Well, except for the Met, it sounds like Stone Barrington’s schedule. Tell me, do you respond to music on a very emotional level, do you cry at all when you hear music?
WOODS: At rare and odd moments that can happen to me. It happens I think more easily in dance. I’m a big fan of Gene Kelly and I recently watched, I don’t know, for the seventh or eighth time, “An American in Paris,” in which he has so many wonderful things to do. I think he’s the best dancer this country has ever produced in any discipline. He had it all. Fred Astaire was a tap dancer and a ballroom dancer, essentially. But Kelly had a very strong balletic streak, and he could combine that with tap in the most astonishing ways. He always amazed me. And something that could bring a tear to my eye anytime was his dancing to the last song that George Gershwin wrote, “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” with Leslie Caron along the banks of the Seine in Paris. That’ll do it for me every time.
KAPLAN: Do you ever turn to music for consolation, if you’ve had a bad experience?
WOODS: As I get older I have fewer bad experiences, which is a nice thing, I suppose. I seem to have found a way to eliminate most bad experiences from my life. All my family is gone, so I do not have any more funerals to attend, except my own someday, I guess! So I don’t turn to music so much for solace as for entertainment and for comfort. I find music terribly comforting.
KAPLAN: Now, as you’ve mentioned funerals, have you thought at all about music you might want played at your own funeral?
WOODS: Actually, I’ve put in my will that I don’t want to be buried, I want to be scattered somewhere. Preferably outside my summer home in Maine. But I remember that my mother’s favorite hymn was “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” and at her funeral, that was played; and I was only sorry that I didn’t have a New Orleans jazz band to play it for her, because that was the version she liked most, was hearing a New Orleans band play “Just A Closer Walk With Thee.”
KAPLAN: All right, well, the next work is not one that we’d slot into that slot, and it’s your next selection, and it’s one of the most famous arias, maybe the most famous aria in opera.
WOODS: Well, “Nessun dorma” is not just my favorite aria, it’s everybody’s favorite aria, and if it wasn’t up until the time of “The Three Tenors”, then it certainly was after that because that’s the aria that he will always be best known for, and it’s a magnificent performance, and I would like very much to hear it once again, now, please!
KAPLAN: “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot sung by the owner of that aria, Luciano Pavarotti with Zubin Mehta leading the combined forces of the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale of Florence and the Rome Opera Orchestra – a live performance where the Three Tenors made their debut and the final selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, author Stuart Woods. That would be a wonderful work on which to end the show but we’re not quite finished yet because we have one final section called “Fantasyland” during which every guest is asked for a true confession about their musical fantasies. So if you could be a conductor, a singer, a composer – and of course, a huge star – what would you want to be?
WOODS: Well, I think that it would have to be a singer. I’ve had one little flash of glory in my lifetime singing career, I was the tenor soloist in my high school glee club, and my big number at the annual concert was “I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean,” from Brigadoon. And I had such a good time doing that, and I was standing in front of a whole glee club that was singing behind me, and it was an appreciative audience, including my mother who was the most appreciative of all, and I thank God that there was no recording of that because it would spoil my fantasy, but I think that was a high point of my musical life was being able to be that soloist just that one time.
KAPLAN: Why’d you stop?
WOODS: Well, I didn’t stop. I went on singing in bars as we discussed, and a little jazz group in college, and I suppose you taper off after a while because there are fewer people to play for you. I did have a nice experience once. I was in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and somebody had told me that there was a guy, a piano player, who owned a bar near by and that he played every night. And I went in and the place was almost empty. And as it turned out, the owner of the bar was ill, and could not play, and so a friend of his who was visiting to do some scuba diving had replaced him, and he was a pretty good piano player, not great, but he was playing a lot of songs I like, and I actually sang some tunes with him. And he turned out to be Johnny Mandel, who was a wonderful arranger, he was a former jazz trombonist starting, I think, with the Kenton Orchestra and he had a long and illustrious career. I think the best arranger of music behind singers alive. He did a wonderful album with Michael Feinstein and another with Diana Krall, and that was a nice experience to take away with me, was to sing with Johnny Mandel.
KAPLAN: Well, it sounds like you have lots of possible diversions from sitting in front of the computer, but on the other hand, as you reported, you only need an hour a day to do your work. Stuart Woods, you’ve been a fascinating guest, telling us how music has played a role, actually been a power in your life. Thank you for joining us. This is Gilbert Kaplan, for “Mad About Music.”
“Mad About Music”
Gilbert Kaplan, Executive Producer
Heidi Bryson, Producer
Marcela Silva, Associate Producer
Leszek Wojcik, Recording Engineer
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STUART WOODS BIO
Stuart Woods was born in the small southern town of Manchester, Georgia and attended the local public schools, then graduated from the University of Georgia, with a BA in sociology.
After college, he spent a year in Atlanta and two months in basic training for what he calls "the draft-dodger program" of the Air National Guard. Then, in the autumn of 1960, he moved to New York, in search of a writing job. The magazines and newspapers weren't hiring, so he got a job in a training program at an advertising agency, earning seventy dollars a week. "It is a measure of my value to the company," he says, "that my secretary was earning eighty dollars a week." He spent the whole of the nineteen-sixties in New York, with the exception of ten months, which he spent in Mannheim, Germany, at the request of John F. Kennedy. The Soviets had built the Berlin Wall, and Woods, along with a lot of other national guardsmen, was sent to Germany, " . . . to do God knows what," as he puts it. What he did, he says, was " . . . fly a two-and-a-half-ton truck up and down the autobahn." He notes that the truck was all he ever flew in the Air Force.
At the end of the sixties, he moved to London and worked there for three years in various advertising agencies. In early 1973, he decided that the time had come for him to write the novel he had been thinking about since the age of ten. He moved to Ireland, where some friends found him a small flat in the stable yard of a castle in south County Galway, and he supported himself by working two days a week for a Dublin ad agency, while he worked on the novel. Then, about a hundred pages into the book, he discovered sailing, and " . . . everything went to hell. All I did was sail." After a couple of years of this his grandfather died, leaving him, " . . . just enough money to get into debt for a boat," and he decided to compete in the 1976 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR). Since his previous sailing experience consisted of, " . . . racing a ten-foot plywood dinghy on Sunday afternoons against small children, losing regularly," he spent eighteen months learning more about sailing and celestial navigation while his new boat was being built at a yard in Cork. He moved to a nearby gamekeeper's cottage on a big estate, up the Owenboy River from Cork Harbor, to be near the boatyard.
The race began at Plymouth England in June of '76. He completed his passage to Newport, Rhode Island in forty-five days, finishing in the middle of the fleet, which was not bad since his boat was one of the smallest. How did he manage being entirely alone for six weeks at sea? "The company was good," he says.
The next couple of years were spent in Georgia, writing two non-fiction books: Blue Water, Green Skipper was an account of his Irish experience and the transatlantic race, and A Romantic's Guide to the Country Inns of Britain and Ireland, was a travel book, done on a whim. He also did some more sailing. In August of 1979 he competed, on a friend's yacht, in the tragic Fastnet Race of 1979, which was struck by a huge storm. Fifteen competitors and four observers lost their lives, but Stuart and his host crew finished in good order, with little damage. (The story of the '79 Fastnet Race was told in the book, Fastnet Force 10, written by a fellow crewmember of Stuart, John Rousmaniere.) That October and November, he spent skippering his friend's yacht back across the Atlantic, with a crew of six, calling at the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands and finishing at Antigua, in the Caribbean.
In the meantime, the British publisher of Blue Water, Green Skipper, had sold the American rights to W.W. Norton, a New York publishing house, who had also contracted to publish the novel, on the basis of two hundred pages and an outline, for an advance of $7500. "I was out of excuses to not finish it, and I had taken their money, so I finally had to get to work." He finished the novel and it was published in March of 1981, eight years after he had begun it. The novel was called Chiefs.
Though only 20,000 copies were printed in hardback, the book achieved a large paperback sale and was made into a six-hour television drama for CBS-TV, starring Charlton Heston, at the head of an all-star cast that included Danny Glover, Billy Dee Williams and John Goodman. The 25th anniversary of Chiefs came in March, 2006, and W.W. Norton publish a special commemorative replica edition of the hardcover first edition, which can be ordered from any bookstore.
Chiefs established Woods as a novelist. The book won the Edgar Allan Poe prize from the Mystery Writers of America, and he was later nominated again for Palindrome. More recently he was awarded France's Prix de Literature Policiere, for Imperfect Strangers. He has since been prolific, writing thirty-eight novels. His publishers have asked him to write three books a year, instead of two. Santa Fe Dead (an Ed Eagle novel), will be published on April 15, and a new Stone Barrington novel. Hot Mahogany in September. In 2009, a new Will Lee and a new Stone Barrington are coming along. He has now had twenty-two straight bestsellers on the New York Times hardcover list.
He is a licensed, instrument-rated private pilot, and currently flies a Jetprop, which is a Piper Malibu Mirage (a six-passenger, pressurized single-engine airplane) in which the piston engine has been replaced by a turboprop, a jet engine turning a propeller (see the photo below). He has ordered one of the new very light jets. He sails on other peoples' boats, has recently taken delivery of a Hinckley T38 power boat (http://hinckleyyachts.com), and is a partner in a 85-foot antique motor yacht, Enticer, (which can be seen at www.woodenyachts.com), built in 1935 and recently restored to like-new condition.
He was married on April 7, 2008 to Barbara Ellen, and they will share their lives with a Labrador Retriever named Fred (like all his dogs) in Key West, Florida, on Mount Desert Island, in Maine, and in New York City.