As soon as I met Leonard at that Field Commander Cohen audition, we seemed to hit it off. There was a really nice chemistry. He was extremely gracious and hospitable and warm. He seemed to like me right off the bat, so it was very comfortable. He hadn’t made an album for six years before Ten New Songs and was looking for a way to express these lyrics he’d written that would feel like a whole body of work – that’s how we ended up doing the whole project together. He was interested in soul and blues and R&B, all of that. We often referred back to the blues greats and to the Muscle Shoals stuff. Working with Leonard was a dream. In terms of the man/woman thing, he always respected you fully as an equal. Discussing all sorts of things that were on his mind was part of the friendship, part of the interaction. Leonard had an immeasurable wisdom and intellect, and was able to access it and put it into his work. He spent a lot of time on these words. Working and then re-working them brought another level of depth that probably even he couldn’t predict. That’s why his songs are so timely – and so timeless. He worked on it so much. Leonard would send me a lyric, and I’d go to my piano and try to understand where the verse was and what the chords should be, and just shape it into less of a poem and more of a song lyric, if you will, without changing any of the words. Sometimes I would change the order, or I’d decide, ‘Okay, this stanza should be the chorus.’ And I would build a melody and chord changes based on my interpretation of the lyrics. I’d present a couple of ideas to Leonard and then we worked through the rest of it together.
Quotation from Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen by Abby Steward. Hot Press: Sept 2017. Photo by Dominique BOILE.