MY PARENTS lived in one of the nicest landmark blocks in Manhattan - right opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But in complete contrast, because they worked odd hours, I stayed during the week with my grandparents in a rough area of Brooklyn called Bedford Stuyvesant - Mike Tyson, Biggie Smalls (The Notorious B.I.G.) and Spike Lee all came from there. It made life very interesting and I learnt to relate with all kinds of people. But then my father is a Russian Jew and my mother is from the Bahamas, so here I am in the middle.
My parents were both in show business and from a very young age, instead of leaving me home with a babysitter, they took me to see Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and James Brown. Obviously I didn't know the magnitude of these people, but I loved being there and it brought me to life. I even sat on Duke Ellington's lap while he played piano and once on my birthday he even performed "Happy Birthday" for me.
I'd always enjoyed music but the time it really changed my life was when I was just five years old and heard the Jackson Five for the first time. I was in Brooklyn at my grandparents when "The Love You Save" came on the radio and, immediately, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I really identified with this amazing little kid but somehow, I don't know how, I also heard the quality: the horns, funky guitar and incredible bass line. We bought the single and I played the song so often it must have worn out.
We didn't have a large mirror that I was tall enough to see into but for some reason we owned a big piece of plywood, which lived behind a door in the apartment, and I used to put it down over the carpet so I could get some slick movement. I would take a pencil for a microphone and perform my Jackson Five thing. The Jacksons had these really cool boots that they used to wear with pants which stopped at the knee. To copy them for my routine I would put on my rubber galoshes even though, disappointingly, they only came up to mid-calf. I also grew my hair into a nice big afro like Michael's. Instead of playing with toys, I would take the pots, pans and spoons out of the kitchen and pretend they were a drum kit. After a while I progressed to an old acoustic guitar - it belonged to my dad but he never played - and started picking on that. I was for ever fantasising about being a musician, but at that age it wasn't about money or being a star, but about how much fun being in the Jackson Five would be.
Most children change from wanting to be a fireman one week to a ball player or a nurse the next, but not me - music was always my focus. It created a tunnel vision and deciding so young was frustrating: school became just something to get through. I wanted to start right away: if Michael is doing it now, why do I have to wait? So when we moved to Los Angeles, (my mother had a big TV show called The Jeffersons), I was made to audition for the California Boys Choir - after the Vienna Boys Choir it is the most respected in the world.
Although I'd been quite a precocious five-year-old, listening to Tchaikovsky, which my parents thought was really funny, by 11 I was into Jimmy Hendrix, Kiss and Led Zeppelin - just a little different from classical music! …