@ the Love Supreme Jazz Festival
6 July 2014
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Given his string of hit singles, millions of records sold and a
23-year recording career that has touched every continent and nearly
every genre, one might expect Curtis Stigers to be either very rich
or very tired.
But mostly, Stigers is busy. The energetic singer/songwriter/saxophonist
regularly barnstorms concert halls, festivals and clubs everywhere
from Moscow to Manhattan, accompanied one night by his quartet,
another by big band or orchestra. He has released new work nearly
every year since he started recording, frequently collaborating
with his musical heroes. Along the way, this musician who began
his career playing standards in a Boise hotel lobby while moonlighting
as drummer in a punk rock band has redefined the constitution of
“I was the kid who worshipped songs and the musicians
who made them,” he remembers. “Back then, pop
radio played everything from Aretha Franklin to Led Zeppelin, Marvin
Gaye to Willie Nelson. I loved it all.” “With Hooray
For Love,” his latest release for the Concord Jazz label,
Stigers continues to fulfil a promise made to a younger version
of himself: a commitment to artistic growth, and to bringing new
tunes to the Great American Songbook.
Often euphoric and always elegant, the songs of “Hooray
For Love” dart easily between standards and songs that perhaps
should be. Like Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole, Stigers
possesses a curator’s knack for hearing a song, framing its
heart and making it his own, be it the work of Gershwin, Jerome
Kern, Wilco or The Kinks.
But Stigers’ repertoire is not so much eclectic as it is
a reflection of his appreciation for the fundaments of tone and
craft, for quality. (He credits his mentor, the late soul jazz pianist
Gene Harris, for his first lessons in the art.) Though much has
been made of Stigers’ perceived transformation from pop to
jazz artist, in retrospect the progression of his work seems both
organic and practical. “Pop used to be jazz. Jazz has always
been about reinvention,” Stigers notes.
Much more telling is the distinction between his latest effort
and the previous release “Let’s Go Out Tonight,”
recorded towards the end of a marriage of two decades. On that record,
produced by Larry Klein, the singer chose darker material by Dylan,
Crowded House and The Blue Nile. The result was a scintillating
collection that represents some of the most innovative vocal jazz
in a decade.
Stigers’ new release is decidedly more upbeat, which he
says he owes to a newfound love, but his ability to interpret work
from seemingly disparate sources - here, “You Make Me Feel
So Young” follows a song written by country artist Steve Earle
- is still on display. Classics like “The Way You Look Tonight”
and “Love Is Here To Stay” are taken for a spin; Earle’s
“Valentine’s Day” serves as both apology and pledge;
the album’s title track seems destined for the first dance
at many a wedding.
Throughout, Stigers makes it all look easy. “Hooray For
Love is the embodiment of what happens when everything works,“
raves Critical Jazz. “Nothing short of amazing.”
Perhaps because he has penned so many notable songs himself, as
well as writing with the likes of Carole King and Barry Mann, Stigers
has come to recognise the small, perfect things that are a great
melody and lyric, and how to capture them on paper and on tape.
But it is his rich singing voice - singular, balletic, at turns
mournful and playful - that has landed him on records with the likes
of Al Green and Shawn Colvin, in studios with venerated producers
like Larry Klein, Danny Kortchmar, and Glen Ballard, and onstage
with a plethora of legends, including pop and rock greats Eric Clapton,
Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Rod Stewart, and The Allman Brothers,
and jazz giants Nancy Wilson, Al Jarreau, Gerry Mulligan, Randy
and Michael Brecker, Chuck Mangione, Toots Thielmans, Wynton Marsalis,
Diana Krall, and many more. The voice, of course, is the thing:
hearing Stigers’ confident, nuanced delivery is akin to seeing
a celebrated actor lose himself in a role.
That talent was recognised early on by music business impresario
Clive Davis, who signed Stigers to a record deal after seeing him
in a New York dive. A debut album sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide
on the strength of self-penned hit singles like “I Wonder
Why,” “You’re All That Matters to Me,” and
“Never Saw a Miracle.” A year later, Stigers contributed
a cover version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny
‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” to The Bodyguard
Soundtrack, which sold over 40 million copies worldwide. Multiple
appearances on The Tonight Show, David Letterman, The Today Show,
and countless international TV shows, put Stigers directly in the
spotlight of popular culture.
More accolades followed. Stigers’ 2003 release “You
Inspire Me” was The Sunday Times (UK) Jazz Album of the Year;
in 2007 BBC Radio 2 awarded him Jazz Artist of the Year. In 2010
and 2013, Deutsche Phono-Akademie named Stigers International Male
Jazz Singer of the Year at the Jazz Echo Awards; he received an
Emmy nomination for “This Life,” a song he co-wrote
and sang for the popular television show Sons of Anarchy. Stigers
also recently recorded a duet of Cole Porter’s classic “Well
Did You Evah” with Family Guy creator/actor/producer Seth
MacFarlane and the John Wilson Orchestra, and he made a cameo appearance
in MacFarlane’s movie Ted.
But Stigers seems to be the rare artist who has not allowed his
success to influence his artistry, or his sense of self. Born in
Hollywood, raised in Boise, and transplanted to Manhattan, he now
resides, between gigs, in his hometown back in Idaho, a place where
he says he can raise his daughter and “live a real life.”
Here, between blue mountains and green fields, Stigers is able to
write and discover the songs he wants to sing.
“I’ve made a conscious decision throughout my
life not to be confined, musically,” says Stigers.
“For me, it’s all about the song, about the story. The
last record told a love story, and it had a sad ending. On this
record, the story is a new romance.”