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Curtis_oldGoing right back to the beginning, what drew you to music in the first place?

Oh, God, I don’t know. We just always had the radio on in my house and in the car, in particular. In my early years I lived in Southern California and we were in the car all the time. My mum was a big music fan. Pop radio back then had everything on the same station. You could hear Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder on the same station as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. So I got this really rounded education about pop music just from singing along with the radio with my mum and she says I learned to harmonise before I could walk but I think she was exaggerating a bit.

How did your transformation into a jazz singer come about?

It didn’t…I grew up studying jazz and went to college on a jazz scholarship. I played clarinet and saxophone all the way through school, played in all the jazz bands, and sang in a jazz choir. I sang on a couple of Gene Harris albums in the ’90s, and also one album by the Doky Brothers, a couple of Danish jazz musicians, so I had slots on those, guest spots. I’d always thought that the record companies, Arista and Columbia, would be really happy to have me be an artist as well as a pop singer and I could make a pop record or two and then a jazz record and then a pop record and then a jazz record. It turned out it wasn’t that way. It turned out that they just wanted me to do the same thing over and over again. At a certain point, about 2000, I just decided this isn’t going to happen unless I make it happen myself so I moved away from pop labels and signed with Concord Records and I started making jazz records because it was something that I’d always expected to do and I had been playing jazz music throughout but hadn’t gotten the chance to record it yet.

Which musicians have helped shape your own style?

Oh, so many different musicians from different places. Early on Elton John was a big hero of mine and I loved him because he was a rock star and a flamboyant pop star but he was also a great piano player and a great songwriter and I was attracted to the fact that he did it all; he was a real musician as well as being a star. I listened to Led Zeppelin constantly as a kid and I basically wanted to play the saxophone more from listening to Jimmy Page and B.B. King and listening to blues guitar players and rock guitar players more so than saxophone players – although I did have saxophone heroes. For some reason, I was always hearing bending guitar strings in my head as I was playing sax. And then Ray Charles is a huge influence on me. There are so many: Stevie Wonder and straight-ahead kind of jazz and pop singers like Sinatra and Tony Bennett have been huge as well. Honestly, I could go on for an hour. I spent so much time listening to music and trying to sound like other singers. After a while there were so many singers in there, you know in me. Now it just sort of comes out as me but it’s such a combination of so many different people.


What was it like working with Gene Harris, whom you mentioned earlier because he was a jazz legend, wasn’t he?

He was, yeah, and he ended up in my hometown. He had a jam session every Tuesday night. He’d retired to Boise (pronounced Boy-cey, in Idaho) in the late 70s and I heard about this jam session when I was in high school and started going down. It was amazing. He took myself and a couple of my friends under his wing and we really were his protégés. All he really did was allow us to play with him. So we got to play with one of the most amazing, swinging, jazz pianists that ever lived every week for a few years. He became a friend and eventually after all my pop success I was able to record with him. He asked me to sing on a couple of his records, which was frankly just as amazing as standing on stage with Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt a Wembley stadium. It was just as cool to be in the studio with this hero and friend. So yeah, he was a lovely man and he really took care of young musicians. He was very positive and a great role model and he died way too young. It was sad when we lost him.

Finally, what are your ambitions beyond this album?

I’ve been doing a lot of singing with orchestras so I’d love to make a record with an orchestra. Ten years ago I would have never said that: that’s for old guys, you know (laughs). But I’m an old guy now and I love singing in front of a beautiful orchestra so one of these days I’m going to figure out a way to pay for that because it costs a lot of money.


Read SJF’s review of the album here: