Alastair Mabbott talks to Curtis Stigers and wonders just how many record companies did have to change their underwear when they heard his first demos?
Curtis Stigers may not be the most photogenic character in the history of popular singers, but he's as radiogenic as any contender you could name. Listen closely, and you can almost hear the solid state components of the recording studios he uses hum contendedly to themselves in the knowledge that they’re playing a vital part in the making of a Big Hit Record. So far, the 26-year-old singer. songwriter and saxophonist from Boise, Idaho has hit the jackpot three times, with ‘I Wonder Why’, ‘You’re All That Matters To Me’ and ‘Never Saw A Miracle’, and his eponymous album has achieved soaring sales figures in territories where, a year ago, his name would only have raised eyebrows.
‘It’s funny, but I wasn’t really going for it. All
3 musicians dream of getting a record deal, but I was : naive to how you go about it. I spent seven or eight
It’s easy to think of Stigers as part of an insidious i
corporate plot, gumming up the airwaves with heart-on-sleeve, mawkish junk. But it’s also easy to be swayed by the fact that these are great, emotional radio songs, written by someone who, for all I know, can’t programme a MIDI interface to save his life, but who obviously knows his soul and pop collection inside out.
He loves jazz, blues and, famously, Elton John, and laughs to himselfwhen I tell him he's an A&R i man‘s wet dream. The way he tells it, his signing to i Arista Records under the personal care of its head, i the upstanding Clive Davis, was far from inevitable.
years playing in Boise for a living. It‘s a small town where you’d never get a record deal. no matter how great you were, because no one ever goes there. And then I went to New York five years ago, and really worked. starting in the blues clubs and playing a little bit ofjazz here and there when I could. But I was discovered playing in a jazz trio setting, not where I ever would have expected to get a record deal, or the kind of a deal I got. The stuff we were playing was a mixture ofeverything. We were playing jazz, but we were also playing Al
Green and Steely Dan, my own tunes and Elvis Costello tunes— just whatever we felt like doing, and we’d adapt it to that little acoustic setting and
just go with it. I was surprised that record companies — not to be disrespectful - were smart enough to see through the fact that we weren’t playing it the way it would eventually end up on a record.’
So strong. in fact, is Stigers’ appreciation of his roots heritage that he's remarked that his debut album could have been a blues or jazz record
rather than the blockbusting pop one that actually did appear.
‘I felt like it would have been a little precocious to do that, though. The songs I’ve been writing in the last three or four years are in the pop tradition, from Gershwin and Ellington to Elton John. A jazz album would have been a cover record. That’s the stuff I‘ve always sung, the standards and Charlie Parker records and Sarah Vaughan and stufflike that. I could still play jazz— I still do, whenever I want to — but it made sense to me to do this first and then eventually get to that ifI felt like it. I‘m not the sort ofperson who’s playing pop just so he can play jazz later. I’m doing exactly what I want to do. But it makes sense economically as well. I wouldn’t be speaking to you if I’d made a jazz record.
‘It’s hard when you come out with eleven songs on your first record,’ he continues, ‘because you are basically defined by that record, unfortunately — and I personally don't feel defined by that record in the least bit. Part of me lies in that record, but the live performance is a big part of it. That’s what I grew up doing.’
But what about compromise? Obviously, he’s got strong opinions about how his songs should sound. Have there been occasions when he’s had to swallow his pride to get a track recorded, or a record sold?
‘Not necessarily swallow my pride; I mean, music to me has always been collaborative. Since I was a kid, I’ve been in bands, and when you’re in a band you compromise. If the drummer wants to play something a little faster, and you don’t, maybe you put it somewhere in the middle. And the same goes for working with a producer. But I look on it as collaboration. As far as doing things that slighted me as an artist or musician, no, I haven’t had any. It’s amazing. I’ve gotten to
record my own songs the way I want to record ‘em,
and sometimes you have to say, “Okay, let’s try
that ifthat‘s the way you think it should be."
That‘s the way you grow as a musician, by listening to other people’s ideas.’
5 Curtis Stigers plays The S E CC, Glasgow on Sun 13.
me- Jazz and him
We hearthe name at Georgie Fame more regularly now than at any time since he broke up his cabaret duo with Alan Price in the early 708. He made his name as an R&B singer in the 60s, but has since developed into a sophisticated jazz singer, without losing his amiable grin and impish sense at humour.
In Scotland, that re-emergence (although Fame had been working , steadily all the time) really began at 7 the 1991 TDK Round Midnight Jazz ' Festival, when he was paired in an i experimental double-bill with singer Cami Kidd (whom he had never even I
met), toliowing his concert with Van Morrison on the Castle Esplanade. It i and he sings betterthan ever, while the
5 Dr John. His own voice has matured,
Georgie Fame: ian man
went so well, however, that it was
repeated this year, and they now go out é
on tour (see Listings).
Working with Kidd (who has a new album out about new) has been the latest in a long line at iazz projects going back to a mid-60s tourwith the Count Basie Orchestra. He recalls that the elevation at ‘this young whippersnapper coming to jam from Jerry Lee Lewis via Ray Charles' to ‘rubbing shoulders with the Count’ aroused some resentment at the time.
His latest disc, The Blues And Me (60 Jazz), maintains the high standard set by its predecessor, Cool Cat Blues, and features similarly stellar guests, from Phil Woods and Stanley Turrentine to
ON FOLLOWING PAGES: CURTIS STIGERS C THE PASTELS 0 THE SUNDAYS llVE
; musical spread reflects the breadth oi his interests. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he is in the iortunate . position at being able to look back with S no regrets. ‘Aiter we had all the hits in the 60s, I - was being advised to do all kinds cl 3 stuti by all kinds at people, but those advisers are no longer around, and l am still here. I look atter my own music and my own career now. I had my taste oi stardom, and atter that I worked out that the best thing I could do was to keep a low proiile and just get on with l ; it, and that is what I’ve been doing ever i since. i have never stopped working, ,‘ and l have played the kind at muslci i
wanted to piay.’ (Kenny Mathieson)
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