WHEN the suggestion of Scotch whisky is filtered through to jazz crooner Curtis Stigers, he knows better than to take One More For The Road.
Drinking in the success brought to him by hit singles such as ‘I Wonder Why’ and ‘You’re All That Matters to Me’ in the ‘90s, he admits he’s now wise to the ways of the peaty temptations.
“I’m old enough to know that I shouldn’t have a drink of whisky to end the night.”
His laugh contains many endless stories no doubt.
“That’s always been a downfall for me. The next day is a very bad day if I do that. If I’m going to have something strong, I’m going to start with it. Once I’m done with it, I’m a big fan of a nice glass of red wine, so I’d switch to that. It’d have to be red wine only because I’m too smart to hurt myself as badly as I did when I was young.
“Listen to me, children! Do not mix drinks at the end of the night. It seems like a great idea when they bring out a bottle of nice Scotch whisky but once they do that, you’re in trouble.”
Relaxing with his daughter and girlfriend in his home state of Idaho after a ‘mad snowy winter’, he reflects on other events he’s cast his eye over in the past six months, particularly of a political nature, ahead of his concert at the Carnegie Hall on Saturday.
He told Press:ON: “He’s just a nightmare for everyone,” there’s no prizes for guessing who Curtis is referring to here as, if you follow him on social media, you will know that he’s been rather vocal on his disdain for a certain President Donald Trump.
“I think in the long-run, even the people who support him will rue the day that they decided to vote for him. He doesn’t care about anybody except himself. He’s not about the country. He’s not about the people he supposedly represents. He’s about making money and getting attention.”
He wasn’t finished there.
“I don’t think he’s mentally stable either. We could probably talk about him for hours!”
To avoid this becoming a reality, could he sum up Donald Trump in just one word?
Quickly transitioning from politics into the origins of his first live album, a homage to Frank Sinatra, the 51-year old revealed how the record, ‘One More For The Road’, materialised.
Invited by the state-sponsored Danish Radio Big Band, an ensemble of 19 musicians who were well-educated and nurtured within the field of jazz from an early age, Stigers travelled in 2014 for an evening celebrating a live record released in 1966 by Sinatra.
Featuring the Count Basie Orchestra and an upcoming young conductor by the name of Quincy Jones, ‘Sinatra at the Sands’ originated in the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and as a young boy growing up with Sinatra’s voice a constant accompaniment, it was a record Curtis was eager to put his own spin on, not knowing at the time an album would emerge.
He said: “I flew over to rehearse with them for a day, drank a couple of Danish beers and I sang a bunch of great material that I have known since I was a kid but hadn’t sung as it never occurred to me to sing Sinatra. I’ve always kind of done my own thing. I had a ball, though. It was a riot.
“A few weeks later someone sent me an email with a link to the recordings for Danish radio, as it had gone out as a broadcast.
“And to be honest, I didn’t even listen to it. It took me a couple of weeks to rediscover it. I threw it on when doing some work and I was really surprised by how fresh it sounded and how cool it sounded to hear me singing these songs and arrangements that Sinatra made so famous.”
With The Ryan Quigley Big Band alongside, he is currently touring the album across the UK to great success and reception, with the Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline one such venue he was eager to return to.
“I love your little town! I walked around it with my three- or four-year-old daughter once and we had a good wander. I’m looking forward to coming back as I’ve always enjoyed my shows there.”
A love of jazz has always been present for Curtis and after chart stardom ran its course, home comforts were sorely needed.
Returning to his hometown of Boise was the move that sparked the rekindling of that love, but reacquainting and establishing himself as a jazz performer was never going to be easy.
He managed to do just that, however. After earning the respect of the jazz community, becoming the BBC’s Jazz of the Artist of the Year in 2007 and Germany’s equivalent of a Grammy in 2010, was there then a sense of trepidation casting his own vocal tones into the arrangements of Ol’ Blue Eyes after drawing that respect and acclaim?
“It’s either confidence or foolhardiness,” he says.
“I’m not too sure which one it is. I wouldn’t have done it previously. I’ve always fiercely avoided doing someone else’s thing and perhaps to my career’s disservice. But, because it was a live concert and a lot of fun, it opened my mind to the idea of doing this.
“I’m old enough to understand the heartbreak that Sinatra ...,” he pauses before explaining why he holds such an adoration for Sinatra’s catalogue of music.
“Even in the happy songs there was always a bit of sadness. He was so good at making these songs three-dimensional. He made every song he sang his life story. He made every song about him. He never wrote a song in his life but when he performed it, he made it a Sinatra song. That’s something I’ve always tried to do, I aim to fall into the song and become that character. It’s been a treat for me finding my own place in these songs that Sinatra really made his.”
The three-dimensional aspect Curtis proposes could not be more true, and after my suggestion that Luck Be A Lady fits that particular mould, he perks up and quips.
“Yeah! You can totally see him there with this woman but he knows that she might not be with him by the end of the night. You can really feel that. He was such a great actor as a singer and that really plays into it. Every song became a little movie or a short story, and that’s a great way to sing songs. I really try to emulate that.
“I have a lot of heroes and I’ve borrowed from many different singers and musicians but there’s just something about Sinatra, obviously. He was certainly the greatest pop singer in the 20th century and perhaps even the greatest jazz singer, although he never really went full jazz singer. He was able to swing harder than any other singer in my opinion. His sense of feel and sense of swing was unparalleled.”
While this live album topped charts in Denmark, he admits it would be foolish to expect the same attention here in the UK or in America and adds: “I always say that jazz stopped being pop music when people stopped dancing to it. Even though the press says every five to 10 years that jazz is coming back and it’s going to be the new pop music, it’s never going to be back in the same way. It never pans out. A couple of artists will have a hit record and get some attention and bring some focus back to jazz a little bit but it’s still a niche market.
“There are still some young people who do tend to keep coming to it, though. A lot of young people haven’t heard this stuff. I’ve found that when I play this material, they didn’t really hear it the first time round, or the second or the third. Some of these arrangements are coming from Sinatra albums made in the ‘50s, and Sinatra has had so many renaissances going through periods of where it was cool to then being uncool again. It almost feels like new music to the people I’m singing it for. It’s fun to see young people listening to it beside people who are mouthing along with me as they have heard it so many times.”
Performing both Sinatra and his own repertoire, the Carnegie Hall audience can expect Sinatra classics such as Come Fly With Me, I’ve Got You Under My Skin and Fly Me To The Moon with Curtis’ suave aggression providing a crisply-produced show that matches the album’s power and integrity.
Tickets for Saturday’s 7.30pm show cost £25.00 via the Carnegie Hall box office on 01383 602302 or alternatively online at: www.onfife.com.