Anyone who wondered why the Edinburgh Jazz Festival included Curtis Stigers in its programme for the second year running only needed to experience one minute in the Queen’s Hall on Sunday night to find the answer: he is almost ridiculously popular here. The venue was stuffed: they were hanging off the balcony – when they weren’t dancing along with the energetic Stigers who bopped around the stage like Chuck Berry duckwalking with a saxophone.
It’s easy to see the appeal. Stigers has a charismatic stage presence (which appeals to both sexes) and a self-deprecating sense of humour. And, of course, he has a unique sound – a soulful, rough-edged, lived-in and (we now know, because he ‘fessed up) Scotch-soaked voice which he used to memorable effect on a jazzy version of Bob Dylan’s I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight and on the haunting ballad part of Round Midnight, which was stunning in its simplicity, featuring Stigers’s hypnotic vocals accompanied just by his occsionally very elegant pianist.
Unfortunately, the mood was spoiled when the rest of his polished band came in and ramped up the volume and the tempo. Indeed, several of the songs were spoiled by their OTT delivery – notably John Lennon’s Jealous Guy.
Putting over a story is Stigers’s greatest strength so it was a treat to hear his own composition You Got the Fever – with his Raymond Chandler-esque lyrics – and Tom Waits’s San Francisco Serenade, two of many tunes that also featured on last year’s programme; a fact that mattered not a jot to the audience of Curtis converts.
(First published in The Herald, Wednesday August 3rd.)