Tag Archives: Curtis Stigers

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2015: BBC Big Band Centenary Concert

The BBC Big Band Sinatra Centenary Concert, Festival Theatre *****

That’s us halfway into a year of Sinatra centenary concerts and it seems unlikely that, to quote the great man himself, the best is yet to come. Why? Because Friday night’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival one was a stonker: all the big hits (well, almost all the biggest hits – there was a bit of My Way lobbying going on in the foyer post-gig), sung by a diverse trio of top vocalists, and accompanied by the sensational BBC Big Band playing mostly the much-loved arrangements familiar from the records. Hell, there was even a singalong opportunity.

Everybody involved in this Sinatra-celebrating enterprise seemed to be having a terrific time getting a chance to sing their hero’s praises and plunder his vast, five-decade repertoire. Edinburgh’s Todd Gordon opened the proceedings with a classy, swinging set which underlined that while he may have absorbed many of Sinatra’s mannerisms, he has his own, distinctive, voice. Mind you, on New York, New York he also had the voices of the capacity audience to contend with – and then the challenge of regaining a monopoly on the singing duties afterwards.

Jacqui Dankworth bridged the gap between Todd Gordon’s set and the second half with a selection that included a raunchy Teach Me Tonight. But it was Curtis Stigers who really got the audience’s juices going partly thanks to the fact that he had all the plum songs. He sprang onstage to Come Fly With Me and dished up one sensational Sinatra hit after another. If Gordon embodied the classy side of Sinatra; Stigers provided the swagger – and the one-liners. “I prefer to introduce this next one in your native tongue,” he said as he announced “Dinnae Worry ‘Boot Me”…..

* First published in The Herald, Monday July 20th

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All Or Nothing At All

Todd Gordon

* Where Or When

* Big Bad Leroy Brown

* Chicago (Is My Kind of Town)

* It Was a Very Good Year

* The Tender Trap

* New York, New York

* Todd Gordon & Jacqui Dankworth – Let’s Do It

Jacqui Dankworth

* Come Rain Or Come Shine

* Corcovado

* For Once In My Life

* In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

* Teach Me Tonight

with Todd Gordon – They Can’t Take That Away From Me

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* In the Still of the Night

* The Song Is You

Curtis Stigers

* Come Fly With Me

* I’ve Got You Under My Skin

* Don’t Worry About Me

* You Make Me Feel So Young

* Fly Me to the Moon

* I Get A Kick Out of You

* The Summer Wind

* One For My Baby

Curtis Stigers, Todd Gordon & Jacqui Dankworth – The Lady is a Tramp

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The Gypsy Jazz Queen

Cyrille AimeeThis time last year, you had to be on the New York jazz scene to have heard of Cyrille Aimée, the young French singer who makes her UK debut at the Dundee and London jazz festivals this week and who recently released her joyful debut album. But that was before a certain Stephen Sondheim personally selected her to sing his songs with a jazz band and Curtis Stigers invited her to duet with him on his new album – et voila, a nouvelle star was born.

It all sounds too good to be true – but even more Hollywood movie-sounding is the story of how Aimée came to be gypsy jazz’s new poster girl in the first place. This part of her CV involves tales of her climbing out of her bedroom window and defying her parents to hang out and make music with the gypsies.

Aimée grew up in Samois-sur-Seine, a small town near Fontainebleau famous as the birthplace of the original gypsy jazz star, Django Reinhardt, and now the location of an annual festival in his honour. Consequently, she was exposed to gypsy jazz from a very young age but it wasn’t, she says, the music she heard there which attracted her to the gypsies; it was the other way around.

She explains: “It was only when I got to know the gypsies that I was drawn to the music – because I only understood the music when I had got to know the gypsies. I was attracted to their way of life and their spirit and how free they are and how they live every day like it’s their last.”

Was this quite different to the way she had been brought up? “No, not at all. It’s just different to the way that most people are, because they never went to school so they haven’t been taught how to behave, to put your hand up to speak or to ask to go to the bathroom. They’re kind of primitive in a way and they actually reminded me of my mum’s side of the family – she’s from the Dominican Republic. I felt at home with them.”

From the age of 14, Aimée spent as much time as she could with the travellers who came to town every year for the festival. “I would spend time with them after school and during the summer holidays and I missed them so much when they left. I would count the days for them to come back the next year.

“My school friends didn’t really understand it. The gypsies don’t let just anyone in the campsite and in the caravans so it was really my own thing. Some of my school friends didn’t even know who Django Reinhardt was!”

So how did Aimée manage to get in with them if they don’t just welcome anybody? “Well, I was up town to get a baguette in the boulangerie, and this gypsy girl was looking at my bike a lot – she really liked it – and she asked if she could borrow it. And, to her surprise, I said yes – I think mostly they get ‘no’. (There’s a lot of prejudice.) And when I said ‘yes’, she called her four other cousins over, so there were five of them on the bike, and I hopped on too, and we all went down the main road through town,  which is very steep. We went down that hill, all six of us on the bike – and after that we were friends.”

Initially, Aimée’s parents were not happy about her spending time at the gypsy camp. “The town townspeople would tell them: ‘I saw your daughter with gypsies – be careful.’ So I would get grounded. But I would still go out my window and cross the back yard and cross the forest to go see them.” Luckily, Aimée’s parents came round. “First of all they realised there was nothing they could do and second of all they understood the kind of people they were and their music, and now they’re as much friends as we are.”

And it was thanks to her new friendships that Aimée’s talent as a singer became apparent. “At first, when I was with the gypsies, I started to play guitar and then one day one of them asked me to learn the song Sweet Sue because they knew that I spoke a little English. I sang it in front of the whole family, the gypsy family, around the camp fire and when I saw everyone smiling and how it had made everyone feel, I realised that’s the feeling I wanted to spread all over. So I kind of let go of the guitar and started singing more.”

At the age of 19, Aimée (who is now 30) applied to appear on Star Academy, France’s equivalent of The X Factor, not expecting for a minute that she would be one of 16 contestants picked out of 5000 applicants. “I sent them a video because I had just gotten a video camera and I thought it was a fun idea – then I got called back every time.”

Just before filming was about to begin, Aimée – whose picture was already on magazine covers to publicise the show – was given a contract to sign. At which point, she freaked at the lack of freedom she would have – especially over song choices. “I said: ‘No, thank you,’ and I went to the Dominican Republic! I had so much to learn, and I was just falling in love with jazz, and Star Academy was not the place for jazz!” Her story became something of a cause celebre.

From the Dominican Republic, it was a short hop to New York where she studied music and began gigging in 2009. These days she is living the touring musician’s life, seldom home in Brooklyn and almost always on the road; a 21stCentury jazz gypsy.

* Cyrille Aimée plays the Gardyne Theatre on Wednesday at 8pm. Visit www.jazzdundee.co.uk for information, and phone 01382 434940 for tickets.

First published in The Scotsman, Monday November 17th

 

 

 

 

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Review: Curtis Stigers, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Curtis Stigers, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Thursday October 9th ***

On Thursday, the versatile American singer Curtis Stigers returned to Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall for the first time since March 2012 – but it was a different show to the string of duo concerts he has given in the more intimate venue of the city’s Dirty Martini club in the intervening two and a half years, or this year’s full band gigs in Ronnie Scott’s in London. The cosy, confessorial chat and witty banter of the smaller venue concerts were less in evidence, but Stigers made the most of having his quartet onstage with him to ramp up the energy and the volume – with not altogether pleasing results for some of the audience.

Stigers is a terrific live performer, very personable and a great storyteller – in speech and song. He doesn’t coast; he invariably packs an emotional punch with his often gut-wrenching delivery of lyrics. But, for much of Thursday’s show, it was nigh-on impossible to hang on his every word, as one would usually. Why? Because every other word was obliterated by overpowering drums and bass. Not only that but – to further distract the would-be (and usually) rapt listener – the wooden pews in the “good seats” near the sound desk were shaken whenever the bass and drums were over-loud. Oh, and there was also a near punch-up in the stalls between a heckler and his own heckler.

None of this is any reflection on the musicians, but it certainly marked the concert out as considerably less of a treat than expected.

* First published in The Scotsman, Monday October 13th

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I Keep Goin’ Back to Joe’s

I Don’t Wanna Talk About It Now

That’s All

You’re All That Matters To Me

Hooray For Love

Valentine’s Day

Things Have Changed

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Love Is Here To Stay

You’ve Got the Fever

The Way You Look Tonight

My Babe

I Wonder Why

Jealous Guy

You Don’t Know What Love Is

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Songs for Soppy Cynics (and Swinging Lovers)

CurtisCurtis Stigers wears his heart on his record sleeve. The versatile American singer who, two years ago, released his darkest album to date – a collection, as he put it, “of sad songs or songs about sex” – has gone to the other extreme with his new CD Hooray for Love, an all-out, old-fashioned celebration of romance. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking “Ooh, Curtis must be happy” as soon as I saw the the title of the new album – so is the Stigers who comes to Edinburgh indeed as happy and loved-up as the record suggests?

“Well, yeah,” say Stigers who, for all his drawl speaks ten to the dozen. “That was the whole idea. I set out to make an album that mirrored where I am as a person as well as the last record mirrored where I was when I made it. And that record was obviously f***ing depressed.  And so I felt like it was time both for me and my fans for the antidote so I went looking for ten beautiful love songs. I really wanted to make an album of love songs; an album that was just unabashedly, unapologetically romantic.

Whereas Let’s Go Out, the previous CD, featured contemporary singer-songwriter material, this new album comprises swinging, jazz takes of classics from the Great American Songbook alongside some original songs which sound as if they might also have been written in the same era. “I threw out a lot of the rules I had made for myself, like ‘Don’t record songs that have been recorded a million times’ and ‘Never record a song that Sinatra is known for’.”

Stigers’s joyful experiences singing with the John Wilson Orchestra in the landmark 2010 MGM prom and subsequent movie-themed concerts inspired the inclusion of the a couple of the songs – Jerome Kern’s The Way You Look Tonight (“the sweetest and, I think, one of the smartest love songs ever written”) and the Gershwins’ Love is Here To Stay.  Performed in a catchy, loose, simple arrangement reminiscent of small-group, 1950s jazz recordings featuring the likes of Harry “Sweets” Edison and Ben Webster, it’s the opening track, and it sets the intimate, laid-back mood of the album. “Ah,” agrees Stigers, “that era is definitely what we were going for, and one of the two or three albums that we really looked at and I kept at the back of my mind was the After Midnight sessions with Nat ‘King’ Cole – that has Sweets on it. It was Nat basically coming back to the small group, swinging sort of thing that he had stepped away from to become a pop star.”

“It seemed like the thing to do – to take a step back towards happy and towards a little more, I guess, of a mainstream jazz approach. As well as the King Cole album, I was thinking about those early Doris Day records before she got too pop, too cute and smarmy; those great pop records from the 1950s where it was fantastic jazz musicians playing great songs with a great singer, and there were solos but they weren’t long solos. That was the other thing: I really wanted to pay attention to the song first, and whilst there are some solos, I really stood on my musicians; I was grinding my heel into them as they were playing, saying: ‘No – simpler!’, ‘No – closer to the melody!’, ‘Let the song do the work!’ ”

It’s not only the mood and material of Hooray for Love which are reminiscent of those earlier albums; the sound evokes that era as well. Stigers explains: “When I mixed the record I really tried to not go for modern hi fidelity but go for more of an old-fashioned fidelity. There’s a difference between the way jazz records sounded in the 1950s to the way they sound now. I didn’t want it to sound retro; I just wanted it to sound cosier and more intimate. Jazz records these days you can hear the drums so well. You can hear every texture of the drums… I don’t really give-a-damn what the drums sound like – I want them to keep the beat; that’s what drums do. And I could be thrown in jazz guy prison for saying that but the truth is that’s not the issue with an album with a singer and great songs. The issue is the great songs and the voicings – and everything else is there to support that. So that’s what we were really going for.”

The mood really couldn’t be more of a contrast to the last record or the repertoire we’ve heard in Stigers concerts in recent years: he’s gone from the cynical to the soppy. He’s come out of a painful divorce and found a new love, and he can’t hide his delight. Even the title Hooray for Love came from the sign-off on an email from a friend congratulating him on his new romance. Thankfully, his performance at Ronnie Scott’s earlier this year showed he hasn’t completely sold out on his fellow cynics – he still sang Dylan’s Things Have Changed and other songs from the last album.

Chuckling, Stigers points out: “I’m still cynical. The fact that I’m a romantic is the reason that my cynicsm is so thick. Let me explain that. I think because I open my heart – as the song says ‘I fall in love too easily, I fall in love too fast’. And that’s who I am. I believe in love, I believe in romance. And when you get your heart stomped on, as an open-hearted romantic, it’s pretty easy to take on a defensive edge. But underneath it all, I love love songs and I love love. So this was my chance to show the non-cynical side.”

And just to highlight the fact that the sad cynic is still there, he has concluded the album with You Don’t Know What Love Is, the bleak, Chet Baker-associated ballad which has been a bit of a showstopper at Stigers gigs in recent years.  “I just couldn’t help myself! It’s a love song but it’s a dark song. It’s a song about love that one way or another can’t be fulfilled. It’s a sad song. It also seemed like that sort of cautionary tale at the end, you know? Love, love, love, love, love – but don’t forget what might happen!”

* Curtis Stigers plays the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on October 9. Hooray for Love (Concord Records) is out now. For tour dates visit www.curtisstigers.com

First published in The Herald, Friday October 3, 2014

 

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CD Recommendations: May 2014

Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole Live! (Fremeaux & Associes) Django a la Creole live sleeve

This international group has a loyal following thanks to its exhilarating fusion of Evan Christopher’s exotic clarinet sound with the Hot Club format of the trio, and invariably provides a five-star live listening experience so it’s no surprise that this CD, a selection of numbers recorded during its autumn 2012 tour, is nigh-on sensational. As ever, Christopher thrills with his dynamic, dramatic soloing and the exciting interplay with the superb lead guitarist David Blenkhorn. While most of the titles feature on the quartet’s previous CDs, there is a handful of new tunes – among them One For the Duke, a sublime take on the Ben Webster-Johnny Hodges number I’d Be There.

The Radio Luxembourg Sessions: The 208 Rhythm Club – Volume 2 (Vocalion)Sandy Brown sleeve 

The 208 Rhythm Club was a half-hour programme broadcast on Radio Luxembourg in the early 1960s and featuring groups promoting new recordings they had made at the Lansdowne Studios, to be issued by EMI’s Columbia subsidiary. This CD comprises two terrific 1961 sessions recently unearthed and presented here unedited and remastered – one by Al Fairweather & Sandy Brown’s All Stars and the other by Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band (featuring Tony Coe and Joe Temperley). Everyone is on top form; the Fairweather-Brown session is a typically uplifting affair, featuring such classic Brown tunes as Glories in the Evening, Harlem Fats and Bimbo, while the Lyttelton one boasts a couple of stunning Ellington numbers.

Scott Hamilton Quartet: Dean Street Nights (Woodville Records) Scott Hamilton Dean Street Nights

Dean Street, as anyone who has ever sought out top-notch jazz in London knows, is the Soho address of the Pizza Express jazz club which, for decades now, has played regular host to the great American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton who plays residencies there several times a year. This sensational session was recorded during a final night in his festive season run of early 2012, and it shows the one-time regular fixture on the British touring circuit in magnificent form, blowing up a storm with his longstanding London trio. Highlights include a gorgeous bossa version of Sweet and Lovely (with signature, masterful Hamilton intro), a riotous Jitterbug Waltz and a sublime If I Had You.

Live at Monmartre – Nicolaj Bentzon Trio featuring Winard Harper (Storyville) Live at Montmartre

A versatile Danish pianist, composer and conductor, Nicolaj Bentzon returned to his first love, the classic jazz piano trio, for two dates at Copenhagen’s famous Jazzhus Montmartre club last summer. Given that he’s the latest star of a composing dynasty that stretches back two centuries, it’s no surprise that Bentzon’s ten-tune set includes five original numbers – notably the gentle and classical-flavoured Flyv Fugi, Flyv and Cantilena Elegiaca. His style is exciting, occasionally explosive, and (as the liner notes say) effervescent, with traces here and there of the influence of Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner.

Lee Wiley: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid) Lee Wiley

Lee Wiley (1908-1975) is one of the most criminally overlooked jazz singers but she was, and is, one much adored by musicians. Before Ella Fitzgerald recorded her first “songbook” album, the smoky-voiced Wiley had already earned the admiration of Gershwin, Porter and co with her classy, sassy, swinging and sexy interpretations of their songs. The quartet of LPs included here stem from the 1950s and include her sublime and iconic Night in Manhattan, as well as two classic big band/orchestra albums – the glorious West of the Moon, and A Touch of the Blues.

Curtis Stigers: Hooray For Love (Concord Jazz) Curtis Stigers Hooray For Love

Given his recent track record – of dishing up exclusively (as he put it) “sad songs or songs about sex” – you might expect Down With Love to be the title song of a Curtis Stigers album, but the soulful, craggy-voiced singer has clearly turned born-again romantic in the time since his last CD was released, and is spreading the word via a mixture of swinging standards and original numbers which are new but sound as if they’ve been torn from the back pages  of the Great American Songbook. The Gershwins’ Love Is Here To Stay is served up in a particularly tasty sextet arrangement (which evokes the groovy feel of Harry Edison and Jimmy Rowles’s mid-1950s album Sweets) and is a treat to hear, but it’s those catchy new tunes – notably the title track and A Matter of Time – which linger in the mind more than the other classics.

Georgia Mancio & Nigel Price: Come Rain or Come Shine (Roomspin) Georgia Mancio

There’s a cool, classy elegance and balmy feel to this gorgeous new album from the London-based singer Georgia Mancio which – along with the voice, guitar and bass line-up (and one of the song choices) – recall the glorious Julie and Julie is Her Name records made by Julie London in the 1950s. Mancio, however, is no clone and stamps each number with her own style which is less pared-down and more daring than London’s. Her gentle, clear and beguiling voice is for the most part beautifully complemented by Nigel Price’s eloquent guitar, along with Julie Walkington on bass; stand-outs include a sublimely sultry Manha de Carnaval (well, the English language version, A Day in the Life of a Fool), a swinging Gone With the Wind and a breezily romantic Moonlight in Vermont.

Kate Daniels: Atmospherics (Loxford Records) Kate Daniels CD sleeve

Hers may not be the strongest, most arresting or distinctive voice but British singer Kate Daniels has created a strangely compelling collection of songs on this CD; an introduction to a style she intriguingly (and accurately, based on most of the evidence here) describes as “jazz noir”. These are moody, melancholy, midnight-y arrangements featuring such top British musicians as John Etheridge (guitar), John Horler (piano), Graham Pike (trumpet) and Tony Coe (tenor sax), and a voice that lends itself equally well to gently swinging ballads and gut-wrenching chansons.

Warren Vache & Alan Barnes: The Cobbler’s Waltz (Woodville Records)Vache- Barnes

If ever there were two players whose delight in each other’s playing is infectious, it’s the duo of American cornettist Vache and British clarinettist/saxophonist Barnes. Old friends and occasional colleagues, this pair clearly relish opportunities for collaborating – and that certainly shines through on this CD, even before you read Vache’s lively liner notes. More laid-back than their last outing on Woodville, this quintet recording (with top-drawer British rhythm section of John Pearce, Dave Green and Steve Brown) features an inspired mix of off-the-beaten track tunes as well as a couple of insanely catchy original numbers by Vache.

Thelonious Monk: Paris 1969 (Blue Note Records) Thelonious Monk Paris 1969

Also newly available on DVD, this is a rare recording of a late-career concert by the maverick pianist-composer Thelonious Monk (then aged 52) in the company of his longtime collaborator Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, plus a much younger bassist and drummer (17-year-old Paris Wright). Monk may have been past his creative prime, playing tunes he had played umpteen times before, and breaking in a new rhythm section – but this concert is hugely enjoyable and fresh-sounding and it went down a storm with the Parisian audience. Maybe for those of us who aren’t Monk maniacs, the slightly more mellow, older incarnation of the pianist has a particular appeal. Veteran drummer Philly Joe Jones, who had been resident in the French capital for a year, was invited up by Monk to sit in on the closing numbers.

Christine Tobin: A Thousand Kisses Deep (Trail Belle Records) Christine Tobin

Irish singer Tobin introduced the material on this album of Leonard Cohen songs at the inaugural British Vocal Jazz Festival at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – and the concert was one of the highlights of the event. With her gutsy, powerful voice and unfussy yet passionate style, Tobin turns each song into a vivid story or portrait, and has strong accompaniment from her trio, led by guitarist Phil Robson, which is augmented to include accordion on several tracks – an addition which brings a chanson-y feel to the proceedings.

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Review: Curtis Stigers, Dirty Martini, Edinburgh

Curtis Stigers, Dirty Martini, Edinburgh, Monday December 3rd  *****Andrew's pix - 2012 028

The four months which have passed since Curtis Stigers last walked off the stage at the Dirty Martini evaporated in a nanosecond on Monday night when he didn’t so much start a new residency in the opulent, and intimate venue – as pick up where he left off in the summer, greeting the packed audience like old pals, and engaging in the same sort of cosy, often confessorial, banter that had marked his July appearances and helped make them so enjoyable.

Stigers clearly thrives in this “Up Close and Personal” type of gig, accompanied by just guitarist James Scholfield. Not only is there the engagement with an adoring audience which hangs on his every word from an unusually close vantage point, but there’s an informality and looseness to the show, which allows Stigers’s dry sense of humour to flourish – and inspired him on Monday to play well beyond last bus time.

Anyone who heard Stigers in the summer knows that his repertoire spans his old pop hits, more recent singer-songwriter material, original songs and standards from the Great American Songbook. Only at a Stigers gig would you hear the sublime and rarely sung Rodgers and Hart ballad You Are Too Beautiful followed by the US biker drama Sons of Anarchy’s hard rock theme tune, on which Scholfield unleashed his inner Jimi Hendrix to memorable effect.

And the variety doesn’t end there: with his vocals, two saxes and acoustic guitar, plus Scholfield’s electric guitar, there is a rich palette of sounds for Stigers to work with. Consistent throughout, however, were his energy; his gutsy, emotionally honest and utterly mesmerising singing and the rapport between two like-minded, top-notch musicians. If you don’t catch them this week, it surely can’t be long until they’re back …

First published in The Scotsman on Wednesday, December 5th

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I’ve Been Sleeping With the Light On

On the Streets of New Orleans

Let’s Go Out Tonight

Everyone Loves Lovers

My Centerpiece

You Are Too Beautiful

This Life

Things Have Changed

Lighten Up – It’s Christmas

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You’re All That Matters To Me

End of the Afternoon

Waltzing’s For Dreamers

You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To

The Christmas Song

Where the Mountains Meet the Sand

I Wonder Why

My Babe/That’s Alright Mama

Into Temptation

What’s So Funny ‘ Bout Peace, Love and Understanding

Goodbye (encore)

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The Musical Mixologist

There aren’t many performers who can pack out venues in the same city three times in one year, especially in these cash-strapped times. But Curtis Stigers, whose popularity in Edinburgh is about to hit the legendary level, is one of them. The craggy-voiced singer, guitarist and saxophonist who made his name as a pop star 20 years ago but now purveys his own distinctive “hybrid” style, is returning to the capital next week to take up a short residency at the intimate and decadent-feeling Dirty Martini club at Le Monde, where he thrilled audiences for five nights during the Jazz Festival.

Those five “Up Close and Personal” performances, which were duo concerts with his guitarist James Scholfield, followed a one-nighter with his full band at the Queen’s Hall in March – and similar gigs at the previous two jazz festivals. So it’s fairly safe to conclude that Edinburgh and Mr Stigers have a thing going on – and that rather than fizzling out, it seems to be gaining momentum, especially now they have found a room which provides the ideal setting for close musical encounters.

“I guess I do have a bit of a love affair with this city,” says the eloquent 47-year-old. “Physically, it’s stunning. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world and one that people often overlook. And then there’s the audience. The audiences here are always very warm, and they seem to get my sense of humour – and the kind of music that I’m doing now.”

Of course, Stigers is unique in the music scene as not only does he attract jazz fans and those who have discovered his work during the 13 years since he embarked on this jazz-based, but wide-ranging, phase of his career, but he has also retained a core following from his days as a chart-topping pop singer and pin-up. “There are still people that are along for the ride from back in those days. Some of them I lost because I started experimenting and didn’t stay with the one thing, but a lot of them have stayed with me and were open to following me down some different paths – the jazz especially, and then the hybrids that I’ve been trying to create.”

These hybrids are a natural reflection of Stigers’s own eclectic musical tastes. “My record collection spans the Sex Pistols to Charlie Parker, and everything in between. I like music. I like honest, emotional music. I like great songs. I’ve come to realise that it’s not the jazz singing that attracts me to jazz singers; it’s the way they tell a story.

“Somebody like Sarah Vaughan, even though she sang a lot of notes and was a show-off, it still always came down to the emotion of the song. Even when she was swooping and diving and making all these acrobatic moves as a singer, you were still entranced and enthralled by the story she was telling, by the lyric.”

Stigers’s primary influences as a singer may be Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Nat “King” Cole but he also grew up loving Aretha Franklin and Elton John – and he now appreciates that the songs that Baker, Sinatra and co were singing were effectively pop songs that had been turned into jazz. “So what I’ve been tying to do is take songs from my generation, from different places – from country music, from rock ‘n’ roll, from folk music, from blues, from rhythm and blues, from soul – and then sort of reconstruct them in a somewhat jazz format.”

With his new album, Let’s Go Out Tonight, which he introduced to Edinburgh in March, Stigers has taken the idea a step further: by not just remoulding songs from diverse genres into a jazz format, but by “allowing the folk style, the pop style – musically speaking – to come into my stuff. The songs on this album were chosen strictly on the grounds of whether they were beautiful.” And they reflect the fact that his interest today lies more with singer-songwriters – among those whose work features on the album are Steve Earle,
Richard Thompson and The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan (“a brilliant writer”) – than before.

The material Stigers has been performing this year is also very reflective of what’s been happening in his personal life – it was obvious when he introduced the Bob Dylan song Things Have Changed to the Queen’s Hall crowd in March that something had indeed changed in his outlook. “My marriage ended about a year and a half ago,” he explains. “I ended up not using any of my own songs on the record because I never can quite get to the thing that I’m going through until a year or two has passed. I’m good at looking back and then writing my experiences for material. I’m never very good at getting up in the morning and feeling like hell and then writing a song about it.”

Instead, he and his producer Larry Klein put together an album of songs which had taken on new meaning to Stigers in his new, raw, emotional state. “That Dylan song, I’d heard it 100 times before but had always pegged it to the story of the movie it came from (Wonder Boys) but then Larry asked me to consider it and I thought: ‘This is about me’.” The cynical, defiant and aggressive attitude of the song – which comes over much more strongly in Stigers’s live performances – actually helped the singer deal with what he was going through. “Up to that point, I’d been, frankly, pretty beaten up and pretty sensitive and I needed something that pulled me out of the sadness and more into the ‘alright, fuck this – I’m moving on’ stage.”

Wherever he goes next – whether it’s more hard rock (his is the voice on the hit theme song of the phenomenally successful US biker drama Sons of Anarchy), performances with orchestras (he fell in love with singing with strings – “it’s like sex” – thanks to his appearances with the John Wilson Orchestra) or more of these small club, duo gigs – it’s safe to say that Stigers will never be short of an audience. Especially in Edinburgh.

* Curtis Stigers plays the Dirty Martini at Le Monde, George St, on December 3-5 at 9pm each night. For tickets and info (or to book a dinner package), call 0131 270 3939 or email events@lemondehotel.co.uk; or visitwww.dirty-martini.co.uk/curtis.htm or www.ticketmaster.co.uk/curtis 

This article was first published in The Scotsman on November 29

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