Algonquin Oak Room
POSTED: January 16, 2003

Variety, Robert L. Daniels

“In his Oak Room debut, Curtis Stigers blends old standards, dating back to the ’30s and ’40s, with “new” standards by such contemporary composers as Steve Earle, Randy Newman and Barry Mann. After more than a decade as a busy pop performer, the singer-musician-composer is crossing over to the elusive terrain of jazz vocalist. A singer with the kind of rusty twang associated with Hoagy Carmichael, Stigers hits the songbook trail with an amiable approach and puts his aud into a pleasurable, finger-snapping groove.

Stigers picks up the tenor sax to accent some of his gritty excursions into jazz and blues. He plays with earthy vigor and a biting tone. “Centerpiece” is a classic Basie romp by Harry “Sweets” Edison and Jon Hendricks, and Stigers lays it in a romping frame.

There is an appreciative nod to pianist Gene Harris, Stigers’ mentor, who died two years ago. As a young clarinet player, Stigers hooked up with Harris in Boise, Idaho, jazz haunts. An original, dedicated to Harris, “Swinging Down at Tenth and Main,” is a flavorful salute to backroom jam sessions. Piano support from Matthew Fries is a distinct asset.

Victor Young’s “My Foolish Heart” is given a sensitive interpretation, with the verse neatly tacked on to the closing refrain. The reverse works as a poignant postscript to a classic torch song. The film theme is featured on his new Concord CD, “Secret Heart.” Newman’s “So Hard Livin’ Without You” is crooned with whispering melancholy.

The evening’s closer found Stigers hitting the hip Nat King Cole trail with “I Keep Going Back to Joe’s,” another torcher about an empty table in the corner. The slate is a carefully spaced program of blues and ballads, and Stigers’ entry into Harry Connick/John Pizzarelli terrain is most welcome.

Reed instruments and drums are becoming frequent sounds in the intimate environs of the Algonquin Hotel, with recent appearances by Stacey Kent and tenorist Jim Tomlinson, and a forthcoming run by Peter Cincotti and his swinging sidemen. For wintry nights, the Oak Room is offering a heady menu of warm jazz.”