Stigers’ Act Is Far from Standard
POSTED: May 26, 2005

Special to The Los Angeles Times – By Don Heckman

Singer-saxophonist Curtis Stigers can be praised for a lot of things: his powerful sense of swing, his way with a lyric, the inherent musicality of his interpretations. But he should be praised for something else as well, an attribute that is rare among the legions of jazz singers who have arrived in the last decade or so: his decision to build a jazz vocal repertoire almost entirely on the music from the post-Great American Songbook era.

On Tuesday at the Jazz Bakery, Stigers, who was accompanied by pianist Matthew Fries, drummer Keith Hall and bassist Phil Palombi, sang an opening set that did not include a single so-called standard, not a single note from Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and the Gershwins. Instead, he turned to songwriters such as Joe Jackson (“Fools in Love”), Elvis Costello (“Baby Plays Around”), Arthur Crudup (“That’s All Right”), Willie Nelson (“Crazy”) and Mose Allison (“Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy”) and added a few of his own numbers (“Columbus Avenue” and “Lullaby on the Hudson”) written with keyboardist Larry Goldings.

It was an intriguing program for a jazz singer, and one that worked as well as it did primarily because Stigers is that and more. With a solid pop-music background, an affinity for the blues and a voice with a buzz-saw cutting edge, he brought vitality to everything he sang.

Stigers topped off an impressive evening with a high-gear rendering of “Billie’s Bounce,” tossing in several great scat passages, including a spot-on impression of a hard-swinging bass solo.