Concert review: Curtis Stigers opens jazz festival in Paris
POSTED: October 30, 2007

Reporter Dana Oland, on vacation in Paris, caught a show Monday by Curtis Stigers at the JVC Jazz Festival Paris

PARIS — Most Boiseans know Curtis Stigers as a jazz singer, songwriter and community activist who supports environmental and social causes.

He’s been a hometown hero since a string of pop hits took him to national fame in the 1990s. His spotlight in the jazz world shines brighter with each concert and album release.

His latest CD, “Real Emotional,” (Concord, $14.99) took him this week to Paris, where he is a respected jazz artist with a growing international reputation.

Stigers opened the JVC Jazz Festival Paris with a show at New Morning, one of the hottest jazz clubs in the city.

The doors stayed closed past the announced 8 p.m. opening while French radio and television interviewed Stigers and the line outside the club grew.

This was in some ways Stigers’ debut in Paris. He made a successful appearance at the outdoor Paris Jazz Festival in 2006, but this is New Morning. A good performance at this intimate jazz venue carries weight in the music business.

Stigers walked onstage with his trio, who are familiar to Boise residents — Mathew Fries on piano, Phil Palombi on bass and Keith Hall on drums — to polite applause and a few cheers.

The first set started cool but finished hot and sweaty. After a timid merci (“That’s all the French I know,” he said), Stigers spoke less than usual. “I didn’t know what to expect. I tend to talk a lot during a show. That first set just flew by.”

After his first saxophone solo in the opening “That’s Alright Mama,” the audience began to groove with him. By “Fool in Love,” a Joe Jackson tune Stigers arranged with a jazz swing, they were hooked into his rich, smokey, soulful voice.

Few people in Paris knew Stigers’ music before this show, according to French freelance jazz writer and critic Christian Ducasse.

“Now, that will change. I tried to get many of my colleagues to come, but Parisians are very slow to accept. They missed out,” Ducasse said.

It’s been a long road from pop star to jazz artist for Stigers. It’s considered a handicap in the jazz world to have swum in the pop seas, Ducasse said.

“They forget that many others have done the same, Frank Sinatra, for example,” he said.

Stigers has a knack for turning pop songs into jazz gems. It’s ruffled a few critics but has largely won him praise throughout the jazz world. He builds a musical bridge between the pop and jazz genres.

On his set list are songs by singer-songwriters not usually associated with jazz, such as Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits, The Beatles, Paul Simon, Randy Newman and Bob Dylan.

Stigers’ performance in Paris was filled with humor and emotion, especially on the carefully placed and thoughtful jazz ballads.

Stigers and the guys came back for the second set unleashed. The walls had tumbled. Stigers talked freely, receiving laughs and applause for his efforts. The audience understood enough.

Fries’ fingers flew over the keys of the Yamaha piano. Palombi romanced deep tones from his bass all night. Hall’s beats were supple and driving.

Stigers continued to show himself a stylish singer, with the ability to wring pathos, joy and emotional sweep from any ballad or smoky blues tune. For this concert he showed his stuff with a knockout rendition of Harris’ “I Don’t Want to Talk About It Now,” and Newman’s “Real Emotional Girl.”

A near show-stopping moment came with Stigers’ heart-wrenching interpretation of Paul Simon’s politically charged ballad “American Tune.”

In the end, exuberant clapping, whistles and shouts brought him out for an encore. One man shouted out a request for “Crazy Moon” and Stigers obliged.

Then he launched into one of the rare jazz standards of the night, “My Foolish Heart,” which seemed to cast a spell on the room.

Stigers will play in Denmark and Germany this week, then head to Britain before returning home to Boise at the end of October.