Reviews and Articles
Curtis Stigers reviews and articles. Read what people are saying about Curtis and his music.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2007
CURTIS STIGERS FEATURED IN TIME OUT NY!
The received line on Norah Jones is that she’s secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) hiding her jazzy sophistication under a commercially accessible mixture of loungey torch and twang. Discuss music with singer-songwriter and saxophonist Curtis Stigers, however, and you might get a different interpretation of what Jones is doing, one that suggests that elegance and twanginess are more similar than we might think. “I discovered something while researching songs—particularly Bob Dylan tunes—for my last few jazz albums,” he begins, on the horn from his home state of Idaho. “Classic country songs really aren’t that far off from pop standards, structurally speaking. They adhere to the same verse-verse-bridge-chorus format; you could call it a Southern version of Tin Pan Alley. It’s something I think about when I do ‘Crazy’—which, of course, Willie Nelson wrote for Patsy Cline. It makes a lot of sense that I discovered an older tune like ‘Stardust’ through Willie’s version and not Frank Sinatra’s or Hoagy Carmichael’s.”
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If Stigers had stopped at reinterpreting country songs, though, his recent Concord Jazz albums—beginning with 2001’s Baby Plays Around and continuing right up to the new Real Emotional—might not seem so novel. The album titles alone tell the story of an artist looking for potentially swinging repertoire in unlikely places: The inaugural release cites his Elvis Costello cover; 2002’s Secret Heart is named for a piece by Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith; 2003’s You Inspire Me comes from Brit roots-rocker Nick Lowe; and the two most recent discs reference Randy Newman (I Think It’s Going to Rain Today was released in 2005). “The joke about my career has always been that I crossed over in the wrong direction,” Stigers laughs, referring to his transformation from a multiplatinum-selling singer-songwriter in the ’90s (he recorded the theme to The Bodyguard) to what used to be called a saloon singer. The new disc begins with a Dylan cover, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” but the most cohesively varied stretch begins a couple of tracks later, when his craggy, burnished baritone follows a soulful Hammond B-3 driven version of Emmylou Harris’s “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It Now” with Stephin Merritt’s “As You Turn to Go,” and then slides into the early Tom Waits chestnut “San Diego Serenade.”
Stigers is humble about his latest achievements, in deference to those who’d question his jazz credentials as a result of his hit-making phase at Clive Davis’s Arista Records—when his work seemed more like a cross between Michael Bolton and David Sanborn. “I’m not trying to take credit for expanding the American Songbook,” he explains, “because I’m not the only one doing it—Cassandra Wilson comes to mind—and I still love and perform pieces like ‘All the Things You Are’ and ‘I Fall in Love Too Easily.’ But I do think the Songbook is a lot bigger than people give it credit for being. I’m sure [this] perception was born out of the rift that split jazz off from everything else around the time that Elvis Presley, and later the Beatles, got big.”
Stigers has had the unique opportunity to witness the schism from both sides of his career. He arrived in New York City with heavy jam-session skills, which he only put on hold once the majors came calling. “In 1992, I wanted to follow up my hit record with a jazz release,” he explains. “But of course, Clive wouldn’t hear of it. I ended up bringing the company a jazz record to get out of my deal, after some six years of acrimony and frustration. As for now, I kinda expected the jazz community to take a little time coming around to me. My first couple of discs have more conventional standards on them because it was important to me to prove that I wasn’t a dilettante.”
It’s hard to imagine that the singer’s bop is anything but seasoned when he’s onstage with a combo. He’s written a few fine tunes of his own (with brilliant keyboardist and coproducer Larry Goldings), and owing to his prowess as a saxist, Stigers even seems a natural at the dying art of scat singing. “I have no regrets about the music I’ve done,” he says, “but one thing I don’t miss about performing pop is having to scream over a thundering drummer and wailing guitarists. And what I’ve found out from looking for new songs is that the big anthemic power ballads from then aren’t really compatible with what I’m doing now anyway.”
Real Emotional is out now. Curtis Stigers plays the Blue Note Tue 18 and Wed 19.
— By K. Leander Williams
Curtis Stigers is the rare breed of talent that can embrace the Great American Songbook while keeping the music utterly contemporary. A resounding triumph!
Brent Black / www.criticaljazz.com
John Fordham – The Guardian
Curtis Stigers, the early-90s pop star from Idaho who devoted himself to jazz when middle-age and the millennium arrived, ought to be the kind of comfort-zone artist that annoys the jazz hardcore – but he isn’t. Stigers sings lost-love songs, plays a little bluesy tenor sax, and winds up his sets with his old hit singles (like the 1992 soul-swinger You’re All That Matters to Me) that he knows a big percentage of his listeners have come to hear. But his respect for good lyrics, self-deprecating gags and shrewd use of his sidemen’s improv skills make him an artist of genuine class and laconic charm, if not a trailblazer. Stigers’s current tour promotes his new album Let’s Go Out Tonight – a programme he clearly regards as uncannily autobiographical, even though it’s his first in almost a decade without a single self-penned song.
Clive Davis – 4 stars
Midway through one song, Curtis Stigers’s microphone fell apart. Luckily, the number happened to be You’re All That Matters to Me, the blue-eyed soul hit that helped define his career a couple of decades ago, so his fans were able to fill in the lyrics without missing a beat. “It happened on the right song, at least,” he quipped, as he toyed with a recalcitrant cable. His stage manner is as droll and quick-witted as the very best stand-up comedian’s.
Tim Brennan, No Depression Magazine
There was a time when some people wrote song and some people sang songs. The two rarely mixed. In that era of Tin Pan Alley and the songwriting mills, Curtis Stigers would have been a demi god. As he displays on Let’s Go Out Tonight, he can take well written songs and wring every bit of melody and emotion out of them. Songwriters would be inventing ways to get Stigers to record one of their works.
But those days of songwriters churning out one song after another in the hopes of crafting a melody that a signer spins into gold, have all but faded away. It became forgivable for a singer to be less than perfect if they wrote their own songs. We could allow a poor performance if we knew that the song came from the artist himself. We’d go so far as to praise the performance “inimitable”. But when that happened, some audiences found themselves unable to get past the quirkiness of some performers, and they lost out on the chance to find some great songs. Dylan was too nasal, Earl too controversial, Tweedy has a punk kid history.
Jazz will always color the world of Boise singer and saxophonist Curtis Stigers, but it’s just one of many influences on this eclectic, personal collection — his best yet.
Stigers’ 10th studio album feels like a new beginning. He wrote none of these songs, but you can imagine them on his iPod’s “most played” list. He uses them to boil down the essence of his musical DNA not just as a performer, but as a fan. With the helpful ear of producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux) and a fresh group of backing musicians, Stigers connects with pop, Americana, folk and soul in a deep, self-reflective way.
Mike Ragogna, Huffington Post
Mike Ragogna: Curtis, you have a new album, Let’s Go Out Tonight. But first, it seems you made a certain person named Nick Lowe quite a bit of money by performing his original song “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love, And Understanding,” on The Bodyguard Soundtrack.
Curtis Stigers: Yeah, it was all by accident. I’d been a fan of Nick’s since I was a kid. I loved all of the records that he produced. I happened to do that song as the final song of my set every night, and that ended up being the track that I was lucky enough to put on The Bodyguard soundtrack. Then it went on to sell over 40 million copies thanks to Whitney Houston, God rest her soul. It was a big surprise for all of us. One day, I got a call from my hero, Nick Lowe, out of the blue thanking me for doing the song. He told me I’d never have to buy a meal in London again. (laughs) So, every now and then, Nick Lowe buys me dinner in London. The best thing that came out of all of that, besides Nick becoming rich, was that I’ve gotten to become friends with one of my heroes.
CriticalJazz.com – 5 Stars
Smooth jazz? No…Contemporary jazz? No, try again. Curtis Stigers Let’s Go Out Tonight is a critics worst nightmare as it sidesteps both his past impressive discography and the current plethora of sub-genres dotting the jazz landscape. Let’s Go Out Tonight is a fresh, inspired and rather eclectic look at some of what most would consider the more alternative takes on artists including Richard Thompson, Jeff Tweedy and even the great Bob Dylan. Opening with a soulful riff on the Bob Dylan classic “Things Have Changed” this Oscar winning song from Wonder Boys helps set the musical tone if not jump start an organic pulse that creeps through the release with well placed jazz sensibilities coupled with an alternative soul spin on tunes that seem to linger long after the last note.
Wall Street Journal
July 29, 2011
By ANDREW MCKIE
When Curtis Stigers came on stage on Wednesday night it felt as if someone had upped the wattage in the bulbs. It ought to have been no surprise that Mr. Stigers is a competent turn on stage—this is, after all, a man whose first album sold more than 1.5 million copies. But I hadn’t quite been prepared for the sheer brio with which he tears into a crowd. The course of his career, and the chat I had had with him that morning, had given me the impression that this was a man backing away from the limelight.
The Rochester City Paper said this about Curtis at The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival:
“It was day No. 5 and did we ever kick it into overdrive. Curtis Stigers started off my evening at Kilbourn Hall. Opening with Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s ‘That’s Alright’ with a brief stop at ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ Stigers was all kinds of suave. His voice was sharp and seasoned — downright luxurious — and his phrasing was impeccable without being the least bit indulgent. When he wasn’t crooning tunes ‘genetically engineered to make you cry,’ he bopped heavy and cool on the sax. Serious class act here, folks.”
-Rochester City Paper, Rochester, NY