When a guest artist answers the phone from their favorite local record store, you know you’re in for a treat. Curtis Stigers is the epitome of cool- with a quick wit and sultry style that could intoxicate any audience. His music has blurred the lines between genres and has left a lasting impact on the realm of jazz music. He has been stealing hearts and making headlines for the past 23 years and I’m sure he will continue to be a most beloved modern jazz icon for the next 23.
It has been 100 years since the birth of Frank Sinatra and on July 25th, Curtis Stigers will join the Utah Symphony to celebrate the music of Ol’ Blue Eyes as part of the Deer Valley® Music Festival. We had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Stigers about the upcoming event, and the legend himself, and what a treat it was.
Utah Symphony | Utah Opera: How were you first introduced to jazz?
Curtis Stigers: I was a big music fan as a kid, I was buying records by that time I was in 3rd grade. In 5th grade I played the clarinet in the school band and that led me to want to find music with wind instruments and a friend played me some jazz.
USUO: How does your music mesh together rock influence and jazz?
CS: When I make jazz records, I perform songs that aren’t always associated with jazz- like Elvis Costello or Willie Nelson. I try to find songs that are outside of the normal thing that people associate with jazz.
USUO: Do you prefer performing originals or classics?
CS: It depends. When I sing a great song that someone else has written, I tend to sing it like I wrote it. For me, singing a great song is like watching a great movie, I lose myself in it.
USUO: Who is your favorite jazz performer?
CS: That’s tough, and there are a lot of different styles of jazz. I would say my favorite pop jazz performer is Frank Sinatra. As well, one of the best jazz singers, Ray Charles, has been a huge influence on me. And Nat King Cole- I think he is one of the best jazz musicians that ever lived.
USUO: You’ve performed with a lot of iconic performers. Which left the biggest influence?
CS: Elton John was someone who was really exciting. The first album I ever bought was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and here I was playing jazz with him.
USUO: If you could go on tour with any of the people you have performed with, who would it be?
CS: Elton John because he has a plane—you have to be practical.
USUO: What is the most unique performance experience you’ve had?
CS: I did a tour of China with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra a few years back and we did a whole evening of John Lennon. It was interesting, but amazing. I’ve been very lucky, I get to do what I love and it gets me around the world.
USUO: How have you evolved as a performer over the last 23 years?
CS: My first two albums were very slick, middle of the road, pop. I had hit songs on the radio. Then I pushed away from that and experimented as a singer-songwriter. I decided, I’ve had some success and enough of a following to make a living as a touring musician. I stopped worrying if I would have a hit song and made music specifically for myself.
USUO: How do you think music in general has evolved over the last 23 years?
CS: There is a lot of good music, but it doesn’t play on modern radio. Occasionally, I’ll hear something that knocks my socks off, but I don’t think I am meant to love all young people’s music. I’m not supposed to love everything my daughter likes, and my mom didn’t like everything that I liked. Music changes because it has to—because the young people making music want to do something new.
USUO: What is your daughter’s taste in music?
CS: I’ve tried to create a child with an open mind. She loves modern music, she likes Taylor Swift and whatever else is on the radio, but she also knows all the names of the Beatles.
USUO: What is your favorite Frank Sinatra song?
CS: It depends on the day. Whichever one is playing usually. “All the Way,” is just a song when I hear it, it is just the most romantic thing ever. Right now, let’s say “All the Way.”
USUO: Would you have been a member of The Rat Pack back in the day?
CS: It would have been a lot of fun to hang out with those guys, they got into a lot of trouble. I’m not sure I could keep up, but I would give it my best shot.
USUO: How did you feel about Frank Sinatra’s passing?
CS: He had accomplished more as an artist in a few years than most do in a whole lifetime. He did it right, he lived large, and he made great art.
USUO: Your music has been featured in a lot of TV and movies. Which has been your favorite?
CS: “Sons of Anarchy” was the most visible. It went from a friend calling and saying “Hey I need you to write some lyrics” to being nominated for an Emmy for one of the most popular shows on TV.
USUO: Are there any TV shows you never miss?
CS: There’s a fun show I’m watching with my daughter made by BBC called “Moone Boy,” which stars Chris O’Dowd. I tend to watch TV or movies with my daughter, she is my TV buddie.
USUO: Growing up in Boise, did you ever come down to Salt Lake?
CS: Occasionally, since it was the closest big city. I’ve been through on my way to Moab. I’ve also played in Utah- I opened for Barry Manilow, and the Park City Jazz Festival.
USUO: Do you have any plans or places you want to visit while you’re here?
CS: I might throw my mountain bike on and see what trail I can get in around Deer Valley. I’m thrilled to be coming, it was such a nice surprise to be asked. I’m really excited to be playing with such a great orchestra.
And we are excited to have such a wonderful musician celebrating 100 years since the birth of the legend, Frank Sinatra. Tickets start at $34 and can be purchased here.