Curtis Stigers honored to celebrate the music of Frank Sinatra
As a child, award-winning jazz singer Curtis Stigers knew about and certainly heard the late, great Frank Sinatra, but it wasn’t until a few years later when the music would make its impact.
"I was certainly affected by him, but didn’t really get it, because I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and listened to the pop music of those days," Stigers told The Park Record during a telephone interview from Vail, Colorado. "I think the first time his music really knocked me out was when someone gave me a copy of his album ‘Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely’ and suddenly it made sense.
"I was 17 and a young singer who was trying to be whatever singer I could be, and I think I was old enough to understand the music," he said. "I was certainly old enough to have crushes."
Stigers is scheduled to perform Stigers Celebrates Sinatra during the Utah Symphony’s Deer Valley Music Festival at the Snow Park Amphitheater on Saturday, July 25.
The performance pays tribute to the 100th anniversary of "Ol’ Blue Eyes’" birth and Stigers was asked to step in when Frank Sinatra Jr. had to pull out due to medical reasons.
"Frank Sinatra Jr. is a fine singer, conductor and pianist and I was rather touched that I was the one they wanted to fill in," Stigers said. "I feel like I’m Frank Sinatra Jr. Jr. It’s exciting for me."
Once Stigers understood Sinatra’s music, he delved into it and learned as much as he could from old recordings and TV show appearances.
"No one will ever touch the genius he was or the brilliance he created," Stigers said. "He took American pop singing from crooning and made it into a higher art form that anyone else.
"I mean he’s been imitated, borrowed from and emulated not just by jazz singers, but from pop and rock singers," he said. "His ability to tell a story rubs off and is valuable in any kind of music, and there was something about the way Sinatra told a story with a song that just killed me."
Once Stigers understood Sinatra, he began finding ways to tell his own stories in music.
"I understood the heartbreak, and I wanted to tell my own stories in my songs," he said.
Stigers also liked how "The Chairman of the Board" interpreted each verse and chorus.
"I remember hearing Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles and Mel Torme, who are more acrobatic with their voices," Stigers said. "Then there was Frank. He had a way with being really subtle with his technique. He chose to let the song do the work and he even whispered when others may have yelled."
So, singing Sinatra’s music is a little tricky for Stigers at times.
"Every now and then I have to make sure I’m not doing an impression," he said. "I’m a pretty good mimic, but I didn’t want to mimic him. So, there’s a tightrope that I walk.
"Yes, I love singing the arrangements that he performed to, and many of them are such iconic arrangements that it’s better to sing with them, instead of trying to reinvent them," Stigers said. "That said, I want to sing as I would sing them, because I do have my own style. So, I feel things are better as long as I keep singing as myself and utilize what Frank did with those songs."
One of the most difficult Sinatra songs Stigers had to cover is "My Kind of Town."
"The reason is because the song is more Broadwayish than I was used to," he said. "It was tough because of its stylistic approach, but I sang it with a big band last year and it worked. I think the older I get the easier it is to sing Sinatra, because I’ve become a little less self-conscious.
"Also, for the most part, singing the material that Frank recorded comes pretty naturally because I listen to it so much," Stigers said. "It’s in my DNA and there’s a lot of him stuffed in me with the Ray Charles, Robert Plant, B.B. King and Muddy Waters."
Stigers said it feels good singing Sinatra songs these days.
"I’m 49, and I think even 10 years ago if I was asked that I wouldn’t have been able to do it," he said. "I’m at the point of my life that I’ve done so many different things and paid my dues that I feel comfortable slipping into his shoes and paying tribute to him."
In addition to the Sinatra selections, Stigers, who was named BBC Radio’s International Male Jazz Singer of the Year in 2010 and 2013, will perform a few of his own works at Deer Valley, and that means he will have the opportunity to play the saxophone.
"I’m a singer who plays saxophone, rather than the other way around," he said with a laugh. "There will be a number of my songs that are mixed in with the Frank Sinatra songbook during the performance, so I will be able to play a few notes on the horn.
"I’m in the slot between two records and I would love to make a record with an orchestra or make a record with a big band," he said. "So, this Sinatra stuff is pushing me in this direction. I’ll do a couple of shows in Europe for this 100th anniversary that I see is stretching into a three-year celebration. Then again, this may the year I do my solo acoustic record. So, I’ll tell you when I know."
The Utah Symphony’s Deer Valley Music Festival will present The Sinatra Century, featuring Curtis Stigers, who will sing the works of Frank Sinatra at the Snow Park Amphitheater on Saturday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $34 to $88 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.deervalleymusicfestival.org.
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