I love the music Curtis Stigers is making right now. This suggests that the great Bob Dylan was right when he sang "Things Have Changed" -- a song Stigers brilliantly covers on his most recent album Let's Go Out Tonight. And if you think that jazz singing is a lost art, then check it out and think again.
It was not always so. When I first heard about Curtis Stigers, he was a promising rock-pop-soul singer and sax player signed to Arista Records, and I was a young wiseass rock critic at Rolling Stone. There was no mistaking that Curtis had a hell of a strong voice, but it wasn't entirely clear what he would end up doing with that impressive vocal instrument of his -- especially with a rather hands-on record company pushing him further and further in a pop direction. Around that time, Curtis also committed what -- at the time -- stuck me as a musical war crime: covering one of my favorite songs ever -- "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love & Understanding" -- on one of the most successful albums of all time, The Bodyguard soundtrack.
Though I did not especially dig it back in the day, Curtis Stigers' soul-inflected, less ironic take on the song -- written by Nick Lowe and famously covered by Elvis Costello -- on that massive international smash soundtrack actually did a significant public service by making the wonderful Mr. Lowe a great deal of money. Eventually, thankfully, Stigers' musical heart took him in a different and far more interesting direction. Starting in 2001, Stigers signed to the smaller and less intrusive Concord label and began to record as a jazz vocalist, but a jazz vocalist of the 21st century. It soon became clear that Stigers had a keen eye for the great writers in the wide world of rock who deserve to be part of our new American songbook. On 2001's Baby Plays Around, for instance, Stigers covered Elvis Costello's title track and Randy Newman's "Marie." On 2012's Let's Go Out Tonight -- collaborating beautifully with producer Larry Klein -- Stigers has made another great leap forward with a set of songs that include artfully selected and interpreted compositions by such exquisite writers as Neil Finn, Paul Buchanan, Jeff Tweedy and Richard Thompson. Stigers writes wonderfully and vividly too - for instance, some of you know him as the Emmy-nominated co-writer and singer of the theme song for the wildly popular FX show Sons Of Anarchy.
Bringing the fine art of jazz vocals into these modern times full of anarchy for the music business is probably not the easiest gig in music today, but the work that Curtis Stigers is doing right now is important and stunning and sexy and soulful. My wife and I are excited to see him perform Sunday night at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City, and if you love great music and all that jazz, I suggest you all check him out too. For more information, go to curtisstigers.com -- or follow him at www.twitter.com/stigerscurtis -- and see him when he comes closer to you.
Like Curtis sings with such compelling phrasing, "Things Have Changed." And in this case -- as you should see and hear for yourselves -- it's all changed for the better.
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