February 25, 2022
It’s full circle for Curtis Stigers, award-winning singer, songwriter and saxophonist with a string of hit singles, millions of albums sold, and a 30-year recording career to his résumé! On his new album he is looking back on his international hits such as “I Wonder Why” and “Never Saw A Miracle”, as well as other songs close to his heart. Stigers revisits these classics in his beloved laid back jazzy, bluesy style. The wintry “Keep Me From the Cold” track is available for radio now, more coming early 2022.
- (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding (Nick Lowe) 4:44
- You’re All That Matters To Me (Curtis Stigers/Gregg Sutton/Shelly Peiken) 5:58
- I Don’t Wanna Talk About It Now (Emmylou Harris/Jill Cunniff/Daryl Johnson) 5:57
- I Wonder Why (Curtis Stigers/Glen Ballard) 4:59
- This Life (Curtis Stigers/Bob Thiele Jr./Dave Kushner/Kurt Sutter) 3:35
- Keep Me From The Cold (Curtis Stigers/Glen Ballard) 4:43
- Summertime (George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin/DuBose Heyward/Dorothy Heyward) 4:24
- Don’t Go Far (Curtis Stigers/Beth Nielsen Chapman) 4:26
- Tonight Will Be Fine (Leonard Cohen) 7:11
- Swingin’ Down At 10th & Main (Curtis Stigers) 7:41
- Never Saw A Miracle (Curtis Stigers/Barry Mann) 4:23
- Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (Bob Dylan) 8:46
- Curtis Stigers – voice, tenor & soprano saxophone
- John “Scrapper” Sneider – trumpet
- Matthew Fries – piano, Wurlitzer electric piano
- Larry Goldings – organ, keyboards
- Cliff Schmitt – bass
- Keith Hall, Paul Wells – drums
- Produced by Curtis Stigers
Continue reading below for the full press release
Full Press Release
“I don’t tend to look back much, musically speaking”, Curtis Stigers states in the liner notes to his new album, This Life. “However, this time I set out with a plan to record songs from my previous twelve studio albums that I now play live in concert in a distinctly different way than I recorded them originally. Songs and arrangements grow and evolve from their recorded versions over time, as we play them again and again for audiences.”
It’s been 30 years since Curtis released his eponymous debut album which took the charts by storm and generated the international hits “I Wonder Why”, “You’re All That Matters To Me”, and “Never Saw A Miracle”. For “This Life” a seasoned Curtis Stigers has revisited these early successes (and a couple of later ones) and put a distinct jazz spin on them. The repertoire includes a new version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding”, which Stigers had recorded in 1992 for the smash hit film soundtrack of The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. And there is, of course, also a fresh rendition of “This Life”, the marvelous Emmy-nominated theme song Curtis co-wrote and recorded in 2008 for the wildly popular TV show, Sons Of Anarchy.
Backed by a fine-tuned band featuring John “Scrapper” Sneider on trumpet, Matthew Fries on piano and Wurlitzer electric piano, Cliff Schmitt on bass, Paul Wells and Keith Hall on drums plus special guest Larry Goldings on organ and keyboards, Stigers furthermore reinterprets memorable tracks from his past albums Time Was (1995), Brighter Days (1999), Secret Heart (2002), You Inspire Me (2003), and Real Emotional (2007). To round this amazing song collection off, he added two gems he has not recorded previously, though he already played them occasionally at his shows: the Gershwin classic “Summertime” and Leonard Cohen’s “Tonight Will Be Fine”.
“I’ve made a conscious decision throughout my life not to be confined, musically,” says Curtis Stigers. “For me, it’s all about the song, about the story.” For the award-winning singer, songwriter, and saxophonist, the story keeps getting better. His string of hit singles, millions
of albums sold, and a 28-year recording career aside, Stigers’ commitment to artistic growth, and to bringing new tunes to the Great American Songbook, has become unparalleled in modern music. Barnstorming concert halls, festivals and clubs everywhere from Moscow to Manhattan, accompanied one night by his quartet, another by big band or orchestra, Stigers continues to release new work nearly every year, frequently collaborating with his musical heroes. Along the way, this musician who began his career playing standards in a Boise hotel lobby while moonlighting as drummer in a punk rock band has redefined the constitution of contemporary jazz singing.
Perhaps because he has penned so many notable songs himself, as well as writing with the likes of legends like Carole King and Barry Mann, Stigers has come to recognize the small, perfect things that are a great melody and lyric, and how to capture them. It is his rich singing voice, however – singular, balletic, and at turns both mournful and playful – that has landed him on records with the likes of Al Green, Shawn Colvin, in studios with venerated producers like Larry Klein, Danny Kortchmar, and Glen Ballard, and on stages and concert bills with a plethora of legends, including pop and rock greats Eric Clapton, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Prince, Rod Stewart and The Allman Brothers, and jazz giants Nancy Wilson, Al Jarreau, Gerry Mulligan, Randy and Michael Brecker, Chuck Mangione, Toots Thielemans, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Kurt Elling, Diana Krall, John Scofield, and many more.
Curtis Stigers was born in 1965 in Hollywood, but grew up in the less glamorous city of Boise, the capital of Idaho. He has always been a man of many musical tastes. “I loved record stores and I loved the radio,” he once remembered his early years. “Back then, on pop radio, you could hear everything from Aretha Franklin and Al Green to Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin to Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings… even a little bit of jazz like Spyro Gyra or Chuck Mangione. So, growing up, I learned about all kinds of music and formed a great appreciation for all kinds of music, during a time when music wasn’t so strictly formatted on the radio.”
When he was about ten years old, he started playing clarinet, then drums and guitar, and, finally, the saxophone. While in high school, Curtis became more serious about music, performed with local rock and blues bands and received even some classical education on clarinet and sax. Although Boise was a place that was not necessarily known as the center of the music universe, it had been the home of choice of one Gene Harris. A pioneer of soul-jazz, the pianist and his fabulous trio The Three Sounds had recorded scores of successful albums for Blue Note, Verve, and Mercury Records between 1958 and 1977. Then Harris semi-retired in Boise where he performed regularly at the Idanha Hotel and held jam sessions with local talents. One of which was young Curtis Stigers. The musical encounters with the veteran pianist prompted him to delve deeper into jazz music.
When he was 21 years old, Curtis felt ready to move to New York City to pursue his career as a musician. It wasn’t long before he started working the city’s blues and jazz club circuit where he caught the ear of legendary record producer Clive Davis who signed him to Arista Records. Davis paired Curtis up with experienced songwriting partners – amongst others Glen Ballard and Barry Mann – to craft the songs for his self-titled debut album. With its soulful pop and rock ballads, the multi-platinum album established the long-haired Curtis Stigers as singing and sax-playing heartthrob or, as Variety would put a couple of years later, “as a sort of mad scientist splice of Michael Bolton and Kenny G”. Curtis continued his early success by contributing a version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” to the film soundtrack of the blockbuster movie, The Bodyguard, which has sold 45 million copies.
Then he got himself a decent haircut (to avoid further confusion with the likes of Michael Bolton and Kenny G) and recorded Time Was (1995), his sophomore album for Arista. Time Was produced another two hit singles: the title song and “Keep Me From The Cold”. The latter, once again written in collaboration with Glen Ballard, is included here. “I’ve always considered this to be the one that got away,” Curtis muses. “I had hopes in 1995 that it would get lots of radio airplay and become a hit. No such luck. However, it’s one of the songs I’m most proud of.”
In 1999, it was time for him to head into a new musical direction. With the help of Jackson Browne, Benmont Tench, Chuck Leavell, and producer/songwriter Bob Thiele Jr. (the son of Bob Thiele, who, as head of Impulse! Records, produced many milestone albums for jazz legends like John Coltrane), he recorded “Brighter Days” for Columbia Records. Curtis Stigers and Bob Thiele Jr. would later team up again to write the Sons Of Anarchy theme song with Dave Kushner and Kurt Sutter. For “This Life”, Curtis chose to revamp “Don’t Go Far”, a song written with Nashville singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman. “One of my favorite songwriting experiences, ever,” he says emphatically. “My band and I started playing it at soundchecks years later and found a very different, more jazz-oriented way of playing it, compared to the spooky, moody version I recorded for my 1999 album, Brighter Days. I love Scrapper’s haunting muted trumpet on this.”
After appearing as a guest singer on two albums his mentor Gene Harris made for Concord Jazz, Curtis Stigers himself signed a deal with the label and, in 2001, released his very first jazz record, Baby Plays Around. With the exception of one original, the title song written by Elvis Costello, and Randy Newman’s “Marie”, the album contained Tin Pan Alley classics and well-known jazz standards. On top of this, the recording featured the singer and saxophonist alongside an all-star cast of musicians with some serious jazz credentials: pianist Larry Goldings (who would go on to appear as a sideman and producer on another six of Curtis’s albums), trumpet player Randy Brecker, bassists Dennis Irwin and Christian Minh Doky as well as drummers Bill Stewart and Adam Nussbaum.
The follow-up, Secret Heart (2002), saw him steering through a more diverse programme, mixing a couple of jazz standards with more originals and songs by Steve Earle, Ron Sexsmith, Dave Frishberg, and, once again, Randy Newman. With “Swingin’ Down At 10th & Main” – which he has reworked for This Life – he offered a heartfelt tribute to Gene Harris. “Although it’s a loving and joyful ode to my late friend, mentor, and hero, the legendary jazz pianist Gene Harris, I wrote and recorded this song a year and a half after Gene’s untimely passing, and only weeks after the 9/11 attacks,” Curtis explains. “My touring band and I later added the shout choruses and drum breaks and cranked up the tempo considerably. It makes for a powerful show-closer. Cliff Schmitt’s double bass solo always slays and drummer Keith Hall is an unstoppable machine of swing.”
On his 2003 album, You Inspire Me, Curtis paid homage to some of his other musical heroes. Even though the repertoire – with songs by The Beatles, Joe Jackson, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, The Kinks, Nick Lowe, and Randy Newman – featured only two jazz standards, You Inspire Me was named “Jazz Album of the Year” by the London Times. On This Life, Curtis presents a new version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. “I originally recorded this classic Dylan kiss-off note, featuring Larry Goldings on Hammond B3 organ… but my live version has always relied on Matthew Fries and his soulful gospel piano
playing.” The track appears as an exclusive bonus track on the vinyl version of the album.
On the following two albums, I Think It’s Going To Rain Today (2005) and Real Emotional (2007), he took a similar approach, lending his smooth, yet raspy voice to a couple of originals (one written in a rare collaboration with his younger brother Jake, an indie rock singer-songwriter) and some more pop and rock classics, amongst them Emmylou Harris’s “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It Now”. “I originally recorded this as a keyboard and vocal duet with Larry Goldings,” he states. “When I began playing it live, suddenly it turned into a grooving showstopper, highlighted by drummer Keith Hall’s funky brush work, and by the soulful, rollicking piano-playing of Matthew Fries. John ‘Scrapper’ Sneider turns in a smoking-hot trumpet solo here. I love this song. It’s sexy and slightly unhinged. Emmylou is a treasure.” The same year he released “Real Emotional”, BBC Radio 2 named Curtis Jazz Artist of the Year in the UK.
Lost In Dreams, released in 2009, focussed more than ever before on Curtis’s own songwriting prowess, with him contributing four out of twelve compositions (“You’ve Got The Fever”, “The Dreams Of Yesterday”, ”Daddy’s Coming Home”, and “Feels Right”) to the albums’s repertoire. In 2009, he also received an Emmy nomination and an ASCAP Award for co-writing and singing “This Life”, the theme song for the hit TV series, Sons Of Anarchy. In Germany, where he has an especially dedicated following since he landed his first top 10 hit with “I Wonder Why”, Curtis won an ECHO Jazz Award for “Lost In Dreams” in 2010. A feat he would repeat three years later with his tenth album, Let’s Go Out Tonight, for which the singer had assembled his most eclectic song collection to date – featuring songs by a.o. Bob Dylan, Clyde Otis, Richard Thompson, Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd, Steve Earle, David Poe, Neil Finn, and Jeff Tweedy. In 2014, he returned with“Hooray For Love”, a joyous, yet sophisticated celebration of love which instantly became a Valentine’s Day classic. In the same year he also recorded “One More For The Road” with the Danish Radio Big Band, a live tribute to Frank Sinatra and his legendary album “Sinatra At The Sands”. The album – his last for Concord Jazz – was released in 2017 and garnered rave reviews.
After signing a new record contract with EmArcy, Curtis Stigers released Gentleman in 2020, an album which could easily be characterized as his most ambitious and most personal yet. Joining forces with his long-time songwriting partner Larry Goldings and David Poe, he penned seven originals in which explored what it means to be a good man (or gentleman) in an era of political turmoil and social distancing.
Now, on his aptly titled new album, This Life, things finally have come full circle for Curtis Stigers. He looks back on the 30 years of his amazing career while, at the same time, moving forward to break new grounds. Throughout his career, Curtis Stigers has surprised us with the song choices he made, evading the most obvious selections from the Great American Songbook and beyond in order to dig deeper for hidden gems he can turn into wonderful vehicles for soulful jazz improvisations. These treasures now include his self-pinned songs, which were big hits decades ago. These are songs that one cannot remember the 1990s without, that’s how popular they were. They stayed with many listeners since then and it’s a great present for their anniversary that Curtis Singers turned them into timeless classics on this new album.