Pasadena, CA – Singers James Tormé and John Atkins will present their unique perspectives on “The Male Vocalist” at the next Clazzical Notes performance, Monday, Oct. 20, 7-8:30 p.m. at Caltech’s Ramo Auditorium, 325 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena, CA 91106. Bubba Jackson of K-JAZZ-FM, will be moderator.
Clazzical Notes, presented by The Orchestras of Pasadena, is a free, increasingly popular music series where the worlds of jazz and classical music come together.
John Atkins has experienced first-hand the versatility of the male voice during his opera career. In the last six years he has made the transition from roles for baritone singers to higher-register tenor roles. Recent efforts include the Male Chorus (Rape of Lucretia) by Britten, the Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion, Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus and Spoletta in Tosca. He is now exploring repertoire such as Wagner’s Siegmund and Parsifal, Richard Strauss’s Herod (Salome), the title role in Idomeneo, and Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth.
He admits that it has been both interesting and “terrifying” to shift his career so dramatically.
“I found that the higher parts of baritone became to feel more comfortable,” Atkins explained. “When you change to tenor you have to change your mind set. It makes your brain work in a different way. It’s very interesting to have this whole new world later in my career. I’d recommend it to everyone.”
Storytelling is important to Atkins. “Now Wagner is something I’m looking at; it’s much more interesting to me now than when I was younger, and I ‘get’ the stories he was trying to tell.”
That storytelling will come into play when Atkins joins jazz singer James Tormé onstage Oct. 20.
“I certainly have always sung works by Cole Porter, Gershwin and other popular composers,” he said. “I try to not make it sound like an opera singer is singing, because jazz aficionados might find that ‘square.’ When I sing opera, it’s about communicating a story through musical notes. I still do that when I sing Porter or Gershwin, by determining what is the story they’re telling.”
Jazz vocalist James Tormé logged more hours on a plane as a child than most of us accumulate in a lifetime. He grew up commuting between the Los Angeles home of his father – three-time Grammy Award-winner Mel Tormé – and London, where his mother, celebrated British actress Janette Scott, lived. Both parents were strong musical influences on their son.
“My mom bought me Michael Jackson’s album Off The Wall when I was 6, and I think it did me in permanently,” James recalls. “On top of that, my father would dub tapes for me of any new music he thought was worth getting into. He introduced me to Earth, Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, and Blood Sweat and Tears and, of course, all the jazz songs from the American Songbook. I honestly see myself as an evolution of him and those influences.”
The Clazzical Notes audience will see that evolution when Tormé takes the stage as the jazz counterpart to Atkins’ classical voice.
“I am a jazz singer at heart,” Tormé said, but revealed he’s “a massive fan of classical music. The stuff that frightens me is ‘jazzy-classical’ by composers like Frederic Delius, who created wonderful ahead-of-his-time classical works. His On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring was one of my father’s favorites that he always wanted orchestras to play, but they couldn’t because it’s a very difficult piece to play.” Yet James Tormé was able to have the New West Symphony play the piece when he performed with them recently, a concert that brought tears to his mother’s eyes.
Clazzical Notes will give Tormé another opportunity to discuss the elements of jazz, just as he did recently during a tour in Alaska, where he and his band conducted jazz workshops in middle and high schools.
“Any music can be jazz,” he told the students. “Lil’ Wayne can be jazz. It’s about knowing the melody backward and forward in order to embellish on an existing framework. It takes knowing that so you can achieve melodic and rhythmic spontaneity.”
And you can count on spontaneity and improvisation with Tormé and his band mates – drummer Tony Austin, bass player Ryan Cross, and pianist Brandon Coleman.
Clazzical Notes is the only concert date Tormé has booked while he is finishing his upcoming CD for Koch Records, set for release in 2009.
“It’s a really nice time for me to be doing this concert,” he said. “I’ll bring all that energy from the stage back into the studio.”
Clazzical Notes is sponsored in part by Caltech, The Green Foundation, the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation, the estate of Richard C. Biedebach, and K-JAZZ 88.1 FM. For more information about Clazzical Notes, call (626) 793-7172, ext. 21, or visit www.theorchestras.org.
CALENDAR LISTING (USE BEFORE OCT. 20):
CLAZZICAL NOTES – “THE MALE VOCALIST”: The Orchestras of Pasadena presents “The Male Vocalist,” a Clazzical Notes free concert with opera singer John Atkins and jazz singer James Tormé, and hosted by Bubba Jackson of K-JAZZ 88.1 FM. Monday, Oct. 20, 7-8:30 p.m., Ramo Auditorium at Caltech, 325 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena, CA 91106. Free. For information, call The Orchestras of Pasadena, (626) 793-7172, ext. 21, or visit www.theorchestras.org.