IT is nearly 30 years since American jazz singer Curtis Stigers first enjoyed chart success in the UK with the release of single I Wonder Why – followed shortly afterwards by You’re All That Matters To Me.
Although much time has since rolled by, Stigers’ love affair with the UK – and with Ronnie Scott’s in particular – has not diminished. Far from it.
Nor, for that matter, has the public’s love of this charismatic performer ebbed in the slightest, as evidenced by the exuberant response to his four-night run at Ronnie Scott’s (Thursday September 30 through to Sunday October 3). They love him.
Stigers, who spent most of the pandemic at home with his dogs in Idaho, has lost none of his charm and powerful on-stage presence as he alternated between saxophone and vocals – pausing for breath occasionally to take on board a refreshing sip of red wine. He strutted, he jutted out his jaw, teased his band, but most of all he played with passion and sung with tenderness.
Although the night was a showcase for his ‘new’ (pre pandemic) album Gentleman, there was plenty more on offer. He opened the show (second performance, Thursday September 30) with Randy Newman’s I’ll be Home, delivered a beautiful pared back version of My Funny Valentine (Rodgers and Hart), and treated the audience to a sax infused and knee trembling You’re All That Matters To Me.
Other highpoints were Centrepiece (written by Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Jon Hendricks and Johnny Mandel), a bleak Things Have Changed (Bob Dylan), This Life (the soundtrack to TV crime series Sons of Anarchy) and a sensational finale in I Wonder Why. That song still packs a mighty punch.
The music of Nick Lowe, whom Stigers describes as a ‘superb’ songwriter, featured throughout, with Lately I’ve Let Things Slide forming the first track on Gentleman. Other songs from the newish album included the ‘harrowing and terrifying’ (Stigers’ words) Remember (written by David Poe) – which brimmed with raunchy lyrics:
‘Remember how she tasted
Your hand between her thighs
Sucking on your fingers.’
As a counterpoint, Stigers also delivered love song A Lifetime Together, written with Larry Goldings – and As Usual (penned by Goldings and Bill DeMain). Indeed, Poe and Goldings feature heavily on album Gentleman.
While Stigers, tall and incredibly well-preserved, is the undoubted star of the show, he surrounds himself with some formidable musicians in the shape of Matthew Fries (piano), Cliff Schmitt (bass) and Paul Wells (drums).
The result is a night of top drawer live music which brings in the crowds (actors Richard E Grant and Denis Lawson were present on Sunday night).
‘We need you,’ Stigers told the audience on Thursday. ‘It’s good to be here out of the kitchen. This place is home to us.’
The feeling is mutual. Curtis, WE NEED YOU.