SONNY G. JAZZ TRIO
Sonny G. is having the time of his life! He recently made
his recording debut at the age of 67, singing the songs he loves with top musicians, making a set of standards and a few obscurities sound as if they were written for him. The joy he feels for the music is obvious and his sensitive interpretations display a deep understanding of the lyrics he sings.
Born and raised in Chicago, he loved swing, standards and jazz from the time he was a child, picking up much of his musical education while listening to the radio in the 1950s. "Even when rock n roll came in during my mid-teens, I was much more interested in jazz and jazz singing. I went to the Blue Note, the Bird House, and many other clubs in Chicago that featured combos. I sang in school at various functions and performed at anniversary parties and informal family gatherings, but it was all nonprofessional until 14 years ago." Sonny G. made his living as a salesman for many years but always liked to sing for the fun of it. "One night I was at Chambers Restaurant and Scott Holman was playing piano. A friend told him that I could sing so he got me up there to sing a song, he liked what he heard and taught me some basics. I also met saxophonist Bob Centano, sat in with his band, and he was kind enough to let me make my own mistakes and grow from the experience. I was hired to sing at the Chambers and was able to pack the place; it helps to have a large Italian family!" Since that time, he has sung regularly in the Chicago area with such major musicians as Joey DeFrancesco, Larry Novak, Ira Sullivan, John Campbell, Jodie Christian and Tommy Muellner.
When asked to describe his singing style, Sonny G. says,
"I sound like me. I have been influenced primarily by Frank Sinatra and self-consciously have a way of phrasing that is similar to Frank. Sinatra and I sing in similar keys so I listened to him a lot. However, I don't copy anyone and I don't want to be an imitator. I like to change lyrics a bit, adding adjectives and adverbs in my singing, adjusting words to really fit me and how I am feeling without actually changing the spirit of the piece." Sonny G's debut recording came about because of his desire to make an album as a legacy for his four grandchildren. He also wanted to dedicate it to his father and two friends, all of whom have passed away in recent years. Two years ago, the great organist Joey DeFrancesco suggested he come to Phoenix and record at his studio. Finally last year, Sonny G. felt he was ready. In many cases, the performances used on the CD were first takes and came together quickly. Other than a brief discussion about the framework of a song, it was just a matter of picking a tune and performing it.
Sonny G. is joined by organist Joey DeFrancesco on six
numbers, pianist Tom Muellner on nine of the 13 songs, guitarist Bill Klewitz, drummer Phil Gratteau are on every song, bassist Kelly Sill is on the selections on which Joey DeFrancesco does not appear. Three songs also have Sonny G. joined by horns with Bob Ojeda contributing some tasteful flugelhorn to "I Wish I Knew". Sonny G's voice is highly expressive, always in-tune, he swings at every tempo, and he does justice to all of the words that he interprets. There are spots for DeFrancesco, Muellner and Klewitz to stretch out, but the main focus is on the singer.
The repertoire is mostly comprised of standards from
the 1930s, 40s and 50s although a few numbers are forgotten gems. "I'll Be Laughing Tonight" and "To Love You" were recorded by a singer named John Leslie in 1956 but rarely performed since. Of "To Love You", Sonny G. jokes, "Every girl that I took out, I'd sing it to them. Since no one had ever heard of it, I'd tell them that I wrote it".
Of the other songs, "Almost Like Being In Love" serves as a perfect opener, "A Day In The Life Of A Fool," "You Brought A New Kind Of Love To Me," a rare vocal version of "On Green Dolphin Street" that includes the verse, "Because Of You," and "I Only Have Eyes For You," are infectious swingers, and Sonny G. displays his warmth on such ballads as "I Wish I Knew," "A Time For Love," "Everything Happens to Me," "Why Try To Change Me Now" and "Sleep Warm". Of the latter, Sonny G. says "It is one of the nicest closing songs for a show." "I Only Have Eyes for You," has a deep meaning for the singer because he sang it the night he met his wife 47 years ago at a cousin's wedding.
For the future, Sonny G. says that he would love to
record a Christmas album and another standards CD comprised mostly of ballads. "I'm really happy that I finally chose to be a singer. I'm 68 and I'm having a great time and a lot of fun." Lovers of the great American Songbook and of male jazz-inspired singers will also have a great time listening to Sonny G., an important new discovery for those of us not lucky enough to hear him singing live in Chicago.