INTERVIEW/FEATURE: Kevin Fitzsimmons (new album Working Day And Night - launch Pizza Express 18 June)

Kevin Fitzsimmons


Singer KEVIN FITZSIMMONS has a new album out, Working Day And Night, recorded live at the Pizza Express Jazz Club. And that’s exactly where he and his band will be launching the album on 18 June. He spoke to Peter Bacon.

LondonJazz News: Your new album, Working Day And Night, is a live recording. What do you like about recording live? And what are the downsides?

Kevin Fitzsimmons: I think the upside to recording live is that you have a huge and very beneficial element in the room… the audience. They are as much a part of the music as the musicians on stage. They have the ability to affect the mood and emotion of the recording. The downside: you have to accept the first take.

LJN: You clearly have a rapport with your band on the album. Are the musicians you work with important to you? And how did you form this band?

KF: Musical accompaniment: oh man, how important is that! I know one thing, get it wrong and you’re sunk. I’ve been very fortunate along the way to have found some smart and very talented people I get along with musically and socially. I’ve met them through various musical scenarios, not always jazz but they are always jazz musicians.

LJN: It’s an eclectic mix of tunes - from old standards to contemporary, and a couple of original compositions. What do you look for in a song?

KF: A good lyric is high on the list, although more often than not a good lyric is normally accompanied by a good tune. My all-time favourite song, Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, has both these elements.

LJN: You work hard on a variety of projects, from tributes to the Ratpack and to Michael Buble, to swing bands and this jazz set. Are these projects beneficial to each other? Do they develop skills that are transferable, from one project to another?

KF: Our projects outside the jazz scene are very beneficial (mostly financially, Ha!) as it means we get to play together a fair bit. Plus we gain opportunities in the customary sound checks we do for those private corporate/wedding-type gigs to try out new material, etc, for our public jazz gigs. I don’t think I really take anything from one project to another other than experience. I normally close the door on one and enter the new with a completely new set of rules.
One of my favourite projects I did was a combination of two albums Cannonball Adderley recorded with two lesser known vocalists who were steeped in blues (Ernie Andrews and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson): Live Session! Cannonball Adderley With The New Exciting Voice Of Ernie Andrews and Cleanhead And Cannonball. (There’s a piece Kevin wrote about that project HERE.)

LJN: It sounds like your family background destined you for a life in showbiz? What were your early influences?

KF: Funny, but I had no aspirations whatsoever for a life in music or showbiz growing up. That came later. As a kid I was into athletics - middle and long distance running, and playing football - though I guess it’s helped with my breath control. Plus I had a passion for art so I spent a chunk of time drawing – which came in handy years later as it meant I could do my own artwork for the front covers of my albums. But music was always dominant in the Fitzsimmons household. My dad playing albums like Sinatra & Strings and Nat King Cole’s Complete After Midnight Sessions (though what I played at volume 11 in my bedroom didn’t remotely resemble my parents’ music). In fact, my Mum, in her teens back in her home town of Dublin, was lucky enough to see Nat Cole live and was blown away by the quality of his voice. She still talks about that night (nearly every time we see her, it seems, Ha!).

Kevin Fitzsimmons

LJN: What can people expect on your new CD?

KF: Well, like my previous (studio) album, Show Me The Way, I’ve looked at songs I like outside the jazz standard repertoire, like Michael Jackson’s Working Day And Night – the album’s title track - and reworked the arrangements to my band’s style. Plus there’s new material, although not as many as on the previous album as I didn’t want to overdose the live audience (when we recorded it at Pizza Express Jazz Club) with originals.

Naturally we include some standards, for example there’s a more up-tempo version of Leon Russell’s This Masquerade and one of my favourite Rogers & Hart songs, It Never Entered My Mind. At the album’s launch gig - Pizza Express Jazz Club 18 June - we’ll also include material not on the CD, including a few new arrangements of iconic soul/pop recordings that we’ll be playing live for the first time, which is always interesting to a jazz audience I guess. And nail-biting for the band!

LJN: Give our readers a tip: three top vocal albums of all time, in your opinion?

KF: Rachelle Ferrell’s First Instrument: for me she is one of the most gifted vocalists I’ve ever heard. A master class.

Mark Murphy’s The Latin Porter: ditto, this is a live album by the then 68-year-old Mark Murphy back in 2000, showing he was still on top form. In fact he’d won Best Male Jazz Vocalist that year in Downbeat magazine’s readers’ poll.

Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swinging Lovers: a near perfect album and one I never tire of listening to. Cracking arrangements by Nelson Riddle and Sinatra at his vocal peak. These are some of my favourite songs from Sinatra when he was on the Capitol label, and I’m lucky to get to perform some of this stuff with a bigb, in a touring theatre concert that celebrates his era at Capitol.

LJN: And a tip or two for singers just starting out: how do you look after your voice?

KF: I didn’t know you had to?! Joking aside, I don’t consciously do any specific rituals to look after my voice. But the moment I come into contact with anybody with a hanky or a sneeze I’m running for the hills. Another tip, never drink more (alcohol) than people think you should.

LJN: What does the future hold? Have you more projects lined up?

KF: You never know when new ideas are gonna cross your mind. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a new song or idea for an arrangement I’ll be thinking about a new song or idea for an arrangement, so there’s normally a flow of some kind of new material. Hope I don’t get a dry spell (fingers crossed).

LJN: Where can LondonJazz News readers find out more about you?

KF: Head to my website – www.Jazzwurx.co.uk – it’s full of the usual publicity and press reviews, videos, social media links and of course my contact page for London Jazz News readers to get in touch. (pp)

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