Gregg Arthur – My Songlines

By now we have established that Gregg Arthur’s return to Australia has brought a very welcome element of timeless elegance and old-fashioned charm to the music scene. Here, the crooner shares with us some of the music that matters to him.


What was the first album or single that you ever acquired?

There was a great music store near my dad’s office and they had an old copy of ‘Night Train‘. I remember I felt I had purchased something rare and precious. Ed Thigpen, Ray Brown and the genius of Oscar Peterson. Duke Ellington’s ‘C Jam Blues’ is a brilliant track, as is Oscar’s version of Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Georgia On My Mind’. Such a beautiful album and the ultimate trio.

What was the most recent album that you purchased?

A brand new pressing of the classic Miles Davis LP ‘Sketches of Spain‘ in pristine condition. It sounds unbelievable.

It’s a thematic album as much as it is jazz in my opinion, almost a movie score in some regards. Gill Evans and Miles took aspects of Spanish folk music and classical themes and did something new, very different to Miles previous album ‘Kind Of Blue’.

Which album should be on everyone’s collection?

Probably ‘Kind Of Blue‘ would be the right answer, but for me its a classic trio album: Errol Garner’s ‘Concert By The Sea‘. It’s not a perfect-sounding recording, but it’s live and the magnificent performance by Garner on piano is stunning, every track is genius. The great thing about this recording was it’s a single performance in a school hall in Carmel, California and when you play the album you feel the energy of the room, you’re right there in the audience.

Which song reminds you of the best concert you’ve ever attended?

‘The Best I Yet To Come’ – Tony Bennett at The Hilton in Las Vegas in 2007, with Vincent Falcone on piano and Harold Jones on drums. There was a resonance for me at this concert, the audience were excited to be there and hung off every note. Mr. Bennett was at his peak, as far as I’m concerned.

I went away and painted a portrait of him smiling at the end of a song, which he now owns. I was also working with Vinnie Falcone at that time, so it made me feel part of something special.

Which song reminds you of your favourite journey?

Being a bit narcissistic, but it’s a song I wrote with Michael Hope and recorded with Maestro Tommy Tycho and a 50 piece orchestra. It’s called ‘Let’s Fly To New York’.

I love that city. Every time I fly in and see the skyline Im very excited and a little overwhelmed. Even driving from JFK airport, the view of the city takes your breath away. Let’s get away, let’s fly to New York!

Which song reminds you of your most important rite of passage?

‘I Thought About You’ by Johnny Mercer.

First song I ever sang in a New York jazz club. A bass player named Lynn Seaton invited me to sit in at a gig in the Village and that was the first tune.

Which song best describes your relationship with your loved ones?

There is no one particular song that I can think of that sums up the complexities of this subject. ‘I Remember You’; ‘Now Is The Hour’; ‘I’ll Remember April’; ‘Who Can I Turn To’; ‘Love And Marriage’; ‘Father And Son’ by Cat Stevens; ‘Cat’s In The Cradle’ by Harry Chapin.

Which song best encapsulates your idea of jazz?

‘In A Sentimental Mood’, The Duke Ellington classic, with beautiful, haunting lyrics by Manny Kurtz. Irving Mills has a credit on this song too, but I’m not sure what his contribution was. My favorite versions of this perfect ballad are Sarah Vaughan, Sony Rollins and of course the recording of John Coltrane with Duke himself on piano.

When I perform this with Peter Locke we have an arrangement that pays tribute to that recording in a very sentimental way…

If your life was to become a movie, which song would be heard

… on the opening credits?

‘The Good Life’ sung by Tony Bennett. Its originally ‘La Belle Vie’, by Sacha Distel.

I cannot argue with the sentiment of the lyrics. You must take chances in life to get what you want, you can’t always play it safe, or you’ll miss out. Mistakes will be made, but I’m never afraid to fail, that’s when you learn and then grow.

…on the end credits?

Again its the Cy Coleman tune ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’.

It’s my belief that there is always something more, something ahead that we don’t understand or comprehend, but there is definitely something more to come.

…on the action scenes?

‘Drinkin Again’ by Johnny Mercer. Me pouring wine after a gig and Frank Sinatra sings: “Oh yeah, I’m drinking again.”

There’s a brilliant version by Dinah Washington too, which is appropriate because the lyrics to this classic saloon bar song were actually written by a woman, Doris Tauber.

I wrote a song as a dedication to this particular genre of song and to Johnny Mercer, it’s called ‘Last Call’.

It’s a great thrill for me that I recorded the song with orchestra in studio A at Capitol Records in Los Angeles, the studio where Sinatra recorded so many saloon bar songs, and Johnny Mercer was one of the founders of Capitol Records.

That’s poetry in action.

…on the love scene?

‘Move Closer’ by Tom Jones. Funny, right?

Sir Tom has come to a couple of my shows in Bel Air. I told him once that I love his version of this song and he grinned from ear to ear. Only Tom Jones can put that raw, overtly sexual groove into a recording. He’s an original, a magnificent voice and quite brilliant.

Which song do you wish you had written yourself?

‘Moonlight In Vermont’. Especially the way Ella and Louis sing it.

I’m always working so hard on lyrics, you have to condense an entire novel down to 32 bars of poetry, but in this song by John Blackburn none of the words rhyme, and it’s so beautiful. I takes incredible craftsmanship to make a perfect song like this.

Which song do you wish had been written about you?

‘Nobody Does It Better’ – ha ha!

Well, you gotta admit, who wouldn’t want a song written about them saying nobody does it better? “Nobody does it half as good as you, baby, you’re the best!” And then have Carly Simon sing it to you. Nice.

Which song best describes your current state of mind?

‘Gone Fishing’, an old Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong tune written by Nick and Charles Kenny.

Sometimes I just need to disappear for a while, go off the grid, ya know what I mean? The phone and social media drive me nuts sometimes. I had a great childhood split between two rivers, Oatley on the Georges River in Sydney and on a cattle property on the Macintyre River, about an hour from Inverell. Isolated, calm, fresh air, a beautiful river junction with the Severn River and the Macintyre. Perfect fishing! Murray Cod! Sometimes that lifestyle is at odds with my suit and tie late night jazz club persona. One wouldn’t exist without the other, being a laid back singer means sometimes you literally need to lay back… swap the microphone for a fishing rod.

Gregg Arthur will perform his signature version of jazz-infused ‘saloon bar songs’ at the Paris Cat on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 March.