Gregg Arthur, keeper of the crooning flame

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Gregg Arthur perform and my memory may be playing tricks on me, but the first thing that comes to mind is this: Gregg Arthur is tall. This is the one thing I did not know nor anticipate when I went to see him, and it certainly is not something that you can assume by listening to his recordings, which I had done – and enjoyed. So yes, I remember entering the club and thinking: “wow, this guy is tall!”

Why is this important for a singer? It isn’t, but it also accentuates how commanding a presence Gregg Arthur is, when he is on stage – regardless of whether it is a concert venue like the Hamer Hall, where he performed, opening for Branford Marsalis during the 2018 Melbourne International Jazz Festival, or a small club. In a small club setting, in particular, his posture helps him to better act like the generous, gracious host that he is, getting up and down from the stage, moving among the patrons, looking his dapperest and beaming a smile equal to his size. Halfway into his shows, he has everyone eating out of the palm of his hand.

It’s not by chance. Channeling this charisma and energy is hard work, and it is part of being a performer. Gregg Arthur knows this. This is why he pays attention to every little detail, from the band’s setting to his impeccable ‘pochette square’. Whenever he performs, Gregg Arthur looks like he’s auditioning for a James Bond film – both for the leading role and the theme song.

Which brings us to his music. A champion for crooning, Arthur has – famously – gained the approval of the artform’s living legend himself, Tony Bennett, which instantly puts him among the keepers of the flame, a long line of singers following and continuing a tradition that remains strong from the 1930s to today.

And he does this without imitating or emulating anybody, having found a voice of his own, putting to use his gifts and talents, his timbre, his signature phrasing, his flair for swing, and his hard work in putting all the elements together, so that his songs manage to sound modern and classic at the same time. As a person whose job is to convey emotions through song, he knows how – and when – to let his guard down and embrace these emotions himself, before communicating them to the audience.

That’s why he works best with the classic ‘jazz quartet’ setting – sax, piano, bass, drums; because it lets him unfold his personality and engage in dialogue with his band, in a way that is not happening with a compact big band – or the lavishness of a string section.

Paired with a tenor sax champion with the robust sound of Michael Avgenicos, Gregg Arthur demonstrates why crooning has played – and continues to play – such an important role in jazz.

So don’t be fooled by the dapper style, the perfectly-fitted suit, the sparkling blue eyes and the smokey voice. It’s all there for a reason. To first and foremost serve the song.

Gregg Arthur is playing with his quartet at the Paris Cat on Friday 7, Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 December

Midnight In Paris from Gregg Arthur on Vimeo.

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