Gregg Arthur: ‘Every lyric of every song has some piece of me in it’

Elegant and cool, Gregg Arthur oozes a kind of classic, old-fashioned charisma which is all but extinct nowadays, but it would be a mistake to pinpoint him as a nostalgic, an artist modeled after the crooners of the past. Because as a singer, he emulates nobody and he sounds like nobody but himself – a gentle, soft-spoken, well-mannered and sharply dressed man eager to take his audience by the hand and sing right into their ears. And if any conclusion is to be made by his sartorial choices and overall stage presence is that it comes out of a profound respect for the audience. Having relocated from the US – where he had a long-term residency at Herb Alpert’s club, Vibrato – to Australia, Gregg has been charming the jazz crowd in Sydney and he’s planning to do the same in Melbourne, where he’s doing his debut at the Jazz Lab. Dress up and follow his lead.

What are you going to present at the Jazz Lab?

Some classics, some originals and some truth. Every lyric of every song has some piece of me in it.

What do you expect from the audience?

I don’t ever expect anything from an audience. If they’re at my show, they are there to be entertained; that’s a great start, then it’s up to me to deliver.

How does it feel being back in Sydney?

It’s brilliant to be back. California (where I lived) has a lot of similarities to Australia in lifestyle and climate, but being away for years makes you really appreciate how beautiful our country is. Relocation was extremely expensive because you are starting from scratch, there’s very little you can take with you, but with all the anticipation and excitement of a new country, it’s not that big a deal.

Gregg Arthur. Filmed live at Vibrato from Gregg Arthur on Vimeo.

What do you miss the most from the US?

I miss the American audiences; they love Australians and always react enthusiastically to my performances.

What do you consider the highlight of your career so far?

Hand written letter from Tony Bennett, praising my phrasing and voice. Overwhelming.

What is your greatest aspiration?

In between touring the world as an ambassador for Australian music, I would love to be hosting and singing on a weekly television variety show that isn’t a competition. Showcasing all styles of music and interviewing the musicians, similar to ‘Later with Jools Holland‘.

Last Call music video from Gregg Arthur on Vimeo.

How does crooning become modern and relevant?

I think anyone from Sam Smith to K.D. Lang can be called a crooner. I think it’s tender, romantic storytelling, using a microphone, so it’s always been relevant.

When did you realize that this is what you want to do?

I was a kid. I’ve always been singing.

What makes a torch song?

Truth. The lyric is poetic truth, and the music frames the words and creates the mood.

Gregg Arthur, playing with pianist Peter Locke and saxophonist Michael Avgenicos

What does jazz mean to you?

Freedom. Being able to express how I feel in that moment, and communicating that to the musicians I’m performing with and then in turn bringing the audience into the moment with me.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

Peter Locke on the piano playing ‘Watch What Happens’ by Michel Legrand.

Gregg Arthur is performing for the first time in Melbourne.Catch him at the JazzLab (on 25 & 26 January and 24 February) then at the Paris Cat (16 and 17March).