Wednesday 15 January 2020

Tony Adamo: "Space, Mark Murphy & All That Jazz" [Interview]

Ropeadope Records have always had an inspired approach to contemporary jazz.  The Philadelphia-based label - as well as housing a host of incredible names within the realms of hip-hop, soul and even synth-pop - always look to align with artists passionate about carving their own lanes within the genre.  The Grammy-winning brilliance of trumpeter Christian Scott continually redefines his own parameters with each of his releases; then there's the improv outfit from New York, Bright Dog Red, whose incomparable style of improvisational jazz masterfully interplays with other genres like electronica and hip-hop.  And now we have the new single from Tony Adamo, 'Did Mark Murphy Believe in UFOs?', who strives to carry that innovative approach to jazz into 2020.

Following on from his Ropeadope album release, 'Was Out Jazz Zone Mad' (2018), New York City native Tony Adamo introduced his distinct and free-flowing vocal style against classy and vibrant sonic soundscapes meshing into a timeless piece of music.  Of the incredible talent on display throughout, the album was also able to boast production from the revered jazz and funk drummer, Mike Clark, who built his reputation through his work with Herbie Hancock in the early-1970s as a member of The Headhunters.  While praise of Adamo's work tends to lean towards his spoken word vocal style, there's actually a considerable amount of versatility in what he's able to achieve, as an excellent singer, scatter and within his ability to convey the joy of jazz or the blues in... well, the blues.

Everything about Tony Adamo's music though screams 'celebration' - his love of jazz, his love of art and his reverance to the genre's forefathers that he continually seeks inspiration from.  Which again brings us to 'Did Mark Murphy Believe in UFOs?' which finds Adamo paying homage to the late, great vocalist Mark Murphy... 

"Be-bop trippin into the hip harmonic territory,
that was, that is Murphy's be-bop and phrasing,
Solidified his place,
in the American jazz landscape,
Vocalese all up his sleeve,
Rifting on a jazz note to please."

Tony Adamo has a very genuine and inimitable approach to his music - an artist that finds the joy in his ability to create and, in line with the Ropeadope tradition, an artist unafraid to carve his own lane.  With great pleasure, Blue-in-Green:RADIO caught up with Tony Adamo to discuss his music, his new single and working with Mike Clark.

Which artists have had the biggest impact on shaping your style of music?
I get this question a lot in live radio interviews. Not one vocal or spoken word artist has impacted my thought process in shaping my own vocal and spoken delivery.  I know there will be a lot of moans and groans behind that statement, but dig, that is the big truth. Instrumental wise it’s a whole different gig: Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Shirley Scott, Larry Young, Tower of Power, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Sun Ra, Eddie Harris, just to name a few greats who have influenced me.  Listening to these musicians helps me to formulate the rhythm of the spoken word flow in writing the melody to a new song.  Since I can't read music, I hear the whole arrangement in my mind before I write the spoken word lyrics.

How does the creative process of writing and producing music work for you?
In preparing to record a new song I'll do my research infusing my brain with all the knowledge I can gather on a particular artist or theme (Rappers, City's, Jazz history, social comment, etc.).  I'll then write out an outline of the vocal spoken word to be recorded. But dig this. When I hit the mic to record, I'll improv the words and emotions to go along with the music. I have no idea where the new words come from but they seem to work better than the written lyrics.  At that moment, I'm in the flow of the rhythm of the music and the interplay between the bass and drums.  I have to sit down afterward and write out the new recorded words.  Drummer Mike Clark of Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters fame has been my music producer on Miles of Blu, Tony Adamo and the New York Crew, and the unreleased Tony Adamo and the NY Commission.  Mike understood the direction my songs needed to go in and brought in great musicians to the recording session.  While Mike and I were recording at Raw Recording Studio (JC Santalis) in upstate New York, it hit me that we were like de Niro and Scorsese working on a film but this was music.  Mike would direct the song and I would hit my mark.

Were you happy with how 'Was Out Jazz Zone Mad' was received?
Louis Marks, CEO of Ropeadope Records and his team have been great in getting the word out on Was Out Jazz Zone Mad: PR, World Wide Web, Music Blogs, Radio, Twitter and Facebook.  Music reviews are 5 stars all the way. 

How did you come to the attention of Ropeadope Records?
Mike Clark has recorded on many of my early songs before he produced my CDs and we became fast friends.  I owe him a hell of a lot in hipping me to many great musicians who would later record with me such as Paul Jackson, Bill Summers, Richie Goods, Michael Wolff, Tim Ouimette and Lenny White to name a few.  When Mike signed with Random Act Records he turned them on to me and I got signed.  When he signed with Ropeadope Records I got signed again.  I wrote the lyrics to a song on Clark’s Retro Report on Ropeadope called 'More Chicken' and renamed it 'Boogaloo the Funky Beat' and added it to my 'Was Out Jazz Zone Mad' CD.
Congratulations on the excellent new single 'Did Mark Murphy Believe in UFOs?' Can you tell us a little about what inspired the song?
I was a bomb tech/expeditor at Concord Naval Weapons Station, Concord, California, by day and by night I sang jazz.  I answered an ad Mark Murphy had posted in BAM magazine about auditioning for a jazz singer’s showcase.  I got the gig and showcased with four other jazz singers at smaller jazz clubs in San Francisco with Mark Murphy producing.  One night he called me and asked me to meet him at a club in San Francisco where a great new guitarist was playing.  That would be Joyce Cooling who went on to smooth jazz fame.  Mark and I recorded a song together at Dave Austin's Diamond Audio Recording Studio in San Francisco with Joyce Cooling added later.  Sad to hip you all to this news but that recording was lost over time.  Mark and I remained friends until his passing.  I wanted to convey in the song 'Did Mark Murphy Believe In UFOs' a part of Mark's music that not one lyricist or music composer has ever written about.  Along with the added words by Michael Franks and the great response from radio and music reviews, I think I've done just that. Ya dig?

Have you given any thought to where your next album will take you musically?
Not as of yet.  Still diggin on 'Did Mark Murphy Believe In UFOs' for the next few months on Ropeadope Records as they do their PR work.

How does your music transfer to a live stage?
It can be truly magical on stage when I have the musicians from Tony Adamo And The New York Crew to play live.  They dig and know the music.  They go over the music charts and instinctively read where the changes need to be.  Their musicianship and interplaying with each other gives them the musical chops to follow me on my improv trips.  Each time is unique and magical.

Who would be a dream artist to either record or perform with?
That would be Herbie Hancock, Joey DeFrancesco, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Roger Smith of Tower of Powers or any of the great soul-jazz organ players of today.

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