JazzMonthly: Tell me about your jazz career before deciding to record your debut album (re)generet-ion.
GG: Mostly a lot of live shows, and I was definitely building momentum when 9/11 happened and changed everything for so many musicians here. When that dry spell continued into the mid 2000s, I threw myself into my TV work and decided to start from scratch. I began playing everywhere from Dizzy’s to one nighters at local restaurants. The idea was always and continues to be making a living as a singer.
JazzMonthly: Aside from being a clever pun on your name, what does the album title mean to you and how does it reflect your artistic vision? How do you feel the recording reflects who you are as an artist and person?
GG: It reflects my attempt to approach songs in different ways from what I am hearing other singers do these days, plus my desire to attach that style to songs that are not part of the typical Great American Songbook canon. I like to bring songs like “Moondance” into that structure. I remain faithful to the guts of the piece but enjoy the idea of bringing a new audience to the song. I take contemporary songwriting and give it the flavoring of jazz. I didn’t want to be another guy doing Sinatra songs, so I chose songs for the album that aren’t overly covered. I feel the album reflects my diversity as well as my desire to be artistically strong but also appealing to the listener. Sometimes jazz artists forget to give their audiences enough credit or the ability to be taken off the hook. One of the things I love about Smoke’s is that there’s an international audience there, some of whom have read about me and come to see me based on that. At the end of my show, I want them to leave with a genuine smile on their face. I love it when they say, “I had no idea who you were, but I had a great evening.” There has to be a bridge between you and the listener.
JazzMonthly: What do you feel you are communicating to the first time listener?
GG: It’s not just about having them say I have a pretty voice, it’s about me touching something in them that makes them feel good that night. That’s what (re)generet-ion means to me. I strive to be a great entertainer because guys like Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat Cole have always been inspirations to me. They allowed you to visualize the story they were telling. Johnny Hartman and Shirley Horn also had that gift. It’s all about that beautiful connection between artist and audience.
JazzMonthly: The name of your label is Monsieur. How did you get that nickname?
GG: My wife Tamara and I started dating in 1991 while she was studying in New York at a French Institute, immersing herself in the culture and language. When I took my first trip abroad to the ’92 Winter Olympics in Albertville, I called her from there, we would talk in conversational French. She kept telling her friends my name was “Monsieur” and it stuck.
JazzMonthly: The liner notes by Brian Keith Jackson say something interesting: that you put together a list of songs that you had performed many times live, but that when you hit the studio, except for “Moondance,” you chose songs you had never performed before. Why did you make this decision and are you happy you did it this way?
GG: I am very happy with that. I listened to the masters around me, the guys who own Nola Recording, Jim Czak and John Post. They’ve done jazz for a lot of big names and they had some great advice: keep going back to the melody and stop trying to sing jazz. Let the band play jazz, just sing the song and the story will come across, and the band will support you. I took the same approach to choosing the material, including picking which songs from my original list would come out. A lot of these tunes just meant something to me over the time when I was getting ready to record. I thought it would also be good to do “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” and “Stolen Moments,” because I had never tried to tackle them. There was no overriding theme, but with the exception of “Stolen Moments,” they are all about love. I was simply looking to make the album listenable.
JazzMonthly: Was it scary leaving the security of a successful career to do jazz?
GG: Yes and it still is. But there’s a reason it made sense. In 1995, I was diagnosed with an inflammatory autoimmune illness called sarcoidosis and while I was deathly ill, I realized I didn’t want to have any more regrets in my life – so that’s when I did that first benefit concert. Some years later I had hernia surgery and nearly bled to death from a nicked artery. I felt like I had landed on another planet and didn’t want to be there. I told Tamara I didn’t know what I was going to do. And she said, “I know what you’re going to do, you’re gonna go sing.” I had become more reflective about my life through these experiences, and woke up, realizing I don’t want to regret anything. One of the most exciting things for me is realizing I can still be a sponge even as I get older because there is so much to learn about jazz, performing and of course, the new ways in which music is consumed, and yes, social media. What keeps me inspired is that somewhere in my mind and heart I know there will always be a place I can perform, whether in the U.S. or abroad, and have the opportunity to share my love of music with people. I never want to stop.
Visit artist website at: www.gregorygeneret.com