Interview with vocalist JOHN ALCORN by Karin Plato
(John performs in Vancouver February 14 as part of the Joy of Jazz concert series at St. James Hall)
Karin. Who are some of your favorite vocalists John?
John. Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Chet Baker
K. Are there certain vocalists who have particularly influenced your own style/sound?
J. See above. For me, Billie is #1; the others follow her.
K. What are your thoughts about what qualities might define someone as jazz vocalist?
J. Here are some of the qualities that Billie possessed: an innate feel for swing, a natural instinct for improvisation, intellectual curiosity, storytelling (the ability to understand and express text – and explore subtext), a constant need to “tell her truth” in song. These are some of the essential qualities that I search for in other singers – and that I strive for myself.
K.Besides singing and playing the piano, do you play any other instruments?
J. In my early years, I studied violin and tenor sax, but was a dismal failure at both!
K. Were you always destined to be a professional musician or are there other professions that intrigued you?
J. In my teens, I was passionate about the visual arts. First, with painting and drawing (I once fantasized about a career as a commercial artist), then, later, with photography. I still harbour the dream of returning to photography one day, as a secondary creative outlet.
K.Do you enjoy the process of composing/creating a new composition?
J. I love music in general. I also love words. Though I “wear many hats”, I tend to obsess on whichever project is immediately in front of me. So, when I’m in composer or lyricist mode, it becomes my passion – for better or worse. Yes, I love it! Additionally, I believe that each mode of creative expression feeds into the others. For example, exploring the best work of the great 20 th century composers absolutely influences my own writing. Conversely, as I pay close attention to my own song-writing, it only heightens my respect for other writers and inspires me to do my best to honour their art when I’m performing.
K. Could you name a few of your favorite song composers?
J. Of the Great American Songbook gang, Harold Arlen is at the top of my list of favourite composers, along with Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. The lyrics of Johnny Mercer astound, inspire and move me – always. Stephen Sondheim, though jazz singers rarely explore his work, is really a genius, I think.
K. What’s one of your favorite things about working in the world of music and entertainment?
J. For me, having the ongoing opportunity to explore and perform exquisitely-crafted songs in the company of brilliant, creative musicians is truly a blessing and a gift. I cannot imagine a more rewarding life.
K .Do you have a special regime you follow to keep your voice strong and healthy?
J. I should. But I don’t. Well…I never eat a large meal before performing. Does that count? (lol)
K. If you could choose from the entire world of musicians, who might you include in your dream band?
J. I already work with them – Reg Schwager and Steve Wallace – my dream team! That said, I am over-the-moon excited about playing with Bill Coon and Darren Radtke in Vancouver!
K. Do you have any plans of making a new recording in the future?
J. We already have one “in the can”, but the release is on hold temporarily. Other than that, I have a long list of recording projects I hope to bring to life someday – including a CD of the songs I’ve been co-writing with Reg Schwager.
K. What do you hope an audience gets or receives by attending a John Alcorn concert?
J. Every time I’m onstage, whether by myself or with other musicians, I try to approach each song as though this were the first time I’d sung it. I search for new meaning, fresh nuance; try to deepen my understanding of both music and text – and share that journey with the audience. This is the goal. I do not always achieve it. However, if some audience members have a flash of discovery, a twinge of real emotion, a new insight into a song they may have heard countless times before – if they believe that they are witnessing and sharing a moment of truth – then I’ll feel that I’ve done my job.
Thanks John. I’m looking forward to hearing you and Bill and Darren in concert on February 14th!