He sings like he breathes, and plays the piano like he sings... A sort of five o'clock tea with a dash of malt. Antony released a stunning EP last summer, just before an acclaimed performance at Marciac Jazz Festival and after opening for BB King at Paris Grand Rex, leaving a smoldering stage: the boy got off to a flying start!
In 2009, "Guaranteed" was reserved for the public of her Gracious Majesty. With "Stepping Out," the boy landed on the Old and New World. To conquer them. A trio with strings, winds, standards, and originals... The audacity of his talent swings.
But who is Anthony Strong? Answers from a fireside.
I was born in South London, October 29, 1984.
I came to music through theater. Thanks to the Anglo-Saxon educational system, we had three hours after school per week for acting, dance and singing classes. I quickly realized that only the music class interested me, while the rest was just an excuse to hang out with girls... It allowed me to start studying classical music. Then, I decided to commute by train every week to attend a jazz class at the Purcell School of Music for four years. And I studied the piano at the Guildhall School of Music in London.
Ultimately, I took singing class between 10 and 16, but I no longer work with a coach. Today, I am convinced that rehearsals, concerts and "home sessions" are enough to keep myself in good vocal form.
My encounter with jazz?
I played many instruments as a kid: drums, vocals, clarinet, piano. Mostly classical repertoire. In fact, it's when my grandparents' piano ended up in my living room that I started fiddling with it. I was doing covers from musicals that I had heard on the radio, trying to find a "jazzy" sound. I took piano lessons for a long time, but it's only when I was attending the Conservatory at 17 that I realized that I could have a jazz career. Jazz has been my passion ever since, and I cannot imagine living without it.
Choosing the standards for the "Stepping Out" album:
I wanted it to contain a series of tracks reflecting my stage approach, becoming a self-definition of my artistic personality. When I chose options for an album, musical arrangements are as important as the composition itself. My music blurs boundaries between pop and jazz, the challenge being to keep coherence and fluidity with this ambivalence. The final result really looks like me, I believe.
Some standards have their own history, like "Too Darn Hot", originally requested for a BBC show, and which has remained in my repertoire. My admiration for Tony Bennett's version of "Steppin' Out" has naturally led me to select it...
Why combine original songs with standards?
I like trying to write "new" standards that will sound "vintage". I secretly hope that the audience won't tell the difference between my own songs and the standards...
Beyond the huge treasure of these anthology titles from the 1920's to the 50's, today I am convinced that a whole generation is writing songs for the 21st century in a similar register. To me, "new" does not necessarily mean "modern" in formal terms. In high school, I remember having often been impressed whenever I discovered a "new standard". I was wondering why there were not more songwriters in this tradition. That's why I'm trying to meet this challenge.
We have played these compositions on stage for quite some time now. I clearly see the reactions of the audience, live or on Twitter: they love it and request specific titles. In some ways, this choice meets a "real demand"...
The bias of brevity: short songs
I love the lightness which makes fingers snap! There are several reasons for this. When I studied jazz, my friends (and the scholastic institution) praised all contemporary forms so much, while vilifying the rest, that I positioned myself against this one-track thinking. Not that I disagreed with "free" or "dissonance" forms, I play them willingly, but I just feel that music does not have to be complex or long to compel admiration.
I was one of the few students in my class to love pop music, and I remember my desire to make a mix, to overcome the opposition between pop and jazz. I wanted to keep the ingredients that I loved in jazz (harmony, improvisation, instrumentation) and associate them with what touched me the most in pop music (importance of voice, concise form, rhythmic predominance).
And then there is the fact that we live in a hyper-modern and super-fast society, where all the music that you hear on the radio seems to be more concise. I guess it has to do with the evolution of our ability to concentrate. "Relax", "fluid", "pleasure" are my keywords.
Choosing an interpretation for standards
I often sit at the piano and I wonder how I'll make it "my" thing? How can I arrange it to bring freshness? I like to take liberties with rhythm and harmony: writing new harmonies on an old song, changing the tempo or the groove of a song... Each time, it means giving the song a new life.
Being both a singer and a pianist, I like to swing in-between. I love to find myself "in the pocket", well settled in the groove between bass and drums. It is probably what brings an impression of rhythmic evidence to my music. But this "pulse" is also emblematic of pop music, and shows how it has influenced me.
I did not let anyone pick the cast. I can assure you that it was a real pleasure! For bass, I chose a longtime companion, Tom Farmer (from Empirical), as I did for drums with Seb De Krom (who also plays with Jamie Cullum and Buy Barker). I love his sense of swing. There is also Chris Allard on guitars (from Jackie Dankworth Band), and a handful of amazing soloists, such as Australian trumpet player James Morrison, or British sax legend Nigel Hitchcock. I got such a big kick out of recording with these guys in the studio!
Strings or brass?
I did not want to have to choose. I preferred using different sound ranges. I have a weakness for the sound of strings, but on fast songs, winds sound more powerful. On ballads, strings bring more smoothness without brass and reeds... Ultimately, only one track "LOVE" brought them together. On "Someone Knows", I just added a tenor sax and a muted trumpet to the strings. I wanted the piano-bass-drum trio to be the heart of the album, with added textures here and there.
When I was in high school, Harry Connick Jr. is probably the artist I listened to the most. I felt empathy with his music and his surrounding sounds. And how can you not be influenced by swing, and the mature vocal lessons of Frank Sinatra when he was a singer? He is so cool! He has deeply branded me. Amongst other musical influences, I should also mention Bill Evans, Vince Mendoza, Kurt Elling, Stevie Wonder, Mel Tormé, Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall, Burt Bacharach and Chet Baker. A rather wide panel...
On A Clear Day
composed by Anthony Strong