Singer, songwriter and saxophonist Curtis Stigers is getting ready to embark on a concert tour that will include stops in Denmark, England and New York City. But he is launching the tour in his hometown — Boise. “An Evening with Curtis Stigers Solo, Acoustic & Otherwise” is slated for April 10 at The Egyptian Theatre.
I recently caught up with Stigers via email and asked him where he’s been, what he’s up to today — and what he’s got planned for the future.
Jeanne Huff: Can you talk a little about your background — where were you born, how did you get to Boise?
Curtis Stigers: I was born in Los Angeles (Hollywood, to be exact!) but I grew up in Boise. Boise’s my hometown. My mother is a native Idahoan and moved back to Boise from California as a single mom with two kids in ’74. I moved to New York City in 1987 and lived out there for 16 years. I moved back to Boise in 2003.
JH: How/why did you become interested in music?
CS: I was always a huge fan of radio and records. I bought my first album, Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” when I was in third grade. Music was always a big part of my life. From fifth grade onward, when school let out at the end of the day I would either go directly to the record store to thumb through the LPs or I’d rush home to my drum kit and my stereo headphones.
JH: You attended Capital High School. Were you in band? What instruments did you play?
CS: I started playing clarinet in fifth grade at Koelsch Elementary. Jim Henry was my band director grades 5-9 and I learned a lot from him. I picked up the drums and guitar on my own soon after that. In junior high I started playing saxophone as well. I played in the jazz band and the concert band at Capital High, and I was the drum major in the marching band during my senior year. The late John King was the gifted and dedicated band director. I was also a member of the concert choir and the Capital Singers jazz choir, which were directed by my old pal Jerry Vevig.
JH: You play concerts in Europe, New York — and in Boise and even back at Capital High School. What draws you back? What’s it like to play at your old alma mater?
CS: Because of my good luck and success, I have a chance to give back to the community and the school that built me. I love having the opportunity to work with those enthusiastic young talented high school musicians and to help raise funds for the music program. I’m also able to help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for the Interfaith Sanctuary homeless shelter through performances like the Xtreme Holiday Xtravaganza every December at the Egyptian Theatre, and house concert performances throughout the year.
JH: What is the first song you heard on the radio that you fell in love with and wanted to hear over and over?
CS: That’s a tough one. I loved so many songs when I was a kid. However, I do remember hearing “Living For The City” by Stevie Wonder for the first time on the car radio and losing my mind. Such an amazing recording, still.
JH: Rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, pop — you are an aficionado of all three. Do you have a favorite? Why or why not?
CS: I love good songs, good music. I’m happy to hear a Frank Sinatra record followed by one by The Clash and then onto Jason Isbell and Joni Mitchell and B.B. King. I obviously know the difference between genres and I’ve studied the techniques and specifics, but I’m as happy playing my acoustic guitar and singing one of my pop songs as I am singing jazz with my quintet. And the older I get the more I like to blur the lines between the genres. That will be particularly apparent onstage at the Egyptian Theatre on April 10. I’m calling my concert “Solo, Acoustic and Otherwise” because I’ll play a lot of songs on my own (and with guests) that I don’t often play with my jazz group. There will be a bit of jazz, but it won’t be the primary focus.
JH: You’ve said that the late Boise jazz musician Gene Harris was inspirational and instrumental in your music career. Can you talk about that a bit?
CS: When I was in high school I spent many Tuesday nights playing at Gene Harris’s weekly jam sessions in the lobby bar of the Idanha Hotel, at 10th and Main in downtown Boise. I wasn’t aware until much later just how well-known and highly regarded Gene was in the jazz world (he was one of the greatest jazz pianists who ever lived), but I knew he was an amazing musician and I was grateful for his warmth and encouragement. He was a good friend and an important mentor to me and my friends, including the late great Paul Tillotson. Years later, after my hits and success in the record business, I was lucky to sing on two Gene Harris albums. By then, I had performed with Elton John, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Carole King, Al Green, Shawn Colvin and many more, but singing on Gene’s albums was a huge thrill for me.
JH: What music genre would you like to conquer next?
CS: I got nuthin’.
JH: What do you do to relax and have fun in between performing tours?
CS: I spend a lot of time mountain biking in the Boise foothills and in McCall, and in the winter you can often find me skate skiing.
JH: Reflecting back, what moment in your life, performance-wise or other, stands out as a most unforgettable memory (can be more than one)?
CS: Well certainly being a dad is the best thing I’ve ever done and I’m incredibly proud of my daughter, who’s in her first year of college, back East. Career highlights would have to include playing Wembley Stadium in London, Shea Stadium in NYC and Dodger Stadium in L.A. as the support act for Elton John and Eric Clapton. Appearing on David Letterman and The Tonight Show (five times!) were huge moments for me. Singing and playing at Outlaw Field with Bonnie Raitt the last time she was in Boise was pretty cool too. There’s nothing like the support of your hometown crowd to make you feel loved. Playing the Montreux Jazz Festival is always a thrill. I’m lucky. I get paid to do what I love to do.
JH: Looking to the future, what do you see in your crystal ball?
CS: I’ve just finished mixing a new album, so I have that release to look forward to, probably in the fall. Beyond that, I’m on the road, playing music, but I’ll start my spring concert season right here at home in Boise at the Egyptian Theatre.
JH: Anything else you’d like to say?
CS: I’m good.