An Evening with Curtis Stigers

Curtis Stigers and His Band, December 17, 2022
L to R: Matthew Fries, Curtis Stigers, Cliff Schmitt, Paul Wells (hidden by drum kit) and John Sneider

WC went to a jazz concert Saturday. Some context:

The angel, Aziraphale, is riding with a demon named Crowley’s, in Crowley’s Bentley, looking for the misplaced young Antichrist.

Somewhere around Chiswick, Aziraphale scrabbled vaguely in the scree of tapes in the glove compartment.

“What’s a Modern Jazz Quartet?” he said.

“You wouldn’t like it,” said Crowley.

“Oh,” said the angel dismissively, “Be-bop.”

“Do you know, Aziraphale, that if probably a million human beings were asked to describe modern music, they wouldn’t use the term, ‘be-bop’?” said Crowley.

Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Okay, so it wasn’t be-bop. It was jazz, performed by a local Boise boy, Curtis Stigers, who has made good. He’s actually WC’s neighbor, living two doors down from WC and Mrs. WC. And he gave Boise a jazz show last week that was pretty wonderful. Accompanied by Matthew Fries, Piano; Cliff Schmitt, Bass; Paul Wells, Drums; and John “Scrapper” Sneider, Trumpet, Stigers gave the enthusiastic crowd everything from his hits to Christmas carols to traditional jazz tunes, including many that Stigers himself wrote.

Stigers’ music covers a wide range of styles, but mostly lands somewhere at the junction of pop music and smooth jazz. Stigers covered Nick Lowe’s “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding” for the soundtrack of the movie The Bodyguard, and plays it at most of his shows. For that night’s show, he took the pop tune turned it into a jazz tune, with Stigers’ sax, Sniper’s trumpet and Fries’ piano taking turns improvising around the melody line, playing against each other, sharing the melodic lead and, very obviously, having a rollicking good time.

And it only got better from there. Stigers is a very good vocalist, as well as an ace saxophone artist. Over the next two hours, the band showcased their skills. Matthew Fries gave us not just excellent piano riffs; sometimes he simultaneously played the Melodica, an instrument new to WC. Fries, with his left hand, played the melody lines while blowing into the melodica and playing its keyboard for a counterpoint melody line. That’s pretty impressive.

Cliff Schmitt on bass was solid through it all. WC has a fondness for bass – it’s “All About That Bass” – and Schmitt’s work was excellent. His solos were outstanding, with the feeling that, if he’d really wanted to, he could spin that double bass around in mid-riff, like Jake Erwin. Paul Wells’ drumming was absolutely solid, anchoring the band and improvising around the beat. WC could wish he’d had more and longer drum solos, but that’s a minor quibble.

Curtis Stigers on acoustic guitar, Cliff Schmitt in background

Jazz might be the only musical idiom invented wholly in the United States. Like any musical idiom, it has morphed and evolved into countless variants, fusions and sounds. WC isn’t a fan of all those variants; hot jazz, for example, leaves WC cold, and hip-hop jazz affects WC like fingernails on a chalkboard. But smooth jazz, the original flavor, especially seasoned with pop, has vast appeal for WC, and Curtis Stigers’ work, if you will forgive the phrase, strikes the right note. Combined with Stigers’ narrative between songs, the crowd was treated to a fine show.

Jazz may have been invented in the U.S., but it seems to be losing its popularity here. Europe is different. Curtis Stigers for the last couple decades has been a hot ticket across Western Europe. He tours there much more often than in the States, to bigger crowds. America’s loss, WC supposes.

But Boise agrees with the Europeans. In fact, the following night, performing at a charity event, a house concert by Stigers’ and local guitar hero (and another of WC’s neighbors) Bill Coffey, auctioned off for $10,000. So, yes, a local boy who has made good.

Thanks, Curtis, for an excellent evening of entertainment, and for bringing your band. It was great fun.