In Conversation – Giacomo Gates, Part II

?We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.?

Joseph Campbell

Giacomo Gates is a baritone chanteur known for his engaging vocalese, a form made famous by Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, among others. Vocalese is composed by fitting new lyrics to jazz tunes and even to fast, complex instrumental solos. (Read the Voice review of his latest album, The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs of Gil Scott-Heron.) Recently, Wanda Waterman was able to hear him sing at Blackstone’s in Laconia, New Hampshire, as part of the New Hampshire Jazz. (See the first part of this article here.)

During the intermission Giacomo whispers, almost apologetically, ?I can’t do the songs from The Revolution Will be Jazz here. They just wouldn’t go over well.? (A subtle gander around at the trust fund and tax shelter crowd doesn’t inspire dissent.) He does, however, offer to do a song from his upcoming album of Miles Davis tunes.

When the Jazz Man’s Testifyin? . . .

Giacomo’s voice is as mellifluous as honey on buttered toast, his improvisation subtle but original. We usually assume that this good a voice would have to be the product of years of intense training, but Giacomo seems simply to have been gifted with a natural affinity for jazz.

?I always had an interest in jazz music specifically; it was part of my life, though I never pursued it as a vocation,? he says. ?I didn’t one day ?decide? to become a jazz singer?That’s madness. I was connected to the music since I was a kid. I knew the language.?

How it All Started

?One year, while living in Fairbanks, I attended a festival that presented a two-week vocal workshop. Several instructors, among them Grover Sales, encouraged me. Sales said, ?You’ll never get heard up here!? ?I’m not tryin? to get heard,? I told him. ?I live here.??

After almost 20 years of construction work, Giacomo decided to move back to New York to take advantage of the music scene that thrived in the city?and in the surrounding area?and to launch a musical career:

?I tried to make some noise first locally, then regionally. I got my first recording, Blue Skies, done by DMP Records, and that helped me to get around more and to get some national work.?

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

?I got a great education from recordings and I saw and heard (and sat in with) some of the best of the best, including Miles, The Basie Band with Basie, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae, Jon Hendricks & Company, Dizzy, Dexter Gordon, Frank Foster, Lou Donaldson, Billy Mitchell, Buddy Tate, Steve Allen, Max Roach, Billy Taylor, Mose Allison, Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, Walter Bishop Jr., along with performers of other kinds of top-notch music like James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Al Jarreau, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, and many more.?

?The Language, the Hipsters, the Cats and Chicks?

Giacomo’s conversation is inspired by the era in which the notion of ?cool? was first distilled, his lingo liberally peppered with words like ?dig,? ?hip,? and ?baby.? This makes his on-stage patter almost as delightful as the songs it frames.

?A very strong influence for me was Grover Sales, who was connected to the music and to people like Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, ?Professor? Irwin Corey, and Jonathan Winters,? Gates says. ?I dug the scene that the music came from?the clubs, the clothes, the era, the language, the hipsters, the cats and chicks!

?Regarding The Revolution Will Be Jazz . . . I was hip to Gil when he landed on the scene, and to The Last Poets. The planet was a different place in the late ?60s and early ?70’s.

?When I was approached to sing Gil’s songs, I listened to over 40 tunes that were presented to me and chose the ones that I felt I could sing honestly. Some were funny, some weren’t, some were about the music, some were about the messed-up world we live in, and some were about the beautiful world we live in. Gil had a lot to say that was ahead of its time and valid. I grew up in an inner city, on the Northeast corridor, so I could relate. I had fun with the music and the lyrics. The album was number one for six weeks on National Jazz Radio and got lots of good ink.?

What Next?

?On creativity, there’s so much music already written. I have so many books of music and recordings I’ll never have the time to listen and look at everything, and one thing leads to another. There’s not enough time. What to do next is not an issue.?

?A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.?

Abraham Maslow