The Master’s Voice
Jonathan Poretz learned a lot by playing Frank Sinatra.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Imitation can be a creative cul de sac for musicians, a dead end in the search for a personal sound. But immersing oneself in the work of a master can also unlock new avenues, enabling a performer to expand and refine his or her own vision.
For suave crooner Jonathan Poretz, studying Frank Sinatra has proven liberating rather than confining. Long enamored with pioneering jazz singer Mel Torme, Poretz has spent much of the past two years starring in various productions of The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean, a celebration of the Chairman and his Rat Pack.
The singer has discovered that becoming a student of Sinatra’s technique has deepened his own, which was already built on a jaunty sense of swing. Poretz performs on Saturday at the Jazz & Blues Company with pianist/arranger Lee Bloom, bassist Jeff Neighbor, ace drummer Vince Lateano and reed master Noel Jewkes, the same top-shelf cast from his recent debut album A Lot of Livin’ To Do.
“I never tried to sing like Frank before, and then I had to emulate his phrasing and breath control,” Poretz says from his home in San Rafael. “Now I feel I’m a much more effortless singer.”
Born and raised in Bayside, Queens, Poretz gravitated to music as a child. By 16, he was performing in a wedding band stocked with underemployed jazz greats such as trumpeters Charlie Shavers and Snooky Young and guitarists Barney Kessel, Chuck Wayne and Joe Puma. From those gigs, Poretz soaked up jazz’s harmonic language and rhythm by listening closely to the veteran jazzmen. “Hearing those changes and improvisations, getting swing inside my system, that was an education,” Poretz says.
As he became an adult, however, he moved away from music. By 1995, his passion for performing had laid dormant for two decades. But the birth of his daughter and death of his mother jolted him into a creative crisis. “I realized that I’m wasting my life not doing what I love,” Poretz says.
At first he channeled his energy into musical theater, but before long he started sitting in around Marin County, which led to a breakthrough gig with master drummer Harold Jones, who played with Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan (Jones also plays on four tracks of A Lot of Livin’ To Do).
He’s also honed a close connection with pianist Lee Bloom. “He had a maturity and commitment that I picked up right away,” Bloom says. “He has a genuine love of theater, which informs his performance. He’s got a natural sense of phrasing and bebop syncopation.”
In developing arrangements for Poretz’s album, Bloom used Fred Astaire’s classic 1952 album Steppin’ Out as a model, drawing on its lithe, uncluttered feel (interestingly, the Astaire session features his former wedding bandmates Charlie Shavers and Barney Kessel). If Poretz avoids Sinatra’s long shadow as a song stylist, he shares Ol’ Blue Eyes’ appreciation of jazz accompanists.
“I want to leave room for lots of improvisation,” Poretz says. “I want the guys to have fun.
JONATHAN PORETZ AND HIS QUARTET perform 7:30pm Saturday at The Jazz & Blues Company,The Eastwood Building, San Carlos and Fifth, Carmel. $40. 624-6432, thejazzandbluescompany.com.