Milwaukee born and New York City-based singer, Andrew Suvalsky has a voice that strums pizzazz in his scat-streaks and chic-bluesy intonations in his crooning. His vocals caress the follicles of the tympanic membrane with the buffed shimmies of Ella Fitzgerald, the crisp indentations of Mel Torme, and the debonair flare of Dean Martin. His latest release, A World That Swings from LML Music Label, takes audiences on an adventure through the realm of old-fashioned swing with a number of songs taken straight from the great American Songbook like Cole Porter‘s perennial tune "Night And Day" and Irving Berlin‘s classic "How Deep Is The Ocean?" along with a handful of classic pop songs like Carole King’s "I Feel The Earth Move" and John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s timeless collaboration "Fool On The Hill."
Suvalsky discusses that the songs chosen for the recording were selected for the purpose of "creating the right mix." He expresses, "The songs finally chosen were the ones that felt like they created the best balance, wanting to mostly though not exclusively, make this about swing. I kept to songs that were truly swing-able -- is that a word?" He intones, "or which I felt were most original and could have a whole new life, if brought into the mix, and swung. I wanted to keep things comfortable and yet totally original to the ear of the listener. That's what my invitation ‘to swing’ is about It's about joining me on a little adventure."
Though many of the songs selected for this adventure are from the archives of swing-jazz’s tomes, Suvalsky will be the first to admit that no one wants to go backwards in life. Rather, his purpose is to re-invent these classic pop songs and swing-jazz tunes for contemporary audiences by tweaking what he learned from artists that he has admired the most. "In my estimation," he specifies, "a handful are the ones you remember directly in association with ‘swing‘. The first, for certain is Ella. Maybe the discussion could end there, and it would be sufficient. She deeply, and with such resonance, had a rhythm in her soul that exploded, whether on a stage or in the studio, whenever she was swinging a song. It was more than just being able to admirably keep up with the band behind her. For me, I hear something that is even truer and more kinetic than that; I often am left with the sense that it is the band that was following her. More like she is the epicenter of something great going on around her... something that is even a little dependent upon the nuance and depth that she both brought to and eked out whatever the song was about. If I'm right about that, you can understand why they say she could sing and swing the phonebook and make it sound good. She channeled some higher power for sure when she got going. At her level, I would certainly put Torme, Sarah Vaughan, and for sure, Oscar Peterson and Count Basie. My list might seem a little obvious.. no surprises here, but honestly, I frequently turn to them for inspiration."
He examines about his own affinity for the swing-jazz repertoire, "I could be romanticizing this but I do think, in the past, the appetite for my kind of music was bigger as far as the general population. I would have loved to start out at a young age, as a band singer, learning on the job with talented musicians. In the 30's, 40's and probably even a bit into the 50's, there were many of these bands, traveling the country, so the opportunities would have been greater. With all that said and me being me, I'm not sure I would have really chosen a different path then from the one I've ended up pursuing currently, so I guess. I don't really wish for having been part of that period. I'm very grateful for the legacy left by them and what I can learn from them. I'm also grateful for the fact that the music they sang, the actual songs, still has real appeal today and I foresee, for a very long time to come; The American Songbook, real classics that are as popular today as they were at anytime since they were originally written."
He observes, "So many great artists today, known originally for other styles of music, are recording and successfully selling CD's with these songs. I think, not only is the modern age ready, it is already embracing this music. My hope is to bring it to them, my audience, swung a little harder and more originally than it may have been done or is being done by others."
Suvalsky reveals that what appeals to him most about swing music is how he enjoys tinkering with the rhythms. He deciphers, "Why does swinging a song or another thing I naturally tend towards, which is really playing around with the rhythm and text placement within a song, feel like the ‘natural’ thing to do? Sticking to the aspect of swinging, I think it's just that I have a very strong sense of rhythm that needs to come out. It's also that swinging something is a joyful way of expressing the music, and I think that side of music feels like an authentic representation of my spirit."
Without an ounce of gloating or self-righteous bravado, he admits, "I never really stop singing." The songs that he recorded for A World That Swings are songs that he has been singing practically since his days in college, and thus felt familiar to model to his vocal proportions. "At any given time, I'm fooling around with some new songs and also singing and re-working ones I've known for a long time. Spend a couple hours with me and you'll hear them. I never really stop singing, so the songs on the CD reflect what was of interest to me at that time."
He shares about the title of the album, A World That Swings that it was influenced by the swing artist, Mel Torme. He correlates, "I hear in his music and I believe I express in mine when swinging, a playfulness; specifically, an invitation to the listener to ‘come and play’ that is inherent in this type of music. When I selected songs and then, the title for the CD, it wasn't hard to settle on A World That Swings. It's really a direct statement about the music I wanted to record and also, the notion that the world I envision, as did Torme as it was his arrangement I was referencing on this title track, is a swinging one."
Suvalsky also notes that he likes to dabble in the rhythms of pop tunes as well. "I'm interested in mixing a few elements," he imparts, "and then, hopefully, giving them all my original stamp: a mix that includes a few very well known standards, a few lesser known ones, but still somewhat identifiable, one or two ‘obscure gems’ that surprisingly are not at all known, but to me. sound like they should be, and a few classic pop songs."
One such classic pop song that he recorded on A World That Swings is Carole King’s song "I Feel The Earth Move," which Suvalsky recalls, "I grew up hearing/singing along to this song. In fact, it may very well be one of the first I remember hearing. Sort of defining as the beginning of my musical consciousness. This song has always had a place within me. To swing it and accommodating the specifics of my voice, well it's just how the song makes sense to me. Of course I love the original, but I don't like to cover songs; I like to re-invent them, make them my own." He discerns, "Most people really appreciate hearing songs that they remember hearing on the radio, but in a totally original way. I think that's why my version of ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ has in fact been so popular."
He remarks "Something that is always true about the songs I chose is that when I sing them, it feels good to me physically. It's hard to really describe but what happens inside of me, when singing, and specifically when singing a song in such a way that is original and comes easily to me, well it just feels great. Maybe that's why, as I wrote early, I'm always singing, so the way I sing a song, this song, is the delivery of something that is just very natural. It's the way I can say the most about what the song means to me, and convey that to the listener."
Suvalsky masterfully depicted the rich splendor and revelry of Juan Tizol‘s "Perdido," which he recollects, "Mostly, I know of one version of this song, Sarah Vaughan's. I have the impression that she frequently performed and recorded it in the late 50's/early 60's. I came to know a very different, mostly scatted, live version by Ella Fitzgerald from 1956. My version is nothing like either of theirs, except in the fast tempo we all gave it. The word ‘perdido’ comes out with a very specific emphasis on the middle syllable: ‘per-DEE-do’. Whenever that middle syllable was repeated, not just in the word itself, but in the other phrases of the song, it stood out. The rhythm and the natural emphasis on that beat became part of the meaning of what the song was for me. I sort of hung on that beat to give shape to my phrasing which I think is what you may hear as ‘my stamp‘."
Assisting Andrew Suvalsky on the recording for A World That Swings is his producer, Bennett Paster whom Suvalsky explains, "I met Bennett through a wonderful pianist and singer, Dena DeRose, whom I met one day, a number of years back, when I popped into The Garage on 7th Avenue. She was playing with her band and I was sort of looking for a chance to try my stuff. I wasn't performing with any jazz players yet, but was looking to starting to get up before a live audience. It was a Saturday afternoon, she and her band were playing, and when I asked, she said I could sit in a song; I sang ‘They Can't Take That Away From Me‘. I don't know if she remembered me, but I didn't forget her and I stayed in touch via email and keeping up with her gigs over the next couple of years."
He recounts, "When I decided to record A World That Swings, I reached out to her for advice. I wanted to find not just good players, but first, someone who could really work with me on the arrangements. I had many ideas and I wanted first to try them out with someone who would be present from the early stages through the final recording. She referred me to Bennett and it was a perfect fit. He is extremely talented and also, very importantly for the vocalist, a really nurturing player. It was symbiosis for sure, both in that he was part teacher, part co-producer, and part technician. In the best way, he was truly a one-stop shop. We worked mostly in his studio and when it was time for recording, he assembled a first class group of players. I think all of their respective talent is self-evident on the CD."
He describes, "In the development of the arrangements, he was always open to what I had in mind, but at the same time, pushed me to stay the course with the true structure of the song, before taking too many liberties. I think the truest show of how well we worked together is that now, when I listen to the CD, there are specific choices we made -- in the arrangements, in the way I delivered a song, the melodic choices I ended up using that make me wonder, ‘How did we come up with that‘? In other words, there was no struggle or big epiphanies to come up with something original. With a lot of good homework together, the end results seem to naturally fall into place."
A World That Swings is Suvalsky’s sophomore album, building off of the momentum that he acquired from his debut offering, Vintage Pop And The Jazz Slides as he addresses, "A few things are different, some the same. I was definitely building off of Vintage Pop and the Jazz Sides, specifically the ‘jazz sides’. On that recording, my debut, approximately half were classic pop songs, re-interpreted, but produced largely in the way pop songs are today, that is, a mix of live recorded instrumentation with a fair amount of digital overlay. The jazz side of Vintage Pop and the Jazz Sides, and the entirety of A World That Swings, was recorded with live players. Even the classic pop songs on this CD were recorded with the players and arrangements just as I might perform them live. As I mature as a vocalist, as an artist, I know that my greatest abilities are within the way I interpret a song and my improvisational skills. This comes out much more when playing with live players and singing, especially swinging songs that have a strong jazz flavor."
Though Suvalsky’s recordings have established him in global markets, he proclaims that it is in his live shows which let him unleash his best. "When I perform, I really dig right in. By that I mean, that I know it's my job to sing the most out of a song, even if the instrumentation isn't as full or produced as it is in the studio. That's the beauty, though, of live performances. For instance, if a song in the studio is recorded with a quartet, including a sax player and I rarely perform with a sax, we find other ways, my vocals, other solos, to make the number as big and eventful, and meaningful as it was on the recording. It's just slightly different, but I treat it no less earnestly. I always surround myself with excellent players. In my shows, I'm always challenging myself, which means I do some of the tried and true songs, from my recordings. Ones that I know the audience loves but into the mix, I throw in new ones."
He advances, "I'm always working on new material and I think I have good instincts for what will really soar in a show. Sometimes that may mean brushing off what's really easier and more comfortable, to make way for something that's a bit more challenging --- something we, the band and I. may be arranging right up to and even during the tech rehearsal, just before the show. That keeps me focused, for sure, and always tests my technical skills if not my artistic ones. The mix of songs, as on my recordings, is the same as I spoke of earlier... some surprises, some better known ones, generally more up-tempo, swinging numbers, punctuated with a few, lush ballads."
Comparing himself to no one in particular, Suvalsky asserts, "I hear a lot of people doing what they love use the phrase ‘I didn't choose it, it chose me’, which as a concept probably sounded revolutionary and very smart the first time someone said it and now, maybe a little more cliché, but with that said, it's very apt in describing me. I have evolved into this person who literally has to sing. The picture I have of myself, the one that comes from that little voice inside who never let's you forget who you really are, is always saying ‘you should be sharing this, you should be noticed‘. This sounds a little funny, maybe a little self-conscious. I suppose it is, but it's the only true thing I could say about this subject. That I feel the need and feel utterly at home, not just singing but doing it on a stage with a band behind me and an audience before me. I think of the recording studio as a place to create my calling card, the CD, which, when put out in the world will hopefully get more and more people to become familiar with me and my music. At the end of the day, having an ever-growing audience for my live performances is the end goal. To always have someone out there who's listening. With that I get the chance to always prove and prove again, my stuff."
Suvalsky’s journey into becoming a professional singer took root steadily and slowly evolved as he chronicles, "As in many areas of my life, I think I'm a late bloomer. Something I ‘want’ to do percolates inside of me awhile, before I let it out in the public, but once I do, it's there for all to see, and it's very focused. I really didn't start singing seriously until my early 20's. I was in chorus, way in the back, no solos. in high-school. Didn't do anything with it in college, however, some of my college friends with whom I've reconnected have said that I talked about it a lot. I don't remember, but that sounds like me. I'm a dreamer for sure and I guess I foresaw that I would be singing in clubs, even if I wasn't doing it yet."
He remembers, "I took my first voice lesson as a 2nd semester senior in college, then did a little community theater in grad school, and finally, after moving to Chicago at 23, hooked up with a mentor/teacher that I really connected with. She was my first exposure to the type of music I ultimately adopted as my own. It was then that I began defining myself as a singer and singing in clubs. I remember at that stage, getting noticed for sort of having something unique. This teacher, Jackie Allen, was good friends with the just-signed to Blue Note artist, Kurt Elling. She thought I should study with him. I didn't know a good thing when I was confronted with it and didn't take the lessons seriously. He wanted me to actually really consider the meaning of the words I was signing... Radical! At that nubile point in my career, I just wanted to make nice sounding notes set, more or less, to melodies I related to. I didn't think of singing yet as a craft. However, it was soon that I realized, even if I didn't pursue that opportunity as I should have, the fact that she took me seriously and saw real potential. She also took me to some of her gigs to sit in with her. This was real validation. It made me believe that I could do this - that I could do what she and Kurt were doing, and get recognition for it."
But before taking the leap into becoming a solo artist, Suvalsky had pursued a career in architecture. "Before singing, I was always a builder. My earliest memories are twofold: of music in my home, and of me taking anything I could get my hands on to create little buildings. Before I had Legos, I would play in my front yard and move little decorative wood chips around -- the kind that circle the base of a tree and place them as little houses, as in a subdivision. Then came the real building toys: Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Tinker Toys. At night I would sit up and draw plans of ‘dream houses’ with pencil and a ruler. At four years old, I'd drag my aunt's furniture around her little screened in porch. Re-arranging it, I don't know how many times. I always thought I'd be an architect. I didn't really know that there was a profession called interior design, and that, in fact is what I pursued in college at Lehigh University. I have a very business-minded, practical side that asserts itself often in the areas of important life choices. So, instead of hitting the road as a musician, I graduated from college and then went on to the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, for a graduate degree in architecture and urban planning. With that, I began working in urban planning, but within a few years was totally faced with the big question of what I really wanted to do with my life and what was going to be the real me."
Moving forward, he cites, "That's when I began singing in Chicago. I kept working in building or architect-related fields, but still felt I was not on to something that felt true or real, or even remotely expressive as an artist. Music wasn't paying the bills, and my interest in design was not really being expressed either. So, having always wanted to, I picked up to move to New York City where I figured my fortunes as an artist in both realms could be found. I landed a job that I thought was going to be a 'just-get-met-to-NYC-and-take-it-from there' gig. I figured I'd get ‘real’ job once I was settled there and for the meantime, at least, I had a paycheck."
He assesses, "It turned out to be the best educational experience anyone in the industry of interior design could hope for. I sort of fell into that job. I was just supposed to be a personal assistant to the boss, but as it was, for an interior design firm. The principal being a very talented and at that time, increasingly well-known leader in the profession. I related to the product and the work they were doing. Once there, I realized that I naturally understood what it was to design an interior. I quickly moved from being the personal assistant to being a junior, then a senior designer. My architectural background also gave me really valuable skills than many, who specifically study the profession of interior design, don't learn. I felt very much at home in this environment and learned a tremendous amount on the job. I began doing some freelance work early on, which ultimately led to my starting my own company at the point that the jobs I was getting became too big and numerous, thankfully, to handle while still working for someone else. I still get a real thrill not just creating different interiors and designs, but, as with my music, always trying out new ways to express something we are all familiar with whether it's a song or the environment we live in."
When most people feel torn between walking along two different paths, Suvalsky sees how singing and owning his own interior design company, Andrew Suvalsky Designs have a way of complimenting each other. "The first thing I have to say is that I'm tremendously fortunate to live in a city where both professions are elevated to the level they are, so all things equal, the playing field in each is broad and the opportunities, plentiful. I also am built - physically, spiritually - with a ton of energy and drive. I take no individual credit for that, it's just how I'm wired. I can be very focused and at the same time, completely un-focused in that I will multi-task in the extreme. It's the only way I could manage both careers. They are similar to me in that I have a laser sharp idea of how I want each to reflect my view of the world. I consider that whatever I put out there, to be a direct reflection of me, my ideas, my dreams, my skills. I want each - not so much to be perfect, I don't believe in that, but rather to be uniquely me and of a very high quality. I also don't like to use clichés like perfectionism or over-achiever, because neither of those ideas conveys what I feel when I have the need to produce. The end result of each is, of course, quite different, but the place they come from inside of me, is, I'm pretty sure, the same source - the same well-spring. Again, if each are an expression of my personal and my world view, then yes, I think they definitely compliment each other."
Suvalsky embraces both his singing and designing projects with equal fervor. As an interior designer, he is open to creating all types of esthetics. Subsequently as a singer, he is inclined to enjoy the fruits of other orchids besides those in swing, and would welcome the day that he is asked to perform a duet with an artist outside of swing. "With all my talk about past styles, swing, etc., I am a huge fan of most current pop music. In fact, I think there are so many artists with great songs, great lyrics, great melodies. Makes me a little jealous! So, who would I like to perform with? Either Adele, a fantastic young singer from England who I think is an amazing artist and has very jazzy side, or Maroon 5 -- pure rhythmic, edgier-than-a boy-band pop, or Jason Mraz -- great voice and totally unique presentation. Ask me tomorrow or next week and I'll probably have a whole new list."
Andrew Suvalsky invites folks to enjoy swing-jazz, not in terms of going backwards in time, but rather by adapting swing into modern lifestyles. Learning the basics from swing artists who have reached iconic status, Suvalsky acquired a genuine affinity for the cool esthetics of swing and shows a keen grasp of its pulsating rhythms. His re-inventions show the classy sophistication of old-fashioned swing and the promise of attaining iconic status.