DeSare isn’t just a vocal pianist, he is an exciting new songwriter of the first order, and his new CD is testimony to that fact. Filled with luscious compositions of his own and reinvented standards, DeSare lures his listeners from the first kiss to heartfelt flights in a way that is refreshingly new and exciting. And if you have opportunity to see him perform on stage, he will draw you in like a moth to a flame. Without a doubt, Tony Desare is on his way to becoming one of this year’s top performers of his genre.
JazzReview: This is your second recording with Telarc so fans will be listening to your new CD, Last First Kiss, and comparing it to your debut album, Want You. What have you brought to Last First Kiss that you didn’t on your debut album?
Tony DeSare: Well, first of all, with my debut album, I originally started it as a demo to try to get a record deal in the first place. So I’m just kind of finding my way. Some of the songs are from the first sessions I ever did in a recording studio, and also with Bucky Pizzarelli. I was awfully nervous, too. Straight away with the second one, I was much more confident with what I was doing and had much more of an artistic vision. I also brought other elements I’ve developed since-sort of a bluesy element.
JazzReview: That’s interesting that the songs on Want You were part of your demo to get a deal. How did that all come about?
Tony DeSare: Well, I met a producer in New York who wanted to help me out, Billy Terrell.
JazzReview: He produced this CD too, right?
Tony DeSare: Yeah, he produced this one. So we got studio time, a cheap $75-an hour studio, and recorded. That eventually became Want You (Tony’s debut CD). It was, you know, a nice studio, but still, it was done on a really tight budget. There were certain compromises that I made on the first CD that I didn’t have to make on First Last Kiss.
JazzReview: On your new CD, you reworked Prince’s song "Kiss," which you’ve certainly proved, works fabulously in your own genre. What was your thinking in giving this and Carol King’s "I Feel the Earth Move" a whole new jazz approach?
Tony DeSare: I was out in New York one night with a friend. They were playing a bunch of 80’s songs in the bar. When "Kiss" came on, I was thinking to myself what a cool song it was, great lyrics. So after eight, when I went home, I just started messing with it on the piano. I slowed it down and put a swing into it. I thought it could really work. People thought I was really crazy to try it, but it finally came together. I’m really proud the way it came out. It proves it’s a really good song because it can work so well the way Prince does it, and it also works well when you take it in a completely 180 degree, different direction.
JazzReview: I’m a believer now. When I first looked at the track titles and saw "Kiss," I thought, "Hmmm, how’s this gonna work?" Once I played it, I loved it.
The wonderful thing about you is you’re not just a vocalist, but a musician and songwriter, as well. What inspires you with the creative writing process?
Tony DeSare: For me, it’s always interesting because there are three different aspects of what I do-the songwriting aspect, the vocal aspect and the piano playing. All the influences are all very different. For songwriting, I’ve always studied different songwriters I really liked. The last two years, I’ve gotten into Randy Neuman actually.
JazzReview: Oh really? He’s great isn’t he?
Tony DeSare: Yeah, I love the way he is able to write these beautiful melodies on piano and match them with interesting lyrics and ideas. So he’s been my latest influence, but my core foundation, of course, is the Great American Songbook-Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin. I also like pop music and the things that are coming out today.
JazzReview: Did your career begin as a vocal pianist?
Tony DeSare: My first instrument was actually classical violin. From there, I started playing piano and singing. I started working as a piano player and vocalist when I was about 18-years old.
JazzReview: That’s interesting. When I think of jazz pianists, usually they’ve begun with classical piano training. Is there any difference in the conversion from classical violin to piano?Tony DeSare: I don’t think so. I was always fascinated with the piano and I would love to have started earlier, but my parents didn’t have a piano or access to one. The violin was the very first instrument in school that I could take as a kid. I knew I like music, so I grabbed the first thing I could get lessons on.
JazzReview: What piano sits in your home right now?
Tony DeSare: I live in a little New York apartment and I have a keyboard, but I’m a Steinway artist so I’m able to go one subway stop away and practice at Steinway Hall. I play a Steinway Model D Concert Grand piano.
JazzReview: Let’s talk about your compositions that are included on your new album Last First Kiss. They are very romantic, yet modern. Your CD would make a great Valentine’s Day gift.
Tony DeSare: Yes, the CD is all about romance. The two words I had in mind when I was formulating the CD was "sexy" and "stormy."
JazzReview: The CD certainly is that, and then some. Your compositions aren’t written off the cuff--they are beautiful songs filled with emotion like someone in love. Are you in love?
Tony DeSare: [Laughs] I went through a lot the past year. I was married for six years, went through a separation life is great, but being single again after 10 years
JazzReview: Well, like I was said, you can’t compose songs like that unless you’ve been through the experience.
Tony DeSare: I think you are right. One of the things I like so much about this CD is the fact that I was given the freedom by the record company to do what I wanted to do. I can say that every single song on the CD is "me," in one aspect or another. That’s why I feel like I’m communicating with people because it’s an honest work. I didn’t write or do any of those with the intent of trying to sell records or emulate anything. I did it because I love music and it’s honest.
JazzReview: It definitely comes through in your music. What do the words "Last First Kiss" mean?
Tony DeSare: The whole idea about it is your first kiss with someone is obviously your last first kiss with that person. The whole song is painting a picture of a really nice first kiss and kind of exploring the fact that it’s going to be your last I’ve always been fascinated with small, life changing moments. Of course, everybody knows the big ones, but there are all those little things that change your life, like that first kiss. It changes your relationship with that person forever.
JazzReview: Sounds like you are a romantic at heart [Laughs].
Tony DeSare: [Laughs] Maybe I am. That’s just how I feel. That’s what that song is about.
JazzReview: Unlike many recent male vocalists, you are not a cookie cutter, Sinatra-sounding clone. Your vocals and piano are so fresh and new, even with the old standards. How did you develop your own great style?
Tony DeSare: I don’t know. It has certainly taken time for me to do that. It’s an interesting thing because I’ve always refined what I do until I know what I am--know how I sound and what I would and wouldn’t do. I think there’s a time you go through when you’re learning, when you study there was a time when I was struck with Frank Sinatra, a time when I struck with Tony Bennett. You learn from these people by emulating them, and then you mix everything together. All of a sudden, your unique voice comes out of that.
Jazzreview: Your style can appeal to listeners all ages.
Tony DeSare: Part of that is my intent, because I don’t intend to make something that is the nostalgic Sinatra, rat pack thing. I really and truly just love this music. The genre is new music to me. That’s part of the reason I like writing in it. Even though there were so many songs written for it in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, I feel that there is still stuff to mine out of that genre.
JazzReview: If you take notice, there aren’t many good, new songs being written today.
Tony DeSare: No, who’s writing in this genre these days who is really serious? There are Broadway writers, but even Broadway isn’t writing new stuff any more. In the pop market, they’re either writing country songs or songs for, like Christine Aguilera.
JazzReview: Exactly, and we’re losing our culture. It’s great that you are composing all these great songs for this genre of jazz.
You mentioned Broadway. You’ve starred in off Broadway, composed and performed the title song for the award winning My Date With Drew. You were also selected by Sam Arlen to perform with the Ellington Orchestra for Birdland’s Harold Arlen centennial celebration. Are you still involved with like projects?
Tony DeSare: I’m always doing something. When things come along as they do, I find new ways to get my music across to people. Right now, I’m focusing on getting my CD out and performing in jazz clubs. I love performing more than ever now. Hopefully, in the near future I can perform more and more. I didn’t always love it. These days, I love what I’m doing so much and really believe in it. I just can’t wait to get on stage and share it with people.
JazzReview: You are currently touring your new CD. Fans can find your tour information on your website, correct?
Tony DeSare: Yes, on my website.
JazzReview: What’s your favorite place to perform-small clubs, concert halls?
Tony DeSare: I think my favorite place to perform is in a small theatre, like a 300-seat theatre that’s large enough to feel like a big show, but intimate enough to connect with everybody. But of course, I like jazz clubs and small cabarets, because that’s where I got my start in New York.
JazzReview: What are your hopes for your CD on the west coast? The New York scene is so different and many times east coast artists and their music just don’t seem to gap that bridge to L.A.
Tony DeSare: I’ve got to say that whenever I come to the west coast, I especially love it. Like yesterday when I got on the plane at JFK, it was seven degrees outside. I landed here and it was seventy-five! [Laughs]
JazzReview: Are you hoping to perform in Europe anytime in the near future?
Tony DeSare: As far as international travel goes, I’m going to Australia in June . My managers have contacts in France and Germany and I know that will happen. It’s just a matter of firming dates. I’d love to do it, and as soon as I can, I will.
JazzReview: Thanks so much for your time, Tony. I look forward to seeing you perform at Catalina’s Jazz Club in Hollywood on Thursday. Best of luck to you with your fantastic new CD.
Tony DeSare: Thank you.