Live Jazz: Mon David at the Culver Club in the Hotel Radisson

A New Male Jazz Singer on the Scene

By Roger Crane

To a jazz writer and jazz fan, there is little that is more satisfying than discovering new worthy talent.  And when that new talent is a male jazz singer, it is time to shout “hallelujah” from the rooftops. In recent years, there have been many singers who can stand before a band and sing in a style resembling jazz. These singers are often jazz influenced and can swing. Michael Buble comes to mind, but Mon David (pronounced dah-VEED) is the real deal, an uncompromising, straight-ahead, no adjectives needed jazz vocalist.

David, a Filipino, has been in the States for three years. He was doing well in his home country but observed that “It was a major move, starting all over again in the USA, but it was important to do. America is a bigger playground – one that I wanted to explore and learn from.”

David has performed at the Jazz Bakery and other venues. I caught him Friday night at the Radisson Hotel Culver Club where he worked with a stellar trio comprised of pianist Theo Saunders.  Dominic Thiroux at the bass and Abe Lagrimas behind the drumset. These four were in lockstep throughout the evening.

Repertoire seems to be one of David’s many strengths. His selections stretched from Legrand and Jobim to Carmichael and Sting, even including a version of Wayne Shorter’s “Footsteps” into which he added a few Filipino asides. Some of his material came from the Bill Evans canon, including “Waltz for Debby,” a song that Evans wrote, and also songs — such as Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” — that Evans brought into the jazz lexicon.

David is a masterful jazz singer who improvises rhythmic dances with his voice, weaves new melodic lines and sweeps through the harmonic changes with the assurance of a horn player. But unlike a horn player, along with his musical daring David never forgets that he has text to deal with and he honors the lyrics. Thankfully. unlike some newer jazz singers, David did not feel a need to scat on every song. Too many scatters are high on pyrotechnics and short on poetry. But David exhibits taste and his occasional scatting is un-histrionic and true as an oboe. A good example was his rendition of the warhorse “There Is No Greater Love” which he sang with only Thiroux’s bass accompaniment. David, at all times, employed scatting as an additional channel of communication, not an opportunity for show-off  “look at me” vocalizing.  No need for a reconnaissance mission to discover Isham Jones’ beloved melody.

But it was not a night of wall-to-wall up tempo tunes and scatting. Like Mark Murphy, whose singing his work at times resembles, David can swing you into bad health and then, turn around and  break your heart with a ballad. In fact, contrary to what they teach in that fictional course “Singing in the Clubs 101,” David had the courage to begin both sets with ballads, opening the night with a slow, mesmerizing interpretation of “My One and Only Love.” It takes both talent and charisma to shut up a hotel lounge crowd, but quiet them he did. Speaking of ballads, I have not heard a more satisfying version of the complex Strayhorn gem, “Lush Life.” It is a difficult song to sing well, but David brought the sadness and loneliness of this unique song to life. He maneuvered the mine fields of Strayhorn’s lyrics very well and made the listener a believer in his “jazz and cocktails” saga. Strayhorn would surely have embraced this rendition of his masterpiece.

Mention should also be made of David’s stage presence. The art of performing is separate from the art of making music. We all know jazz singers who sing “to the walls” and cabaret singers who grin while singing “Cry Me a River.” Therefore, it is so nice when performance, taste and talent all reside in the same person. David is warm, self-effacing and provided just the right amount of patter. The man is genuine and demonstrates the joy needed to make an audience happy. Jazz is experience — heart and intent are not enough. Watching and listening to Mon David, you are aware that this man has, as the saying goes, been there and done it with grace.

Pop singers present a song, whereas the true jazz singer creates one. There can be no doubt that Mon David is a jazz singer. Each of his songs was steeped in bravura, wrapped in ideas and presented with a bold sense of adventure. That is jazz, folks. As writer Whitney Balliett famously said, “Jazz is the sound of surprise” and David was surprising us – and delighting us – all evening.

So, whenever you begin to despair about the dearth of really fine male jazz vocalists, seek out Mon David. His latest album is Coming True, on the FreeHam Records label.  And when you seek a really good jazz supper club, go to the Radisson Hotel Culver Club on a Friday night and say thanks to Merle Kreibich for helping to keep live jazz vibrant.

For  recordings and more details check Mon David’s website:  http://www.mondavid.com/

To read more of Roger Crane’s reviews and articles check out his personal website, The Song Scout.

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