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Friday, October 3, 2003



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FILE PHOTO
Michael McDonald, who performed with Matt Catingub and the Honolulu Symphony in the past, told James Ingram, above, that it was cool to perform with the symphony.


Ingram loves
big band sound

Symphony gig meshes
with album he’s doing


After 22 years as an acclaimed recording artist, and three Grammy Awards, James Ingram is finally working on a project he's wanted to do for years -- a big band album.

"Quincy Jones for years said, 'Man, you have the voice for big band thing,' and we went over to the Montrose Jazz Festival years ago with the big band arrangements to some of the stuff that I already do, like 'Just Once' and 'One Hundred Ways,' and we did 'Mack the Knife.'

"Quincy was always talking about doing a big band record on me. He's not doing that much recording anymore but it always stuck in my mind," Ingram said during a leisurely telephone conversation last Friday.



James Ingram

Performs with the Honolulu Symphony

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow
Tickets: $25 to $70
Call: 792-2000



He's the first performer in the Honolulu Symphony's 2003-04 Hawaiian Airlines Pops Series, with shows tonight and tomorrow in the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

It'll be a romantic evening to be sure. Few pop balladeers sing love songs with more soul than Ingram. A generation grew up dancing and romancing to songs like "Baby, Come to Me" and "Somewhere Out There," and those memories linger.

And don't expect him to relax while in Hawaii; he's able to work on his big band album from anywhere on the road.

The project started in Sweden, where he met Mangus Lindgren, a renowned jazz musician, writer and composer. "We got together and we started writing and we started working, and we started cutting this project."

Ingram is using technology to keep the project rolling despite scheduling problems caused by touring. He'll sing the melody to a basic music track then used as the template for the "live" arrangements laid down later by musicians in Sweden. He expects the album will be finished in another six months.

In the meantime, he's keen on big band music and live horn sections. Before meeting Pops conductor Matt Catingub, Ingram asks, "How many horns does he have? I'll have to talk with him about that," Ingram said, his interest piqued by a mention that Catingub also enjoys playing big band swing in his alter ego of the Big Kahuna of Big Kahuna & The Copa Cat Pack.

Ingram says that it was Michael McDonald, a friend since they collaborated on the hit "Yah Mo Be There" in 1983, who assured him "it's cool, do the gig" with Catingub and the symphony this weekend.

"When Michael said it, that was it," Ingram says.

GIVEN INGRAM'S long-time success as a chart-topping balladeer, it requires a flexible imagination to visualize him as the non-singing keyboard player in a band that played "mostly funk stuff," and came out of Ohio at about the same time as the Ohio Players.

"We had singers out front who could sing," Ingram says, the tone of his voice suggesting that he was minor league in comparison -- at least back then.

The band, Revelation Funk, moved out to Los Angeles in search of "our big break" in 1973 but broke up six months later. The rest of the group returned home but Ingram stayed in LA. He got his big break -- and met producer Quincy Jones -- through a series of events that usually only happens in the movies.

"I knew I could sing, but I didn't know I could sing to the point where someone like Quincy Jones would (notice)," Ingram says, explaining that he found work as a songwriter who could sing on the demo versions shopped to producers and record labels looking for new material. Ingram got paid $50 a demo. One of the songs he recorded was "Just Once."

"(The music company) got 'Just Once' to Quincy to peddle the song, not me. Quincy called them back asking, 'Who is this singing?' -- and Quincy called me, and the rest is history."

Ingram lucked out again when Jones convinced producers of the 1981 Grammy Awards to open the show with "Just Once" instead of going with an up-tempo number as usual. He didn't feel so lucky at the time.

"This was the first time in my life standing up on stage singing (as a solo artist). Nobody had staged me or told me what to do, I was nervous as hell, and my Afro was lopsided," Ingram said.

The song was hit, and with Jones as his producer, Ingram scored three Top 20 singles -- including "Baby, Come to Me," which hit No. 1 for two weeks in 1982 -- before his first album came out. Technically, he had four pop hits before his debut album was released, because "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" was on the "Best Friends" movie soundtrack.

"It's Your Night," his debut album, was released in November 1983.

Ingram acknowledges that the romantic easy listening sound of his early hits caused him to be classified as "a pop ballad singer," which he didn't mind, although as a musician, "I would like the funk because it's more intricate in terms of playing, and the rhythms."

Ingram adds that making the transition from $50-per-song demo singer to working with "the biggest producer in the world," took some adjustment.

"I was in the studio singing 'Just Once' and I kept stopping, and Quincy asked what's wrong ... and I said, 'I'm trying to smooth out some of the gruffness in my voice,' and Quincy said, 'No, that's why you're in here. That's your sound.'

"When he told me that, a light went on in my head -- 'If Quincy Jones says I can sing, I must can sing for real.' Until then I didn't know it.

"He set that legacy for me that I'm still trying to live up to."

Symphony gig meshes with album he's doing

john berger l jberger@starbulletin.com

After 22 years as an acclaimed recording artist, and three Grammy Awards, James Ingram is finally working on a project he's wanted to do for years -- a big band album.

"Quincy Jones for years said, 'Man, you have the voice for big band thing,' and we went over to the Montrose Jazz Festival years ago with the big band arrangements to some of the stuff that I already do, like 'Just Once' and 'One Hundred Ways,' and we did 'Mack the Knife.'

"Quincy was always talking about doing a big band record on me. He's not doing that much recording anymore but it always stuck in my mind," Ingram said during a leisurely telephone conversation last Friday.

He's the first performer in the Honolulu Symphony's 2003-04 Hawaiian Airlines Pops Series, with shows tonight and tomorrow in the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

It'll be a romantic evening to be sure. Few pop balladeers sing love songs with more soul than Ingram. A generation grew up dancing and romancing to songs like "Baby, Come to Me" and "Somewhere Out There," and those memories linger.

And don't expect him to relax while in Hawaii; he's able to work on his big band album from anywhere on the road.

The project started in Sweden, where he met Mangus Lindgren, a renowned jazz musician, writer and composer. "We got together and we started writing and we started working, and we started cutting this project."

Ingram is using technology to keep the project rolling despite scheduling problems caused by touring. He'll sing the melody to a basic music track then used as the template for the "live" arrangements laid down later by musicians in Sweden. He expects the album will be finished in another six months.

In the meantime, he's keen on big band music and live horn sections. Before meeting Pops conductor Matt Catingub, Ingram asks, "How many horns does he have? I'll have to talk with him about that," Ingram said, his interest piqued by a mention that Catingub also enjoys playing big band swing in his alter ego of the Big Kahuna of Big Kahuna & The Copa Cat Pack.

Ingram says that it was Michael McDonald, a friend since they collaborated on the hit "Yah Mo Be There" in 1983, who assured him "it's cool, do the gig" with Catingub and the symphony this weekend.

"When Michael said it, that was it," Ingram says.

GIVEN INGRAM'S long-time success as a chart-topping balladeer, it requires a flexible imagination to visualize him as the non-singing keyboard player in a band that played "mostly funk stuff," and came out of Ohio at about the same time as the Ohio Players.

"We had singers out front who could sing," Ingram says, the tone of his voice suggesting that he was minor league in comparison -- at least back then.

The band, Revelation Funk, moved out to Los Angeles in search of "our big break" in 1973 but broke up six months later. The rest of the group returned home but Ingram stayed in LA. He got his big break -- and met producer Quincy Jones -- through a series of events that usually only happens in the movies.

"I knew I could sing, but I didn't know I could sing to the point where someone like Quincy Jones would (notice)," Ingram says, explaining that he found work as a songwriter who could sing on the demo versions shopped to producers and record labels looking for new material. Ingram got paid $50 a demo. One of the songs he recorded was "Just Once."

"(The music company) got 'Just Once' to Quincy to peddle the song, not me. Quincy called them back asking, 'Who is this singing?' -- and Quincy called me, and the rest is history."

Ingram lucked out again when Jones convinced producers of the 1981 Grammy Awards to open the show with "Just Once" instead of going with an up-tempo number as usual. He didn't feel so lucky at the time.

"This was the first time in my life standing up on stage singing (as a solo artist). Nobody had staged me or told me what to do, I was nervous as hell, and my Afro was lopsided," Ingram said.

The song was hit, and with Jones as his producer, Ingram scored three Top 20 singles -- including "Baby, Come to Me," which hit No. 1 for two weeks in 1982 -- before his first album came out. Technically, he had four pop hits before his debut album was released, because "How Do You Keep the Music Playing" was on the "Best Friends" movie soundtrack.

"It's Your Night," his debut album, was released in November 1983.

Ingram acknowledges that the romantic easy listening sound of his early hits caused him to be classified as "a pop ballad singer," which he didn't mind, although as a musician, "I would like the funk because it's more intricate in terms of playing, and the rhythms."

Ingram adds that making the transition from $50-per-song demo singer to working with "the biggest producer in the world," took some adjustment.

"I was in the studio singing 'Just Once' and I kept stopping, and Quincy asked what's wrong ... and I said, 'I'm trying to smooth out some of the gruffness in my voice,' and Quincy said, 'No, that's why you're in here. That's your sound.'

"When he told me that, a light went on in my head -- 'If Quincy Jones says I can sing, I must can sing for real.' Until then I didn't know it.

"He set that legacy for me that I'm still trying to live up to."



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