Canadian crooner Matt Dusk has a new album out, and it’s taken him back to his musical roots. The pop-jazz performer pays tribute to the late great Chet Baker with My Funny Valentine: The Chet Baker Songbook. Aptly released just two days before the holiday whose name it bears, My Funny Valentine is a beautiful homage to the tragic trumpeter and singer. It takes a charmer to be a crooner, and Dusk has charm in spades, as I found out one snowy afternoon when I met the adorable singer to talk about music, life, love and our mutual addictions.
Nadia Elkharadly – How did you get your start in music? I know you were a choir boy.
Matt Dusk – You did your homework! I was seven years old when I was sent to [St. Michaels] Choir school. My parents wanted me to be a choir boy; it was a way to not have to pay for babysitters.
NE: Is that how you discovered you were a good singer?
MD: Oh god no—I was always second best. I was the second best singer at St Michael’s choir school, and now I’m the second best Canadian crooner (of course after Michael Buble)*laughs*. But when I was in my teenage years, my buddies and I discovered karaoke. One of my friends said: you should try this in front of an audience. So we found another karaoke bar, and I got up in front of the crowd. Then I sang and the girls went crazy. It was awesome, people really got into it.
NE: Did that crooner style voice come naturally?
MD: No I was horrible in the beginning. I was a lounge singer kind of guy. I went to York University and I was trained by [Canadian jazz pianist] Bob Fenton. He used to play piano for Billie Holiday, he’d lived a crazy life as a jazz musician, drugs and all and escaped from that life. He was probably in his late seventies/early eighties when I starting working with him. He had [whispered] no voice, because of that lifestyle.
NE: How did you learn to sing from someone with no voice?
MD: That’s how you have to learn to sing like a crooner. Crooning is all about lyrical singing, it’s all about learning how to phrase correctly. He didn’t have a voice but he would still sound amazing, that’s how Billie Holiday sounded too. I was basically trained by the people who were living in that era, in its heyday, and now they’re all gone, all my teachers are dead! So the lesson here is: don’t teach me! *laughs*
NE: But that’s incredible that you have the influence of that wealth of knowledge, and now no one else can. Does that make you feel strange?
MD: No because someone will learn from me, I’ll learn from someone else, it’s just that path. There’s a reason why people still learn about opera and sing opera, the information still passed on. A lot of the training we got won’t be as strong anymore, because there are fewer teachers. It’s not a kind of music people experience on a daily basis anymore.
NE: Would you call it a dying art form?
MD: It’s a changing art form. Western jazz music has become western classical music. We don’t have standards anymore; the only standards we have left are Christmas [songs]. Jazz music has become a lifestyle kind of music, it fills a certain energy. People like Harry Connick (Jr.), Michael Buble and I have careers because there is still a desire to go back to that lifestyle, that era. We focus heavily on entertainment as well. I can croon until the cows come home, but I also have to entertain. I talk to the audience, I integrate them into my show, dancing, singing, all that stuff. It’s what I do, it’s what I love.
NE: What jazz greats influenced you?
MD: [Frank] Sinatra was my intro to jazz. I didn’t like Billie Holiday until I got older. Listening to the way she phrases, she’s so naturally talented at keeping rhythm and using her instrument [her voice], which had deteriorated towards the end of her life. But she didn’t have that beautiful skill to perform. Later I got into Tony Bennett and then Harry Connick Jr. Harry Connick Jr. is a huge influence on me because he’s still alive, and I could see him on stage. I’ve even met him a couple of times and every time I do I shit my pants *laughs*. I just stand there speechless. I never tell him who I am. I’m a huge fan.
NE: You’ve got a large fan base as well. What’s it like having fans?
MD: It’s an ego boost, and it’s just great to meet people that really love music. I don’t want to hang out with people outside of that world. Someone who doesn’t have that sense of love for something that specific, it’s just frustrating. It’s frustrating dealing with people who don’t have that kind of love and passion in their lives. I’m lucky to be doing something I love so much, and to meet people and interact with people who understand that and have that some love. That’s why every day when I get up and go to work (which is getting on stage and singing) the reality is that there’s a huge economic environment happening around it, the business of music, but there’s nothing of that when I’m performing. That’s what the fans love. The audience is drawn in, with their chins in their hands. They’ve loving not me, but the music.
NE: You’ve just released an album called The Chet Baker Songbook. How did the idea for the album come about?
MD: Chet Baker was one of the guys I listened to when I was a teenager getting into jazz. He was the perfect backdrop to do homework—it’s very soft, very cool. I knew that “My Funny Valentine” was his most popular song. Through the years I’ve really tried to contemporize jazz music with pop, and so far it’s been fairly successful. But ultimately, I’m a crooner and I really wanted to go back and showcase the type of music that I am about. Chet baker was one of those guys that first got me into this stuff, and no one talks about him anymore. Everyone knows who he is, but they don’t know what he did outside of “My Funny Valentine.” His music really sets a mood that I think is lost, and that mood is: fireplace, wine, forgetting about the night with your partner. I really wanted this album to be like that. This record is very slow and orchestrated and thematic. It realty sets the mood, and I love that feeling. There’s no one better than Chet Baker for that.
NE: You mentioned that this record was very orchestral, I read that you recorded with an eighty-piece orchestra, what was that like?
MD: The biggest track has about eighty musicians. I think recording and performing with an orchestra is so classic. I wanted to pull out all the stops on this. I was paying homage to Chet Baker. I not only wanted to make the music sound good, but I wanted to sound good. I wanted to work with the greatest people as well. Arturo Sandoval [who played trumpet on the record] is a very famous trumpet player, very big in the latin jazz genre. He was trained by Dizzy Gillespie; he was his protégé. He’s known for playing super high and crazy lines, but he’d recently come out with a record called A time for love, and on it he plays softly and quietly. It’s funny because he’s not known for that, and yet he can do it very very well. As a crooner, I usually sing on uptempo songs and on this record I had to really get into that tired, quiet voice, so it was a similar experience. He was awesome to work with. I also brought on a Canadian singer named Emily Claire Barlow, we’re contemporaries, we share many of the same band members but we’ve never gotten a chance to sing with each other. She’s so incredibly sexy when she sings. It was great to work with her as well.
NE: Can you pick a favorite song from the album?
MD: It depends on my mood, but one of my favourites is “Deep in a Dream”. Imagine a guy walking into his apartment, he sits down in his chair, he’s depressed and he’s been drinking. It’s like he’s going in and out of a dream. He turns the lights down, takes out a cigarette and lights it. As the cigarette smokes rises, it turns into a stairway and he sees a woman, his ex, his wife, maybe she’d died. He’s being drawn into her more and more, and all of a sudden the cigarette burns his hand and he’s hocked out of the dream. And the lyrics say: “my hand doesn’t hurt but there’s pain in my heart”. Everyone’s been there! Just as the moment comes when you thought you’d been reunited, you’re back in the misery. And that’s why it’s called “Deep in a Dream”.
NE: You should make that into a video!
MD: I know, I was asking what the CG budget is for the next video. *laughs*
NE: Our magazine is called Addicted so I have to ask: what are your addictions?
MD: Music! Music is my life. I love having a constant backdrop of music. Besides music, I’m addicted to sailing, I love the water, I have a boat and I sail as often as I can. It’s the ultimate equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black or white, when you’re on the water, you’re with nature and that’s it.
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