story and photo by Daniel Maher, special to The City Wire
FORT SMITH — Hometown musical hero Jonathan Karrant sang to a full house at Second Street Live on Saturday night (April 28). The show was in support of the release of his new album On and On.
Though born and reared in Fort Smith, Karrant now lives and performs in San Diego. The audience was full of family and friends eager to hear him on one of his rare visits back to the area.
They were not disappointed.
Over the course of nearly two hours, Karrant performed nonstop, belting out all the tunes on his new CD and then some —18 songs in total. While Karrant cites many obvious influences for his music, such as Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, some not-so-well-known artists have made a significant impact on him, as well. In a nod to one of them, Karrant picked “Days Like This” by Mose Allison, to be on the new record. On stage Saturday night, Karrant described Allison as a “singer’s singer” whose lyrics were “clever, witty, comical and held a lot of meaning behind them.”
Prior to the show, Karrant was asked about his method for approaching the interpretation of a song. He said he trusts his instincts and goes “with what feels right.” While the music is important, he says, “It’s the lyrics that I really focus on. I really try to get across the meaning of the words to the audience.” When it comes to the phrasing of a song, Kurrant takes much inspiration from the 86-year-old Little Jimmy Scott, an American jazz vocalist famous for his unusually high contralto voice.
“He really changed the way people thought about phrasing,” Karrant said of Scott. Johnny Hartman and Nancy Wilson also played a role in the development of Kurrant’s technique.
The young star was backed up for this occasion by a band of popular locals, the Don Bailey Jazz Quartet. Don Bailey alternated between saxophone and flute throughout the evening; his wife, Terri, played piano; Brandon Patterson was on bass; and the Baileys’ son, Shane, played drums. Each in their turn earned a much deserved applause for their solo efforts throughout the evening. There was solid chemistry between Karrant and the band despite the fact they seldom play together. Musically, the band played well off each other and complemented Kurrant’s tones nicely. They shared a good rapport throughout the show. The audience got a laugh when, while introducing “Under Your Skin,” a Cole Porter tune, Karrant noted that he and Porter shared the same birthday — to which Don Bailey replied “which means you look pretty good for your age, John.”
The energy of the performance increased with each song. During the Nat King Cole song “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” each member of the band took a solo and gained momentum. The audience responded in kind. Near the end of the show, Karrant covered two Johnny Mercer tunes back-to-back: “Drinking Again” and “I Thought About You,” both of which instigated a lot of toe-tapping, head-bobbing and knee-slapping to the beat.
The second to last song was “Please Send Me Someone to Love.” Karrant performed an exceptionally thoughtful and contemplative rendition accompanied by a soft spoken saxophone solo by Don Bailey. It melted the edge off even the most hard-hearted of those in the audience.
On and On is not Karrant’s first record but, he admitted that it’s the first that he’s really focused on.
“I just sold my previous records out of the trunk of my car,” he said.
This time he was much more selective about his songs, getting a great band together and aggressively marketing the record on United States and United Kingdom radio stations, as well as Pandora, iTunes and Amazon.
Karrant definitely takes note of his audiences and responds to them. When asked to compare his gigs ranging from New York to San Diego to Las Vegas and back to Fort Smith, he said he finds it “a treat to come back to Fort Smith and perform new material,” whereas he has grown to be “fed up with” the Las Vegas audiences that are “just there to party.”
He will play at The Afterthought in Little Rock on May 3 and will be back in Fort Smith for two shows at the new MovieLounge venue May 11 and 12.