Reviews from two very different publications say it best about the emergence on the contemporary jazz scene of vocalist Gregory Generet. The Journal of the New Jersey Jazz Society writes: “The arrival of a good new male vocalist these days has become something of a rarity. It is good, therefore, to hip you to (re)generat-ion (Monsieur/Mosaic Records), a first release from Gregory Generet. Cabaret Scenes, the magazine of The Cabaret Foundation, Ltd., echoes: “There’s little sexier than virtuoso talent suited up like gentlemen, erupting into sumptuous, sensual, gut-wrenching jazz. Charismatic Gregory Generet and his band make the kind of joyful noise that soars. Every artist on stage is a source of power, invention and juice.” Critic Stephen Holden of the New York Times echoes: “A voice that’s so sultry you might get burned.”
Since leaving his 25 year career as a high profile post production editor for CBS in 2007, the three time Emmy Award winner has been a nonstop presence on the jazz scene in New York City, performing sold out shows at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center and frequently gigging at renowned hotspots like Joe’s Pub, The Highline Ballroom, The Kitano, Feinsteins at the Lowes Regency and Smoke Jazz Club—where he is currently in residence. He has performed over the years with such greats as Wycliffe Gordon, Branford Marsalis, Mike Renzi, Bucky Pizzarelli, Victor Goines, Kenny Werner, Sherman Irby and Billy Stretch, among others.
JazzMonthly: I know that you started performing jazz while working as a successful, award winning post production editor. Tell me about that career and how and when you started performing jazz?
GG: I had been singing R&B most of my life but got turned onto jazz at Graham Junior College in Boston when my next door dorm neighbor played Bill Evans for me. I came back to New York after college and was hired by ABC within two weeks. I later started at CBS as a videotape operations tech and sometime editor before working my way up. I had a few hours between my report time of 11 and when I actually started working at 4 a.m. and I would spend those hours downtown at clubs. I got to know people and started sitting in a little. It was always a dream of mine to sing onstage, so eventually becoming a jazz singer was something of a dream deferred. My parents were Southerners and my mother used to say, you can sing for God but you need a job. But I kept going with what I loved. My first professional gig was in 1996, a children’s hospital benefit at Birdland on 44th Street through the Harlem Jazz Foundation. I got the gig from a woman my wife knew and she hired me without hearing me! I was on the bill with Jimmy Heath, Milt Jackson and Frank Foster. I started getting work after that via word of mouth, doing small gigs and corporate work for big companies like Clairol and Maybelline. It was a good start.
JazzMonthly: Tell me about your musical background. Where are you from originally and when did you first start singing? Who would you say your greatest musical influences are?
GG: I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I was always singing for my parents and their friends who would come over, plus I sang in church choirs through my teen years. I came later to jazz. Early on, it was all about Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and James Brown. I latched onto R&B because of radio station WBLS which also played a little jazz. I knew I would pursue jazz when I met some people from a club called Paulsen’s in NYC and got on a bill singing R&B covers. The night went well, but I hated it because I felt like I was hiding behind the songs. Even earlier though, I think it was coming across the great John Coltrane-Johnny Hartman album. I heard it and it changed my life. I realized the importance of storytelling, how to look at a lyric and interpret it so that it made sense to me. It’s not just singing in a pretty voice, you have to live it and connect your experiences with the song.
JazzMonthly: What are the advantages and disadvantages about pursuing jazz as a full time career in middle age?
There are a lot of challenges. You really have to believe in what you are doing and not look at the monetary aspect of it because it’s hard to make money and it’s not easy to get people to believe in you when you’re older. I started out at 47 or 48, so I had to give club owners the impression that I had been doing this all my life, which was true, and I always dressed and presented myself well when I met them so they would think, of course this guy is in the business a long time. By doing more and more gigs, I built a strong reputation among New York musicians, which helped a lot. These “hitters” would put in a good word for me and acknowledge what I was capable of to those who would listen. On the positive side, emotionally, I’m bringing more life experience to the table, approaching the music and the business with having a successful professional life that I have lived. That includes making what I call “young man” mistakes, which I wouldn’t make again no matter what course I was pursuing. I’m also mature in the way I talk about the music and how I feel about what I’m hearing and singing. Once that conversation with a prospective employer is in full swing, I’m in the position where I have the ability to accept the job or not. Being a mature adult can set me apart from the many younger singers who want that gig.