Textures in Hi-Fi
The Oregonian Portland, Oregon December 10, 1999 A BIG BAND REBIRTH By Lynn Darroch Special to the Oregonian It took a while, but Robert Hicks finally made his Hollywood dream come true. 'Textures In Hi-Fi' is a nearly flawless re-creation of the West Coast modernist big band era, as sharp and evocative as Wynton Marsalis' re-creation of the Ellington canon. The Portland-based, Portland-born singer and pianist, now in his 30s, grew up on the big band music and West Coast jazz of the '40s & '50s, even though he had to dig old 78s out of his grandmother's attic to hear it. In L.A., where he played and sang for seven years in swanky hotels and restaurants, he met one of his childhood idols, composer and arranger Pete Rugolo, who conducts the 19-piece big-band on this CD. For Hicks, singing Rugolo's music is the culmination of a process that began when he was 10 years old and purchased a used 78 titled 'Rika Jika Jack', which Rugolo had written for vocalist June Christy in 1946. Hicks' version here is a cool mix of call and response blues with swinging riffs that features his supple tenor in both scat and conventional vocal choruses. Rugolo came to prominence with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He produced the legendary 'Birth Of The Cool' sessions. He arranged for Nat Cole and wrote scores for 'The Fugitive' and other classic TV dramas. With his collaboration, Hicks has captured the spirit of the era: the material (old and new arrangements and compositions by Rugolo), the musicians (some of whom were present for the original recording sessions), the cover art, the attitude. All the pieces are here. Hicks sings with beautiful intonation and clean articulation. On 'Interlude', a lush ballad with strings and impressionistic, modernistic chords, his pause between the lines 'how bittersweet' and 'how sublime' measures perfectly the emotional distance between those poles. His lyrics for 'Bongo Fever' demonstrate his ability to capture Hollywood's take on the exotic without resorting to camp or parody. 'Sensual, erotic and more than hypnotic, the rhythm will not leave your mind,' he sings. The brass section shimmers, the reeds wail, and the bongos rap out their incantation. Suddenly you're there, dashing through Hollywood nights of mystery and passion. Grade: A Jazzscene March, 2000 HICKS/RUGOLO DISC SOLID By George Fendel/Kyle O'Brien Robert Hicks fulfills a long standing wish to record with Pete Rugolo, an arranger with head-spinning credentials covering the last 50 years. The pairing couldn't be better. Hicks is tops, as a fantastic big band, featuring Pete and Conte Candoli, Steve Wilkerson and others blast away with him. The music runs the gamut from Cole Porter's only rock tune, 'Ritz Roll & Rock' to Stravinsky's 'Firebird Jumps'! Picking unconventional tunes like 'Out Of The Shadows' and 'Rika Jika Jack' adds even more authenticity to this finely produced album. Hicks brings all his energy and musicianship to this labor of love. You can hear it in every selection. Velocity/Alternator, 1999. ****1/2 The News & Observer Raleigh, North Carolina April 23, 2000 WHEN YOUNG WAS OLD By Owen Cordle; Correspondent Page: G1 BIG BAND SWING Thirtysomething singer and pianist Robert Hicks and veteran West Coast arranger Pete Rugolo team up on 'Textures in Hi-Fi' (Velocity/Alternator), a sparkling big band date reminiscent of the '50s. Rugolo, best known for his arrangements for the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the late '40s (he was later the music director at Capitol Records and a composer and arranger for television and movies), leads a brassy, swinging big band behind the Chet Baker-and Mel Torme-influenced vocalist. When the mood's cool (for example, the Rugolo-Bobby Troup tune 'Out Of The Shadows'), it's stylish, sexy and vaguely noir-ish. When it's hot ('Bongo Fever' and 'Firebird Jumps'), it's dramatic, Kentonesque and charged. The band is full of well-known West Coast studio musicians (such as Pete and Conte Candoli and drummer Chuck Flores), and the recording quality is excellent. Hicks captures the spirit and sound of the era without posturing (or posing as the Rugolo/Kenton/West Coast answer to Harry Connick Jr.). He swings both vocally and instrumentally. Robert Hicks and Pete Rugolo, 'Textures in Hi-Fi'*** BIO Robert Hicks was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He began playing the playing the piano at the age of five, teaching himself to play by ear from the 78 rpm records of Tommy Dorsey and Stan Kenton he had dug out of his grandmother's attic. His phonograph records were his toys. In lieu of a teddy bear he slept with an album of rhumbas. He began singing jazz at the age of eight and began classical and jazz piano study with Gene Confer at age nine. At sixteen he began playing professionally around Portland. His first gig was at the old Delevan's restaurant where he entertained regularly. From early childhood, Robert's thoughts were filled mostly with jazz. He had memorized the tunes, the arrangements and the artists who made jazz and the big band era great. It was natural for him to want to work in the entertainment capitol so, at age 22, he moved to Hollywood, California to continue his career. He started getting work immediately. He performed as a single act in countless clubs in the Los Angeles area and sang with Tom, Dick & Jane, a jazz vocal trio reminiscent of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross; his composition, 'That Was The End of Me' was featured in the Columbia Pictures' release, 'Miracle Beach', which led him to start his own publishing company, Jobobal Music. In 1989 he took a six-month hiatus from performing in LA to play in clubs throughout Japan. When asked how it felt to be alone in a big city with no contacts, he said, 'I never thought of it that way. It was new and extremely exciting. I started working right away. Childhood dreams were being realized. For instance after being in LA for only six weeks, I saw my name in lights on Sunset Boulevard, when I played the Silver Screen jazz club. This was a major thrill for a young musician who had just left home. And I was meeting people whose names I had previously only seen on record albums. There were rewards everywhere. A particularly pleasant occasion was sharing the stage with Anita O'Day at the Vine Street Bar & Grill'. Over a seven year period he sang and played the piano in many of LA's top nightclubs and hotels, and one of his favorite venues was the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena where he led a quintet four nights a week. It was there that he met Pete Rugolo, one of his childhood role models. Robert was in the midst of recording his first compact disc entitled 'New Standards' and Pete Rugolo agreed to do the liner notes. Notable guest artists on the project include guitarist Al Viola and trombone player George Bohanon. The disc received substantial radio play throughout the U.S., and rave reviews in such national trades as CD Review, Pulse! And Cadence. In the fall of 1992, Robert decided to return to Portland, lured by the vibrant jazz scene and his love of the great outdoors. Over the last few years he has performed in such diverse locations as Switzerland, St. Thomas, San Francisco, Alaska, Atlanta, New York City and again in Japan. In addition to his performances in nightclubs, he has led groups ranging from a duo to an octet which have entertained at countless private parties and corporate events. His eight-piece ensemble has been enthusiastically received at various concert venues including the Jazz Society of Oregon's annual First Jazz, Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts, Chemeketa Jazz Series, Art in the Park and for capacity crowds at the Old Church. Robert writes all of the arrangements for the group. He has also done occasional writing for television commercials and film, and has appeared in commercials and print ads. In 1996 he conceived, produced, music directed, designed and performed in the concert, 'Pete Rugolo Conducts...', the first ever retrospective on the legendary composer/arranger's body of work. The concert took place at the Newmark Theater - Portland Center for the Performing Arts, and Mr. Rugolo flew in from LA to conduct the orchestra. The success of that evening inspired Robert to realize another life-long dream, and in 1999 he recorded his second compact disc, 'Textures in Hi-Fi', which he recorded in Hollywood with Pete Rugolo's spectacular 19-piece, all-star orchestra. The album contains new arrangements which Pete wrote especially for Robert, and updated remakes of classics from Rugolo's prolific career. In the summer of 2000 after the CD release concert at Portland's Crystal Ballroom, Robert and Pete were the headliners of the 20th annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, where they performed the album with the Carlton Jackson-Dave Mills Big Band. In the winter of 2001 Robert starred onstage in 'Tru', the two-act one-man play about Truman Capote, directed by Helena de Crespo at Theatre, Theatre! He continues to perform and travels extensively.