With credits on his resume like American Idol and Postmodern Jukebox, Casey Abrams is a household name to many in the music industry. But if you haven’t met this wonderfully engaging pop jazz stand-up bass player, please let me tell you a bit about him today. I had the chance to interview him and he did not disappoint. Exuding charisma and natural excitement for his new album Jazz, Abrams talks about music with the true joy of an artist practicing his craft.
When Abrams first came off of American Idol, he put out an album that had morphed into a bit of a pure pop record. However, his biggest hits on the show and the genre that’s closest to his heart is jazz. So when the folks at Chesky Records asked him to release a full album of jazz standards, he jumped at the chance. This album is delightful (review to follow), with several jazz versions of songs that you might not even think of as jazz (like “Hound Dog” and “Blackbird”). Chesky has a unique way of recording, a bit old school in an abandoned church, creating a real warmth for the record. It definitely comes through in each track, feeling like you’re sitting in a smoke-filled jazz lounge with Abrams’ excellent, expressive vocals. As Abrams said he has a deep love for improvising, so it was time to “jazz it up” because, in his words, “that’s where my heart is.” This album shows that heart clearly.
I can’t help but wonder how an artist becomes so soulful, so jazzy, and just so good at music. Abrams credits his mother’s interest in artists like Joe Cocker and Tom Waits for the gruff, expressive style in his vocal. “That’s where the passion’s at,” he said. But then later we talked about other influences on his bass-loving self. He mentioned Avishai Cohen and his beloved teacher Marshall Hawkins. Regarding Hawkins, Abrams said, “he taught me to love to play bass.” There’s a teacher’s legacy for you! Anyone who listens to Abrams play the bass can hear the way he translates his passion into non-traditional bass lines. He turns that big old hunk of wood and string into its own voice, oftentimes stealing the spotlight in the center of the stage.
Since Abrams communicates such truth and joy in his performance, I figured I could have a little fun with him in the questions. Jumping around on stage and always improvising in life, Abrams seemed ready for any kind of question. I asked him if he could gig with any artist past or present, who would he pick. He did not disappoint. His first answer was the iconic jazz pianist Oscar Peterson (Casey plays piano as well.) I liked that one. But then he humbly mentioned that he has had the honor of performing with some modern jazz greats like Aubrie Logan and Haley Rinehart. He also went on to mention pop star Bruno Mars and jazz queen Esperanza Spalding. These are amazing answers!
If you’ve ever met Abrams, even just on the phone, it’s easy to see and hear why he’s a natural as a frontman for a band. He’s got charisma and seems to be always smiling. There’s a genuineness to his approach that makes all of his hard work just seem like the natural outpouring of his soul. Then when you hear him sing, it confirms all of your suspicions of what a talented guy he is. I had to ask, though, how does a bass player become a band leader? It was obvious Abrams was ready for this one as he knocked it out of the park. He explained how being a piano player gives him a knowledge of the whole of the song from the chord structure through to the other instruments. This equips him to address the other instruments in the ensemble. He did explain that “the hardest part is singing at the same time.” But he was quick to explain that other noted artists like Paul McCartney and even Rick James (!) were bass-playing band leaders as well. Oh yeah. (Use that one on your pub trivia night, folks.)
Currently Abrams has a residency with Postmodern Jukebox in Las Vegas, playing his share of pop tunes in old fashioned styles. I asked if they might put out a collaboration record or tour, but Abrams explained that the two are separate for him. The work he does with PMJ is great, but his solo work remains separate. But the two acts are a wonderful match, honestly. I’m glad to hear that they continue to work together so closely.
Since a lot of our readers are “emerging musicians” in their own right, I asked Casey for some advice to pass on to our readers. Right out of the gate he said, “don’t be afraid to promote yourself.” This is fantastic advice and something we emphasize on our site as well. Abrams added more great advice, “consistency is key, whether that’s daily on Instagram or a weekly video on YouTube. Be consistent.” He explained that these things lead to other opportunities and networking contacts. Then, ending with another bit of sage advice, he mentioned, “if there’s a job that looks fun, do it – but if it hurts your soul, don’t.” This is so important. Artists need money to survive but also need to stay true to their art. Hopefully some aspiring musicians will take this advice on from such a talented and successful artist.
When I asked about the album itself, Abrams really lit up. You could tell that he’s invested a lot of himself in this project. I asked about the selection of jazz standards and “pop jazz” tunes that made it onto the album. Since the recording was “minimally mic’d” in a nice open space, it creates a “live” feeling. Within that, Abrams and crew developed a list of tracks that could be adapted for that environment. “Blackbird,” for example, was known for being a pop track but really had some jazz elements in its structure, so all Abrams had to do was reinterpret it with his own voice and bass. Other tracks like “You are so beautiful” and “Hounddog” had a similar familiarity with audiences, so a few colorful flourishes on the bass and some rearranging made them perfect fits for the pop jazz album.
One of my favorite parts about an interview is asking about specific tracks that hit me as great. The lead single for this album is “Why don’t you do right?” a truly enticing jazz track with a “walking bass line.” Not being a jazz musician myself, I asked Abrams to explain what I’m hearing with that bass line and what makes it so appealing. He said that the bass plays every single beat no matter the time signature. Since the bass is hitting a lot more notes, not just the bass line, it creates a low melody. “It allows the bass to paint more of a picture,” he explained. I like it. If you think you only have time for one track off of this album, make it “Why don’t you do right” and I’m sure you’ll be back for more.
Abrams continued brightly explaining other aspects of the album and he ended on a wonderful point. He said the key to this album is “freshness.” It’s all about presenting people real jazz with all of it’s beautiful improvization and style. If you’ve followed Abrams over the years since Idol and through his solo work, you’ll be happy with this new album. If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s out NOW! Check it out.
Buy the record from HD Tracks ( https://www.hdtracks.com/jazz-abrams-801866 ) and you’ll get a discount price, AND they’ll donate a portion of the money to Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Put in the promo code CCFNY or CCFLA.
Image credit: Casey Abrams Instagram