Hit "Higher Ground" with Resident Roxy Pianist Jon Regen
“Jon Regen has a rare combination of elements – virtuosic playing ability, soulful singing, and a strong songwriting talent, all developing more and more as he grows and grows as an artist through the years. Give him a freaking listen!”
“Jon Regen’s new album is one of the best things we’ve heard so far this year.”
GARY GRAFF, BILLBOARD
“FOUR STARS. Regen glides between jazz, blues, R&B, and pop, slyly dividing his time between introspection and celebration. He remains a gifted purveyor of sophisticated uptown pop.”
Every Sunday, Monday and Thursday, the stylings of multi-talented musician Jon Regen enlivens the Roxy Lounge, treating guests to a night infused with jazz, pop, rock, soul, and blues from the enigmatic native New Yorker. As both a performer and music journalist, he straddles the line between both sides of the spectrum
Regen’s new album “Higher Ground” is just out this month to great acclaim. Produced by Jamiroquai’s Matt Johnson, the album includes musical performances by legends like Andy Summers of The Police, Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Chuck Leavell of The Rolling Stones and Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.
We took a minute to catch up with Regen about his favorite New York moments, inspirations, and anecdotes from his eclectic life in music.
WE LOVE THAT YOU’RE A MUSIC JOURNALIST AS WELL AS A MUSICIAN. HAVE YOU FOUND THAT ONE FACET OF YOUR LIFE INFORMS THE OTHER?
Very much so. I started writing about music decades after I began playing, around 2007. Keyboard Magazine had done a story on me, and when the editor called me to clarify some answers, he realized I had a passion for writing and storytelling too. I began pitching stories to them on some of my favorite artists, and a decade-plus later, I’m the Editor. I’ve also written for The New York Times, Billboard, Variety, Tape Op and other outlets.
It’s incredible to go behind the music from some of your favorite artists. And it can’t help but inform the work you do. I remember talking to Regina Spektor about how she wrote a particular song. When I went to write my next song, her method was very much in my head, so I tried it out. I had the same experience with Alicia Keys, who I spent nearly an hour with backstage talking shop before a sold out show of hers.
Sometimes the writing leads to actual musical collaborations. I interviewed Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers back in 2008, and he liked my music so much he appeared on my 2012 album “Revolution” and my new album “Higher Ground.” I also interviewed legendary producer Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman), and we would eventually work on my album “Stop Time” together.
YOU’VE BEEN COMPARED TO THE ENERGETIC PLAYING OF ELTON JOHN AND RANDY NEWMAN. WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOUR RESIDENCY AT THE ROXY?
It’s always a gift to be compared to your heroes, especially icons like Elton and Randy. My music draws from a variety of sources – I gravitated toward pop music as a kid, and then took a detour into traditional jazz after studying with the legendary pianist Kenny Barron in music school.
I spent a good decade playing jazz with artists like Kyle Eastwood, Little Jimmy Scott, and my own groups, until eventually finding a way to merge jazz and pop into a sound of my own. I play solo piano on Sundays and Mondays, so that veers towards straight-ahead jazz. Thursday nights I play with my band at The Roxy, so you’ll hear a mixture of the different kinds of sounds in my head – jazz, pop, rock, soul, blues and more. One of the exciting things about this residency is how I’ve been able to get some of the most in-demand musicians from around the world to join me weekly. I’ll routinely have players from the bands of Rod Stewart, Rob Thomas, Herbie Hancock, and other storied groups. Each week is a story all its own.
NEW YORK CITY IS A SPECIAL PLACE TO PLAY MUSIC. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FIRST MEMORIES OF THIS GREAT CITY?
There are so many it’s hard to choose. But some that stick out include spending weekends in Soho as a kid while my Mom exhibited her artwork in different galleries. Soho was quite a different place back in the early 1980’s! – Seeing Madonna at Radio City Music Hall as a 15 year old. I think my father paid a small fortune for those tickets! She ruled the world back then. Another is hearing my piano teacher Kenny Barron hold court at the long gone downtown jazz club Bradley’s until the daylight hours. Jazz and New York go hand in hand. Also, brunch at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center.
WHAT ABOUT THE CITY INSPIRES YOU OR YOUR MUSIC?
There’s a never-ending current that pulses through this city. It can’t help but seep into the music you play, the way you walk, the way you talk. New Yorkers have a certain attitude that, love it or hate it, is hard to shake! So hopefully, my music has a kind of electrical component and a groove that propels it forward and puts a smile on people’s faces.
FROM JAZZ TO BLUES TO POP – WHAT MUSIC DO YOU FIND YOURSELF PLAYING FOR YOUR OWN ENJOYMENT?
When I’m at my piano, I find myself playing a little bit of all of those styles and more. Sometimes I’m writing music, so I’m looking for ideas to chase and fit into a song. Other times I’m trying to work on technique, or learn new pieces. But I’m always listening to and working on different kinds of things, and I’m constantly amazed at the new music I’m hearing. Some recent favorites include the new album “Velvet Portraits” by Terrace Martin, and David Bowie’s “Blackstar.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY TRICKS TO RITUALS WHEN YOU WANT TO GET INTO THE MOOD FOR WRITING MUSIC?
I’m never in the mood to write music. I MAKE myself get in the mood. Since 1993, I’ve had a framed quote by the prolific artist Chuck Close near my piano. It reads, “I don’t believe in inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs. Some of the time you know you’re cooking, and the rest of the time, you just do it.” Enough said.
Words By: Lori Zimmer