The art of cool has been wayward since the likes of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. As represented by these legends of jazz, cool is a state of mind, an attitude of confidence and strength in one’s craft. Jazz artist Tony Hightower encompasses a new age cool that is part homage and part regeneration. Being not only an admirer but a student of the genre, Hightower’s passion and direct connection to jazz music allows him the advantage of properly emulating the timelessness of the classics without the kitsch while still injecting his own interpretations.
His latest release, The New Standard, is a nod to the sounds of big band and vocal jazz, a sonic bridge between contemporary and purist forms. A project he has long desired to tackle, Hightower’s approach to The New Standard is all about maintaining the integrity of jazz’s deep, expansive and historical roots: neat vocal styling, multipiece instrumentation, scat and swing elements. Enlisting The HC3 and The Good Time Brass Band, Hightower reinterprets four popular songs and arranges six original recordings, blurring the line between modern and classic.
Tony Hightower was immersed in multiple forms of music as a child. The son of prominent jazz vocalist Theresa Hightower, his experiences with music, jazz in particular, were ingrained in his upbringing. Regularly witnessing not only his mother perform but a wide range of talented artists helped shape his own penchants for singing and arranging. Hightower’s inherent musical expertise spans genres, allowing him opportunities to create with such talents as Lionel Ritchie, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Outkast, Dottie Peoples, Charlie Wilson and a roster of other artists and producers. Critically acclaimed musicians Freddy Cole and Wycliffe Gordon have both acknowledged Hightower’s ingenuity in regards to The New Standard, with Cole providing musical guidance throughout the conception while Gordon praised the project as a “great recording.” However, accolades for this album don’t stop there; The New Standard received a nomination, amongst veterans and major label-backed artists, as a candidate for the Grammy’s 2015 Best Jazz Vocal Album. Although the candidacy did not manifest into an official nomination, this high achievement further validates the authenticity of Hightower’s purist jazz vision.
The bare honesty in Tony Hightower’s works emit not only through his albums but also in his performances. Speaking on the live experience, he reflects, “Performing live is like a conversation, a conference call; the musicians are having a conversation on stage and then having a conversation with the audience. I enjoy the connection I’m able to have with the [listeners].” With only his passion and vocals on stage, along with the assistance of his band, Hightower confidently shares his labor of love and his respect for the cool.