Also see Rob's interview with Shawn Ryan
The young singer Jasper Kump is madly in love and just celebrated his one-year anniversary of what he predicts will be a long-term relationship. The object of his affection is much more famous than he is, and quite a bit older, but Jasper thinks they're perfect together. The romantic vocalist is having a love affair with New York City. This was evident during a recent interview at one of his favorite local restaurants in his adopted city, and is present in his cabaret show based on his jazz-inflected, happiness-infused debut CD, Sunday in New York. "I always had this image of New York as being both glamorous and gritty," he says. "Back home in California, people always said I moved at a faster pace, so I didn't have to adjust when I got here!" he laughs as he talks about the often-discussed laidback versus high-energy dichotomy of lifestyles on the west and east coasts.
Jasper readily admits he was also accused of being "hyper-kinetic" in his earlier cabaret performances. He considered having a director for solo club appearances, but instead opted for advice from trusted colleagues which included both his vocal coach and his musical director Russ Kassoff, who has been as much mentor and friend as he's been a pianist and conductor Before his gig this year at the Hideaway Room at Helen's, Jasper ran the show twice without an audience and had his "consultants" take notes and give advice. I saw one of his shows at Helen's and, though he zipped around energetically, he was hardly bouncing off the walls. His enthusiasm for performing, especially when he sings of the Big Apple, are part of his refreshing stage presence. New Yorkers have their next chance to catch Jasper's jumping jubilation at The Duplex in Greenwich Village at 7 pm on two Thursdays, October 20 and 27.
"Now that I've spent more than several Sundays in New York, the title song of the album feels different to me when I'm singing it. I'm singing about what I've done," instead of what might have been a fantasy. He enjoys the specific references to Big Apple locations in the lyrics. "And I love singing 'Only in New York' [from Thoroughly Modern Millie], too."
The city has hardly worn out its welcome. "The more I explore the city and the music, the more I love it." Jasper has been going out to see other singers - to learn from their performance and for sheer enjoyment. He mentions being especially impressed with Keely Smith ("With her, there's just so much joy in the performance!") and Mimi Hines ("what an amazing voice!"), both of whom played Feinstein's at The Regency earlier this year. Asked to name a lesser-known artist he saw here, he quickly mentions Rosalyn McClore and her Nina Simone tribute. "I went to see her almost every night. She's fantastic." On recordings, he listens to - and has been influenced by - some singers who are no longer around, like Nat King Cole and Mel Torme. "I started listening to Mel Torme in my early teens. I still love his voice." He came to both of those singers via "The Christmas Song," the holiday perennial Torme composed to Robert Wells' lyric ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire ..."). He smiles. "I'm a major Christmas music junkie."
A warm and almost naive quality comes through in his singing as well as a feel of celebration with bursting energy. It's an interesting combination. "Well, I have a real child-like part of me that I enjoy. When I sang 'The Rainbow Connection', [introduced n The Muppet Movie] for a corporate event, there were a lot of kids in the audience singing along. It's much more profound than people give it credit for." He feels a special and strong connection to "The Rainbow Connection"'s lyric about dreamers and having faith. Some of that faith comes from growing up singing gospel music in the church. Jasper says of that experience, "To me, music is always to inspire and motivate." He comes from a church where people call out when the spirit moves them. He likes that in any crowd, "I love it when the audience reacts, cheering you on, almost like 'yeah! You go!'. It doesn't distract me." He likes to see how a song affects a listener. "When I see something happening on someone's face, a look in the eyes changing, a difference in body language ... I love it when I'm singing a ballad and notice a couple moving closer, one puts a hand on the other's knee." He also likes analysis through discussion with his peers and has found other New York musicians and performers immensely helpful and giving. It's only one reason he likes the city. "And I don't miss my car at all!"
Although he doesn't script his patter, Jasper has an outline of what he'll be saying in his show at The Duplex. Most of it comes from the material chosen, but he doesn't like to explain too much about his point of view. "People come with their own perspective on songs. I'm not there to compete with that." Deciding how much to reveal about his feelings is tricky. "I want to weave my experience into it." He clearly doesn't subscribe to the 'cabaret as artist's catharsis' school of thought.
Besides the tunes from his stylish album, he's including more Broadway numbers: one from The Life, whose hard-edged reality check will contrast with a song of innocence, and he's chosen "What More Can I Say," the impassioned declaration from Falsettos. Jasper is also enjoying his addition of "I've Got the World on a String," the song basking in self-confidence which he knows from renditions by Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli - partially because his arranger-pianist-conductor Russ Kassoff worked with both icons. "Russ is my mentor and has been so generous with me. He's opinionated, he's thoughtful, he's difficult ... everything he should be." Russ's jazz expertise has especially influenced Jasper's work. "I like doing stuff that didn't start out as jazz."
Asked for a comment on this up-and-coming vocalist, the veteran musician replied, "Working with Jasper is always a pleasure as his youthful exuberance and willingness to learn something every day will only make him a better performer as his journey takes him towards the hardest thing this business has to offer at this time - experience. His wry and extremely intelligent sense of humor helps greatly in contributing to the tasks at hand making it very easy for me to write and play for him. I will continue to look forward to helping him on his journey!"
Jasper finds the New York audiences especially receptive. "I've lived in a lot of cities. My dad was in the Air Force." But Jasper had visited New York as a teenager and knew he wanted to live here. His next goal is to do more acting, and he's starting to audition. There's tremendous competition, but he's neither discouraged nor overconfident. With so much positive energy and enthusiasm expressed about everything we discussed (except marketing cabaret shows), I wondered what aspect of breaking into the entertainment scene he dislikes. "What I really hate is the process of choosing songs, having to leave things out." He wants to do it all. Give him time! He's just out of the starting gate.
Jasper Kump performs "Sunday in New York," with Russ Kassoff on piano, at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre October 20 and 27 at 7:00pm. For reservations, call (212) 255-5438. For more information, visit www.theduplex.com and www.jasperkump.com.