Sinatra impersonators, with their flashy suits, gleaming shoes and mannered movements abound, but Joe Coughlin is no imitator. He’s the real deal, a forty-year veteran of jazz who interprets songs like Summer Wind and Fly Me to the Moon the way Frank did them by finding the heart of the material and putting his own stamp on it.
Coughlin is of Irish descent not Italian, and he grew up in Ontario, not New Jersey, but he shares a few Sinatra attributes – the important ones – like a warm sense of humour that engages his audience and a baritone voice full of silk and fire that knows how to extend a note or phrase just enough to draw the emotion out of a lyric and make the story of the song personal and real. Although he was known as a popular singer, Frank Sinatra was a jazz guy at heart, drawing influences from singers like Billy Holiday and working with instrumental greats like Count Basie and Oscar Peterson. Coughlin is no different, having worked with the best jazz artists in Canada, including legends like Don Thompson, Ed Bickert and Terry Clarke. On the west coast where he now lives, he’s found the guys that swing for his 18-piece band, including Cuban virtuosos like trumpeter Miguel Valdez and Juno-winning homegrown talents like bassist Ken Lister. There’s no lack of energy or attitude from these guys as they tackle the original Sinatra charts written by Billy May, Nelson Riddle and Quincy Jones and turn them into pure gold.
‘Joe Coughlin Celebrates Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday With Big Band Concert’ – Times Colonist
Victoria-based jazz star Joe Coughlin is a big fan of Frank Sinatra’s music. For the iconic singer’s 100th birthday, Coughlin organized a big band concert featuring the 18-piece Vancouver Island All Star Big Band playing a well-curated repertoire of Sinatra’s greatest hits. The concert, at the 440-seat Dave Dunnet Community Theatre on the campus of the newly-opened Oak Bay Secondary School was a benefit for the Sno’uyutth Legacy Fund,a scholarship endowment for Indigenous students’ post-secondary education.
Coughlin’s band including the stellar rhythm section of pianist Tony Genge, bassist Ken Lister, guitarist Mike Clement and drummer Hans Verhoeven performed Sinatra’s original arrangements by Billy May and Nelson Riddle and the brilliant charts Quincy Jones wrote for the Count Basie Band’s collaborations with Sinatra. Trumpeters MiguelValdez and Mike Broadley, tromboinsts Jeff Agopsowicz and Tom Eadie and saxophonists Roy Styffe and Andrew Greenwood produced concise, expressive solos, and the band swung like crazy, but above the intricate, playful arrangements, Coughlin took their joyful noise and rode it like a tailwind on upbeat numbers and dug deep inside more soulful numbers like his spare, insightful reading of It Was a Very Good Year and the bluesy One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).
Throughout two 45-minute sets, Coughlin’s voice was strong, and his horn-like phrasing imbued the lyrics of the great American Songbook with the deeply personal insights of a four-decade career in jazz. Buoyant and effervescent on tunes like Summer Wind, Fly Me to The Moon, and Nice ‘n’ Easy, the veteran vocalist and his band swung out ferociously on upbeat numbers like show-opening Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week), Get Me to the Church on Time, and the evening’s New York, New York
It was a great concert by Canada’s greatest jazz singer.
Other tunes include The Way You Look Tonight, Witchcraft, One for My Baby, and Luck Be a Lady, songs made famous not only by Frank Sinatra but also by other so-called “saloon singers” of the era who were well versed in the traditions of jazz and who elevated the popular song to an art form that appealed to a broad audience.
Lyricist Sammy Cahn once told a journalist, “If Sinatra wanted a song in the morning, he’d get it in the afternoon. Seriously. We spoiled him.”
Cahn would write the lyrics and quickly pass them on to his writing partner Jimmy Van Heusen, who in a flash (sometimes on a tablecloth in a busy restaurant) would compose a catchy melody backed by a complex chord progression that fit the words perfectly.
And so it was, that Van Heusen, usually working with Cahn, wrote more songs (84 in all) for “The Chairman of the Board,” than any other composer in history.
That’s just one story you’ll hear in Canadian jazz vocalist Joe Coughlin’s spectacular Salute to the Saloon Singers, a larger-than-life, romantic tribute to the composers and singers of the Great American Songbook that will debut in October with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra.
"Singing these great classics with my group and a fabulous orchestra fulfills a lifelong dream,” says Coughlin. “That this show will launch on the very same stage where I made my debut as a jazz singer in 1981, is an added bonus. The completion of this full circle is extremely rewarding."
“Unlike the pop singers who pass as jazz vocalists these days, Coughlin is the real deal, his voice an instrument on par with the rest of the band, a voice that phrases and improvises exactly as any wind instrument would.”
– Rick Gibbs, Islandjazz.ca
“Coughlin uncorks thoughtful readings of old favourites and several gems that he unearthed and reshaped with characteristic cool and hard-won wisdom.”
– Joseph Blake, Times Colonist
“Coughlin nails it with feeling!”
– Marke Andrews, Vancouver Sun
“Joe gets Low Down with these carefully selected tunes, there’s energy to swing, knock out a great ballad, and take his audience inside a song. He could be a very Bad Influence on the ladies. Joe can out croon the crooners and put a beat in your step! Beautiful.”
– Helen Simons, The JazzXpress Australia
“Eventhough Joe Coughlin’s silky and swinging Things Turn Out That Way was released last year, it has now taken on a second life: this most dapper of singers won the 2008 National Jazz Award for vocalist of the year due to this remarkably fine recording. Justly revered as an inspired interpreter of jazz standards, the Victoria-based Coughlin has an impressive but understandably very mainstream discography. That changed somewhat with Things, which includes a half-dozen originals alongside such classics as “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me” and “Teach Me Tonight.” Most of the new songs were composed by guitarist Pat Coleman, and aside from being tasty jazz gems they further benefit from the sly hipster lyrics of Colin Lazzerini (who executive-produced the CD). Both classic and new, Things is Coughlin’s finest achievement.”
– Robert Moyes, Boulevard Magazine
“one of the top male vocalists on the Canadian jazz scene. He is not only capable of singing a choice ballad but also the ability to handle complex jazz numbers, which few others can.”
– Dave Milbourne, Publisher & Columnist, Toronto Jazz
“Joe is simlpy the best”
– Shaukat Husain, Host of “Straight No Chaser” CFUV FM
|April 18, 2020 @ 7:30 pm||“Sinatra and the Count” with the Phil Dwyer Orchestra||Dave Dunnet Community Theater Victoria
|May 1 2021||Joe Coughlin: 40th Anniversary Edition||On all music platforms!|
This is a reissue of a great jazz recording and about time! Originally released in 1984, this recording will be available on all music platforms Sept 16th 2019
Legendary jazz guitarist and vocalist George Benson may have said it best when he dropped by to introduce himself to Joe Coughlin and his quartet at the Victoria Jazzfest International. “You guys kind of remind me of the old days,” said Benson, complimenting Coughlin and the group on their show. While Benson didn’t elaborate, it was clear he was thinking of the heyday of the great jazz vocalists like Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra, and the still-going- strong Tony Bennett.
Pit him against any of the best – past or present – in a blindfold listening test, and you’ll realize that like other well-kept Canadian secrets, Joe Coughlin not only belongs but excels in higher company. Through three decades, eight albums, one Jazz Report Award, and two National Jazz Awards, he’s performed with a flock of great Canadian artists with international credentials.
There are a number of singers these days who can give a decent nod to the artists of the past, but Joe Coughlin, with his wise, easy delivery and ability to plumb the emotional and musical depths of a great and timeless tune, is the real deal.
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