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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND

Vocalist Indulges Love of Jazz

Jack Jones, a pop crooner and the man behind the 'Love Boat' theme, has found a fresh groove.

September 19, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

He's suave, he's got a head full of songs, and he's enjoying the fruits of a latter-day lounge craze that has made Tony Bennett an all-ages hero and "Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music" maestro Esquivel a camp icon. He's Jack Jones, the man with a simple name, matinee-idol good looks and a career more complicated than you might expect.

Jones, who has been working in the trenches for more than three decades, is known as an old-school pop crooner and the guy who sang the "Love Boat" theme, that kitsch anthem. Vegas has been a second home, and he was a regular on the small screen in the '60s, during the variety show era. His list of hits include "Wives and Lovers," "Lollipops and Roses" and "A Very Precious Love."

But his heart is in jazz, as you can hear from his phrasing and loose way with a melody, especially on an album like 1992's "The Gershwin Album," on Columbia. "That's my love," Jones said of jazz. "I love doing that more than anything. I've been spanked on the hand by producers over the years for being too jazzy. But it's too late for that now."

Jones is bringing his trio to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in a benefit concert Saturday for the Ventura County Museum of History and Art. Recently, he gave a phone interview from his home in Indian Wells, outside Palm Springs, where he lives with his wife, Kim, and his 5 year-old daughter, Nicole.

"I wouldn't mind if I was just considered a jazz singer," Jones said. "But I have such heavy roots in pop music, because from the beginning of my recording career, I was literally corrected every time I deviated from the melody. It was very frustrating, being in high school and an avid jazz fan and being told I couldn't do any of that. That was good advice, if you want to be in the record business just for money.

"I'm not the greatest jazz singer in the world, but it's where I enjoy being."

Currently, Jones is working on a new album with jazz at its core. "We're doing a couple of standards, but we're taking a lot of tunes that aren't the old standards and doing them in a jazz, big-band way. They really swing."

The song list includes jazz-refitted versions of "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman," "Every Breath You Take" and "She's Leaving Home."

"It's going to be an eclectic album," Jones said, "but the general idea is that it's more contemporary music made more universally acceptable."

The arrangements are by Thousand Oaks-based saxophonist Matt Catingub, who has been Jones' musical director for several years. Catingub came into the Jones fold by recommendation of the versatile, Santa Barbara-bred drummer Kevin Winard, who has worked with Jones for years.

In his formative years, Jones, the son of actor Allan Jones, listened to musicians from the jazz arena. "There was a lot of [Mel] Torme, and Carmen McRae, but it was basically instrumentalists, like the Marty Paich Sextet, the Dave Pell Octet, Shorty Rogers and the Giants. Shorty became a very close friend of mine before he died."

Jones has picked up some residual attention from mentor Tony Bennett, another pop-cum-jazz singer, who has recently ascended in the youth market courtesy of his "MTV Unplugged" project.

"He has became a mascot," Jones said, "and it's good for the youth of America that they were healthy enough to embrace him and that they weren't prejudiced against him."

Like Bennett, Jones worked in the pre-counterculture pop scene in the '60s, even as rock 'n' roll began to change the face of the music industry. "We were enjoying a lot of hits when everybody else was making a left turn. I didn't feel the rock 'n roll surge until TV allowed it on the air."

But Bennett, Jones said, "didn't get lost like I did for awhile. He stayed right where he was and didn't budge. I went through a period in the early '70s, the flower-child era, when I didn't know who I was singing for anymore."

With his renewed desire to unleash the jazz singer within, and a newfound audience ready to accept it, Jones seems to have found a fresh groove. He hopes that his music is part of a larger educational process, which starts at home.

"I have a 5 1/2-year-old child myself," Jones said, "and in this household, she's going to hear all kinds of wonderful music. She'll get her dose of rock 'n' roll, too--there's no way around that. But she'll have a full musical education, hopefully. That's what a lot of kids don't get."

On the bright side, Jones points to the recent "resurgence of jazz. There are all these jazz nightclubs that young people are going to. That's encouraging. Young people are listening. They're also not doing what we used to do and say, 'Well, if my parents like it, I'm going to hate it.' I have a lot of people who come up to me and say, 'My parents turned me on to you. I came to a show and really enjoyed it.' I think that's really wonderful that they're that open to something new. Or old, as the case may be."

DETAILS

* WHAT: Dinner-concert featuring Jack Jones.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.

* WHERE: Forum Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd.

* HOW MUCH: Tickets are $50.

* CALL: 449-2787.

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