By Jerome Wilson
Robert Hicks is another Californian who works an older vein of jazz singing and comes with a heavy recommendation. His liner notes were written by Pete Rugolo, the legendary Stan Kenton arranger. You quickly hear why Rugolo likes him so much. Hicks sings in a high, driving tenor voice reminiscent of Kenton’s Four Freshmen vocal group. He’s obviously hip to the resemblance himself because through overdubs he becomes a seven-man vocal group on the Dizzy Gillespie-Chico O’Farrell Afro-Cuban piece, “Carambola”.
Other than that it’s mostly straight-ahead vocalizing in a voice that’s a cross between Johnny Ray, Chet Baker and the young Mel Torme. Hicks has a buttery sound and enough rhythmic invention to breathe new life into a lot of old songs that had been worked to death by the campy flailings of cabaret singers. He consistently underplays in his vocals, either playing the sweet-singing romantic or scatting wildly with fine instrumental support including his own competent piano and vibes.
There are also some surprises like the aforementioned “Carambola” where Hicks impersonates an entire trumpet section, the old Hollywood cowboy song, “Along The Navajo Trail”, done prettily with a simple guitar and harmonica accompaniment and a ravishingly beautiful “Early Autumn” sung with such feeling and precision Stan Getz himself might have appreciated it. Hicks is a real talent who far outstrips those Feinstein and Connick people he superficially resembles.
CD Review Magazine
By Thomas Conrad
Robert Hicks is a charmer. He has joie de vivre that sounds genuine – though it’s hard to find in these psychically turbulent times – when supported by solid musicianship. He makes you think of Harry Connick Jr. because he is a young singer/pianist/arranger with a subtle, ‘90s slant on nostalgia. His tenor voice is lighter and prettier that Connick’s, but Hicks can still achieve serious affects: “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” is a gentle, adult love song, and the escapist “Moonlight In Vermont” manages to be both ethereal and convincing.
The program may be quaint, but Hicks’ liberated spirit applies many twists and tangents. Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You” evolves into an exercise in tension and release. Jerome Kern’s “The Song Is You” soars and bounces on the elastic snap of Chuck Flores’ brushes and Morty Corb’s bass (not to mention Hicks’ ecstatic shoobee-doobies).
There are firm jazz foundations beneath all this fun. Hicks prods himself with his own precise piano fills. The horn soloists – trumpeter Graham Young, reed player Doug Webb, trombonist George Bohanon – are interesting individualists who are seamlessly meshed into Hicks’ whimsical world.
If you are not too jaded for a voice with a smile in it, if you understand how urbanity and sentimentality can sometimes fruitfully coexist, if you are reassured by the subtle signs of craftsmanship, then Robert Hicks will work for you too.
MATHIS SINGS LEGRAND; THE MANY STYLES OF HOLLY COLE; INTRODUCING ROBERT HICKS
By Steve Gruber
Robert Hicks is a very talented singer/pianist/arranger in his 20s whose current album New Standards (Velocity) is actually a collection of new versions of some old standards. Unlike some young singers who approach the standard repertoire with some bewilderment and a lot of forced effort, Hicks obviously understands these songs and is very comfortable performing them. His scat singing on “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” and “The Song Is You” compares favorably with that of Mel Torme. And there’s a smoothness to his ballad singing on “Moonlight In Vermont” and “Early Autumn” that may remind you of Chet Baker. Accompaniment ranges from Hicks’ piano with bass and drums on some tracks to a big-band sound on “Carioca” with trumpets, trombones and saxes.
HICKS RECALLS YOUNG CHET BAKER
By Wayne Thompson
New Standards, Robert Hicks, piano, vocals. What a treat! It takes a Chet Baker fan to know one. Actually, Hicks has a much better tone and sense of pitch than Baker, even the young Baker, before drugs and a hard life coarsened Chet’s voice and delivery. “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” was the give-away tune. I found no evidence in my record collection that Chet Baker had ever recorded this Rube Bloom/Ted Koehler ballad. Had he done so, he would have had to ask Robert Hicks for permission. For me, Hicks own that song now. While his singing is the prominent feature, including some imaginative scat singing that Mel Torme would admire, Hicks’ piano work is also first rate – a light touch, a minimalist style not unlike a George Shearing. He’s got the whole package. On this album, Hicks is assisted by some superb West Coast players, such as trombonist George Bohanon, trumpeter Graham Young and saxophonist Doug Webb. This is a keeper, for the fire, late at night, with romance in the air.
Textures in Hi-Fi Review
by Dave Nathan
Mix a young singer and piano player with a canny veteran composer/arranger/big-band conductor and blend with an abundance of talented, experienced instrumentalists, many of whom have been around for a while, and the result is an exciting (for the most part) Textures in Hi-Fi. This is West Coast denizen Robert Hick's second album and is considerably more adventurous than the first. Instead of relying strictly on classic standards, the program consists of a couple of originals and songs penned by the likes of Jimmie Rodgers, Freddie Slack, and, especially, Pete Rugolo himself -- good music that listeners don't hear often enough. The band's cast of characters has played with virtually every major West Coast big band of the last 30 years, including Stan Kenton, Henry Mancini, Woody Herman, Buddy Bregman, as well as Rugolo's. The arrangements quickly bring to mind the material Rugolo wrote backing such singers as June Christy, the Four Freshmen, and Billy Eckstine either when he was with Kenton or later when he went out on his own. The singer does not let this outstanding supporting cast go to waste. Hicks sports a pleasant enough voice, light and lilting, with flickers of Chet Baker, Harry Connick, Jr., as well as some of the high-note endings to songs that Mel Torme used so effectively over the years. He is clearly much more at ease and effective with medium to up-tempo material rather than with ballads. His work with the two ballads, "Interlude" and "Out of the Shadows," is constrained by arrangements cluttered with strings and French horns. Instead of being romantic, his voice comes out lackadaisical and bored. Contrast that with the joyful renderings of such tunes as "It's Crazy" and "Rika Jika Jack." The Rugolo arranged "You Stepped out of a Dream" recalls his 1955 recording of that lovely tune with the Four Freshmen and is a highlight of the session. Like his voice, Hick's piano reveals a light, uncomplicated style showing some familiarity with boogie-woogie on "That Was the End of Me." Hick's voice is good now and will no doubt get better. This album is recommended.
A BIG BAND REBIRTH
By Lynn Darroch
Special to the Oregonian
It took a while, but Robert Hicks finally made his Hollywood dream come true. “Textures In Hi-Fi” is a nearly flawless re-creation of the West Coast modernist big band era, as sharp and evocative as Wynton Marsalis’ re-creation of the Ellington canon.
The Portland-based, Portland-born singer and pianist, now in his 30s, grew up on the big band music and West Coast jazz of the ‘40s & ‘50s, even though he had to dig old 78s out of his grandmother’s attic to hear it. In L.A., where he played and sang for seven years in swanky hotels and restaurants, he met one of his childhood idols, composer and arranger Pete Rugolo, who conducts the 19-piece big-band on this CD.
For Hicks, singing Rugolo’s music is the culmination of a process that began when he was 10 years old and purchased a used 78 titled “Rika Jika Jack”, which Rugolo had written for vocalist June Christy in 1946. Hicks’ version here is a cool mix of
call and response blues with swinging riffs that features his supple tenor in both scat and conventional vocal choruses.
Rugolo came to prominence with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He produced the legendary “Birth Of The Cool” sessions. He arranged for Nat Cole
and wrote scores for “The Fugitive” and other classic TV dramas.
With his collaboration, Hicks has captured the spirit of the era: the material (old and new arrangements and compositions by Rugolo), the musicians (some of whom were present for the original recording sessions), the cover art, the attitude.
All the pieces are here.
Hicks sings with beautiful intonation and clean articulation. On “Interlude”, a lush ballad with strings and impressionistic, modernistic chords, his pause between the lines “how bittersweet” and “how sublime” measures perfectly the emotional
distance between those poles.
His lyrics for “Bongo Fever” demonstrate his ability to capture Hollywood’s take on the exotic without resorting to camp or parody. “Sensual, erotic and more than hypnotic, the rhythm will not leave your mind,” he sings. The brass section shimmers, the reeds wail, and the bongos rap out their incantation. Suddenly you’re there, dashing through Hollywood nights of mystery and passion.
The News & Observer
Raleigh, North Carolina
WHEN YOUNG WAS OLD
By Owen Cordle; Correspondent
BIG BAND SWING
Thirtysomething singer and pianist Robert Hicks and veteran West Coast arranger Pete Rugolo team up on “Textures in Hi-Fi” (Velocity/Alternator), a sparkling big band date reminiscent of the ‘50s. Rugolo, best known for his arrangements for the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the late ‘40s (he was later the music director at Capitol Records and a composer and arranger for television and movies), leads a brassy, swinging big band behind the Chet Baker-and Mel Torme-influenced vocalist.
When the mood’s cool (for example, the Rugolo-Bobby Troup tune “Out Of The Shadows”), it’s stylish, sexy and vaguely noir-ish. When it’s hot (“Bongo Fever” and “Firebird Jumps”), it’s dramatic, Kentonesque and charged. The band is full of well-known West Coast studio musicians (such as Pete and Conte Candoli and drummer Chuck Flores), and the recording quality is excellent.
Hicks captures the spirit and sound of the era without posturing (or posing as the Rugolo/Kenton/West Coast answer to Harry Connick Jr.). He swings both vocally and instrumentally.
Robert Hicks w/ Pete Rugolo, “Textures in Hi-Fi”***
HICKS/RUGOLO DISC SOLID
By George Fendel/Kyle O’Brien
Robert Hicks fulfills a long standing wish to record with Pete Rugolo, an arranger with head-spinning credentials covering the last 50 years. The pairing couldn’t be better. Hicks is tops, as a fantastic big band, featuring Pete and Conte Candoli, Steve Wilkerson and others blast away with him. The music runs the gamut from Cole Porter’s only rock tune, “Ritz Roll & Rock” to Stravinsky’s “Firebird Jumps”! Picking unconventional tunes like “Out Of The Shadows” and “Rika Jika Jack” adds even more authenticity to this finely produced album. Hicks brings all his energy and musicianship to this labor of love. You can hear it in every selection.
Velocity/Alternator, 1999. ****1/2
"Robert Hicks never ceases to thrill and amaze me. He sings. He swings. He plays the piano like the best, most versatile jazz musicians in the music world. And now he tackles the very special (and generally over worked) holiday--season genre with an originality and freshness unlike anything that has been heard before. Old Christmas classics and new, exciting seasonal originals warm the soul and enhance the familiar with beauty and skill. From horn choirs to big-band charts, expect one surprise after another, in an album that surpasses the season with a value that lasts all year long. This is a triumph of wonder and joy." - REX REED
JERSEY JAZZ MAGAZINE
By Joe Lang
On Textures in Hi-Fi released in 2000, vocalist/pianist Robert Hicks had arrangements by Pete Rugolo who led an all-star big band for the recording. The influence of Rugolo, who was among the most innovative of big band arrangers, is evident on Hicks’s Winter Awhile (Velocity Records – VCD05 1531). This is apparent from the first track where Hicks has taken five Christmas classics, “O Tannenbaum,” “NutcrackerOverture,” “The Holly and the Ivy,” “Away in a Manger” and “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,” and arranged them in a five-part suite that he titled “Big City Christmas” for a 23-piece jazz orchestra including a six-piece string section. Many of the titles of the other selections give an insight into how he approached the pieces, “Bop King Wenceslas,” “Wassail Beat Suite” and “I Saw Three Ships Come Swinging In,” the last of which is preceded by a short version of the regular song by Michael Long on a variety of Irish instruments. He has also included two original pieces, “Winter Awhile” and “Holy Holly Holiday Hula” on which Hicks, who wrote the words and music, adds his hip vocalizing. The musical settings range from 6-pieces to 16 pieces, with a variety of instrumental styles from straight ahead jazz to classical. Hicks provides an interesting listening experience that should grab the ears of those who like music that challenges your imagination, thanks to the imagination of Robert Hicks!
Every year I make a point of getting a new Christmas album to add to the collection of CDs I pull out, each Holiday season. Sometimes I luck out & get a really good one - sometimes, I wind up with a real dud... something I know I will never play again, and wind up wishing I'd not spent the money... Last year, I struck gold with Brett Eldgredge's "Mr. Christmas" CD - and this year? WOW!!! I struck gold - AGAIN!
I LOVE "Winter Awhile"! This album is everything I keep hoping for when buying a new Holiday album. It has some traditional songs, but orchestrated in ways they all either sound brand new, or sound "refreshed" - not the same routine versions we hear, year after year... after year... Seriously, a cool-jazz version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem"? Yes, and it sounds amazing. Cool and jazzy, yes. (Think laid-back, breezy jazz.) But done without sacrificing ANY respect for the song itself. (It's happened way too often, where someone jazzes up a classic song - or, in some cases, even a more religious one - and totally either destroys the song, or - worse - winds up making fun of the song. Not so, here.) Maybe that's one reason I like this album so much. The traditional songs are treated with complete respect. Updated or even re-invented - but always respected. The end result is fantastic. There's also a wide variety of styles here: Swing, jazz, cha-cha, hula(!)... and some tracks that are classically beautiful. ("In the Bleak Midwinter is incredible.) The orchestrations are amazing. Robert Hicks vocals on 2 tracks - and he's great. I just got the album today - and am now already into my 3rd listening of it! THANK YOU, Robert Hicks, for recording this album! It is fabulous. TOTALLY RECOMMEND
Born in Portland, Oregon, Robert Hicks is a singer, pianist and composer who is active on the West coast, mainly in Portland. When he came to Japan in 2014 and played and sang at the cigar bar "Tableau" in Daikanyama, I went to listen to him several times. His latest album, recorded in Portland, begins with "Big City Christmas”, which features a large 23・member orchestra arranged by him and is based on German folk songs, Tchaikovsky, British chants and traditional American carols. This CD is a gorgeous collection, with a total of 36 musicians from Portland's jazz and classical orchestras. His previous album "Textures In Hi-Fi”, which he released in 2000, was sung with an orchestra arranged by Pete Rugolo, who was active with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. This time it is also big band jazz, influenced by Rugolo, in the cool West Coast Jazz idiom. Of the 12 songs, 10 are instrumentals of various styles, orchestrated by Hicks, who has traveled around the world including Japan, and is familiar with the music of various places. But in 2 selections, he sings his own Christmas compositions, "Winter Awhile" and the Hawaiian style "Holy Holly Holiday Hula". It's a Christmas album, but since "Christmas" doesn't come out so much, it's an album that brightens up a pleasant heart no matter when you hear it. (Keizo TAKADA)