Casey Abrams is enjoying playing music on his own terms as witnessed at his Penang concert.
FAST-RISING American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Casey Abrams, 22, can be quite the character, both on and off stage.
The American Idol Season 10 alumni (where he finished sixth) isn’t one to conform to the mainstream. His whistle stop appearance to open the recent 10th Penang Island Jazz Festival (with a standalone concert) did raise some eyebrows of whether he truly fitted the bill as a jazz artiste.
Upon attending Abram’s workshop and his concert at Bayview Beach Resort’s ballroom on Dec 5 (the festival’s homeground since its inception), the scruffy-looking singer proved that he was more than capable of handling any audience, jazz or not.
For a start, his own music education is pretty significant, and listening to him perform a couple of Nat King Cole classics L.O.V.E. and Nature Boy on just double bass, at the beginning of the workshop (just before his night concert), did make us wonder why he would have needed an outlet like American Idol to further his career.
In Penang, the multi-instrumentalist revealed that he plays bass, piano, guitar, drums, clarinet, saz, accordion, and triangle.
“I also like the sitar,” he quipped to the small but attentive workshop crowd as he talked about his hair, his jazz theory and improvisation.
More than just a jazz-trained musician, Abrams also listens to anything from Queen to Tenacious D and AC/DC.
Abrams released a self-titled debut last year in which he co-wrote, sang, played bass, acoustic guitar, drums, Wurlitzer electric piano and even recorder on the album.
“I wrote about 20 songs for my album, composing on guitar and piano, my nature,” he revealed.
It’s now been close to a year-and-a-half since the eponymous debut album and, during a short chat after the workshop, Abrams said: “I really still love it. And the fact that people have bought it, I can be satisfied.”
Born in Austin, Texas, Abrams spent his early years in Chicago, and later moved to California to attend Idyllwild Arts Academy. An extraordinary musician, Abrams studied classical bass, piano, improvisation, music history and participated in numerous jazz ensembles. After graduating, he continued his studies in music at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The jazz influence was already planted early in life.
“My parents listened to a lot of jazz (and Beach Boys),” he mentioned about his melodic sense.
Abrams gained worldwide recognition when he auditioned and became a finalist in the American Idol 2011 season.
Thanks to his distinctively original voice and musical ability, Abrams stood out and showed the world his diverse talents. So why American Idol, indeed?
“I watched the previous years edition and I just felt that I could at least do better than them (the batch of finalists in season nine),” he reminisced. Back to the concert, it was apparent that this young man was made for the stage.
It was an interesting concert (with nearly 1,000 fans), arguably one of the best small hall gigs here this year, and done with just a three-piece – Abrams, saxophonist Jacob Scesney and
guitarist Taylor Tesler.
After local singer-songwriter Liyana Fizi, ably handling opening duties, warmed up the night with her four-piece group, it was left to Abrams to take the night home.
In many ways, Abrams threw his book of music theory out the window. He went with his heart and soul and the audience loved it.
A whole load of scatting was involved in his set. Yes, Abrams loves his scatting, and the guy could really talk – his rapport with the audience was natural, almost second nature.
Most importantly, his vocalisation and improvisation never sounded forced, even through singing some Maroon 5 and Santana/Rob Thomas covers. He delivered those radio favourites in his own unique style, with just himself scatting along to an upright double bass.
Abrams was in fine form as he sung a few of his own tunes from his debut album, including the obviously non-jazz, more pop-oriented Get Up and Midnight Girl.
But he knew how to lift the crowd in this two-hour show when he slipped on his jazz shoes.
Out came a Sam Cooke song, right to jazz standards Hit The Road Jack and St Thomas. Of course, his version of Nature Boy in a concert setting was sublime while an encore of Georgia On My Mind certainly proved his mettle and his own understanding of nostalgia with passion.
And with Penang Island Jazz Festival headliner Freddy Cole in the audience nodding his head in approval, you can’t go wrong, can you?
And who knows, one might see Abrams here again in the not too distant future.