Release Date: May 20, 2022
Label: Dot Time
Singer and master song interpreter John Minnock issues Simplicity, reprising his artistic partnership with saxophonist-composer and NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman. Following Minnock’s acclaimed 2020 release Herring Cove, Simplicity signals an evolution of his artistry. Repertoire selections include original compositions and nuanced treatment of familiar songs, each reflecting harmonic sophistication, heartbreaking subtlety and homage to his beloved LGBTQ community.
“This record is about the music,” says the recent Hot House/Jazzmobile Best Male Vocalist Award winner. “Once you really get comfortable with jazz, it offers a level of freedom. You can go anywhere you want. The downs can go lower, the ups can go higher. So you have to get really comfortable, but then stick with the story.”
To help translate his frank interpretation across eight songs, the consummate storyteller assembles an intergenerational band of improvisers: Mathis Picard and Sean Mason on piano (tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 3, 8, respectively), Mark Lewandowski and Carlos Mena on bass (tracks 2-8 and 1, respectively), Pablo Eluchans on drums and Liebman on saxophone, serving as the project’s executive producer. “Every player brought their A game to the session,” says Minnock. “We were relaxed and comfortable but collaborative and serious.”
“Storytelling is, apparently, John Minnock’s secret weapon”
The degree of comfort and intensity that composer and EGOT nominee David Shire’s material requires, renders his canon discouraging for many singers, but not for Minnock. He’s an expert at interpreting songs that demand a nuanced communication of music and lyric. For years, the New York native has been exploring Shire’s repertoire, developing an artistic relationship with the songwriter who recently began composing with Minnock in mind. In 2019, Shire attended one of his performances at Don’t Tell Mama in midtown, having just written “After All These Years” for Minnock, which appears on Herring Cove. “He told me ‘Simplicity’ might be an even better song for me,” says Minnock, who tends to explore aspects of Shire’s melodies in unconventional ways.
With Liebman and a cross section of spontaneity-driven artists at the instrumental helm, Simplicity delivers a layering of vulnerability, lyricism and meditative vibe-casting. The title track reveals Minnock’s tender treatment of complex material, and an ability to transmit intention on every note. Stretching Minnock’s stylistic range, “He Was Brazilian” animates a story inspired by Bossa Nova patterns and progressions. “There are so many similarly fun, flirty and sexy Bossa Nova songs,” says Minnock, “and now there’s one for the LGBTQ community.” Solo gestures from Lewandowski and Liebman complement Minnock’s melodic phrasing. “Angel Eyes” introduces a recurring theme throughout the album — extended intros, often including instrumental solos up front. “Everybody should have an intro,” says Minnock. “I like to have all the instruments do something, especially bass because I’m a tuba player. I’m a basement dweller.”
But the concept offers something more abstract and essential for Simplicity. Minnock’s mantra for “Angel Eyes,” and many track selections, emerged over the course of rehearsing and recording: “Just get into the vibe.” Energy as a means of expression and, ultimately, transmission, would become integral to Simplicity. “Sometimes it scares me [laughs], but it is great,” says Minnock who’s accustomed to crafting sets around thematic material derived from lyrics, but welcomes the opportunity for harmonic exploration and musical spontaneity. Liebman’s ability to comp for Minnock serves the singer’s instinct for moment-to-moment interaction. And he always returns to the story. “Cape’s End,” penned by Picard with lyrics from Minnock and Erick Holmberg, becomes an extension of “Herring Cove.” The noir-inspired introduction from Liebman that slides around, out of time, emerges again and again as Minnock shares the story of one lonely heart wandering through a picturesque tourist town: “Everybody’s hoping to find romance at different locations in Provincetown, and it never works out. Well this time it did.”
Stunning in its subtlety, Lewandowsky’s solo intro on “Bordeaux” serves as an opening gesture for Picard and Minnock to lead an exercise in intimacy. The singer intended for the ballad to reference duets between Maureen McGovern and Mike Renzi. “It’s very romantic,” says Minnock. “If you pay close attention, you’ll notice Mathis is completely in sync with what I’m doing. He hits when I hit. He knew exactly what I was gonna do.” The album’s vibe-casting reaches its ethereal peak on Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” Says Minnock, “In the studio, the vibe just started, and presented here is the take.” The penultimate song, “Everything Reminds Me of You,” features music from Picard with more lyrics from Holmberg. “It’s very nostalgic and a little sad,” says Minnock, who wraps a shimmering thoughtful vocal around each lyric. Mason and Liebman illuminate Minnock’s vulnerability and sense of humor on “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” the album’s final tune. “There’s a moment where I sing a line with real sarcasm; Sean picks it right up and responds with the same sarcasm,” he says. While he honors the repertoire’s complexity and colossal musicianship of his fellow artists, for Minnock, the story’s everything: “I like to go to a place of really raw honesty. And I have the story going at all times. It’s a great challenge. But I think, once you get it there, it’s a greater expression.”
Release Date: June 5, 2020
Label: Dot Time
On his debut for Dot Time Records, Herring Cove pairs Minnock’s signature tell-it-like-it is wit with introspective lyrics to paint a dynamic and compelling portrait of contemporary gay life. For this monumental recording, Minnock brings together two indisputable musical masters: NEA Jazz Master saxophonist Dave Liebman, who steps into the role of executive producer, and decorated composer and songwriter David Shire, who contributes an original new song. Filling out the rest of the set are six original compositions, co-written with Minnock’s friend and lyricist Erick Holmberg, and four stirring cover songs. Joining Minnock is his usual outfit including pianist and Musical Director Enrique Hanenine, bassist Carlos Mena and drummer Pablo Eluchans.
Herring Cove follows the release of his 2018 sophomore album Right Around The Corner, which propelled the New York native to new heights. Over the course of nearly ten years, Minnock has made his mark on the nightlife stomping ground of NYC at locales such as The Metropolitan Room, The Triad Theater, Don’t Tell Mama, and recently, the legendary Feinstein’s/54 Below. The Winner of the 2019 NYC Readers Jazz Award for Best Male Vocalist (cosigned by Hot House Jazz Magazine and Jazzmobile), Minnock has long captivated audiences with his unique retooling of the Great American Songbook through the eyes of a contemporary gay man.
Minnock ups the ante on Herring Cove both musically and conteptually on what is, in essence, a heartfelt exploration of the contemporary gay experience. The album sets the stage with its name; Herring Cove is a predominantly gay beach in the LGBTQ epicenter Provincetown (part of the Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts and known colloquially as “P-Town”). Herring Cove is a site of great beauty but also sadness: it was the favored spot of writing partner Erick Holmberg and his late partner Bruce Beckles, who passed away from complications from AIDS in 1994. The title track tells this powerful, and sadly, familiar story while honoring his memory, along with all those that have passed.
The original compositions that make up the album illustrate a tapestry of gay experiences: “Tell Him I’m Fine” tells the all-too-common story of a breakup within a friend group, while “A Melody” is a love song styled in the vein of classic jazz standards like “Stella by Starlight” and “Laura.” “Unconditional” was written for a recently out boy disowned by his family for being gay (with proceeds from the song to be donated to The Ali Forney Center in NYC, which is the largest LGBTQ community center dedictaed to helping homeless youth in the United States), and “Kansas City” turns the ‘traveling to a new city’ trope on its head as it changes the intention from ‘just movin’ on,’ to seeking a place where one can be accepted for who they are. “Now There’s You” is a beautiful celebration of friendship that features Deborah Lippmann. While Lippman is known as The ‘Celebrity Manicurist‘ with a world-famous eponymous nailpolish line, she is also an accomplished singer. The unique connection between gay men and straight women is well documented in gay theory and pop culture. While these bonds are usually formed relatively early in life, Minnock and Lippman uniquely came together during their adult life. Enrique Hanenine and Holmberg wrote this one in observation of their special bond. A footnote: in this song, Minnock mentions The Saint, one of New York’s most famous gay nightclubs of the past. Before that, it was the iconic Filmore East.
While Herring Cove is certainly a jazz recording, it pulls threads from the cabaret world. This is perhaps most exemplified by the participation of both Dave Liebman and David Shire. For their second recorded engagement together, Liebman is not just a featured musician, but also the executive producer and arranger of three tunes including the two standards “Stardust” and “On Green Dolphin Street.” Working with Liebman in the studio was “a masterclass” said Minnock, adding: “I don’t believe there is any other single person in jazz today who has his level of experience and knowledge. We started with an individual meeting where he listened to every single idea, and the reason behind each and every one. And the musical and thematic discussions continued all through the studio sessions. As a gay man who went through years of denying and hiding, to have this opportunity for expression leaves me astounded.”
David Shire is a music industry legend and EGOT nominee with a GRAMMY and Academy Award to his name. His illustrious career includes countless scores for Broadway, Off-Broadway, film and television works plus a close association with Barbra Streisand. On Herring Cove, Minnock presents Shire’s Oscar-winning song “It Goes Like It Goes” from the film Norma Rae, with lyrics by Norman Gimbel in addition to an original composition written exclusively for this project. And Mr. Shire provides here a wonderful foray into jazz. Inspired by the fight for marriage equality, “After All These Years” sums up the experience of an LGBTQ couple finally being able to legally marry after being together for several decades. On Shire, Minnock says: “The association with David Shire is the thrill of a lifetime. I’m a super-fan, and long been an admirer of his music and especially the film scores. And, I have been able to lip-sync ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ with 100% accuracy, stage or film version, since college. Imagine the thrill of performing an original piece, music and lyrics, by Mr. Shire.”
Of course, Herring Cove would not be complete without the inclusion of a gay anthem. Minnock completely reimagines the Cher hit “Turn Back Time” as an ode to her and the many other gay cultural icons that have empowered LGBTQ people for decades. Music has always played an integral role in modern gay life (recall the long-standing suggestion that the Stonewall riots were partially a response to the death of Judy Garland). On Right Around The Corner, Minnock paid tribute to Garland with “Get Happy” – here he continues the trajectory toward the modern day experience with contemporary icon Cher.
On Herring Cove, John Minnock offers a much needed and oft-overlooked perspective to the jazz audiences. “My hope is to musically express myself with honesty and integrity; something I feel can be done best in a jazz setting. I hope that this new project offers listeners a greater understanding of the LGBTQ community, and most importantly, that they like what they hear!”
Right Around the Corner
Release date: November 6, 2018
On his sophomore effort, John presents jazz, blues and cabaret classics in a way that has never been heard before with the help of special guest, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Dave Liebman on saxophone. John’s experiences as an openly gay man gives way to a unique perspective that is at once eye-opening, touching and down right fun. Supported by a stellar rhythm section including pianist/arranger Enrique Hanenine (whose latest album The Mind’s Mural hit #1 on the NACC Radio Chart) bassist Carlos Mena and drummer Pablo Eluchans, John’s new “gay-ahead jazz album” is a groundbreaker as it explores LGBTQ subject-matter in a jazz setting. John will celebrate the release of his new album on November 17th at the iconic Don’t Tell Mama in Times Square.
John Minnock’s first album, Every Day Blues, introduced his signature wit and candor as he explored the American songbook from the perspective as a gay man in today’s world. His long-running show of the same name, presented through the years at the Metropolitan Room, the Triad Theater and, most recently, Don’t Tell Mama, has been an audience favorite, attracting a diverse cast of attendees from inquisitive cabaret fans to serious jazz listeners. Right Around The Corner features a mix of material frequently performed at his live show (“Skylark”, “Moon River”, “I Love Being Here With You”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”) and impressive original compositions that tell stories of gay life that are seldom heard on the bandstand.
A stand out moment is John’s original composition, “Right Around the Corner”; the title being a play on the Mel Torme/George Shearing classic “Love is Just Right Around The Corner”. John’s lyrics were lifted directly from personal experience and offers plenty of nods to real life nightlife experiences in the New York City gay community. “Less so today, but in the past it was common for gay people to, when visiting a city, look for the neighborhood that designated LGBTQ and visit some or most or all bars there. This was a way to get to know the community in that city,” says John. John takes listeners through all of his favorite corners, many of which are home not just to him, but others in the gay community as well: Vodka Soda/Bottoms Up on 46th and 8th, Rise on 56th and 9th, Arriba Arriba on 51st and 9th, Don’t Tell Mama on 46th and 9th and Hardware and DBL at 48th and 10th. The song was also synthed, which is a nod to electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos; a pioneer as well in gender re-assignment.
Another highlight is John’s interpretation of “New York, New York” by Jay Brannon (not the famous Kander and Ebb tune). The lyrics call back to “My Favorite Things”- specifically the version made famous by John Coltrane. “I thought of it as My LEAST Favorite Things about New York!” said John. Soprano saxophonist David Liebman, a jazz musician who is quintessential “New York” and is arguably the greatest living bastion of Coltrane’s sound, joins John here to dazzling results. “Liebman’s playing here invokes for me the bluesy black and white bankrupt world New York was in the 1960’s and 1970’s… I tried to adapt my vocalizing to match the players,” he said. Liebman joins John again on a superb version of “Skylark”. Performed often at his live show, the studio version gives new life to the stalwart melody with a jaw-dropping saxophone-vocal duo. John’s presentation of “Skylark” is painted by his experience workshopping it with the revered Lina Koutrakos.
Johns other originals, “Are We All Alone” and “Everything Changes”, tell different stories within the context of a gay relationship. The first deals with the challenges of a relationship without much experience or support from family or friends, and the second tells of a more mature relationship with all of its peaks and valleys. “There’s a section of happiness like an anthem, then a section of doubt and complication, maybe a bit neurotic (I call this ‘the Seinfeld section),” says John, adding that “most of the subject matter comes from issues and topics of the LGBTQ community”.
John Minnock is a native New Yorker who has been “telling it like it is” in the cabaret and vocal jazz scene for over a decade. Recipient of the Hot House Jazz Fans Decision Award in 2016, John is a classically trained musician who immediately blossomed when he saw Ruth Brown’s live show, which incorporated energy, enthusiasm, and her personal life experiences. While John has performed myriad styles from r&b, funk, soul and classical, jazz and blues have been the genres in which he is most comfortable.
Jazz and blues were, essentially, borne of the life experiences of an oppressed and discriminated against group – African Americans. The sound developed in and around New Orleans. Various cultures (beyond African Americans) have contributed their own experience and styles to the art form – and for John as a gay man, this same thing occurred in an evolutionary manner. “I personally understand oppression and have experienced discrimination. I believe this is an underlying reason I gravitate toward the music.”
On Right Around The Corner, John brings a much-needed, fresh perspective to the vocal jazz genre. In John’s own words: “In writing the original songs, it became clear ‘it had to be jazz”. This genre offers the flexibility to fully express yourself (as Madonna might say). At one point in writing, I had a specific question and I asked Enrique “can I do this..?” and he responded “you can do anything, it’s jazz”’.
"Relive the magic courtesy of photographer Leslie Farinacci." See the photo flash from Minnock's album release show at Birdland Jazz Club here.
Watch the video premiere for the title track "Simplicity" on the New Release Cheat Sheet here.
"Simplicity displays an evolution of Minnock’s artistry with nuanced storytelling, emotionally subtle vocal performances and harmonically sophisticated compositions." Read the full article here.
C. MICHAEL BAILEY
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Minnock is passionately committed to his equal loves of music and the LGBTQ community, both celebrated robustly on this release." Read the full article here.
"An assured tenor with a range of over an octave and a half.." Read the complete review in the August 2022 issue of Jazzwise Magazine.
"Simplicity [...] puts guts and grace on display." Read the review here.
HOT HOUSE JAZZ MAGAZINE
"..a singer with a great sense of jazz harmony and an inclination toward the storytelling of cabaret." Read the review in the August issue of Hot House Jazz Magazine here.
ALL THAT'S JAZZ
"'Simplicity ' signals an evolution of John’s artistry." Listen to the full interview here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"This is art for art’s sake and since jazz reflects freedom and creativity, this is a perfect example of just that." Read the review here.
"There was a great party at Feinstein's last Thursday night, and it was about time, too." Read the full review here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"Minnock’s vocals move from jazz to cabaret in the wink of an eye. He is expressive, honest and emotional, whatever the genre." Read this premiere here.
"..courageous storytelling isn’t the only strength of Herring Cove. Minnock’s phrasing seamlessly veers from romantic to lighthearted and acerbic alongside an accomplished crew that includes saxophonist/producer Dave Liebman."
Read the full review here.
"...Sings of a gay man's experiences through some sensitive originals songs and slightly re-defines standards"
MAKING A SCENE
"There’s drama and great expression in Minnock’s vocal delivery that likely owes to his career in theater and cabaret, but probably mostly to the importance of his cause. And, Liebman’s performances are terrific, some of the best he’s contributed on record. The collaboration works beautifully." Read this full review here.
"Vocalist John Minnock has shared with us his live performance of the classic song, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” also featuring saxophone great Dave Liebman." Read The Week in Jazz here.
"The eleven tracks and 60 minutes of music are a sophisticated yet interestingly base musical offering - sophisticated because of the artistry, base because of the skillful way that the lyrics touch the most honest, raw, and sympathetic emotions we all feel, everyone, though especially the gay men who will find their own stories here." Read this full review here.
D. OSCAR GROOMES
"Minnock is singing with confidence on Herring Cove.." Read the full review in the Summer 2021 O's Place Newsletter.
Right Around The Corner
"Minnock's star continues to rise with every performance and his second outing at Feinstein's/54 Below proves that his brilliant March debut was not a fluke - he really is that good." Photo flash here.
"So, before you read everything John and I talked about, I say thanks to John for reminding me why this project is important - even if just to myself and the people I talk to. " Read the full interview here.
"At 54 Below, Minnock's outstanding technical ability, paired with evocative lyrics and superb showmanship proved that he is a dynamic musical force to be reckoned with in New York City." Read the full concert review here.
"During my interview with John, we’ll also talk about how some very unique life experiences helped lead him to where he is today." Full interview here.
"This guy works without a net, but never falls off the trapeze!" Read the full review here.
"Mixing some of his favorite covers with new original works, John paints a very personal picture in the music, exploring LGBTQ subject matter and telling stories of his life in the city." Read the full feature here.
C. MICHAEL BAILEY
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Right Around the Corner is a welcome addition to male jazz vocals, a subgenre in need of greater membership like this." Full review here.
Reading the Great American Songbook through the lens of the Gay Experience - read exclusive Q&A here!
D. OSCAR GROOMES
O'S PLACE JAZZ NEWSLETTER
"Jazz vocalist John Minnock is a true entertainer infusing elements of jazz, blues, funk and R&B into his passionate, baritone repertoire." Read the full review here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"On this recording, Minnock shows us he can sing it all. He is clearly an artist who pushes the boundaries of music and art with his vocal instrument." Read the full review here.