Spencer Day’s New Dawn

  • by Joshua Klipp
  • Saturday May 10, 2014
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My interview with San Francisco and Monterey Jazz Fest veteran Spencer Day didn't go as I expected. A young but seasoned jazz performer who's played the Great American Music Hall, Joe's Pub, the Hollywood Bowl and more, I anticipated a smooth talker with media-ready sound bites. I'll come clean: I thought Spencer Day would be shallow. And now I must apologize: I was wrong. I was really, really wrong.

Spencer Day is not only not shallow, but the depth of his thought reflects a rare performer who almost never thinks about his own ego, and almost constantly about how to use his artistry and access to make the world a better place.

"I don't think about my legacy," he said. "The most I could hope for is to be remembered as someone who tried to live authentically, and inspired others to do the same. If my music can cause a partial awakening in even one person, my whole life is worth it."

During our 45-minute interview, the openly gay singer/pianist covered everything from being raised by Mormons, to "The Book of Mormon," to what he wants to be when he grows up.

"I was raised strictly Mormon, but my Mom is very cool," he said. "She's been on a float in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade with me." Of the musical, "The Book of Mormon," he noted his favorite song, "Turn It Off Like a Light Switch."

"Mormons are incredibly sweet, but there's so much suppression in an effort to be nice and happy all the time - that song was brilliant," he said.

And on what he hopes for the future, Day opined, "I'd love to score a Broadway musical. Getting to write the music for a full orchestra... that'd be a dream gig."

In the meantime, however, Spencer Day is very much about the present, which includes the May 16, 2014, release of his fifth album, "Daybreak."

"My new album pulls from the music that was Southern California's pulse in the 1960s, the surf era of the Beach Boys, the Association, the Mamas and the Papas," he said. "I really wanted to create the sound of Los Angeles as I remember it from childhood."

"Daybreak" will consist of original tunes heavily influenced by this time period and these artists, as well as a selection of covers from other '60s artists like Nancy Sinatra, Buddy Holly, and Peter and Gordon.

Day currently resides in Southern California, but makes no secret of the fact that he considers San Francisco home.

"San Francisco is where I started playing, at the Lush Lounge on Polk Street," he reminisced. "One of the owners there, Kenny, signed me up for 'Star Search' as a joke and I went thinking it was something I'd do for a lark." He ended up as one of the finalists, and the rest is history.

Years later, the searching star returned to his roots, playing what he cherishes as one of his most epic performances.

"It was at Yoshi's," he recalled. "We sold it out and had a couple of standing ovations. But what made it so great to return to San Francisco is that it's always been there for me. When I was down and out, abusing substances, when other people didn't believe in me, San Francisco always did. It was like coming home."

Impressive success and achievements haven't made Spencer lose touch with his values, either. "I play a lot of benefits and make myself available for causes as much as possible."

Though he humorously recounted saying yes to a high school friend's fundraising performance request, only to learn too late that it was held in a bizarre location and benefited a conservative right wing politician. He honored his commitment, but made a note that going forward he would always ask about the benefit's purpose before saying yes.

And lately, Spencer Day says yes to many things, but nothing more than the truth of who he is, and how this shapes who he is as a performer. "The more genuinely and unapologetically I am myself, the more dynamic I am as a performer and the less self-conscious I become."

Before we wrapped the interview, I asked Spencer if he could sing one song to the people of San Francisco, what would that song be? He didn't hesitate in his answer, "The Association's 'Never My Love,' because the song asks if I'll ever grow tired, and I say never. My relationship with San Francisco is a lifelong romance."

The man believes that music is a healing art, a medium that keeps us in the present moment, whether that is perfect or imperfect. He believes that music reminds us more of what we share than how we are different.

Day's favorite quote is by Stella Adler: "Life beats you down and crushes your soul, and art reminds you that you have one." From his own "Book of Mormon," through a journey of personal struggle and survival, and now finally to a watershed of celebration reflected in his new album - Spencer Day is an artist not only with tremendous talent, but tremendous heart. He is in love with his art, and the ways it allows him to love others, and others to love each other.

When he plays Feinstein's at Hotel Nikko this month, he'll be accompanied by Gawain Matthews and Cliff Goldmacher on guitar, Todd Sickafoose on bass, and Brad Boal on drums. And me, I'll be that reformed skeptic sitting in the front row, understanding now why San Francisco has loved and believed in Spencer Day all along.

Spencer Day plays Feinstein's at the Nikko Thursday May 15 and Friday May 16. Both shows begin at 8pm. Tickets are available through Spencer Day's website at: http://spencerday.com/events/ . Hotel Nikko is located at 222 Mason Street