Speakers Profile - Gregg Arthur

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It's music that speaks of another place and time, of suave elegance and incomparable sophistication, and for the first time, Australia now has its own velvet-toned vocalist singing from the great American popular songbook.

Love Story is Gregg Arthur's debut album on the ABC Classics label and it heralds the arrival of a major talent in a form of popular music which many have tried, but in which few have succeeded. Quite simply, Gregg Arthur is a natural. Call it jazz, call it lounge or even crooning, Gregg Arthur lives and breathes the music of the greatest era of American cool, when the Rat Pack dominated the entertainment industry and where men always wore suits and had the impeccable manners to match.

Growing up on a property on the McIntyre River an hour out of Inverell, isolation was no problem for the young Gregg Arthur. When not working the farm, he immersed himself in his father's extensive record collection which included all the classic albums of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.

'As a kid I was a freak, because I could sing along with those artists and even harmonise with their skats!' he says. 'I went to Sydney and sang with the Opera Australia chorus, but it was obvious from the outset that my musical interests lay elsewhere.'

He soon made his way to the United States and with his matinee-idol looks and personable manner, he discovered that the way into the world's toughest music scene was deceptively simple.

'I just started going to gigs featuring great musicians and whenever they'd have a break I'd go up and start talking to them about music. Inevitably it would end up with me getting up onstage and singing with them.'

But while his reputation as a singer of rare ability grew steadily, these impromptu gigs with the legends of American music weren't necessarily lucrative, and European options weren't much better. At one point, finding himself penniless in Paris he slept for three nights in the Gare du Nord, protected from being moved on by the vagrancy police only through his trademark tailored suit and repeated protestations that his train was delayed.

Eventually, though, as his accolades from the masters increased, the American opportunities began to arise on a more consistent basis and Gregg Arthur came to seem as at home in Las Vegas as he is in his current residence in Sydney. Now he travels the world for months of every year as a true inheritor of the Sinatra legacy, performing the great standards and original arrangements with orchestras, big bands and quartets.

In Las Vegas, he maintains an ongoing association, with Vincent Falcone, former musical director for Frank Sinatra; with Gus Mancuso, musical director for Sarah Vaughan; and with Bob Rosario, bandleader and arranger for Bobby Darin. Back home in Australia he has worked with legendary conductor Maestro Tommy Tycho and his 50-piece orchestra. He also plays jazz quartet material with his friends Steve Brien on guitar, Andrew Dickeson on drums and Craig Scott on bass.

His debonair style makes it all look so smooth and easy, but such 'natural' ease takes years to perfect. 'I'm one of those people who believes that you never stop learning,' he says. 'And in the end it all comes down to the story of the song. All of these old songs sum up the lives of individuals and you enter into their world, rather than the song just being a jingle.'

With admirers ranging from Tony Bennett in the United States, to radio King Alan Jones in Australia, and Michael Parkinson on the BBC in the UK, Gregg Arthur is an international star with his roots firmly in Australia, and his debut album on ABC Classics represents the first time Australia's largest classical music label has signed a singer of this type.

With his assured command of the genre, listeners to Love Story will marvel and wonder where Gregg Arthur has been hiding all these years. And the answer is, in America, where all these great songs began, winning the admiration of the legends of the genre.