Fast-Rising Jazz Singer Julian Yeo and his ’Deep Purple Dreams’
Baritone jazz crooner Julian Yeo, born and raised in Australia, has wasted no time amid Manhattan's bright lights and mélange of sounds.
A mere five years in the city, Yeo (rhymes with "go") is releasing his third CD, Deep Purple Dreams," with a fourth, Homage, coming later this year.
It might surprise his growing legion of fans that it was not music that brought him to New York - it was academia, specifically a teaching job at prestigious Columbia University. Yeo has a PhD in Accounting and Finances, of all things.
Having heard the CD - where an attentive artist is clearly at work-and having read of his academic credentials, his boyish grin and easy cheer was rather disarming when we met for our interview.
"I've been playing piano since the age of six, which taught me rhythm and pitch," Yeo told me over coffee. "But I didn't really start singing until I moved to New York." Energized by all the open mics and piano bars, he started hitting them all with regularity.
"I do not come from a musical or showbiz family," Yeo said, then laughed. "But it was very booze-related!" Good training for all those two-drink minimums, presumably.
A retro quality
For his previous recording, "Unusual Passage," Yeo was nominated for a MAC Award as Jazz Vocalist and for Best Jazz Recording of 2008. Like his influences, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, his vocal style was praised for its modest approach, crisp delivery and confident air.
"I don’t know why, but that retro quality has always been with me when I sing," Yeo confided. Explaining his fast rise in the business, he shrugged. "I’ve been very lucky meeting the right people and I think being somewhat different is helpful. It’s probably good that I didn’t give myself time to think about it!" Smiling, he added, "I know I’m an acquired taste."
Yeo also admitted gravitating toward female vocalists. "Because my range is lower, I can sing along with them." He cited Doris Day ("There is such an ease about her and I hope to do a tribute to her someday") and Judy Garland ("I learn to communicate from listening to her") as favorites.
Yeo acknowledged that his family is supportive of his musical efforts but that had he wanted to pursue this when he was younger, it would have been difficult. "I’m realizing now that I should be doing the things that make me happy," said the youthful 33-year-old. As for getting the education and the good job first, Yeo laughed, "It was cowardly, the way I did it!"
At present, he is still very much tied to his academic career. "The classroom experience is very useful," he acknowledged. "When I’m on stage, I’m just communicating a different message."
However, academia has kept him from touring. "I would love to tour Europe," he said.
As for "Deep Purple Dreams," Yeo and his team of musicians aimed for a "mysterious ambiance that has a style," as he put it. That seems to have been accomplished with the cool, haunting vocal style and a short story by Andrew Willett about a vampire from Shanghai, in lieu of any personal liner notes from Yeo.
"That started with a radio interview," he told me. "I was asked if I could be any kind of movie character what would I be. I immediately said a vampire because that’s how I lived through all these years and knew all the standards."
In a month or so, Yeo will resume his weekly shows at the TONY Lounge in midtown, with other bookings likely to follow.
In his spare time-one wonders when that would be - Yeo is also quite the gourmet cook and enjoys pottery as well. "I love all creative outlets," he said. "Singing is very much an outlet for me, allowing me to express myself in situations where I normally can’t or won’t."
At this rate, with his creative output, the mystery that has been Julian Yeo will surely be less of a mystery... as time goes by.
Julian Yeo’s Deep Purple Dreams is available at iTunes, www.CDBaby.com, www.amazon.com and other outlets beginning January 11. Go to www.julianyeo.com to learn more about him and his music.
Watch Julian Yeo sing "September Song."