Evan Tyrone Martin is starring as Nat King Cole Dec. 7-17 at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza in “An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas.” Check out our Q-and-A with the star below.
Describe how it feels to breath new life into such a legendary figure and his music?
It is an INCREDIBLE honor…and quite a bit of pressure. Haha. Nat has long been someone that I admire as a singer, and his influence and fan base is still so HUGE that I feel a great responsibility to do justice to not only his music, but his almost lost style of performance.
I actually began singing with my family and, like many others, in church. My mother was a gospel choir director and everyone sings. One of the things that I remember vividly is sitting and listening to all kinds of amazing music with my grandmother in her basement amongst HUNDREDS of records and singing along — music from the Gershwins, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Manilow…QUEEN. Anything. And my grandmother would give me “lessons” while we just sang together around the house. Both of my grandmothers were singers, and neither of them are still alive to see this show, but I KNOW they’d be excited and proud.
What is it about Nat’s music that lends itself to the Christmas holiday?
I think a big part of it was that voice. There is a warmth, ease, comfort, even a love in Nat’s voice that make it kind of encapsulate what the holidays are without having to even say the word Christmas. That coupled with some incredible orchestrations by his right hand man, Nelson Riddle, just makes his holiday music so special. So special that over 50 years later it has not only endured, but those songs are still some of everyone’s favorites.
Watching you perform, you really have the mannerisms of NKC down. Did it take you a long time to study his performances or is his style something that comes very naturally to you?
You know, I actually grew up watching LOTS of movie musicals and old school performers, sometimes against my will, with my Mom. A lot of this style of performance is the same across the board in that these performers had not only an intimate understanding of the music they were interpreting, but an ease, confidence, and charisma to their performance that just makes you love watching them. Nat gave you just enough that the audience wanted to lean in and get more from him — he was very easy in his performance. I LOVE that. I studied for a while and loved watching him specifically — I wanted to bring as much of him along with me on this journey as possible.
Jazz has an illustrious history in this town. What is it about jazz that gives it its timeless appeal and staying power?
I think Jazz was, is, and will always be deeply rooted in emotion and feeling. There is an undercurrent of passion that exists in all Jazz. Sometimes that manifests itself in pain, sometimes in love — sometimes in love that unrequited. But there is a heart to Jazz and I think that continues to make it an art form that people will be deeply connected to. Jazz is also a pliable form of music. Just look at how many different recordings there are of many of the SAME SONGS. Jazz allows artists to take the framework of an emotion and song, then bend it to fit your interpretation on the same theme. It’s brilliant. It’s relatable. And it sounds so freaking good!
For tickets, visit MetroTix.com. V