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Spencer Day (born 1978) is a modern jazz singer and songwriter who has released four albums: Introducing Spencer Day (2004), Movie of Your Life (2005), Vagabond (2009) and The Mystery of You (2013).
Spencer Day was born on June 28, 1978, in a small town in Utah. Following his parents' separation, he lived with his grandparents in Arizona. After working in a gas station, he moved to California.
Day appeared on the CBS television network show Star Search in 2002-2003.
Mostly self-taught, Day sang and played piano at bars and retirement homes, typically playing jazz standards. This side of Day is most exhibited in his debut album Introducing Spencer Day (2004). His second album Movie of Your Life (2005) featured his own songs and the title track won San Francisco Academy of Art University's 2005 competition for best original song. Dolby Laboratories chose the video version of the song for use in its global launch of the Dolby 7.1 system.
In the same year, he collaborated with improvisation actor Rafe Chase on a 20-song musical revue, Someday, Love, which premiered at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center. In addition to writing the score, Day also starred in the show.
Whereas his first two albums were largely self-distributed, Spencer Day's third album, Vagabond (2009), was produced by Concord Jazz. The album peaked at 11 on Billboard's Jazz Album Charts and stayed in the charts for 47 weeks. The single "Till You Come to Me" peaked at number 3 on its Jazz Charts on May 1, 2010. The Smooth Jazz Top 20 Countdown ranked "Til You Come to Me" the number one cut for 2010, the first time a vocalist earned that honor.
The song was broadcast often on easy listening stations such as New York City's 106.7 Lite FM (WLTW). His Vagabond tour took him from coast to coast with a few performances in England and Japan. The song "Joe" on the album is semi-autobiographical and reflects his growing up.
Responding to an interviewer's request to describe his musical influences and styles, he said: "Chet Baker meets Paul Simon. Fusing the Great American Songbook with a contemporary pop aesthetic, the more confessional singer-songwriter world with the classic jazz idiom."
The Mystery of You (2013):
In the three years since the release of his debut recording Vagabond, Day has spent some time in the uncomfortable places where light and clarity disappear into the mysteries of uncertainty. He survived the journey, and he's come back with a story to tell and a wiser perspective about himself and the world. That story - rooted in his own experience, yet filled with revelations and truths that are universal to any human being who has ever put his or her heart at risk - is captured in the 13 tracks of The Mystery of You, his newest album released March 12, 2013, on Concord Records (international release dates may vary).
Filled with stylistic nuances that range from smoky noir to Latin jazz to surf guitar to Middle Eastern and Asian melodies, The Mystery of You tracks the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes harrowing arc of a romantic relationship from passionate beginning to painful demise to enlightened aftermath. More than just a survivor's tale, the album is Day's affirmation to anyone within the sound of his voice that navigating the human experience is an ongoing balancing act.
"It's been one of the hardest things I've ever dealt with in my adult life, but it's also been a huge opportunity for growth," Day said of the ill-fated relationship and the music that emerged from it. "Each of these songs represents a different phase in that growth process. Along the way, I really started trying to understand my own psychology."
Self-exploration is nothing new to Day, who recalls a troubled childhood in a conservative town in Utah, and a volatile home life resulting from his parent's troubled marriage. His primary means of escape were music and movies. He grew up listening to a wide cross-section of composers, including Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon and Paul Simon. And the classic MGM musicals in the local theater - the only options available in his hometown - eventually left their mark on his creative sensibilities.
He didn't start performing in public until age 21, mostly singing standards in piano bars and retirement homes. "I was probably three or four years into that when I realized that that wasn't totally satisfying to me," he recalls. "I realized that I needed to write as well." That's when things got into high gear.
His 2004 debut album, Introducing Spencer Day, was primarily a collection of standards, but the title track from Movie of Your Life, released the following year, won the San Francisco Academy of Art University's 2005 competition for best original song. The resulting video was selected by Dolby Laboratories as a demonstration video for the global launch of the Dolby 7.1 system.
Day performed at the 2007 San Francisco Jazz Festival, and has been a recurring headliner in a number of high-profile Bay Area clubs, including Yoshi's, Plush Room, Great American Music Hall and the Herbst Theatre. On the opposite coast, he has earned raves for performances at the Town Hall, Joe's Pub and the Canal Room in New York City, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. He has also appeared at both the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Tanglewood Jazz Festival.
Vagabond, released in 2009, was a musical hybrid that drew from the Great American Songbook, but also maintained an alternate aesthetic that sidestepped easy categorization by borrowing from influences like Burt Bacharach, Roy Orbison and Dusty Springfield.
But while The Mystery of You also draws from a range of sources, the result is a much more personal tale. The story opens with the noir-ish title track. Filled with the unlikely combination of James Bond guitar riffs, Middle Eastern strings and Motown drum fills, the track explores the intrigue that comes with the early stages of getting to know someone. "The goal was to constantly surprise the listener's ear with new sounds," says Day. "And at the same time, it's this classic torch song that talks about love like a crime scene."
The minimally produced "Love and War" is an acknowledgment of vulnerability. "This is the moment when you realize that you may already be in too deep, and there's a very real potential to be hurt," says Day. "This track comes after three uptempo, fully-produced tracks, so given the subject matter, it seemed like the right moment to bring the production down a little bit."
Further into the set, the symphonic "Soul on Fire" chronicles the head-over-heels tumble that takes place at the early stage of every relationship. "This was a chance to write in this unapologetically dramatic way, with a string arrangement and a great '60s nuance," he says. "The strings ultimately build to a frenzy and capture the passion that's so common early on."
In the quiet and poignant "I Don't Want To Know," vocalist Gabi Moreno makes one of several appearances on the record to share the lyrics with Day. "This represents the turning point in the relationship, the moment when you realize that the end is actually here but you just don't want to acknowledge it," says Day. "There's a jazz piano solo in the outro, along with an electronic drum loop. The goal was to create a slow and steady build, something that would enable the track to gain momentum as it sails into the distance."
"The Answer" pays homage to Roy Orbison, a longtime favorite of Day's - and perhaps the most gifted writer of heartache songs in the last six decades of pop music. "That's basically the moment when you've packed everything in your car and you're driving away, hoping that someday the reasons why it all came to an end will be clear."
And somehow they are, eventually. "Somewhere on the Other Side" is built on the hope that if you can get through the hard part, things do get better. "I wrote that in the depths of despair," says Day. "It's almost like an early American Quaker spiritual. I was just trying to remind myself that if I could make it through this, there would be a sacred place that I could get to on the other side."
He finds that place in "I'm Going Home," which Day refers to as a song about gratitude. "It's about returning home - not necessarily a physical place, but more a matter of redeveloping a relationship with yourself. This was an opportunity to combine an electric piano with an acoustic piano solo I recorded in L.A. It really works in this minimalist Brian Eno kind of way. There are some strange but interesting textures that pop up and catch your ears."
In the end, Day sees The Mystery of You as an effort to chronicle a relationship in much the same way as an abstract painting would. "It's going to be a different experience for everyone, and different tracks will resonate differently with each listener," he says. "But I think the goal is to let people find themselves somewhere within the music, and find something in common with the experiences that inspired the writing of the music. I think the goal of any artist should be to take a situation that's personal and draw out those things that are universal."
In March 2008, Day opened for Rufus Wainwright at the Napa Valley Opera House. He appeared at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival in the summer of 2008. On September 8, 2009, he performed "Till You Come To Me" on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
Of Day's Tanglewood performance of Mel Tormé's "Born to be Blue" with Marian McPartland on piano, NPR's David Lyon said he "can croon with the best of them." The Village Voice described Day in 2010 as "a prodigious singing/songwriting and piano-plunking talent." The Mercury News said "Day uses intuition and improvisation as his primary tools to craft a sound that is traditional and familiar, yet fresh and innovative at the same time, creating a blend too subtle to parse into neatly defined categories," and described him as "a balladeer for the new century."
In a March 2010 interview, Day discussed how he came out as gay to his family and how Rufus Wainwright and k.d. lang have helped to minimize the impact of his coming out on his career and avoid having his music labeled with his sexuality: "What I do, the causes I'm behind, that's what's important. Who I am, unless it is particularly relevant, has no place in my music." In May 2010, Day discussed his homosexuality and said: "I wanted to stand and be counted....I was born in Utah and I grew up Mormon and I want to be part of building a bridge between the LGBT community and the Mormon community."
Day's charitable activities have included performances on behalf of Catholic Charities' support for HIV/AIDS, the Horizons Foundation, a community-based LGBT philanthropic organization, the children's health charity ONEXONE, and the Human Rights Campaign's Salt Lake City fund-raising dinner.
On June 30, 2010, Day rang NASDAQ's closing bell in recognition of his donation of earnings from downloads of his single "Better Way" to Feeding America.