During the past five years, Julian Yeo has made a strong impression on the New York jazz scene. A very likable singer with a love for 1920s and '30 jazz and popular music, Julian pays tribute to the vintage songs and the classic vocalists who he loves not by copying them or trying to recreate their style, but by singing in his own distinctive voice. He brings back the joy and swing of the period in his own way.
Raised in Australia, Julia Yeo remembers hearing Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra's recordings early in his life. He took piano lessons and appeared in a few singing contests but did not perform music much during that part of his life, instead earning a PhD in accounting. He moved to New York City in July 2004 to accept a professorial position at Columbia University in its business school. “After moving to New York, there were a lot of opportunities to sit in at open mics at piano bars,” remembers Julian. “A booking manager liked my singing and encouraged me to put together a show. That is how I got started and soon I had a regular group.” With his Retro-Jazz Band, he has performed at various New York clubs including the Iridium (getting the chance to sing with Les Paul). He recorded Old, New, Borrowed, Blue (which brings back aspects of Rudy Vallee's style) and Unusual Passage, which is dedicated to Fred Astaire.
Julian Yeo's third recording, Homage, covers a wider area of music as he pays tribute to 15 of his favorite singers, ranging from Billie Holiday to Karen Carpenter, Edith Piaf to Bing Crosby. When asked what qualities of the 15 singers inspired and influenced him, Julian answered thoughtfully. “Billie Holiday's sense of rhythm is impeccable and she is able to evoke such emotions that one has to pay attention to her. Astrud Gilberto has a soft and wonderful voice that perfectly fits bossa novas. Karen Carpenter may seem an odd choice but who doesn't like Karen Carpenter's beautiful voice?. I feel such joy and inspiration listening to Edith Piaf. Anita O'Day always sounds fresh and there is a spunkiness about her that I like, and the same is true of June Christy. Al Bowlly is an international man of mystery, born in South Africa but most widely known in the U.K. Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote so many beautiful melodies that sound carefree but are much deeper. Carmen Miranda is full of joy. Rudy Vallee is an early matinee idol and had the feel of jazz. Marlene Dietrich always had a memorable attitude and it perfectly fits 'Just A Gigolo.' Nat King Cole had such a velvety sound. Bing Crosby's laidback attitude and his whole gentle musical personality were very appealing as he revolutionized the way that the microphone could be used. Judy Garland taught me in her singing how to communicate with audiences, always giving everything her all. Finally, Peggy Lee always had an understated cool about her that I admire.”
Julian Yeo makes no attempts to sound like any of these giants although they certainly would have enjoyed his renditions. He sings simply, improvises with subtlety, and always swings while doing justice to the lyrics. Because he looks for beautiful melodic lines and great lyrics, he only performs songs that he believes in, mixing together love songs such as “How Deep Is The Ocean” and “The Shadow Of Your Smile” with tunes that are pure fun (“Tico Tico” and “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon”), exotic (“Mon Manege a Moi”), full of deeper meanings (“Just A Gigolo”) and timeless (all 15 tunes).
Joining Julian throughout the program is his regular group which consists of pianist Jesse Gelber, guitarist Nick Russo, bassist Doug Largent, drummer Kevin Dorn and occasionally violinist Alan Grubner (who is featured on “It's Been A Long Long Time”). It is obvious, listening to the music, that the rhythm section and the singer think alike, blend together very well, show an obvious affection and a deep understanding for the vintage songs, and do justice to the material. There are many concise solos along the way from Gelber and Russo that lead from and into Julian's tasteful and quietly expressive vocals.
Julian Yeo thinks of himself as a retro-jazz vocalist with a “new-old” approach. He sounds like he could have comfortably fit into the 1930s pop/jazz scene, singing with equal skill in a swing or a sweet orchestra, inspired by the relaxed and lightly swinging phrasing of Bing Crosby and the other musical giants while sounding like himself. One can easily imagine him touring Europe and the United States, and it seems only a matter of time before his infectious singing gains a much wider audience. Homage is a major step forward in his career.
Jazz Journalist and author of ten books including The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Record 1917-76
About Julian: An original
retro-jazz-vocalist with a unique “new-old”
approach, Julian Yeo blends old school soul with celebrated
qualities of today (and sometimes with a twist). Following
Julian's critically acclaimed debut CD album 'Old, New,
Borrowed, Blue', Julian's latest CD 'Unusual Passage'
is an experience that’s quaint but highly addictive.
It has been an uncommon musical path for international
jazz/cabaret vocalist Julian Yeo. His path to singing
in the nightclubs of New York City began many miles
away. An Australian of Asian descent, Julian was a shy
kid decades away from his own personal musical heroes
like dapper Fred Astaire. “When I hear Fred Astaire
singing Irving Berlin songs; no matter what mood I’m
in, these songs always bring a smile to my face,”
It’s not surprising that a retro sound comes so
naturally to him. Singers from the 1920s and 30s are
what he most likes listening to: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire,
Rudy Vallee, Arthur Tracy (“The Street Singer”),
early Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, vocalists from the
“sweet bands”. But Julian Yeo is not satisfied
to just do a copycat re-creation. “I am a throwback,
I guess,” Julian explains. “It’s a
very intentional homage, but to do so slavishly is rather
pointless. People can still listen to those old records
any time. I want to bring the essence of that innocent,
timeless sound with a slightly hipper, knowing quality
of today and sometimes even with a darker twist.”
Julian brings a contemporary sensibility to the old
songs that works. Today meets yesterday, melding instead
A real sense of joy and playfulness is clear in his
singing. Julian is a guy who’d be very comfortable
with a big fedora, a megaphone, and totally at ease
in a time warp! The smile comes through and is contagious.
Quaint, perhaps, but also disarming and worth giving
"...a well crafted cd with passion and style,
standards freshened up in a very stylish sophisticated
manner. Everything about this cd says that there is
passion expressed in every track and a total conviction
to the Jazz idiom." - Peter Merrett,
PBS FM Melbourne, Australia
"This young man and this 'old music' are un
beautiful pair!" - Jean-Pierre Savouyaud,
Virus de Jazz, France.
"Fine and pleasing..." Vocalists of the week
on "A VOICE, A SOUL" - THE INTERNATIONAL
JAZZ VOICES PROGRAM, Bruno Pollacci, AnimaJazz, Pisa,
"...a nice and vivid CD, really like his style
and vocal skills, a very new experience I must say...",
- Joost for Jazz & Blues Tour with ASFM
"Pour a martini and raise the glass and an
eyebrow. It's all done very successfully and with craft.",
"With Julian Yeo's party-play-ready, intoxicating
throwback of an album sung with panache and pastiche,
he's someone to watch for the future" Rob Lester,
"He has outstanding vocals - especially in the
lower range. He was able to deliver his own special
spin on many of the songs - standards in a non-standard
way." - Stu Hamstra, Cabaret Hotline
"The singing is not by an artist trying to
blow you away with deafening vocals, but instead comprises
a subtle style that draws you in... Yeo does a marvelous
job of bringing some landmark songs back to the culture
and reminding us that classics never go out of style."
- J. Travis, Envy Man
'Old New Borrowed Blue' has been honored as an editor's
pick on CD Baby for Jazz Vocal and Traditional Jazz