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Events

Ron Kaplan complete interview Jazz Improv NY Sing into Spring April '09 edition

Sing Into Spring article….Ron Kaplan

Can you talk about some of the things that are currently happening in your career that you are excited about?

This past December a double CD entitled Ron Kaplan Best was released in China featuring 34 songs from 6 of my recordings. I am excited and hopeful about the possibilities to reach new audiences and to represent American Jazz and the Great American Songbook abroad.

I am also delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with Michael Feinstein and his new Foundation for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook and the Charitable Organization I founded in 2004 American Songbook Preservation Society…Singing the Great American Songbook. We have very similar missions and goals for keeping this music and it’s history in front of the public for new generations.
As I am able to raise my profile I can do more and more for this art form and passion of mine. We are currently in the process of editing a documentary film on behalf of GreatAmericanSongbook.org in order to make our case for support for our mission.

In addition to your involvement in music, what other activities help provide balance and fulfillment in your life?

I live in a beautiful place called Santa Cruz, California in the Monterey Bay. I take daily walks near my home as a way to maintain my health, and am able to enjoy the ocean vista and wildlife in all its forms. I find that for me, walking is good for the mind and body, and it allows my mind to meditate and wander. This is a place where I have conceived, incubated and hatched many an idea that has come to fruition.

I also love film and watch many on cable or at the three local indie movie theaters in the county. I also take occasional roles in small indie films as an actor. It is almost as fun as singing. I also love Biography and American Masters programming.
Enjoying people and conversation, family and friends, appreciating the precious moments of now, and being mindful of my personal journey in this amazing universe.

Who are some of the influential artists with whom you have performed that have created demands and challenges for you, therefore influencing your development, perspective, life understandings, and personal growth? How have they done so?

As a musician whose axe happens to be his voice, I have always had the mindset of being a work in progress. I do my best to learn from each musical experience and musician and grow with the intention of evolving as an artist. The work of mastery is never done, and the work changes as we age and our experience and perspective change, and as our body changes as we age. Many musicians learn to do and say more with less, know what to leave out and what to imply. It is an ongoing process, as is continuing to peal away the layers of the onion in exposing our vulnerabilities and embodying the song so as to reveal its truth.

What are your top five desert island vocal albums, and please state why.

Everybody’s Bopin’…Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (their best effort, and its just simply a great recording)

Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely…(my favorite FS album, great album with a blue feel. I love a good ballad and have been characterized in the past as a blues balladeer)

About The Blues…Julie London (one of my favorite female singers with great repertoire that I find I can identify with as a male vocalist)

Letter From Home…Eddie Jefferson (you gotta' love his style. I dig his take and would love to have his vocalese skill set. I could never figure out who influenced who between he and King Pleasure)

Ella and Louis with the Oscar Petersen trio recordings (1956-1957) (great duets with two of our finest legends)

Self consciousness can be the enemy of creativity, and it takes the most strength for a singer to diffuse it. If you’ve experienced that kind of performance anxiety or nervousness in your career, what helped you and how did/do you overcome it?


I am reminded of the Miles Davis statement that surprised me but also inspired me. He said something to the effect that “If you are not nervous, you are not in the game”. It surprised me in that he was typically characterized as nonchalant and detached, but this quote invites further inspection and may even explain why he might have turned his back on the audience in not wanting to be distracted and lose focus, or simply shy underneath his projected personality of ultra confidence.

Going back to junior high and high school plays and musicals, in the theater world, there is a term referred to as stage fright. This is a natural and normal feeling to experience right before going on stage and can actually give you a boost as a performer by adrenal zing yourself for the “fight or flight” response that increases your awareness and focus. Not a bad thing really. Over the years I look for that sensation of fear as a welcome friend. If I don’t experience it, then I am not really in the game, as Miles would say. Now, having said that, there is a type of anxiety that can be completely crippling and paralyzing sometimes referred to as performance anxiety. I have only experienced this once during a gig in the middle of a difficult song where the vocals were very much out front. All I can say about it is that it overwhelmed me coming out of nowhere and it was a challenge to get through the song midway through the set. I was taken aback in it being something I have never experienced as a performer in all of my years. I would never want to experience it again under any circumstances and was able to not feed it but acknowledge it on the next two songs. It never reappeared and was a valuable experience if nothing more than an exercise in including the unexpected in the space and time of the moment and to recognize the nature of the beast as it were.

What were some of your early influences and turning points that solidified your desire to follow this life path as an artist?

Singing is what comes most naturally to me. I always had an innate affinity for music and song. My father was a trumpet player and my mother played the phonograph and the radio. I grew up in the 1950's when the popular music of the day was the Great American Songbook and the Popular Standards featuring the best talent of the 20th century. When there was a great song, all of these singers had their own arrangement of it. This repertoire is the basis of the Great American Songbook.

I once asked myself the question as a 41-year-old adult: "If God could give me one job in life to do, what would it be?" The answer came right away...to SING. That started me back on the road to singing and performing after putting that on the shelf for a dozen years when I was building and raising a family, but listening to instrumental jazz.

I believe that getting back into music saved both my emotional life and marriage. As Duke Ellington once put it, “music is my mistress”. I was able to channel my emotions into the creative pursuit of music and musicality, rather than self-destructive behavior that many of us engage in when bored or detached emotionally in our lives. It gave me a vehicle to express myself and become part of a community that remains rewarding emotionally to this day.

The act of co-creating with other musicians is not unlike being lovers, in that the experience is shared and creates a bond in love and in a loving and respectful manner under the best circumstances. This experience brings people including the audience together in ways that religion attempts to do and is often alike a religious experience where the ego self dissolves and one becomes part of the collective self.

Could you talk about your musical background? What steps did you take to get where you are now? What were your studies like? How did you develop your skills?


I believe that singers are born and not raised. I was born a singer. Singing is what comes most naturally to me. As far back as I can remember, I always had an innate affinity for music and song. There are anecdotal stories of me singing into a wooden spoon as if it were a microphone at age two or three.

I suppose that I have simply followed my inclination to sing and was able to recognize when doing it in various contexts or formats; the ones that resonated with my core being and natural talent, and the ones that did not. As an example, for some singing in a choir with other voices is it, or a barbershop or madrigal with your own part is it. For me, it is as a voice with other instruments. I learned how to play other instruments so that I could accompany myself, but realized that my real talent was for singing and not as an instrumentalist. I also wrote and performed songs in the folk-rock genre that were a great experience and rewarding, but enjoyed working with others musicians who could follow “accompany” me and embellish musically where I lacked the skills. When I put my playing aside and came back to music after years of listening, but “laying out”, I simply focused on singing. I learned the jazz standards and found the proper key signatures for my particular timbre, and most importantly found a mentor who invested his time in my development as a singer, and gave me the opportunity to sit in week after week, year after year. There is a great tradition in jazz of mentoring other developing musicians, and I have found myself in this role paying back what was given me.

What advice do you have for young singers who are looking to develop their own voice and the ability to do this professionally?

I believe that anyone can deliver a song if they find their true and authentic voice. I'm sure that most of us have seen and heard someone without a great voice deliver a song in such an authentic way, that it works! The lyric and the intention of the song come through loud and clear. This is what I believe is our duty as singers; to find our own true and natural voice; in essence, our own true self.

This is not something one can fake. The audience knows if it is real and true. This I believe is also the goal as a singer, to become ourselves and peal away the layers of the onion so to speak of falseness, and to find the song within our self and to reveal it to others. In acting, we call these making brave choices, by revealing ourselves and our own vulnerabilities as human beings, casting aside our vanity in the process.
This is a process that takes many years to develop and the process never ends. One has to simply do it time and again. It could take singing a song dozens or even hundreds of times to investigate all of the aspects and approaches to one particular song. Even then, each time you take it out and dust it off, it is an adventure in most of all, being present within yourself, and being cogniscent of the musicians you are playing with, listening deeply, responding accordingly, and a keen awareness of the space in which you are performing, and the audience you are performing to.

What is it about jazz that draws you to it? There are so many styles of singing—why jazz?

As a singer, I know that in the core of who I am, that I am compelled to sing, and the meditation of that process nurtures me at the deepest level of my soul. It is also the one way that I have found to express my true Self personally, artistically and spiritually. Being inside the moment of the song is an eternal and joyful experience that gives me an opportunity to be fully engaged in life and to comprehend and participate on an intuitive level that is fully engaging, akin to being in the zone so to speak, and particularly in the idiom of jazz with the opportunity to improvise and co-create, time expands and I discover the many choices I have from my palate to paint my canvas in those eternal moments of now.

What is the most rewarding facet of your life as an artist?

As a singer, I know that in the core of who I am, that I am compelled to sing, and the meditation of that process nurtures me at the deepest level of my soul. It is also the one way that I have found to express my true Self personally, artistically and spiritually. Being inside the moment of the song is an eternal and joyful experience that gives me an opportunity to be fully engaged in life and to comprehend and participate on an intuitive level that is fully engaging, akin to being in the zone so to speak, and particularly in the idiom of jazz with the opportunity to improvise and co-create, time expands and I discover the many choices I have from my palate to paint my canvas in those eternal moments of now.

What is the greatest compliment that a listener can give you?

That they listen to my music and have incorporated it into their own lives by allowing it to become part of their personal environment and musical landscape. This after all is my greatest desire, to share my music with others. I simply want the opportunity to do it more often and expand my listening audience, and to carry on the tradition and craft. As George Gershwin one wrote, “Jazz is America’s folk music”.

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