Clive Davis is a champion of singer/musician Curtis Stigers, who had a couple of enormous mainstream hit singles and then made the journey from pop to jazz years ago. Sadly, it seemed at first that only seven people noticed his migration, including Clive—or as, as wardy observed, seven and two ragged tigers.

This year, on the basis of one single I heard on the radio, I bought East Of Angel Town by Peter Cincotti, who made the opposite transition. I’m making that single, Angel Town [MP3, 4.3Mb], available temporarily to encourage you to buy the album too. Download it now before it’s gone. East Of Angel Town sounds like it had the budget of Gladiator spent on it. In fact, some of the people involved in the last over-produced album I raved about were also involved in the making of this one. After a live small band performance of another track from the album, you can see the cash being thrown at parts of the fully arranged recording in this extract from a TV show on YouTube [lower-resolution—and therefore faster downloading—version here.]

When that sequence was shot, last year, Cincotti was only 24. It’s an advantage for him (I think), given his demographic, that he looks like a well-preserved thirtysomething. He certainly performs like someone older. Two interesting things: according to his MySpace page, although East of Angel Town has been released and promoted all over Europe, it doesn’t come out in the States until the 27th of January next year; according to the intriguing blog thread headed by the following post, Cincotti’s producer, David Foster, used to have perfect pitch, but he doesn’t any more:

Is Perfect Pitch Dying Out Like the Honeybees?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard several accounts of perfect pitch recently starting to fade for people who’d possessed the faculty all their lives. Other musicians have reported hearing the same.

I’m no expert on perfect pitch, but, as a musician, it’s something I’ve been around for years. (I, myself, don’t possess it – and wouldn’t want to, as it would annoy me when listening to musicians tuned above or below the standard A440, or using non-traditional and microtonal tunings.) But I’ve never before heard of perfect pitch fading. I’m guessing it’s a new – or, at least, newly common – phenomenon, and surely a great subject for some enterprising psychology graduation student to study.

The discussion below this is fascinating. I don’t believe perfect pitch is “dying out”. And I also think that people are becoming more sensitive to deviations in relative tuning, just as they became more sensitive to deviations in timing, and for similar reasons. When drum machines became widespread in the 80s and I was listening to lots of music that relied on them, the rhythmic looseness of a lot of recorded music from the 60s and 70s started to set my teeth on edge. Similarly, since the arrival of quartz-locked electronic instrument tuning and pitch correction software, I find it increasingly difficult to tolerate errors in my own or anyone else’s intonation. I don’t have anything like perfect pitch, but there are albums of stuff I can’t listen to any more.

This technological trend has had other odd side-effects. When bands used to play with instruments that were less accurately tuned to begin with and which also were more prone to drift out of (and into) tune during performances, the differences between the guitars and keyboards and vocals at any given moment and over the course of a track “thickened” the overall sound. This richness now has to be generated with various kinds of electronic post-processing. A related kind of manipulation—now made possible by pitch-correction software itself—that has become fashionable is to shift a generally accurate vocal performance up slightly so that it is, on average, microtonally sharp. This has two flattering effects: because most pop singers slide up to notes, it renders the attack of each of their top lines closer to the correct note; and because the melody is then slightly out of tune with the rest of the recording (which, as pointed out previously, is very tightly in tune with itself) it psychologically lifts the singer out of the backing and into the foreground. [And I’m not even going to get started on this year’s Kanye West album…]

Irony roundup:

  • Curtis Stigers migrates from pop to jazz in the face of stubborn opposition from Clive Davis the record producer, but his change of direction is praised by Clive Davis the music critic.
  • Peter Cincotti goes the other way, insisting on being backed by New York’s finest, and then tours the resulting album around Europe for months before it even gets a US release.
  • Computer scientists develop technology to manipulate the pitch of any melody instrument, including the human voice, almost undetectably and it’s used by music producers to put bad performances in tune and good ones out of tune.

That’s showbiz.