Spencer Day, the modern jazz singer-songwriter who has performed everywhere from Lincoln Center to the Hollywood Bowl, as well as appearing on CBS’ Star Search, is about to release his seventh studio album.
Broadway By Day, the artist’s debut project under Club44 Records, is a cohesive reexamination of beloved musical theater songs and a dazzlingly eclectic showcase for Day’s various talents and styles. Featuring classics like South Pacific’s “Bali Ha’i,” Evita’s “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” A Chorus Line’s “What I Did for Love,” and The King and I’s “Getting to Know You,” these songs are not typically heard in a pop/jazz context.
Produced by Day and Alex Frank, these creative genre-blurring arrangements also include special musical guests such as Grammy-nominated vocalist Jane Monheit and nine-time Grammy-nominated saxophonist David Koz.
After years of chart-topping hits of self-penned songs, Day thought it was finally time to dedicate an album to classic Broadway. He caught up with Instinct to talk more about it.
Spencer, thank you for taking some time to chat with me about your new album, Broadway By Day. Can you begin by telling us more about the album’s concept and what listeners can expect?
I’m a singer-songwriter/composer first and foremost, and for years, my former record label, people at Sirius Satellite Radio, friends, and fans have been like, when are you going to do a straight up jazz cover record? I love to sing covers, I always do in my shows, and I of course love jazz and Broadway like any self-respecting gay man, but I was always like, if I’m going to do a cover record, I can’t do the same thing that everybody else has done. I had to do something interesting and not cover songs that have been done to death. Like, “Fly Me to the Moon” is a perfectly fine song, but I can’t really think of anything else I would do with it that hasn’t already been done.
My co-producer Alex Frank, who I call the gayest straight man alive due to his very metrosexual style and vast knowledge of Broadway, was the one who suggested this. Of course, I knew a lot of the songs, but I still haven’t seen a great deal of the shows that some of these are from. Working with him was great in terms of realizing how many great, well-known Broadway songs have actually not been done to death, especially in a jazz context. That seemed to be the magic way in. We could give people not just obscure Broadway tunes, but well-known songs from shows like A Chorus Line and Annie and do them in a way that would still feel fresh and exciting. If I may say, I think we really hit it out of the ballpark.
Yeah, I noticed that all the tracks are old school classics from the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. Why did you choose these particular songs and not include more contemporary hits?
My voice is very specific, and that’s one reason why I love to write for other people. I didn’t ask for this voice [laughs]. I kind of always wanted a voice like Rufus Wainwright or Thom Yorke. Something kind of cooler sounding, but that is just not the sound that came out when I started singing.
So, we looked at several choices including Jason Robert Brown and Wicked, but it was really about what would work in this context. When we were putting it together, Alex said, absolutely no Andrew Lloyd Webber. I don’t like being told no on particulars, so I was like, oh, yes we are! I think he’s got some great songs, and they just seem to be the ones that fit.
We also realized during the process that we could do like three more records of Broadway songs, but these are the ones that seemed to fall together the most naturally and work with my voice. We started the project live with amazing jazz musicians in L.A., and then finished it with amazing mariachi musicians in Mexico, which is where I’m currently at. In the moment, I’d like to say there was more thought, but it was just more about what came together with a real ease and felt unique.
So, if Broadway By Day is a big success, you will move forward with a couple more Broadway cover albums?
Absolutely. There’s everything from Oliver to Next to Normal, there’s so many. It’s just finding a way with my particular voice since I don’t have a traditional Broadway voice.
What are you looking forward to the most about releasing this project out into the world?
From a professional point of view, I’m excited that this is the most support I’ve had in a long time. I’ve been independent for about 10 years, which has been great, but what’s wonderful is I feel like I still have the creative freedom, but I also have the support of a label, great management, and publicity. We’re already planning some tour dates in Europe and in the Midwest in the fall, so that’s pretty exciting.
Hopefully, in terms of Grammy nominations in the jazz category stuff, I feel like, not in a delusional Norma Desmond way, but I feel like we have a decent shot. Then musically, there’s just a lot of momentum behind it. The people that we’ve played it for, like celebrities, radio promoters, etc., they have just expressed a lot of excitement about it.
This may be tough to answer, but do you have a song on the album that was your absolute favorite to do?
Oh, that is a really good question. Honestly, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar because we’re kind of taking the concept of the song and flipping it on its head. Again, I had to convince Alex to include Andrew Lloyd Webber. He was very resistant, but we found a cool spaghetti western vibe for it.
Also, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You” from Evita. It’s not one of the biggest songs that’s usually done from that show, but I was really happy to incorporate a lot of the Mexican musicians down here and go straight to the source.
However, if I were to show anyone a track from the record to kind of sum up what it is that we’re doing, I’d probably send the first one, which is “One,” the big hit from A Chorus Line. Even here in Mexico, people may not know the whole song, but they know ‘one singular sensation.’ They know that, and it really hits it out of the park in terms of what you can expect from the record. It’s going to give you well-known songs, but in a very different way. So, those would probably be my top three.
Ultimately, what do you hope listeners take away from Broadway By Day?
I think after the last couple years with the shit show that we’ve had, I hope it just makes people feel good. Seriously, the album sounds like candy. It’s so enjoyable, and I think it holds together very well. I hope people are surprised by it and enjoy it, and I hope it’s an entrance point for Broadway people to appreciate more jazz interpretations. I also hope the jazz community, which can be kind of elitist and look down on Broadway as being too gay or cheesy, that it will remind them that some of jazz’s best songs came from musicals. There have been people who don’t like either jazz or Broadway say they really enjoy this album.
Is there a Broadway show you can watch over and over again and never be sick of?
In terms of a movie, Singin’ in the Rain. That film delights me every time I see it, as well as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The new West Side Story is also great. I feel like I can never get tired of that one. Onstage, I really like Stephen Sondheim’s Follies because you can do so much with the production. Same with any Sondheim production. I don’t get tired of them because between the word play and how much they’re about the actor carrying them, depending on who you see doing it, there’s so many ways for that to stay fresh.
Have you always had a passion for music and theatre?
Yes! I grew up Mormon in Utah, so there wasn’t a whole lot of that going around at the time. If you wanted to see a creative production, there was like the all-white production of Dreamgirls [laughs]. Not that it was meant to be offensive, but I think they just sourced whatever casting was available, which very much changes the plot and concept of the show. So, I didn’t really grow up in a super cool or funky area, but I think musicals were still considered very wholesome.
If it was on VHS, mostly MGM musicals, then that really inspired me because there was so much escapism. Being younger and wanting to be anywhere besides Utah in the 1980s, I was looking at the kids on the milk cartons with intense jealousy. That was my first entrance into the fantastical, then when I was either 17 or 18, a neighbor gave me my first Billie Holiday and Chet Baker CDs, and in a way, they were exotic and exciting while representing a world I wanted to be in.
At that time, I didn’t think I could do music, and I didn’t even consider doing it as a career, but I was kind of falling into it. I was just a mediocre waiter in San Francisco, and I started playing piano bars and dive bars. I was much better at that than waiting tables, but like I said, I didn’t think of it as a career. It more so gave me an outlet to release the angst that any younger gay Mormon would have built up inside of them.
Broadway By Day is your seventh album. How would you say you are constantly evolving as an artist?
I have gained confidence with recording and performing. I think a lot of younger people, especially gay people, they have to overcome a crippling amount of self-doubt and low self-esteem, and a part of that stays with you and can push you on to strive for more. When I listen to myself now in recordings, I’m not tentative, and that’s pretty exciting after doing this for many years. I know what I’m doing. Not in a cocky way, but when I go into a studio, I know how to do it, I know how to start it, I know what I like, I know what I don’t like, and I can do that in a passionate way. That’s a wonderful feeling.
What are some future goals you would like to accomplish with your career?
One of the reasons why I’m here in Mexico is to do a project called La Frontera, which means “The Border” or “The Wall,” and this is a passion project. I’ve wanted to do this long before the Trump era. I have become fascinated and very sympathetic to the relationship between the two countries and a lot of the people that are kind of stuck between two worlds. I am realizing how there’s all these parallels in terms of the divides that we put up between humans.
So, that’s been my real passion project. It’s all original music. I’ve done a few remixes for my chill downtempo electronica project, and Kygo featured one in his summer palm tree playlist thing, which was great, so I’d love to do more of those. Also, writing for other people in film and stage. Those are my greatest long-term dreams, so hopefully they’re coming.
Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you would like to mention or plug?
I think that’s it! We have some tour dates coming up, so I guess people can be on the lookout for that, and hopefully a lot more soon.