The Compilation

You won’t find many debut albums as varied and accomplished as¬†The Compilation¬†by¬†Jonathan Michael. The Toronto-based vocalist takes pride in the fact that he ignores any pressure to remain in an easily-defined genre box, preferring instead to work with material from many different styles.

“I chose¬†The Compilation¬†as the album title as it represents favourite pieces across the variety of genres that I have performed over the past ten years,” Jonathan explains.

He comes by his eclecticism naturally. Educated at the internationally-renowned St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto, he was schooled in classical music from an early age. He was simultaneously a fan of Top 40 pop and r ‘n b music, then later fell in love with both the classical crossover and big band jazz genres.

All these influences now coalesce seamlessly on The¬†Compilation, a collection of songs given cohesion by Jonathan’s always convincing vocal performances, the crisp production work of Michael Tompa, and the stellar musicianship of the featured players here.

The album is the culmination of a long musical journey for Jonathan Michael. He has long impressed as a performer in a diverse range of styles and musical settings, but he took his time in getting his first solo recording done just right.

Not that he is a novice to the recording process, however. “I had recorded in the past as a member of St. Michael’s Choir,” he explains. “In 1988, I was featured as a soprano soloist on the Choir School’s fifth album,¬†Shout For Joy.¬†I have made some other recordings with taped instrumental backing, and I’ve also sung on some albums by the Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra, but this is my first recording experience as a solo artist with live musicians.”

This opportunity came out of the work Jonathan has done in recent years with the renowned big band jazz ensemble Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra and other projects arising from that. “Everything fell into place at the beginning of this year,” Jonathan recalls. “Just after the New Year I got a call from Andris Krumins, a bassist I worked with in the orchestra. He asked if I’d be the guest vocalist for their jazz band, The Jazz Forge, at the Gate 403 club in Toronto, and we had a lot of fun working together.”

In turn, Jonathan called upon some of these players when he and his longtime musical colleague, keyboardist Rick Maltese, decided to organize a concert that would help raise funds to record a solo album.

Upon the recommendation of a classmate from choir school, Jonathan then contacted up and coming producer Mike Tompa, and recording time was booked¬†at the Merriam School of Music in Oakville. “I rehearsed together with Rick and our rhythm section of Andris and drummer Ravi Danesh, with violinist Ian Chau joining us on the last day of rehearsal. That added a whole new dimension to the project,” notes Jonathan. Fully primed, the group then laid down some 23 tracks in just two days, later whittling the collection of songs down to the fifteen on the album.

The generally sparse and intimate instrumental setting places the spotlight on Jonathan’s strong and melodic tenor and the musical and lyrical strengths of the material he has carefully selected. His voice is equally at home on an American Songbook standard like “My Funny Valentine” and pop classics like “You Don’t Own Me,” “Always On My Mind” and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” while the Boz Skaggs hit “We’re All Alone” is given a fresh remake here.

Jonathan’s treatment of adult contemporary pop songwriter Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity” has real radio potential, while the dynamic arc of popular film theme song “Cinema Paradiso” makes it another highlight of a collection devoid of lowlights. His affinity with the musical theatre genre is shown with his version of Andrew Lloyd webber’s “All I Ask Of You,” from¬†Phantom Of The Opera. Accompanied only by piano and violin, Jonathan Michael’s voice soars in compelling fashion here.

The superb¬†vocal performance of Jonathan Michael on this record testifies to the value of his intensive early musical education. Enrolling at St. Michael’s Choir School at age seven meant that from this young age Jonathan was involved in choral singing for 45 minutes each day, plus singing at one of the four masses in St. Michael’s Cathedral every weekend. The in-demand choir would tour in Canada and the U.S. twice a year, and Jonathan also regularly participated in the Choir’s annual Christmas concerts at Toronto’s famed Massey Hall.

His love of choral singing remained when Jonathan moved to Ottawa to attend Carleton University, where he graduated with a Master’s degree in psychology. “I became affiliated with some churches in Ottawa, serving as cantor,” he explains. During summer vacations he would also perform at various Toronto functions in a vocal quartet. Upon beginning his career as a counselor back in Toronto, he stayed active as a cantor at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, a role he continues to this day.

A musical turning point came in 2004 when Jonathan was exposed to the sound of classical crossover music (sometimes termed popera). Such artists as Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and Russell Watson were bringing classical music to a mainstream pop audience, with great success, and this style (especially the work of Groban) immediately resonated with Jonathan.

“Initially I thought of myself as strictly a classical crossover singer, but working with a pianist and the big band orchestra has meant my repertoire has really expanded,” he notes.

Jonathan Michael’s mastery of all these different styles is now fluently showcased on¬†The Compilation. This debut album has been a long time coming, but it has definitely been well worth the wait.

You can purchase the album from Jonathan Michael’s website.