On the list of post-punk and New Wave bands that borrowed from jazz, the Police are right at the very top. Their songs are full of unconventional time signatures, complex chord arrangements and plenty of improvisational moments. Instrumentally, Gordon Sumner (aka Sting), Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland all had chops for days. Most of all, the Police could conjure mysterious, shadowy moods that few of their more stylish, synth-loving peers could match.
But the Police were also a pop band, and eventually a hugely successful one. They became a high-school favorite of multiple Houston Press Music Award-winning jazz singer Kristine Mills, who says she was "obsessed with" the UK trio.
"I loved both 'Roxanne' and 'Don't Stand So Close To Me,'" she says. "We all tried to figure out the backstory."
Now Mills, who released the non-jazz album asYETuntitled last year, has translated her love of the Police and Sting's solo work into a series of tribute concerts in Houston and New York, including tonight at the Tasting Room at Uptown Park. However the idea came not from Sting himself but Herbie Hancock's albums The New Standard and Possiblities, on which the recent Kennedy Center honoree tackles the likes of Prince, Sade, and Kurt Cobain.
Possibilities even includes a cover of Sting's "Sister Moon," which Mills says was "THE song that started the Sting conversation." Those records "changed my thinking about how songs considered 'popular' over time become classics," she adds. "With some arranging magic, they make sense as jazz tunes."
Sting is a former jazz musician himself, and Mills says his songs' thoughtful nature appeals to her both lyrically and musically. The two books he wrote contextualizing his songs, Broken Music and Lyrics, were also invaluable to her.
"He does some very interesting things in his music," she explains. "In all his works you can hear a hit of jazz in the way he approaches the work harmonically. As a singer, he gives you a lot to work with if you take the time to explore the songs fully."
Mills' New York-based Music Director, Steve Doyle, has arranged the entire program, which includes songs such as "Don't Stand So Close to Me," "Roxanne" and "Moon Over Bourbon Street" as well as "Sister Moon." She says the show has "really made me stretch both as a singer and a musician," and allowed her to step outside of a traditional jazz singer's role -- up to a point.
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"It is a nice break from the classic jazz from the Great American Songbook, but in fact we've not ventured too far off from taking a very jazz approach to the songs," Mills offers. "Steve added several references to other classic jazz songs within the structure of the arrangements.
"For instance Sting's song 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' is very close to the jazz classic Autumn Leaves,'" she explains. "Steve incorporated 'Autumn Leaves' into the solos, and I actually sing part that song in the middle of 'Moon Over Bourbon Street.'"
Mills and Doyle premiered the show last October in New York's Metropolitan Room, and have since done several more she says have gone "really well," and will return there next week. (Wednesday's show benefits Houston-based Bering Omega Community Services, a public-private partnership that assists people who have been affected by AIDS.) The duo is hoping to visit other cities and perhaps add other artists to their "New Standards" shows, which she reckons will allow them "to see how we can find either the jazz or blues in those songs."
As for Sting, "In understanding his stories behind the songs, this has allowed me to be clearer and more open with by interpretation of the songs," Mills says. "I'm a better performer as a result and am enjoying the process of telling the stories through selling these songs to the audience.
"It's been a real joy."
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