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Johnny Mathis at San Jose Civic

In Music
GOOD TIDINGS: Veteran vocalist Johnny Mathis comes to San Jose for a Christmas concert.

GOOD TIDINGS: Veteran vocalist Johnny Mathis comes to San Jose for a Christmas concert.

Pop stars and genres of popular music come and go. But a select few performers manage to endure floating above the rapidly flowing stream contemporary culture. Johnny Mathis has stayed aloft for more than 60 years now.

Recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, member of that organization’s Hall of Fame and an artist with more than 70 albums placing on the Billboard charts, the 84-year-old singer remains active as both a performer and recording artist.

Mathis released his self-titled debut album in 1956; it didn’t chart, but his follow-up album, released a year later, was a hit. Wonderful Wonderful established Johnny Mathis as a top-tier artist; the title track was his first hit—and the first of more than 40 singles to land on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart. His third single, 1957’s “Chances Are,” topped out at No. 1. Half a century on—and with nothing left to prove—Mathis still does studio work. His most recent album, Johnny Mathis Sings the Great New American Songbook, was released in 2017.

“It’s something that I’ve been doing all my life,” Mathis says, explaining his continued interest in recording music. “I’ve been doing it so long that if I don’t do it, I think something’s wrong.” Mathis says for him, album releases are “a way to keep in touch with audiences that constantly change. There are always new people to try to get to listen to you. And I have one thought in mind when I sing, and that is to try to sing for as many people as I can.”

Recording techniques have changed a great deal since Mathis began his career. At the beginning, everything was cut live in the studio with the musicians performing alongside him. With a chuckle, he calls that method “get or no-get: whatever was there when you finished, that was what they were going to release!”

As technology advanced—and as Mathis’ stature grew to the point where he was calling the shots—he says that a different approach was used. “You would go in and record, take it home and listen to it and call them back and say, ‘I want to change this, I want to change that,’” he recalls.

Today, audio recording is even more advanced. Pitch-correction software and digital editing techniques make it possible to alter even the most nuanced aspects of a performance. “Nowadays it’s really quite wonderful,” Mathis enthuses. “Because if you don’t get it right, you can do it over a thousand times. There are all sorts of ways of taking one little part of the song from this one and put it on that one.”

When it comes to Johnny Mathis, though, all that studio trickery need only be applied sparingly. While he’s at an age when most singers’ voices have lost some of their luster, Mathis’ voice remains mellifluous, capable of delivering a wide range of material. Asked what he does to keep his voice in shape, Mathis has a ready answer: “You don’t do anything!”

But then he explains what he means. “You don’t stay up late, you don’t drink, you don’t do all sorts of crazy stuff,” he says with a hearty laugh.

Though he’s made gospel and disco albums (and even had a minor hit with a swinging, uptempo cover of Santana’s “Evil Ways” in 1970), Mathis is best known for his romantic balladeering, a characteristic that earned him the playful nickname “Johnny Mattress.” But he has a long history with Christmas music, too. Mathis released his Merry Christmas album in 1958; that blockbuster record (more than 5 million copies sold) would be the first of six holiday-themed albums in his catalog. The holiday remains a centerpiece of his concert His upcoming San Jose date is one of four special Christmas shows scheduled this season.

Mathis has already started booking Christmas shows for 2020. “My voice still sounds good, and I’m still excited about the next project,” he says. In the meantime, he has a busy touring schedule with dates across the US. “Music is like this great big elephant in my life,” he says. “Only, it’s a pink elephant. And it’s lots of fun.”

Johnny Mathis Christmas Concert
Dec 14, 8pm $75+
San Jose Civic

 

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