The criteria for defining jazz singing will probably be argued for the rest of time. But no matter which side of the argument one may be on, there can be no doubt that Giacomo Gates is an authentic jazz vocalist. Heavily steeped in the traditions of the original vocal improvisers from Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald through their modern counterparts Betty Carter and Leon Thomas, Giacomo's own approach draws most heavily from the bebop-rooted masters like Jon Hendricks, Babs Gonzales, King Pleasure and most of all, Eddie Jefferson. Like his influences, Gates has forged his own unique path.
In his own words, "In this kind of music it's about intention, honesty and what comes through in your voice - the Experience of Life." Without question, Giacomo's life experience is unlike any other jazz artist that may come to mind. Blessed with a full-bodied and mellifluous voice, extraordinary rhythmic precision and an unerring sense of lyricism, Gates' total command of the vernacular, boundless creativity and exuberant passion set him apart from nearly every other vocalist on the scene. However, he didn't display his talents to the public-at-large until 1990, at 40 years of age. Prior to that, Gates led the life of a hardworking blue collar everyman. After a number of years driving everything from school buses to cattle transporters to 18-wheelers, Giacomo departed for the Alaskan wilderness in 1975, working for 14 years in a variety of jobs, including three years on the Alaska Pipeline.
"Two things always struck me out there," Giacomo says of that experience, "feeling insignificant and feeling very alive." With severe risk to life and limb from all sorts of dangers ranging from geographic disorientation to heavy machinery accidents to hungry polar bears, Gates was confronted with sights, sounds and experiences that had a profound effect upon his being, and therefore his art.
Although he had always been exposed to music since early childhood, singing and playing guitar through his teenage years, there were no real opportunities to perform in Alaska until nearly the end of his time there. Looking for growth and development even as a construction worker, Gates would occasionally leave Alaska to spend time in places like Washington State and Tucson, Arizona working on new projects and learning the use of new equipment. In those more civilized environments, he would perform whenever possible, sitting in on a variety of musical activities. In the late ‘80s, he had many opportunities to do the same in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he occasionally moonlighted as a bouncer in local clubs. After much encouragement from local and visiting performers, Giacomo decided to return to his native Connecticut and devote full attention to his music.
Like his mentors, Gates would sometimes translate great instrumental solos into Vocalese, including the works of Lee Morgan, Chet Baker, Gene Ammons, Charlie Rouse and many others, also penning lyrics to classic jazz compositions. In citing his influences, Giacomo states "Some of my favorite singers are Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster and Lester Young. They were singing through the horn. If that isn't singing, I don't know what is!"
From that perspective, Giacomo sometimes vocalizes as an instrument – trombone, flute, bass and even drums. There's no contrivance or gimmic