Editor’s Note: The 2015 Atlanta Jazz Festival returns to Piedmont Park this weekend with a stellar line-up of musicians. To mark the festival, our regular contributor Franklin Abbott interviewed vocalist, composer and producer Tony Hightower. Be sure to also read Franklin’s Q&A with percussionist Emrah Kotan. To see the full lineup of performances this weekend at the Jazz Festival, visit atlantafestivals.com.
By Franklin Abbott
Multi-talented Tony Hightower will appear at the Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont Park this coming Sunday, May 24, at 6:30 p.m. He will be presenting songs from his album, The New Standard. Backing Tony will be some of Atlanta’s best jazz musicians including Kenny Banks, Jr., Kevin Smith, Henry Coneway, III and The Good Times Brass Band. He promises a show that is both intimate and one that will swing.
Tony was born into a musical family. His mother is Theresa Hightower, the Atlanta based Soul to Blues to Jazz singer. Tony says that growing up with his mother, who raised him as a single mom, meant he went to all her shows and was exposed to many of the finest musicians in town. He says, “whatever you are around is going to be an influence.” A lot of what Tony was around growing up was jazz.
He got his first professional gig at 14 as a drummer and had a record contract as part of the neosoul group 4.0 right out of high school. He toured with the group for the next five years. He said he fantasized that “one day I’m going to make a record like Nat King Cole and perform in a tux holding a brandy snifter.”
Tony’s dream is coming true.
But Tony doesn’t just sing. He writes some of his songs in the style of old standards at the suggestion of his mentor Freddie Cole. He is a record producer and his worked with Outkast, Goody Mob and Lionel Ritchie. He is the voice you hear on many commercials including ones for Coca Cola, Kroger and the Georgia Lottery. And he acts. Tony has now toured with five of Tyler Perry’s plays. In the last one, Madea’s on the Run, he plays his first villain. He says that working with Tyler Perry is fast paced and that the “amazing” director requires his cast to “be in the moment.” Tony is shifting his acting focus from the stage to television and hopes to announce soon his role in a new TV show he just started taping.
Tony takes care of himself by daily workouts at the gym, drinking lots of water and regular three mile runs. He says he runs for his voice, that the stronger his lungs are the easier it is for him to vocalize. Tony’s voice is similar to Smokey Robinson’s and Johnny Mathis.’ When he wants to he can float a note up into the clouds. He also has an excellent sense of rhythm from his background as a drummer. Tony has the musical ability, the stage presence and the dapper good looks that will carry him to prominence.
Just a few days short of his 30th birthday, Tony connects well with the younger generation. Part of what draws him to jazz is to bring back “class and cool” to youth who are often influenced in negative ways. He empathizes. His father wasn’t around when he was growing up, he came through the world of hip hop and says he went through “many phases.” When he talks to young people about his life in music he says they get him, “real recognizes real.” Tony hopes to bring jazz to that younger audience and with it the class and cool of his idols Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. Tony is grateful for this opportunity to perform at the festival and thanks festival director Camille Love and Atlanta’s jazz community for welcoming him.
Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and poet. Find out more at franklinabbott.com.