Jon Regen was in the shower at his New York home when the idea came to him for a new song.
“I heard the phrase, ‘there’s a revolution inside my heart’ in my head,” he recalls. “I ran out of my shower, almost slipped across my floor and sat down at my piano.”
In minutes he had a lyric and melody for the title track of “Revolution,” a fine album that features Andy Summers of the Police and bears comparison with recordings by Bruce Hornsby, Billy Joel, Harry Connick Jr., John Legend and Leonard Cohen.
Regen, who plays in London tomorrow as part of a tour to promote the disc, finished the composition by turning away from his normal Steinway. He used a retro drumbeat supplied by a $35 1981 Casio keyboard he’d bought at a thrift store. “My girlfriend at the time said, ‘what are you going to do with that? You’re a jazz piano player.’”
Indeed, Regen has moved into singer-songwriting territory from pure jazz, where he accumulated serious credentials. He was raised in Maplewood, New Jersey, performed his first gig at the age of 16 in an Irish pub and later worked with Kenny Barron, Jimmy Scott and Kyle Eastwood.
His jazz LP “From Left to Right” came out in 1996. Shortly after, Summers was impressed when he heard Regen improvising at a festival. “He said, ‘that sounds really nice,’” Regen says. “For me, it was one of the biggest validations of my career.”
The two became friends: Summer’s distinctive guitar graces “Spirits of the Soul,” a track as good as some crafted by his Police mate Sting. The song was co-authored with U.K. soulster David McAlmont; Regen has also written with Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas.
Regen’s name also attracted appearances from Martha Wainwright, and members of Tom Petty and Bonnie Raitt’s bands. Regen financed recording on his credit card -- he jokes he’s still paying it off -- and handled his own publicity.
“The story is,” he says, “how does a guy that nobody knows make a record like this?”
Regen’s CDs stood out in my review pile because they came from the artist himself, and also because they were better than most of the others, which tend to be mediocre copycats swimming in record-company hype.
Bigger record companies and concert halls beckon, while Regen, a youthful 41-year-old with cropped black hair and wearing a T-shirt, says he wants to push himself beyond his comfort zone.
“Whether it’s a new instrument or a new piece of literature,” he says, “something to take you off the path you’ve always been on.”
Jon Regen plays with bassist P.J. Phillips and drummer John Miller in London tomorrow, May 2, at the Pheasantry, 152 Kings Road, Chelsea, SW3 4UT. His Revolution tour continues with dates in Slovakia, Austria, Washington D.C., Italy and Germany.
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(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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