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Jon Regen’s Optimism on Full Display with ‘Satisfied Mind’ 

 Jon Regen
Juan Patino
courtesy photo
Jon Regen

New York-based singer-songwriter Jon Regen returns with Satisfied Mind, a collection of songs that sees him lean comfortably into his jazz roots while losing none of the pop flourishes notable on recent albums such as Stop Time and Higher Ground. 

Accompanying him on the record is an all-star cast that includes Ron Carter, Rob Thomas and Pino Palladino, as well as Dave McMurray, Larry Goldings, Tim Lefebvre, Jeremy Stacey, Judith Owen, and Julia Kent among others. Returning to the producer’s chair this time is Matt Johnson of the legendary British funk/acid jazz outfit Jamiroquai. Having previously worked together on Higher Ground, Regen says that the somewhat unlikely combination proved a winning one that he was willing to revisit on this latest LP.

In particular, Regen notes, Johnson encouraged him to embrace more of his jazz proclivities and his prowess as a pianist, resulting in a varied album that celebrates maestro Keith Jarrett (“For Keith”), leans into the avant-garde (“Gino”) and sprinkles in plenty of pop along the way (“Nobody But You,” “My Song for You”).

The titular piece is something of a rarity in Regen’s body of work—a cover song. “Satisfied Mind” is a tune that he knew primarily from hearing Jeff Buckley perform it in the 1990s (most notably on the posthumously released Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. Written by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes, the tune has been covered by a dizzying array of artists ranging from John Martyn to Glen Campbell to Bob Dylan.

The tune perfectly summarizes the mood of the LP and speaks to the positive outlook Regen has taken to heart on his most recent outings.

Regen recently spoke with KMUW from his home in New York City about the making of the album, his work with Little Jimmy Scott, and how marriage and family have influenced his work.

Jon Regen’s music is featured throughout July on Strange Currency.

Interview Highlights

What makes this record different from ones that you’ve done in the past? 

There was a mantra of chasing songs and sounds and letting things be a little imperfect. Some of the pianos on the record were recorded on my iPhone. Some of the lyrics were written as the songs were being recorded. I think we were running on the adrenaline of feeling like we were tapping into some new energy on this album.

There’s also a heavier jazz element on this record even though there are a lot of pop tunes on it. Matt said that he wanted me to play more piano on this one. He said, “You’re a great jazz artist, why are you not playing more piano on your records?” I’ve had record companies tell me in the past, “Don’t play too many piano solos,” or, “Let’s make a radio edit.” None of that made anything more successful. I think I just made the record I wanted to make.

It makes sense that there would be a heavier jazz element because that’s where you came up. 

I did a roundtrip back into pop music. I loved pop music as a kid. I grew up listening to The Police and the Beatles and Billy Joel and Bruce Hornsby. When I was 17, I got really into jazz. I went to a summer session at the Eastman School of Music and that sent me in a whole other direction. I went to University of Miami Music School for a year, and then I studied with Kenny Barron for a couple of years at Rutgers. Then I hit the ground running, moved to New York, played with Little Jimmy Scott and Kyle Eastwood, had a bunch of well-received jazz records out on my own, and then I made a left turn back into more pop-oriented music with the first singer-songwriter record I made in 2004 called Almost Home. 

I think this record is the most developed example of me marrying pop and jazz. Take a song like “Nobody But You” that starts off like “Walk on the Wild Side,” then goes into a jazz solo, then goes into a gospel stomp. To me, it’s all music.

I think we’re roughly the same age and grew up in an era where eclecticism was prized in music. I was talking to another artist recently and he reminded me that for all the talk of Led Zeppelin being a heavy metal band there was always a wide variety of sounds on those albums. 

Individuality used to be celebrated. Artists got signed because they had a different perspective. …especially in jazz. Nowadays as a pianist, you’re expected to have a whole arsenal of tricks up your sleeve. But listen to Horace Silver. He sounded like Horace Silver.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m really comfortable in my own skin and I feel like the record that we made doesn’t sound like anybody else. It sounds like me and it sounds like me finding new sonic stories to tell.

You have to tell me a little bit about working with Little Jimmy Scott. 

Working with Jimmy was like going to school and church every night on the bandstand. And I think about him often when I’m singing my own songs. I had done a few years with Kyle Eastwood, who is a tremendous bass player. That was my first big sideman gig. I went from working in a restaurant in New York to touring and playing all of the biggest jazz festivals in the world in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. When that cycle with Kyle ended, I was home in New York and I got invited to the club Smoke to see someone play. I wasn’t feeling well but I went up to the club and saw [producer and promoter] Todd Barkan, who used to book Jazz at Lincoln Center; he had the Keystone Korner in San Francisco and produced a lot of terrific records.

I saw him go outside for a cigarette so I went to go chat with him. He said, “I heard that Jimmy Scott’s piano player is going to leave the band, would you be interested in that?” I said, “Sure.” I wasn’t even aware that he knew me that well. I heard nothing for months and then got a call out of the blue, “Can you do this jazz festival with Jimmy in downtown New York City?”

Next I did a duo gig with him at a tribute to Doc Pomus. I went to this church in the East Village and the first person I ran into was Lou Reed. I did those two gigs with Jimmy and the next thing I knew I was on tour with him for the better part of three years. All that to say: Sometimes you’ve gotta get out of your house and force yourself to be a part of the musical community.

To bring it back to Satisfied Mind: What I get from this record and the last couple on the lyrical front, is that you seem to be in a place where you seem comfortable with life and I think these records are good reminders that life can bring wonderful things our way if we’re just patient. 

One hundred percent. The life I lead today is many, many degrees away from where I lived it as a bachelor and as a touring musician. I spent the better part of 20 years never home. Home was a place to drop my suitcase. When I got married in 2014 and had my first kid at the age of 47, it was a complete sea change in my life. I think it was Susan Werner, who I recorded with years ago, who said, “Emotional bliss is a songwriter’s nightmare.” I always worried about that but I didn’t find that to be the case.

It's like B.C. and A.D. with my song titles: After being married I wrote a song called “Higher Ground” about how I’m a better man than I used to be. Before I got married, I had a song on my album Revolution called “She’s Not You (But Tonight She’ll Have to Do).” We live many different lives. Hopefully you don’t live the same life over and over again.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.