Pianist and singer Anthony Strong paid his dues as a session musician with the likes of Michael Bolton, Charlotte Church and Beverley Knight.
But Strong has emerged from the shadows as the most talked about, critically acclaimed performer on the British jazz scene, having been compared to superstars Michael Bublé and Jamie Cullum.
His growing legion of fans include Michael Parkinson, Rod Stewart – not to mention Jamie Cullum himself.
Now, Strong is set to delight the Summer Night Jazz audience at Plas Newydd, on Anglesey on Saturday, July 7, where he’s topping the bill with his own brand of feel-good music.
A crowd-pleasing Brazilian Latin band called Banda Bacana will be generating a carnival atmosphere and there will also be a New Orleans-style jazz ensemble made up of members of Beaumaris Brass Band.
After an absence of seven years, the festival was revived last year and was a big hit with the thousands of jazz lovers who flocked to the scenic Plas Newydd that looks across the Menai Strait towards Snowdonia.
The comeback was the brainchild of Gwyn Evans, a peripatetic music teacher with Gwasanaeth Ysgolion William Mathias (William Mathias Schools’ Service) whose many other hats include that of Musical Director of the multi-award winning Beaumaris Brass Band.
He has once again been supported by Gaerwen-based home improvements specialists, Peninsula, who have a long track record of supporting the arts and also sponsored last year’s event.
Gwyn, who also plays the trumpet and sings, will also be performing with his own band, Dr Jazz.
As well as the jazz night on the Saturday night, on the Sunday there will be a celebration of youth with local bands, choirs and orchestras will be taking part.
Strong is thrilled to be performing in Wales for the first time as, despite being raised in London, he has strong Welsh ties.
He said: “Dad was from Gwent; in fact the whole of his family originates from the area so I visited Wales, and not just Gwent, a great deal as I grew up. It’s a fabulous country and I love the Welsh people.
“I’m really looking forward to Summer Night Jazz at Plas Newydd, there’s something special about an open air concert. It certainly makes for a great atmosphere.”
Born in London in 1984, Strong studied at the Junior Royal Academy of Music and The Purcell School of Music before embarking on a four year Jazz Degree at The Guildhall School of Music.
He admits to coming to jazz a bit later than many of his contemporaries and might not have made the leap at all if it hadn’t been for a teacher at the Purcell School of Music.
He explained: “I went to Purcell as a clarinetist but spent about five hours a day tinkering about on a piano.
“A jazz teacher told me I should give it a try and concentrate on piano. It took me a while to see the light but eventually I had to give it a go.
“I started off as a session musician really and worked with people such as Michael Bolton, Charlotte Church, Beverley Knight and others. But eventually decided it was time to step out from the shadows and give it a go myself.
“I worked hard and I think I have paid my dues and developed my own style. It’s true I am always being compared to Michael Bublé and Jamie Cullum in particular and that’s fine but I think we are very different.
“Michael Bublé is to me, a performer, a brilliant performer, but a performer none the less. I would class myself more as a musician. I want to absolutely nail the music; it has to be bang on, that to me is more important than the performance.”
He added: “But it’s still an honour to be spoken about on the same lines as people so massively talented. Let’s face it, Bublé, what a voice and Jamie Cullum, what a musician.
“However, the musician I admire most is probably Harry Connick, his voice and musical ability, he has it all.”
And after a decade learning his trade 26-year-old Strong is making his mark on the jazz scene and, more importantly, according to the critics, helping push jazz into the mainstream.
Strong says he has a busy year ahead with a string of international dates as well as Summer Night Jazz.
He released his EP “Delovely” in September last year to critical acclaim and was thrilled it went straight to the top of the Amazon Jazz Download Chart.
Following the release of “Delovely”, Strong, and his band, performed sell-out shows at the London Jazz Festival, Dubai Jazz Festival and Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
And he will be playing at festivals right across Europe with performances in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain and Portugal already lined up.
He said: “I also had the opportunity to write a film score for a short film last year and would love to score a feature film sometime in the future.
“But speaking of ambitions, two top my list. The first is to sell a million records, that’s when I will know I have truly made it as a musician and the second is to perform with Diana Krall, what a lady, what a voice.”
And while Krall, the wife of Elvis Costello, won’t be at Plas Newydd, the National Trust Property that is the home of the Marquis of Anglesey for Summer Night Jazz, Anthony Strong will be.
And if you love jazz classics and like to hear new material performed by a new and exciting performer, get the picnic hamper ready and let Anthony Strong entertain you with his of
foot-tapping, feel-good brand of jazz.
For tickets, which are priced at £17.50 for adults and £10 for children with a family ticket (two adults, two children, costing £45) or for further information contact the ticket office on 01286 685 222 or 08442 491 895 or visit www.plasnewyddjazz.com