The Jazz Singer
Former Kelly Aide Swings Back Into Music With Second CD
Christian Josi may be the only public relations professional in Washington with three different colors in his hair.
He’s almost certainly the only one to have released two jazz/swing CDs, performed onstage with guitar legend Les Paul, raised funds for a slate of GOP candidates and published a 100-page book skewering then-Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Josi, a former aide to Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.) who is now vice president at the Washington, D.C., communications firm Dezenhall Resources, recently unveiled his follow-up effort, “Alive & Swingin’: NYC Sessions 1993-2003,” a decade after his first album, the whimsically titled “I Walks With My Feet Off The Ground,” was released to critical acclaim.
For the 33-year-old California native, the road back to the music business — after an extended hiatus — was slow in coming.
After a very disillusioned Josi decided “to pack it in in 1994,” he spent much of the next 10 years working in politics: serving as project director for Kelly, as head of his own New York City-based fundraising firm, The Josi Organization — which did work for then-Reps. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) and J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), as well as for Kelly and former Vice President Dan Quayle (R) — and as executive director of the American Conservative Union, where he penned “Hillary Rodham Clinton: What Every American Should Know.”
In April 2002, Campaigns & Elections even named him one of the “Rising Stars of Politics.” A week later, he left the business in favor of public relations.
“How funny is that?” he remarks, adding that by that point politics had “[run] me into the ground.”
At the same time, Josi had also begun testing the musical waters again. A call from a former agent in the fall of 2001 brought him back to the Big Apple for a marathon, 24-hour recording session at Back Pocket Studios — the output of which, coupled with some previously unreleased material, became “Alive & Swingin’.”
“After 10 years, my voice sounded better than ever,” he says, adding that he hadn’t sang a note until returning to the studio that October.
To date, the album — released on the label Josi formed last summer, Large Armadillo Music — has sold about 4,000 copies, with the single from the album, “How Are You Fixed For Love,” debuting just two weeks ago. “It’s getting a lot of radio play,” Josi says.
Later this spring, Josi and his quartet — he played with his big band at the annual America Online holiday party in December — hope to launch a series of weekend tours in major cities across the United States. In between tour dates, Josi is anticipating regular appearances upstairs at Landini Brothers Restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, Va.
When it comes to selecting material, his philosophy is simple: Obscurity rules.
“I try to find the ones that may have fallen through the cracks,” Josi says of the 11 songs on the album, many of which, with the exceptions of “April in Paris” and “‘Taint What You Do,” may be unfamiliar to the contemporary ear.
But listeners should have no problem recognizing the voice, mainly because of its uncanny similarity to that of Hoboken, N.J.’s most famous son.
“He sounds like Frank Sinatra,” gushed ex-Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), a newly converted Josi enthusiast.
Josi caught both the musical and political bugs early on. His mother was a GOP fundraiser and his stepfather was vice mayor of Redlands, Calif., his hometown.
When the self-described “metalhead kid” first heard David Lee Roth’s (of Van Halen fame) recording of a Frank Sinatra hit, he became a jazz and swing acolyte, immersing himself in the music of Tony Bennett, Count Basie and Chet Baker, among many others.
His first public appearances, which came as a political science major at California State University at San Bernardino, were hardly glamorous, however.
“We’d go out and get hammered on the weekend and enter karaoke contests for money,” he recalls. It wasn’t long before he was singing with a local big band and considering a musical career.
The proverbial big break came soon after graduation, when he attended a Mel Torme concert in Palm Springs and seized on the opportunity to hand the legendary crooner a demo tape after the show.
The next day, Torme’s then-musical director and pianist, John Colianni, called him up, and Josi soon found himself on a red-eye flight to New York with hopes of joining Colianni’s newly forming big band.
The band never materialized, but Colianni did help Josi land a few gigs, including standing in for Mickey Rooney at Michael’s Pub. Josi signed with a British label, and after his first album was released, he embarked on a tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
But despite good reviews, Josi wasn’t making any money. He was disappointed with the album and exhausted from the rigorous schedule.
“It wasn’t going well. I wasn’t happy,” he said. “At the end of the day, I didn’t want it bad enough. I got a taste of what life was like, and it’s not as great as it might look.”
For much of the next decade, few of his political colleagues even knew about his brief music career.
“I never talked about it ’til the legislative director at ACU was on the Internet one day and Googled me and found albums on sale in England and called me into the office and said, ‘OK, explain.’”
And Josi, who maintains that his conservative views are rarely an issue among his fellow musicians, is a staunch believer in the strict separation of his multivarious endeavors.
“Music is music. Politics is politics. Work is work,” Josi says. “I don’t pick friends or acquaintances based on political stripes.”
In addition to the upcoming tours, Josi is collaborating with Smithereens lead singer Pat DiNizio — himself a one-time Reform Party Senatorial candidate in New Jersey — on new material for a future album, though Josi asserts, “Right now I don’t have time to record an album.” (However, DiNizio is planning a big band-style CD tentatively titled “Dark Standards,” with Josi as the likely producer.) Josi also signed with June Street Entertainment to record music for film and television placement.
With a musical career once more in full swing, Josi doesn’t anticipate a return to politics anytime soon, but he concedes there are a few scenarios under which he would re-enter the political arena.
“If Dan Quayle or Wayne LaPierre ever run for president, I’d get back into politics,” he says.