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Jazz Vocalist Ron Boustead's Humor Shines On 'Unlikely Valentine'

Ron Boustead's new album is called <em>Unlikely Valentine</em>.
Courtesy of the artist
Ron Boustead's new album is called Unlikely Valentine.

By day, Ron Boustead works as a mastering engineer: He makes the final masters from which records are duplicated. He once worked at a Hollywood company that handled artists like Prince, The Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra. Now, he's got a record of his own, Unlikely Valentine, which he's been promoting locally in Southern California.

Like at the E Spot, a slightly-bigger-than-cozy supper club in Studio City. It serves good spaghetti and meatballs and — at least on the night Boustead and his band were onstage — hosts terrific music. The audience was full of jazz singers who loved his self-deprecating look at jazz in the song "I Won't Scat."

"Scat is when a singer — he's sort of emulating a saxophone or a trumpet and using wordless syllables," Boustead later explains.

But in the song, he refuses to do it, at least at first: "I won't scat / Tell you flat off the bat, I won't scat / Eat my hat, kiss a rat, but not that." The kicker comes at the end of the song, when he does end up scatting — and scatting well, at that.

Boustead is 66 years old and comes from Pittsburgh, Pa. He sings bebop, Latin jazz, waltzes and ballads, all with swing. At 16 he started performing and writing his own lyrics.

"[I was] a business administration major [in college], but I was always into language, for sure," he says.

After singing and playing bass in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a while, he drove to Los Angeles in a rented truck with no air conditioning — along with his wife, all their belongings and Lucy, their border collie — on July Fourth weekend, 1983. In LA, he learned audio mastering, studied new instruments and played local clubs — but the club date in the Valley was his first performance in five years.

Many of the songs on his new record are ones Sinatra would have sung, but Boustead's versions tend to be wittier and less romantic. Take "I Love My Wife" (which Sinatra did, in fact, sing).

"I had never heard the tune before. I didn't know it existed, but I was completely charmed by it," Boustead says. "I just thought it was funny and a little racy — and I really do love my wife, so it kind of hit home for me."

His wife is Ruth Rivin. They've been married for 35 years.

"We met in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a laundromat," Rivin says. "We struck up a conversation while we were waiting for our laundry. He was a musician, and I was a dancer at the time, and we had some things in common. And we exchanged phone numbers and the rest is history."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.