By nature, musicians are givers, individuals who wish to share their song in order to raise up their audience, soothe them down, or simply take their minds off the day’s worries.
While mounting fame often undermines successful musicians’ ability to connect with their audience , it couldn’t be further from the truth for the San Antonio crooner Ken Slavin, who will continue his generous jazz jubilation with Shaken, Not Stirred at the Tobin’s Carlos Alvarez Theater on Thursday, Nov. 10.
The late-blooming jazz giant on the SA vocal scene will demonstrate his passion for the special cause of the evening, the San Antonio AIDS Foundation (SAAF).
“This is actually coming full circle for me, as my involvement with the SAAF began over 20 years ago,” said Slavin, referring to the 1994 concert at the Carver Cultural Community Center. “My goal was to do one concert for them, whatever we could raise for the people there. There was an incredible outpouring of support for the show, not just because it was a concert debut but because they embraced the cause.”
The cause was to serve the mission of SAAF – pronounced “safe” by those who work at the organization – which is to provide compassionate care for people with HIV/AIDS and education to help prevent the spread of the disease.
“The early 1990s (were) a really frightening time for the AIDS community, as it was the years before the more effective treatments were available to people,” said Slavin, who called the issue “personal” as he has lost several friends to the virus. “SAAF was the only place people could turn if they didn’t have insurance or people who cared.”
Before 1996, the first time there was a decrease in virus-related deaths thanks to increased treatment conditions and education, it was a dark time for those affected, considering the scientific and communal obstacles that population faced.
“Many people were turned away by family, so SAAF primarily became a hospice care unit, where people went to die,” Slavin said. “It still exists 30 years later, now reaching a 12-county area, and providing hot meals, HIV testing, and case management services for its beneficiary community 365 days a year. There is still a huge need for what we do.”
Slavin recently became part of the SAAF community as vice president of communications, a job that allows him the flexibility to travel and perform, thanks to the understanding of CEO Cindy Nelson.
“We wanted to ensure that I could continue to perform no matter (my) work (schedule),” Slavin said about the serendipitous placement in the organization. “The timing came together perfectly as we just commemorated our 30th anniversary this year, and we wanted to close out the year with something special to celebrate, revive something I did long ago.”
Slavin is celebrating a milestone himself, having just concluded his 20th year on the professional jazz circuit, and hasn’t lost a bit of the charm from when he first performed “Mack the Knife” with George Prado’s Regency Jazz Band at the age of 28.
“I never thought I’d pursue a music career, never pictured myself as a musician but I always secretly wanted one,” said Slavin, reflecting on that fateful day with Prado, whom he credits with inspiring his singing career. “I made my NYC debut at the age of 52, and I’ve been invited back time and time again.”
Slavin is grateful to have played almost every venue in San Antonio in his tenure singing the classics, yet this will be his first time at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
“It is meant to be an intimate listening experience, the same interaction you’d have in New York,” Slavin said of the set at Carlos Alvarez Theater, a “turbo-charged version” with two one-hour sets of music. “I do a lot of story-telling, talking about the roots of the songs, engage in spontaneous conversation with the audience.”
On his most recent stint in the entertainment mecca for a jazzman, Slavin performed at the heralded Metropolitan Room and shone the spotlight on saloon songs such as “Scotch and Soda,” “Cocktails For Two, and “You Go To My Head.”
“I put together a program I thought suited me, happily inviting to some sad,” Slaving said of the repertoire’s dynamic, which also will feature a few originals. “It’s going to be a really slick, cool sound, reminiscent of NY circa 1956.”
Joining Slavin will be some of San Antonio’s best instrumentalists with Barry Brake on piano, Darren Kuper on drums, Chuck Moses on bass, and Joe Caploe on vibes.
“We did this for my birthday show at Sam’s (Burger Joint) and it was standing room only, brought the house down,” Slavin said. “Working in jazz the songs are never done the same way twice and we love making music together. The times of my life I’m happiest is when I’m on stage singing.”