Good songs never die. The best become iconic tunes forever associated with a particular performer. Some of them go further and become an icon associated with a period of time or a particular generation.
“My Way”, one of the most beloved songs in the Great American Songbook and long associated with Frank Sinatra, is one of those songs. Sinatra popularized it in 1969. Two years earlier, pop singer Paul Anka felt an extreme emotional attachment to this newly-released song, performed by a French artist singing French lyrics. Anka flew to France and negotiated rights to use the song, but in an English lyrics version. In 1969 he wrote some customized English lyrics and made a number of revisions with one thought in mind: it was going to become a Frank Sinatra song. In Sinatra’s hands it not only became a nationwide hit in the U.S., reaching spot 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, but spent 75 weeks in the UK Top 40, a record which still stands today.
So at the open mic session on April 23, 2019, many of Kupro’s patrons, not to mention the other open mic performers, were knocked out by J’aire Punch’s cover of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”.
This young man was born to sing.
J’aire (pronounced Jy-eer’) Mariese-Chief Punch-Fletcher is the nephew of Kai Kanae, one-half of Sacramento’s “Kai and Paddy” duo. Kai introduced J’aire to Kupro’s sometime back, and now he’s coming back to polish his act in front of the Tuesday open mic crowd, where he performs as “Chief Punch”.
J’aire began singing in church at the age of about six, and by the time he was in middle school he had learned to play the trumpet. In high school he continued to play the trumpet but also began to learn to play the harmonica. Most recently he’s been finding learning to play bass guitar to be particularly challenging, but always, he comes back to the trumpet as his favorite instrument.
It was at his church’s choir rehearsals that J’aire’s vocal abilities were first acknowledged and drew positive comments. These comments were often heard following his singing of vocal solos. He at first thought his fellow church members were just trying to be nice, so he never really believed the comments, but over the years he finally become convinced to accept what they had been trying to tell him — that he really did have an exceptional set of pipes. These days he is able to accept compliments gracefully.
As much as he loves music, J’aire is still moving ahead to land himself a straight gig, something which would provide him with an interesting career while paying the bills. Toward this end he is seeking to graduate with a criminal justice degree, join law enforcement, and eventually become a Chief of Police. No career floundering here; this is a young man who knows exactly where he wants to go and what he needs to do to get there.
After first hearing “My Way”, J’aire began to repeatedly hum and sing it. It eventually became hard-wired into his brain and heart, and he is now very comfortable in singing it.
“It’s smooth, it’s nice, it’s peaceful. Frank knew what he was doing.”
J’aire believes his voice is probably best suited to pop, R&B, or the more soulful songs. Those are the best songs for him to sing, but he also enjoys listening to just about anything, except for something called “Screamo”, which is a sub-genre of emo, one that is strongly influenced by hardcore punk and screamed vocals After checking out some songs in that genre, I had to laugh and admit J’aire is not a screamo guy.
Who has influenced J’aire? Artist influences include first and foremost a heavy dose of Michael Bublé. J’aire does his best to mimic Bublé’s velvety-smooth style of crooning, and in this he does not disappoint. Others in this genre, artists singing songs of the Great American Songbook, include Harry Connick, Jr. and Steve Tyrell. Talented young vocalists who sing this genre can find themselves in demand for singing any number of upscale events.
In addition to performing at Kupros, J’aire has also given vocal performances at Bar 101 and The Fig Tree, both in Roseville, and at Sacramento’s Tower Brewery (formerly Sactown Union Brewery). He also plays in a four-member band — The Deviant Strays. His typical schedule is a tight one, including daily trumpet practice, organizing his band’s music (The Deviant Strays play R&B, light rock, oldies, and some newer tunes), working, attending school, and most recently learning to play bass, he found requires intense concentration to be able to play bass and sing at the same time.
Three of The Deviant Strays’ four band members do vocals. In addition to J’aire’s singing he also plays trumpet and harmonica. His uncle Kai provides vocal backup and plays a keyboard. The other two band members play ukulele, guitar, and percussion on a cajón. The band wants to play as many gigs as possible, regardless of whether they’re paid or unpaid. Right now they just want the experience that comes with stage time, and the fun of doing it. Also, as the band gets tighter and feels up to it, J’aire looks forward to recording with them.
Aside from his school studies, part-time work, and music pursuits, J’aire has acquired a third-degree martial arts belt and competes in two martial arts disciplines: Kajukenbo, and Doce Pares. If that isn’t enough, he works part-time at a local Wienerschnitzel (side note: does anyone else ever wonder how and why “Der” was dropped from the name “Der Wienerschnitzel”?).
Educationally, American River College’s (ARC) business courses are providing him with a fundamental understanding of how the business part of music should operate. His current long-range plan is to graduate from ARC in 2020, take a year off from school, then complete his undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice Administration at either CSUS or San Francisco State University, in 2023.
Music? It will always be a part of J’aire’s life.
Ideally, like so many others who follow their musical dreams, J’aire would love to be able to compete successfully in a nationally-televised vocal or other music competition, but the business and criminal justice education is going to provide a solid backup plan, just in case… Either way, he wins.
Kurt Michaels has lived in the Sacramento region for most of his adult life and these days is semi-retired from the band grind. His greatest regular weekly enjoyment is hanging out with his Tuesday Open Mic musician friends at Kupro’s Craft House on 21st St. in Midtown.