Jake Pinto’s eclectic musical story has shaped a charmingly honest solo debut rich in instinctive melodicism and cultured arrangements. Released by Mother West on March 31, Sad Songs for Happy People is at once confessional and celebratory, marrying timeless songsmith instincts and 70s musicality with nuanced funkiness and shadows of jazz.
“It came out sounding like what it was,” mulled the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter. “A group of us all together in one room making music and trying to bring new life to songs I had written over the years.”
A jazz musician since his early teens, Jake attended NYU for jazz piano and was soon booking gigs worldwide, including the Blue Note in New York City and Milan, and major festivals. While still in college, he found himself already playing alongside genre luminaries like François Mouton, Ralph Lalama, and the late Lew Soloff.
Simultaneously, Jake was a founding member of afrobeat buzz band EMEFE, whose 2012 debut album was praised as “fresh and inventive” by All About Jazz. Known for exuberant live shows incorporating funk, hip-hop, and rock & roll, EMEFE went on to play prestigious engagements including the Montreal and Rochester international jazz festivals.
Yet despite these parallel successes, Jake grew burdened by what he terms “institutional demotivation.”
“Though I learned a lot, ultimately my college years left me with this feeling of knowing too much and caring too little.”
A rediscovery of his teenage passion for writing songs on guitar and singing, just for fun, snowballed into a rock & roll band called The YeahTones, a cathartically explosive trio that toured coast-to-coast. The YeahTones landed high-profile placements in movie trailers like 2019’s Villains and TV shows including Shameless. Soon, Jake was an in-demand songwriter, signing a publishing deal and working with The Shadowboxers, Jeff ‘Dynamite’ Silverman (Truth and Soul), Tor Miller, and many more.
Getting back to writing on piano, Jake found fresh excitement and energy. He began working with a diverse variety of artists at Silverman’s Future Sounds studio in Brooklyn and on off days, he would bring in his own band and record what would become Sad Songs for Happy People – much of it tracked live on vintage, analogue equipment.
“The Beatles are still my favorite band, but I was also obsessed with D’Angelo for so long,” he offered. “And I love the crooners like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra; the directness of how they sing and tell stories. It’s a hard thing to do, to tell showtune stories in a way that doesn’t feel corny.”
Jake credits Grammy-winning producer/mixer Ed Spear (Brandi Carlile, Lady Gaga etc.) with pulling his diverse influences together on his arresting debut. “He mixed the record, but it was definitely sort of ‘mixing-plus’,” he said. “Such incredible ideas and brilliance. Ed really transformed the record.”
Sad Songs for Happy People features a who’s who of NY luminaries including Miles Francis (Will Butler, Antibalas), Tim Kuhl (Margaret Glaspy), Dylan Aiello (Elizabeth and the Catapult), and Dillon Treacy (Alto Palo, Amber Mark).
The result is 11 ultra-accomplished tracks of eclectic, Americana- and blues-flecked indie rock delivered unfiltered, straight from the source. These are songs with longevity, of intrinsic emotional and musical quality rather than adherence to genre or style. Most are keys based, embroidered with snazzy brass, tasty guitar interjections, and grand rhythmic flourishes.
“There’s something beautiful about taking a sad song and putting it to a bright beat and bright instrumental,” Jake continued. “Just an interesting combination of melancholy, nostalgia, love, and happiness.”
Sad Songs for Happy People was set for release right when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and then further delayed when Jake’s talents were sought out by Miami psych-funksters Magic City Hippies and Brooklyn’s afrobeat flag bearers Antibalas, leading to months of global touring. He even did double duty as a solo opener for MCH.
The album’s first single “Best That We Can Be” dances twinkling over a simple left-hand piano figure, its finely grained vocal is intimate yet late-night cinematic before blossoming into a guitar-stroked hook. Bluesy follow-up “Get it Right” is the sing-along closer at Jake’s solo shows, a break-up song with an aching universal resonance beyond just the romantic. Another standout on an album of standouts is contemplative closing track “Alone Together,” a soulful tale of an only child balancing the warmth of togetherness with a lifelong love of being alone over a slinky 6/8 shuffle.
“Ultimately, I just want you to feel it in your bones,” Jake concluded. “We generally numb ourselves to feeling because it’s so intense. I want the audience to feel something … anything.”
As well as continued touring with Magic City Hippies and Antibalas, plus a burgeoning career writing music for TV and film, the now bi-coastal Jake plans widespread solo shows and music videos to support Sad Songs for Happy People and is already deep into writing its follow-up.