If you ask him how he's doing, John Mathis — which is how he introduces himself — is likely to say, "Wonderful!" The legendary singer, appearing this weekend at Davies Symphony Hall, uses the word a lot, but only twice in a row when he's singing his 1957 hit song.
To Mathis, still having an active career at 77 is "wonderful." Playing golf is "wonderful." Cooking for himself is "wonderful." Fronting the San Francisco Symphony will be "wonderful."
It could start to sound a little saccharine, but to hear it from Mathis is to connect with a genteel, genial and genuinely optimistic worldview.
He attributes his vocal longevity to good technique and training. As a teenager, Mathis studied with an opera coach. "She did not necessarily want me to sing opera," he recalls, "but she taught me how my voice worked — the physical part — so that I could have a long career."
Over that long career, he's been singing some of his signature songs such as "Chances Are," "Misty" and "Wonderful, Wonderful" for more than 50 years. He doesn't mind. He knows they are expected when he performs, though he admits "they've lost some of their 'preciousness,' and now I treat them like loving little vignettes."
Despite all his clean living and solid training, time does take some toll and Mathis admits he'll "skim over" a note here or there. "People get the idea and maybe give you an A-minus for effort."
A typical day for Mathis starts at 4:30 a.m. with exercise and cooking before lots of golf. It's been his routine since the turn of the last century. "Sometimes it's a bit of a drag," he says, "but it really keeps me in a good frame of mind to know that I'm doing something other than just vocalizing."
The Grammy winner grew up in San Francisco and, not surprisingly, he describes it as "the most wonderful life a young person could have. It offered everything I could want." That included the opportunity to visit jazz clubs and learn from some of the greats of that time.
"My dad and I would go and listen to folks like Louis Armstrong. The venues were very small and unsophisticated. I remember just sitting and talking to Oscar Peterson. I was 13 years old. We would be there on a Sunday afternoon while Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan would be rehearsing. It was" — wait for it! — "wonderful!"
IF YOU GOJohnny Mathis
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Tickets: $45 to $125
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org