San Francisco jazz singer Bill Kwan won’t be giving up his day job as a dermatologist any time soon.
The vocalist, who appears at Yoshi’s on Tuesday and Savanna Jazz on Aug. 6, says, “I could not imagine not doing medicine. I’m fortunate I get to do both.”
Thanks to a supportive staff that helps him manage the challenging task of finding time to see patients, take singing lessons, record albums, rehearse and perform, Kwan has been able to fulfill his dream of being a doctor as well as keeping music an important part of his life.
He grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in Southern California around music, singing in choir in elementary and junior high school, going to the Hollywood Bowl — where he saw Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme and Nancy Wilson — and taking in artists his parents enjoyed, such as Benny Goodman and Herb Alpert.
Kwan, who describes his own sound as “traditional pop,” has released a delightful easy-listening album called “Pentimento,” featuring tunes from the Great American songbook — “Love Letters,” “From This Moment On,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” — and newer selections from the likes of the Beatles (“In My Life”), Karla Bonoff (“Goodbye My Friend”) and Brenda Russell (“Get Here”).
Calling his approach “low-key and gentle,” Kwan says, “I sing better when I try not to oversing. I try to be very sensitive.”
That sensitivity is likely what drove Kwan, who knew he wanted to be a doctor at age 12, to medicine. At school, he didn’t immediately dive into a specialty, but “fell into” dermatology after missing working with people in a pathology lab and on the advice of a professor who was setting up a dermatology clinic.
He liked it, and continues to enjoy his practice because, he says, “my patients get better” and because regular hours, unlike those of a surgeon, accommodate his musical pursuits.
Finding both music and medicine therapeutic, Kwan, who moved to The City 13 years ago, enjoys the intimacy of live performance, especially in a small club.
In May, he experienced a highlight along those lines in front of his mother, who was seeing him perform professionally for the first time at the Rrazz Room. His special rendition of one of her favorite songs, “Stardust,” was particularly evocative — and not just for Mom and the audience. Kwan says, “I was almost in tears.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Yoshi’s lounge, 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco
When: 9 to 11 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 655-5600, www.yoshis.com
Where: Savanna Jazz, 2937 Mission St., San Francisco
When: 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Aug. 6
Contact: (415) 285-3369, www.savannajazz.com