Danny Bacher: Whats on Your Playlist?

February 5, 2015

playlist-feb-15Newcomer, singer/saxophonist Danny Bacher grew up in Wayne, New Jersey, home to one of the finest Jazz Departments in the country at William Patterson University.  As a high school student, Bacher received much of his informal training there playing with student ensembles, attending workshops, and meeting jazz icons such as Norman Simmons, Rufus Reid, Ray Brown, and watching the likes of Sonny Rollins, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Joe Williams perform. He later graduated from New Jersey City University’s Music and Theater program with a concentration in Jazz Performance. 

Bacher continues to pass on his enthusiasm for jazz to his students now, while getting ready to launch his debut album in 2015, Swing That Music.  The disc features an impressive array of contemporary jazz luminaries including Ray Drummond, Warren Vache, Howard Alden, Bill Goodwin, Houston Person, Pete McGuinness, Jason Teborek, and rising vocal star, Cyrille Aimée. Danny’s friend and former sax teacher, Dr. David Demsey of WPU, also lends his talents to the project. Rounding out this dream team is executive producer Suzi Reynolds and Grammy-nominated producer Roseanna Vitro.

1. Louis ArmstrongThe Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings 

This box set really embodies what, I feel, is the true beginnings of jazz as a respectable art form in this country. There are so many important recordings in this set, and that’s the reason I keep coming back to it.  Every time I listen, I discover something new from Pops.  From Satchmo classics like “Heebie Jeebies,” which is said to be the birth of Scat singing, when Armstrong dropped his music at the session, and began improvising on horn-like syllables, to the much studied and celebrated cornet solo on “Potato Head Blues” this is the stuff of legend. 

2. Ultra-Lounge: Wild Cool & Swingin’Artist Series, Vol. 1: Louis Prima &   Keely Smith

One singer/consummate performer that always makes it in the mix is the great Louis Prima. These recordings represent the best of the legendary Capitol recordings by Prima and his then-wife, the always amazing Keely Smith, along with tenor sax titan, Sam Butera with his group, The Witnesses. I absolutely love the contrast of Prima, “That Wild and Crazy Guy,” with the subdued and sultry Smith. Add the infectious beat of Butera and the band, and you have what sums up the greatest era of the golden age of Las Vegas when jazz was the pop music of the day. There’s a nice blend of standards, like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “Old Black Magic” done in that inimitable “Prima” style, along with originals such as “Jump, Jive, An’ Wail.” One often forgets what a gifted composer Prima was, who penned “Sunday Kind of Love,” and  “Sing, Sing, Sing.” For me, this album conjures up a time when the Strip was all about the great line-up of musical entertainers. 

3. Louis JordanThe Anthology

This set has so much of Jordan’s classic repertoire, along with many rare gems for listeners to discover.  Hits like, “Caledonia,” and “Let the Good Times Roll” helped to put Jordan on the map, which not only proved his chops as a top swing performer, but also made him really one of the first crossover artists of his day. Many consider Jordan to be as much R&B as jazz. Jordan has certainly influenced many great artists, including Ray Charles, who recorded quite a few Louis Jordan originals. Listening to Jordan, you get the feel for the pure entertainment that this music was at a time when jazz was king. Jordan’s pure sense of fun really shines, and one often hears a spoken-word segment weaved throughout his numbers. In fact, I would actually consider Jordan to be the first rap artist.

4. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim“Sweeney Todd” Original Cast Album

Though technically not a jazz album, I must bring attention to what I feel is the greatest contribution to another great American art form, musical theater. Jazz and Broadway have always been close relatives and, after all, it was Broadway that gave us the Great American Songbook. Composers like Gershwin, Berlin, and Kern are all synonymous with jazz. But listening to Sondheim’s composition and complex, exquisite harmonies, you can’t help but see the bridge between Jazz and Musical Theatre. When I re-visit this album, (and I do quite often) I’m reminded how Sondheim, like Bernstein, has done so much to further, and challenge the musical theatre “norms” and bring the art form to new heights. “Pretty Women” along with “Not While I’m Around” both from this score, have become somewhat standard among Jazz musicians and often recorded since the show’s initial opening in 1979. If you haven’t, I certainly suggest giving it a listen. It has everything you could want on a recording; beauty, suspense, horror, comedy, and cannibalism!               

5. Ella FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook

I believe that Ella Fitzgerald should really be on everyone’s playlist. To quote Bing Crosby, “Man, Woman, and Child, Ella Fitzgerald is the Greatest Singer that Ever lived.”  I would have to agree. Who has this woman not influenced in jazz, pop, or anyone who has come after her? It really seems like an impossible task to pick only one album from the First Lady of Song, but one of my personal favorites is this one.  This 1964 Verve release was the last in her acclaimed songbook series, which started in 1956. Verve paired Ella up with great arrangers, and gave us true American treasures. In the Mercer songbook, Ella’s arrangements are paired up with the incomparable Nelson Riddle, who was as much a composer as arranger, in the sense that he could take a song, and make the arrangement stand out as if the original composition was always meant to sound that way. I feel that once Riddle wrote an arrangement for a song, it became the final word, and from that point on was always associated with that song.  Ella is in top form during this period, swings hard, and sings a ballad like nobody’s business. Tunes like, “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Too Marvelous for Words” are the perfect contrast to the Haunting Mercer song, and Raskin composition, “Laura” (which only appeared in melody form in the Film) and Lionel Hampton’s rapturous melody, “Midnight Sun.”  

6. Stan Getz/João GilbertoGetz/Gilberto Featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim

Who can ignore the importance of bossa nova in the jazz world? This is really the one that started it all, and put this inimitable style on the map here and the world over. I have countless bossa recordings in my record collection, running the gamut from Cannonball Adderley to Disney classics performed in bossa nova style. Let’s just say, I’m a sucker for bossa. 

However, I always return to what in my opinion, is one of the best! Stan Getz’s tenor tone is superb and is still considered one of the most popular tenor men of all-time some twenty years after his passing.  His intonation is impeccable, and his silky smooth sound is also the perfect compliment to Jobim’s compositions, and João and Astrud Gilberto’s vocals. Every track is a gem, but the standouts for me are “Corcovado,” pure beauty, and “So Danco Samba” which allows Getz’s energetic solo to soar. When you hear “The Girl From Ipanema” in Portuguese followed by English, for the first time, (or the 750th time!) you can hear why this never gets old.

7. Frank SinatraSinatra At the Sands

With The Chairman of the Board, Count Basie and the Orchestra, and arrangements by Quincy Jones, you have a combination that will be sure to have you coming back for more, and more, and in case I forgot to mention, more! I’ve always enjoyed live recordings for the same reason one loves live theatre. The listener experiences the album as if really there. It’s how it happened that very night. This is a special historic experience, one that cannot be achieved by simply recording in a studio. Basie’s band is swinging harder than ever, and Sinatra is at the height of his career as a front man. I love the audience interaction, the Sinatra wit that comes through in his monologues, and the general sense of what an amazing time everyone was having while making this record. There are the hits for the Sinatra purists, like “Fly Me To the Moon” and “Come Fly With Me.”  But there are also more obscure tunes, like “Street of Dreams,” and “Get me to the Church on time” complete with a burning tempo and the Basie Band is just killing’ on every tune. This album boasts one of the best Basie line-ups in history, including Marshall Royal, Freddie Green, Sonny Payne, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Harry “Sweets” Edison, and Al Grey to name a few.

8. Duke Ellington and Johnny HodgesBack to Back: Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges Play the Blues

There are so many great Duke Ellington recordings out there. In fact, if I had to pick one to be stranded on an island with it would need to be a very large compilation that spans the 1920s to the 1970s. However, this one in particular keeps making the rounds on my playlist.  It might seem odd that of all the Ellington recordings in his prolific career, I would focus on one that contains not one original Ellington composition, or one track with the Ellington Big Band? I have one word… Hodges. What I find most intriguing about this album, is the small band setting, allowing Hodges to shine as the star voice in this recording (even though he got second billing!) This is such a simple concept, and the Ellington/Hodges combo was something that just really worked. Hodges smooth Alto tone was and still is one of my biggest influences on sax, and he just sings on this record.  The concept may be a blues album, but the piano accompaniment, arrangements, and sound is pure Duke!

9. Oscar Peterson Trio Oscar Peterson Trio + One

Clark Terry is a king among men, and has done so much as an ambassador of this music throughout the world. I have had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions and hearing him play and sing.  This recording is such a pleasure to hear, and Peterson really let’s C.T. do his thing on trumpet, flugelhorn, and as a vocalist. It was this recording that debuted Clark’s “Mumbles” style on the track of the same name.  As the first African American on NBC’s The Tonight Show band, he developed that signature vocal on that show. The trio comprised of Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums, plus one legendary trumpeter equals pure jazz gold.

10. Cécile McLorinWomanchild

One singer that has gotten my complete attention is 24-year-old Cécile McLorin Salvant. Her range, control, and skills as a jazz artist are just mind-boggling.  She has taken classics like, “What a little Moonlight can Do” and has done things vocally that might have even made Betty Carter’s head spin!  She brings such depth and soul to her poetic original, “Deep Dark Blue.”  One impressive turn she takes is with a classic, “Nobody,” which was made famous nearly a century ago by the great comedy star Bert Williams, and makes it her own. Her versatility and dexterous vocal ability is something to look out for in the coming years, a comfort to know that in a world of auto-tuning technologically processed voices, there are still some real diamonds.

Danny Bacher’s debut album, Swing That Music, will be released in early 2015. www.dannybachermusic.com.

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