What’s on your Playlist: Dave Damiani

September 4, 2018

L.A.–based singer, songwriter, and producer Dave Damiani cut his teeth as a bartender at Charlie O’s Jazz Club in Valley Village, California where he rubbed shoulders (and eventually worked) with the likes of Earl Palmer, Mark Murphy, Frank Capp, John Heard, and Teddy Edwards, among many others.

Damiani’s unabashed appreciation for Frank Sinatra in no way impedes his own distinctive take on classic jazz vocals and has won him numerous fans and accolades.

His latest discs, Blending the Standard and Come Fly With Me (to L.A.) [feat. Peter Erskine], have gained Damiani further global attention and he’s performed for luminaries such as Ray Liotta, Leonardo DiCaprio, Oliver Stone, and Ridley Scott.

1. Frank Sinatra Sinatra at the Sands

This is probably the album I’d take on a desert island with me. It is Frank at his best with Count Basie and Quincy Jones conducting. I must have listened to this on CD, tape, vinyl, and 8-track! But, this is one of those special recordings that made me want to be part of a big band. It also taught me how to perform and tell stories on the mic. Larry King once told me about the “Tea Break Monologue.” It’s real! Sinatra used to sit on stage, drink a cup of tea, and take a break in front of the entire crowd. I’m not sure if another artist will ever have the opportunity to make a live album this great.

2. Mark MurphyRah

Mark Murphy is one of the world’s greatest secrets. This album came out around 1961 [December of 1961 – Ed.] and had Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, Clark Terry, and so many other greats on it! The arrangements are by Ernie Wilkins and they are amazing. This record has everything and Mark Murphy’s phrasing is still groundbreaking if you listen to it. Here is one of my heroes. I got to meet him and spend some time with him. Amazing guy! Amazing talent.  

3. Chet BakerChet Baker Sings

Everyone must have this album. When I heard Chet Baker for the first time I wasn’t sure if I was listening to a male or female voice – so haunting, so interesting. His style and taste as a vocalist is superb. No use of vibrato – just tasteful. I love the piano playing by Russ Freeman, too. Chet is one of the few people I can listen to scat sing. His trumpet playing and singing are at the top of my list. I learned so many standards from this album.

4. Nat “King” ColeAfter Midnight

After Midnight is one of my favorite albums. His piano playing and singing together are so tasteful. I love the way it’s recorded, I love the sound of the piano, and I love the sound of Nat Cole in this period. Some of the earlier trio stuff is great, too, but having to pick one of his albums it has to be this. I still pop it in all of the time. I love the intro on “Paper Moon” and always steal that pedal intro whenever I can.

5. Fred AstaireSteppin’ Out: Astaire Sings

This album changed my perspective on how to sing and phrase. I was so into Frank Sinatra and only heard songs a certain way for a while, but Fred Astaire had such class and style. He is so comfortable in his phrasing and rhythm. Also, on this album is a hidden interview after the last track when Fred talks about his new young piano player, Oscar Peterson. The rest of the band was Charlie Shavers, Lester Young, Ray Brown, Barney Kessel, and Alvin Stoller. It is an incredible collection of standards from the guy who introduced more standards than Sinatra.

6. Bob DoroughDevil May Care

Bob Dorough is a very underestimated musician and singer in my opinion. Known as a great songwriter, Bob Dorough also sang his ass off. He played piano great, too, and accompanied himself quite well. I had the pleasure to meet and befriend Sam Most, who worked with Bob Dorough. I learned a lot from Sam about Bob’s arranging ideas and the way he presented a song.

7. Count Basie & Joe WilliamsCount Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings

Maybe because I was a bartender at a jazz club? I know Joe Williams was, too. Of all the great singers, Joe might be the best. He could phrase, swing, and had and incredible voice. There is just something about his tone. I guess I just love Count Basie, too. There are a lot of big bands, but Basie had a thing like no other. He really knew how to make a record with a swinging singer.

8. Jamie CullumTwentysomething

I must have had this album in the rotation from when it came out until now. I love Jamie Cullum – maybe more than any current artist today. He really has great ideas, arrangements, and original songs on this album. Really smart, really fun, really sexy stuff… I saw him perform live at the Hollywood Bowl with Christian McBride and they were terrific. As far as male vocalists go, no one can touch this guy. I don’t care who has sold more records!

9. Michael JacksonOff The Wall

I still listen to Michael Jackson. Motown was the gateway into jazz for me. This will easily explain my last two choices [for this list]. I had the Jackson 5’s greatest hits and every release that Michael Jackson ever put out, but Off The Wall is still my favorite. This is when the music still was simple, but so groovy. A friend and mentor of mine, Johnny Mandel, did the string arrangements for Quincy Jones. “Rock With You” might just be a perfect track.

10. Stevie WonderSongs in the Key of Life

As I am compiling this list, I am wearing my Songs In The Key Of Life t-shirt I got a few years back. I saw Stevie Wonder perform this album live in Philadelphia. It was one of the thrills of my life. I grew up with this playing in my house and it is basically the Damiani theme music in our family. My uncle, Alan “Bucky,” had it playing as he passed from cancer in 2008. I’m not sure if any songwriter will ever achieve what Stevie Wonder did with this album.

Dave Damiani’s latest releases, Blending the Standard and Come Fly With Me (To L.A.) [feat. Peter Erskine] were released in March of 2018. www.davedamiani.com

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