Last autumn, jazz singer and soprano sax player Danny Bacher released his second CD, Still Happy. That he is. Bacher is a purveyor of happiness, born under a lucky star. He’s a Renaissance man, a polymath of talent––a saxophonist, vocalist, composer, educator, actor, writer/playwright, and comedian––who’s a master of all trades and on a mission to spread joy. Now at that mid-life point where the road behind and the road ahead are more or less equal, he’s got a solid perspective of the elements of his life that have informed his “now” and the direction he’d like to travel in.
Marking a pinnacle in his career, Bacher also becomes the latest recipient of the American Songbook Association (ASA) Margaret Whiting Award, of which Bacher says, “It’s an honor to carry on the tradition and excellence one strives for, and that this music deserves.” The Whiting Award matches Bacher’s personal mission to encourage young people into the songbook and into jazz, by making it accessible to them. Of course, happiness is a prime ingredient in that accessibility.
Jazz needn't be dark and brooding to be taken seriously. From Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller to Louis Jordan and Louis Prima, a fair amount of the jazz catalog was designed to put a smile on your mug and tap in your toe. Saxophonist and vocalist Danny Bacher subscribes to that model. In fact, he doubles down on his 2016 release Swing That Music - a tribute to the above-mentioned Louis - with an unapologetically joyful follow-up, Still Happy (Whaling City Sound). Bacher puts his engaging tenor vocals to a well-curated set of sunny standards - "Getting Some Fun Out of Life", "Lucky To Be Me", "Joy Spring" - pens a few of his own, and receives stellar backing from top-flight musicians including saxophonist Harry Allen and pianist Allen Farnham. Proving, as throughout, that a cheerful disposition isn't necessarily anathema to good jazz, Bacher leads his band through a simmering rendition of the Arlen/oehler classic "Get Happy." The singer doubles on soprano sax and splits solo space with Allen and trumpeter Charles Caranicas, while bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Alvester Garnett and percussionist Rolando Morales-Matos maintain an infectious Latin groove.
Tributes to the Louies - Armstrong, Prima and Jordan - are nothing new. For years, artists with a penchant for finger-popping have doffed a cap to one or more of them, and with good reason: They're among the most significant music makers of the 20th century. Vocalist and soprano saxophonist Danny Bacher is the latest to tie together the Louis legacies on his invigorating new CD Swing That Music! (Whaling City Sound).
Bacher receives sterling support from a topnotch little big band featuring all-stars such as guitarist Howard Alden, cornetist Warren Vache, trombonist Pete McGuinness and bassist Ray Drummond. Song selections play like a dream jukebox, featuring a slate of tunes that connect jazz and blues to jump-swing and rock 'n' roll. Bacher's tenor vocals provide a sturdy vehicle for the music, and he pulls plenty of fire from his sax, undoubtedly inspired by the musicians he honors - ace solosits all - as well as those on the session. Bacher shares the mic with the charming Cyrille Aimée for a medly that pairs "La Vie en Rose" with "A Kiss to Build a Dream On." both romantic staples of the Armstrong repertoire. Aimée sings the former in her native French (a la Edith Piaf) as a prelude to Bacher's supple croon on the latter. Pianist Jason Teborek, bassist Drummond and drummer Bill Goodwin are spot-on, and Vache honors Pops' horn without imitating him.
The song titles alone on soprano saxophonist and vocalist Danny Bacher’s sophomore release provide a pre-listening hint of what to expect: They contain words like joy, fun, lucky, hooray, laughing, and—three separate times—happy. And just to make sure you’ve got the idea, the CD’s inner sleeve depicts the artist matching the grin on the smiley-face balloon he’s holding. Yes, there is also “Cloudy,” an update of the nearly century-old Bix Beiderbecke tune, paired in a medley with Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” but it’s the last tune on the album, so by then the exultant mood has long been set. No room for gloom here.
If that description suggests that Still Happy (itself a distillation of a Bacher original called “In Spite of All This, I’m Still Happy”) might be some kind of cloying, terminally gushy affair, no worries. The positivity within these smartly arranged and superbly executed performances is often more implied than overt; if the music gets a smile out of you too, consider that a bonus... READ MORE
"The secret of serious fun is not to take it too seriously, especially if it involves playing jazz. That attitude is something that the easygoing singer and saxophonist Danny Bacher, who appeared with a small swing band at the Metropolitan Room on Tuesday evening, knows in his bones.
It is about making hot music but staying cool, about cutting up while maintaining effortless self-control, about having a blast with friends. And at his performance of "Swing That Music," a homage to the era of jumpin' jive with a dollop of Dixieland, Mr. Bacher conflated the music of three Louises — Armstrong, Jordan and Prima — in a concert revealing him to be a prodigiously talented musical preservationist.
Mr. Bacher's voice is smoother than Prima's rasp, but in his bebop solos he revealed enough of his inner wild man to suggest a maniac behind the cool. "I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)," from "The Jungle Book," in particular, made me grin. It was a reminder that behind its academic trappings, a prime element of jazz has always been a game of monkey see, monkey do."
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Hooray For Hollywood
Joie De Vive
La Vie En Rose/Kiss To Build a Dream On
(Featuring Cyrille Aimée and Warren Vaché)
I Wanna Be Like You
Early in the Mornin
Doreen D'Agostino Media