Article By Dan Kassell
Whaling City Sound picked singer-soprano sax player-composer, Danny Bacher to record, and Danny picked Allen Farnham (piano), Dean Johnson (bass), Samuel Martinelli (drums), Harry Allen (tenor sax) and Charles Caranicas (trumpet), for Feinstein’s/54Below as a pre-Christmas evening for NYC. As our government shut down, the evening’s theme, and title of Bacher’s new CD release, Still Happy, was a pleasant momentary diversion.(Bacher’s previous 2016 CD Swing That Music (Whaling City Sound) borrowed Louis Armstrong’s tune for it’s title; it was a tribute to a youth of listening to the origins of jazz with his brother, Josh, in Wayne, New Jersey, and playing tenor sax with recordings “to get a really good tone.”)
The opener was the Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler “Get Happy” (“my favorite from the CD,” according to Bacher). The tune swung with multiple rhythms together, most reminiscent of a New Orleans rocking beat with a Latin feel, enhanced by Martinell; it was the first opportunity for Bacher’s amplified soprano sax to swing, while “Caranicas followed with a syncopated trumpet solo. Does the lyric on the other side of the river” mean this is his judgement day in Manhattan?
Composer-lyricist Bacher introduced his original “In Spite of It All, I’m Still Happy” with timely words and a first opportunity for Harry Allen to tenor-ize the melody, as pianist/Music Director/arranger Farnham added some blues. More memorable musical highlights were Carinicas’ solo on “Shakin’ the Blues Away” (Irving Berlin) and Allen’s bop tenor delivery on “Joy Spring” (Clifford Brown), with Bacher’s delivery of Jon Hendricks hip lyric sung in the vocalese tradition.
From 1944’s On the Town, Bacher borrowed “Lucky to Be Me” (Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden and Adolph Green), vocalized with just rhythm backup. On Bacher’s other original tune, “Joie De Vivre,” it was all scat: “Bib, be, tee, Bbrak,” repeat, shuffle differently, with “Ya, ah!” sounding out, as the unison horns “bop bop” over a crisp drum beat. “Lazy Afternoon” (Jerome Moross/John La Touche) was pensive and so slow it drew attention to the arrangement; drums kept the piece moving, with a reprieve by the closing soprano solo.
The unanimous pick of the evening was “Hooray for Hollywood” (Richard Whiting/Johnny Mercer)—with updated lyrics by Bacher—by Debbi Whiting, the composer’s granddaughter and Margaret Whiting’s daughter, as well as Whiting cousin and associate, Sanborn McGraw, and producer Jeff Levenson and lyricist Roger Shore, the latter two sharing my table. Allen Farnham explained, “The Benny Goodman Orchestra in the 1937 movie Hollywood Hotel inspired this arrangement.”
Reaching back in time to recreate another era was Randy Sandke’s discovery of “Cloudy,” an unrecorded 1924 Bix Beiderbecke tune, combined with the swing rhythm of Django Reinhardt’s 1940 guitar gem, “Nuages.” The medley featured Bacher’s solo soprano, with Johnson’s string bass and Martinelli’s drums.
Before the set closed, we were treated to “Getting Some Fun Out of Life” (Joe Burke/Edgar Leslie), wherein the lyric imagines a gent who wants to work, play soprano sax and sing his heart out on Broadway in NYC!