As far back as I can remember, jazz has always been music that resonates with me. It traces back to spending time at my Grandparents’ house as a kid, listening to their fantastic collection of big band and swing records. Together we listed to great radio programs like “Make Believe Ballroom,” hosted by Wiliam B. Williams, the DJ who dubbed Frank Sinatra “Chairman of the Board.” It was also my good fortune to have one of the best college jazz programs in my own “back yard” at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ, where I spent countless hours playing saxophone and singing with many of their ensembles while I was still a high school student. Also, seeing and hearing great artists like Milt Hinton, Joe Williams, Ray Brown, Clark Terry and Sonny Rollins there, gave me a deeper understanding of the need to develop an indelible sound and style as a musician early on. Of course, living so close to NYC and some of the best jazz clubs in the world didn’t hurt either
As an actor, a writer, a comic, musician and a member of the legendary New York Friars’ Club, I’ve been able to travel the world as a performer. Instead of picking a lane, I’ve made a conscious decision to weave all these art forms together to express my passion for entertaining and making people happy through music. Which brings us to this, my debut recording: Swing That Music! Danny Bacher sings and plays Louie Armstrong, Louie Prima and Louie Jordan.
It all began when one day over lunch with my good friend and former jazz vocal teacher, Grammy nominee Roseanna Vitro. We discussed my idea of doing an album around music from the American popular songbook. Knowing my background not only as a singer and saxophonist, but as an entertainer, she suggested doing a Louis Jordan project as he epitomized the consummate entertainer and musician. This brought me to the idea of including some Satchmo in the mix. Then Roseanna’s husband and recording engineer, Paul Wickliffe, reminded us what a great musician/entertainer, Louis Prima was – and from that point on it seemed obvious. I decided to do a tribute to all three! Each one of these giants not only influenced one another, but also influenced countless musicians and performers for generations – and have all had a profound impact on me.
My biggest challenge was selecting the material. It’s hard to do 12 tracks on just one Louis, but on three seemed almost impossible. How can you represent three megastars on one album. So what we did was select the hits that have stood the test of time and for which the artists were most known, and add some more obscure tunes to the mix. I wanted to take a fresh approach without tampering too much with the integrity of the originals.
Opening with a rarely performed Armstrong tune, “Swing That Music,” as the title track, the full ensemble is featured on a wonderful arrangement penned by Grammy nominee, Pete McGuinness. My opening solo on soprano sax is followed by the incomparable Warren Vache’s killin’ solo on cornet. Then I had a blast singing a scat soli with the band. This tune really captures the essence of the whole album, and sets the tone for what comes next.
The second tune, “Old Black Magic,” a la Louis Prima and Keely Smith, is a treatment very similar to their original arrangement, but features the wonderful rising star, interpretive vocalist, Cyrille Aimée, and again, a swinging solo by Vache.
Next up is “I Want You To Be My Baby,” a really fun tune that was actually performed by two of the three Louis. Both Jordan and Prima made recordings of this tune, and it certainly harkens to the great call/response style with the band, that was so associated with the swing era. The fun part for me was working hard to get my clear diction together for the rapid-fire patter section in the song, so it could be clearly heard. (I think Danny Kaye would have been proud!) There’s an added treat of two terrific solos on this track: the first by the legendary tenor sax man, Houston Person, who’s both a treasure and a pleasure; and an amazing solo by my Music Director, and pianist, the superbly talented Jason Teborek.
The next cut, “Early in the Morning,” is a tune done in a boogaloo style, beautifully arranged by Jason, and executed perfectly by the tenor and cornet horn section, Dave Demsey and Warren Vachet. I truly loved blowing the solo on this tune, which worked nicely which the soprano sax, followed by Jason’s inspired piano work. This tune was written and performed by Jordan, but other greats have also had a go at it, including Ray Charles, whose influence you can feel in this arrangement.
Perhaps the most obscure tunes on the album is “If It’s Love You Want Baby, That’s Me,” another gem from the Louis Jordan catalogue. Not only was he a great musician, composer, and all-around funny guy, but Jordan was ahead of his time as one of the earliest rap artists. He’d often break into a spoken-word segment of a tune set to rhythm, and the results were always hilarious. Also featuring the great Howard Alden on guitar, this tune allowed me the opportunity to write a more up-to-date rap section from my own twisted comedic mind. It really helps sell the story of a guy who thinks he’s a real ladies man, but in reality just doesn’t “get” women, and probably never will…
The first true ballad on the recording is “A Sunday Kind of Love,” which was actually written by Louis Prima. This song went on to success and popularity thanks to recording stars as Etta James. But, in our version, we went to the original source for inspiration. Again, we feature the inimitable Houston Person on tenor, who told me this song was one of his all-time favorites. It clearly shows in his soulful approach to this track.
There were originally only eleven songs to be recorded. But, in the “eleventh hour,”after reviewing the lineup with jazz record exec, Jeff Levinson, he mentioned a true tribute to Prima is just not complete without “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody.” So Jason quickly arrangemed, a two-horn w/trio ensemble performing the first half of the medley, with a classic “Sam Butera and the Witnesses” style taking the second half into a deep swing groove. Once again, the song features Houston Person as the voice of Butera, while I happily traded scat choruses with the great “tenor man.”
“Dream a Little Dream” was certainly made popular by Louis Armstrong well before Mama Cass did her own immortal version. Jason T accompanies me on vocals and soprano sax with a sweet & slow stride piano. I also gave a little nod to Bing, as I whistle off into the fade.
Legendary bassist Ray Drummond is the solo voice that rings at the start of Jordan’s classic hit, “Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t my Baby?” This track features the full ensemble, with Houston Person soloing. When Jason and I collaborated on composing the shout chorus, I though it would be fun to write some lyrics that helped to expand the story line. The band loved it and we hope you do too.
My second duet with Cyrille Aimée is a medley. “La Vie En Rose” is sung beautifully at the start by Cyrille in her native French. This melody is a perfect compliment to the sweet Oscar Hammerstein song, “Give Me A Kiss to Build a Dream On.” Both of these songs were closely associated with Louis Armstrong throughout his career, and these melodies were gorgeously interwoven throughout this Jason Teborek arrangement, featuring Warren Vache’s exquisite solo on cornet. Since two of the three Louis represented on this album were trumpet men, it was really important to find the right voice to fill the trumpet/cornet chair. We sure found it with Warren!
Our second-to-last tune, “St James Infirmary,” is one of my personal favorites, a real story-saloon number. This New Orleans – style dirge conjures up images of an early Armstrong performing this classic tune from his vintage repertoire. This great arrangement by Taborek features Vache and myself on horn solos, that great Dixieland tradition made so popular the world over by Ambassador Satch.
The Sherman Brothers gave us their gem, “I Wanna Be Like You” from the classic Disney film, “The Jungle Book,” which brings us full circle with this swingin’ up-tempo number. Originally written for and performed by Prima, as King Louis the Orangutan, and Phil Harris as Baloo the bear, this has always been a tune fit for a party animal! So in this arrangement, we also included segments of another Prima original, “Sing Sing Sing,” woven throughout the piece. Ace drummer Bill Goodwin executes the Krupa-style tom-toms with authentic flair! Fellow scat singer Pete McGuinness and I get to show off our chops in this grand finale to “Swing That Music!”
Well, the journey has certainly been a full one. And to help me realize my final vision from my initial concept to the finished product were three people I like to call my “Dream Team,” my Manager and Post Producer, Suzi Reynolds, who brought me two Grammy winning wizards, Mixing Engineer, Michael O’Reilly and that master of mastering, Alan Silverman. Suzi’s impeccable ears helped me to realize the sonic integrity all the musicians, “passed” and present truly deserve. But above all else, it was an absolute joy! With a great producers, superb arrangers, a truly swinging band, and the enduring legacy of “The Three Louis, “you can’t help but to have a blast putting a project like this together. In fact, I challenge you to listen to this album without a smile on your face, or moving to the beat, or getting out of your seat and just dancing! And as happy as this project makes me, I hope it can help bring even more joy to a world in need of just that! Happy listening.