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Sammy Nestico and the SWR Big Band: Fun Time and More Live

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In a recent interview with Marc Myers of, there is a lovely glimpse of Sammy Nestico’s current creative process. “Whenever I write a tune and arrange it,” he says, “I … record myself playing it on the piano and load the result onto my iPod. Then, when I take my walk each day around the circle in our neighborhood, I fine-tune the song here and there.” At age 87, Nestico can do much more than walk and chew gum. He can walk and compose and arrange.

This album is his fourth collaboration with the SWR Big Band of Germany. The first three were studio dates. The new album was recorded live at the Jazz Lights festival in Oberkochen in March 2010.

The visceral impact of a big jazz band is difficult to capture in a live recording. This one is a sonic triumph. The reeds roar on “Blue Samuel,” yet there are also depths of inner ensemble detail. A recording that brings a world-class big band alive in the heat of the moment is special, even though Nestico has recorded these tunes before, with the SWR or Count Basie or the Frank Capp Juggernaut. His clean, tight, dynamic charts are mainstream big-band classics. Incited by an enthusiastic German audience, the SWR kicks ass. Their section work is precise yet ferocious and there are solid soloists like alto saxophonist Klaus Graf and trombonist Marc Godfroid on “A Pair of Aces.”

Nestico’s arrangements are mostly about eruptive brass and life-affirming energy, but in the occasional slow piece, like “A Song for Sarah” and “Samantha,” there are rich colors and subtle sonorities which this recording beautifully renders and arrays across a lifelike sound stage.

Originally Published