There is something special in the sound, the style, and the phrasing of a horn player who sings; I think back to my favorites of the past like Chet Baker, Jack Sheldon, and even Louis Armstrong.They brought a unique musicality and lightness to their delivery while paying attention to the lyrics, both narratively and rhythmically.In that grand tradition, Danny Bacher brought his quartet last Friday night to “Jazz Nights at Baretto,” upstairs at the Fasano Restaurant on West 49th Street, and put his stamp on a nice selection of songs from the Great American Songbook, along with some rarities and a few well-crafted originals. The musicians who supplied first-rate support throughout the evening were Allen Farnham on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, and BenSaporito on drums; Bacher supplied tasty soprano saxophone as well.
The well-appointed room was a bit of a disappointment since it was filled with a younger, entitled crowd more interested in listening to each other than the terrific entertainment on the stage. Bacher didn’t let the thankless circumstances deter him from providing two delightful, classy, and entertaining sets while I was there.Fortunately there were enough in the crowd with the taste and politeness to respond with appropriate enthusiasm.
He opened with “On the Street Where You Live” (Frederick Lowe, Alan Jay Lerner, from My Fair Lady) which was a perfect introduction, keeping it light and inviting while swinging like crazy. A fun take on “Witchcraft” (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh) that managed to avoid the smarmy, lounge-y sound in which too many young singers get mired, followed.Michael Bublé, et al, would do well to seat themselves ringside and learn how it should be done. “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Harry Warren, Al Dubin, from Dames) featured some great scat singing (which he returned to again and again as the evening progressed); it was assured, unforced, and totally natural to his sound—his voice echoing the runs that he might have provided on his sax.
Bacher traveled back to September 1917, for his next number, with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “At the Jazz Band Ball” (Nick LaRocca, Larry Shields) with additional lyrics by Johnny Mercer that were added in the 1950s. This was a highpoint of the night, with the expected Dixie/ragtime rhythms happily overlayed with some decidedly rock & roll chords, and the singer making a feast of the “ancient” words.His beautifully measured, mid-tempo “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Hugh Martin, Ralph Blaine, from Meet Me in St. Louis) made me long to hear an all-out ballad but I realized that this was neither the venue nor the audience for it, so that would have to wait for another time. He unearthed a 1946 Nat King Cole gem, “The Best Man” (Fred Wise, Roy Alfred), that highlighted his wit and intelligence with a good lyric, and his ability to make the set a captivating history lesson as well.
“Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (Louis Jordan, Billy Austin) was a perfect choice for Bacher and the band with a sizzling arrangement and some welcome vocalese along the way.His effortless immersion in the sound was remarkable.A rapid-fire “I Get a Kick Out of You” (Cole Porter) was equally impressive with an individual, fresh vocal that stood apart from most contemporary attempts at Porter. An original, “In Spite of All This I’m Still Happy,” with a “list” lyric in the Porter spirit, revealed yet another hat that he wears well and with ease—that of songwriter. Bringing the 1930s vibrantly into 2022 with a bit of a bossa beat, “Laughing at Life” (Bob Todd, Cornell Todd, Charles Kenny, Nick Kenny) let Bacher set a place for himself at the table with Billie Holiday and Tony Bennett who both recorded it. The slowed-down verse only whetted my appetite for a full-fledged ballad.He did come close to delivering it with Frank Loesser’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”His romantic delivery was punctuated with a fiery sax solo that might have seemed out of place if he weren’t so connected on all levels to the song.It is perhaps inevitable in this circumstance to include “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” (Bobby Troup) but his almost laid-back attack on the tongue twisting geography of the words actually made me listen to a song I hadn’t really paid attention to in years.
The final song of the second set was indeed a classic— “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields) that showcased the sophisticated and inviting sound of the powerhouse trio of musicians backing him, and Danny Bacher’s superb soprano sax and smooth, sassy, sensational vocals.I can’t wait to see him in surroundings more worthy of his talent.He is an unassuming master waiting in the wings.
Presented as part of “Jazz Nights at Baretto,” upstairs at Fasano Restaurant, 280 Park Avenue, December 9, 2022.
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”