Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sammy Nestico And The SWR Big Band - "A Cool Breeze"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


SWR Big Band - Südwestrundfunk

Seventeen musicians-one sound. And a very convincing sound, at that. The SWR Big Band has so far been nominated four times for a Grammy - the most important music award in the world. Also it received in 2015 a Jazz Award in Cold ffom German music industry. Enjoyed a great honor in 2011, when it was the first German band ever suggested for the "Premio da Musica Brasileira", Brazil's most important music award. In the face of so much fame, it seems almost modest to say that the SWR Big Band is one of the best big bands in the world.

Jazz, fusion or world music, the repertoire is large. As is the list of guests: Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Ivan Lins, Curtis Stigers, Roy Hargrove, Roberta Gambarini, Patti Austin, Sammy Nestico, Paula Morelenbaum, Joo Kraus, Toshiko Akiyoshi. Bob Florence, Rob McConnell, Slide Hampton, Maria Schneider, Frank Foster, Bill Holman, Bob Mintzer and Ralf Schmid. Or how about a shade more pop? No problem - for instance, with Paul Carrack, Max Mutzke, Mousse T., Andrew Roachford, Incognito or Götz Alsmann.

Like the big bands in the USA, the SWR Big Band has its own sound, bequeathed to it by its founder and conductor, Prof. Erwin lehn. The starting gun was first heard on April 1, 1951. Back then, the SWR Big Band was still known as a dance orchestra, the Südfunk Tanzorchester, Lehn saw to it that the band was increasingly referred to as the "Daimler of big bands". For it has shared the stage with many stars: Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Astrud Gilberto, Chet Baker, Caterina Valente or even Arturo Sandoval, Ever since the early nineties, the SWR Big Band has been appearing with various bandleaders, depending on the project and style of music.

Sammy Nestico is a composer-arranger whose accomplishments and credits have earned him legendary status in the music business.

Today’s word that best describes him is “iconic.”

He has done it all: a host of big band arrangements including those for the Count Basie Band, The Airmen of Note and Germany’s SWR Orchestra, movie and television scores, and a variety of commercials.

Along the way, he has won a bunch of Grammy Awards and, judging by the smile that appears to never leave his face, he has had a great deal of fun doing what he loves to do.

He’s a perfect example of the adage: “Do what you love and the rest will follow.”

On June 9, 2017, SWR Music released A Cool Breeze: Sammy Nestico and the SWR Big Band [SWR 19039] which documents more of the ongoing love affair between this brilliant, Stuttgart-based big band and one of the most accomplished composer-arrangers in the history of big band Jazz.

Everything about this recording is simply splendid from the SWR’s technical execution of the arrangements, to the joyful and magical way Sammy’s charts play out on the listener’s ear to the audio quality which imbues the music with a rich texture and a warm sound. Listening to the music on this recording makes you realize why Big Band Jazz is a category apart and that when it’s done right, no other aspect of Jazz matches its majestic sonority.

The great drummer Louie Bellson once said that sitting behind a drum kit when a big band was in full flight was what it must feel like to “soar like an eagle.” Indeed, Louie loved this analogy so much that he wrote a tune with that title for his big band.

Sammy must have dug it, too, because his arrangements make the SWR big band “fly!”

Sammy offered these comments about his working relationship with the orchestra in the accompanying insert notes booklet:


Notes by Sammy Nestico

“When listening to the SWR Big Band CD, you always expect a high degree of musicianship Even though the orchestra produces variations to comply with changing trends, there is always a "feel" that is distinctive and basically a part of the SWR Big Band. It has always been one of the great experiences of my life to know and perform with these musicians.

Let's talk about the music.

Finding appropriate instrumental colors for Cell Talk was a problem and had to be approached from a different musical viewpoint. I settled on instrumental couplings rather than using a complete sax or brass section. It proved more appropriate due to the variety of cell phone conversations. Listen closely and you may even hear some senseless chatting going on.

Benny Golson has always been one of my favorite writers. Because we chose to take the tune Along Came Betty out of Benny's original jazz format, the band gave it a new personality.

Along with this tune, I've always had have a special feeling for my composition of A Cool Breeze. It was originally written for a young student band, but the melody was pleasing enough to take it on a more adventurous journey. Along with a hot rhythm section, the solos on Along Came Betty and A Cool Breeze are among the best on the recording.

Frankie and Johnny has been taken apart and reassembled with all the vigor that 18 musicians can muster Adding to this happy mood, the brass section is especially aggressive, urged on by Karl Farrent.

When adding Moonlight On The Ganges to the roster of old favorites, the usual instrumentation was embellished with an oboe, sitar, mallets and a gong for more authenticity.

Likewise, The Jazz Music Box highlights a compressed brass section to give the "music box" a little charm ... but alas, like all music boxes, it inevitably winds down. Enjoy!”


In the following insert notes, Ralf Dombrowski provides more background information about the long-standing working relationship between Sammy and the SWR Big Band - Südwestrundfunk and how this recording came about.

“The SWR Big Band bears a responsibility. On the one hand, it started out in the comparably comfortable situation of being securely financed by the fees that make the German broadcasting system possible. This means that the orchestra is not forced to rely on a safe repertoire when it comes to planning and designing its programs, The SWR Big Band can experiment, can invite people and set priorities that may appear surprising at first glance. In fact, the ensemble and its creative minds have managed to be nominated for a Grammy four times in years past and to develop, under bandleaders such as Erwin Lehn or Kurt Edelhagen, a profile independent of the beginnings and the early merits, which

stands for deep roots in the swing and bop tradition as well as for being open to ideas of contemporary sounds and a thrilling portion of fun in playing music. Recently, guests like guitarist Larry Carlton and composer and singer Ivan Lins have been able to take part in this mixture, as well as the entertainer Curtis Stigers or master guitarist Pat Metheny.

A Cool Breeze

Or the composer and arranger Sammy Nestico, as well. The paths of this friendly, white-haired gentleman from Pittsburgh, who has been one of the constants in the world of American music since the 1950s, have crossed with informal regularity those of the SWR Big Band which, with recordings such as "No Time Like The Present" (2004), "Basie-Cally Sammy" (2005), "Fun Time And More" (2008) and "Fun Time And More - Live" (2010), made a key contribution to sharpening the international perception of Nestico's late creative phases. He brought along plenty of experience, for his musical career enabled him to work with many defining and inspiring jazz personalities over the years. And it soon became apparent that he, like fellow arranger Neal Hefti, has an extraordinary sense of the impact of what is simple, clear, and accessible. As a youth, he taught himself to play trombone, worked as a studio musician after getting his degree from Duquesne University, and at a time when big bands were dying out,
cultivated his fascination for large ensembles by working in Washington primarily for the US Marines and Air Force orchestras.

Film music then attracted him in the Sixties. Nestico moved to Los Angeles, composing for films and television series and taking care of the didactic and pedagogical reworking of many classics and works of his own. Hundreds of charts came into being and were passed around at American schools and universities, such as the music for the Time-Life Big Band, which was involved in meaningfully transforming the ensemble jazz that had become traditional. In addition, Nestico's cousin Sal found him a job with one of the titans of the business: around 1968 he began arranging for the Count Basie Band, a collaboration that continued into the mid-eighties. Since this time at the latest, he has been considered one of the most important arrangers of trenchant modern jazz and was engaged by Ray Anthony, Frank Sinatra, Frank Stallone and even Phil Collins to give the large orchestra its proper, succinct form.

The Sammy Nestico Project

At any rate, he has found his style, and it sends the pros into raptures. "On the one hand, you notice after four or five bars that it is Sammy Nestico," says Marc Godfroid, trombonist with the 5WR Big Band who, among other things, attended to communication with the master on the other side of the world while the Sammy Nestico Project was being recorded. "On the other, he is still constantly developing.”  The music he wrote specially for this CD, for instance, is quite different from what you could hear from him five years ago." The enthusiasm for the repertoire on which the recordings of January 2016 are based, ran through the whole troupe of musicians. The casual precision with which the possibilities of orchestral configuration are boiled down to their essence is particularly extraordinary. Nestico's pieces are concentrates of lightness. You think you understand them at first glance, and yet under their accessible surface they conceal a mature complexity whose precision in the control of emotions and moods, in the coloring of the sounds, and in the intensification of the song dramaturgy brings out the magic of the overall impression.

"Beautiful things never disturb" is a motto that Nestico had already adopted while working with Count Basie. It also enables him to leave prevailing fashions behind. The music he wrote for the SWR Big Band sounds funky, has elements of fusion in its ingredients, but by the same token swing, a pinch of soul and the emotionalism of orchestral expression. It can scale back to a reduced combo momentum only to lead logically to the other extreme of opulent sound a little later. It is the intensification of compositional skill, which goes beyond what can be directly apprehended from the score, a creative mastery that baritone saxophonist Pierre Paquette sums up by saying, "Sammy is the boss!" However, this is only possible because a basis for mutual understanding was created during more than ten years of collaboration between the composer and the orchestra, a collaboration built not only on notes, but also on intuition.

Thus it also became possible to achieve the recordings of the Sammy Nestico Project with emphatic finesse even though the "boss" was sitting tight thousands of kilometers away in San Diego. In contrast to earlier collaborations, where Nestico himself stood on the podium of the SWR Big Band, he had decided not to undertake the hassle of intercontinental travel just before his 92nd birthday. Even so, Skype enabled him to take part in the recordings, at least as a digital onlooker. Again and again, pieces just recorded were sent to his computer, eliciting tears of joy from the elderly gentlemen, who would say, "I am only hearing that through the small speaker on the laptop, but it sounds great. We have already made four records, but this one here is the best, without a doubt!" The musicians who were standing around the screen in the SWR studio smiled and nodded. They lived up to their responsibility and experienced a little bit of happiness, as well.”

The American wing of Naxos International is handling the distribution and Michael Bloom’s team is in charge of media relations: musicpro@earthlink.net


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