Those who remember the “big–band era” should give thanks to Ben Grisafi and his wonderful Long Island–based ensemble for helping to keep its fading spirit alive; those who don’t should listen to this band to appreciate why so many people mourn the passing of that incomparable epoch and long for its return. Not many contemporary bands are devoted to performing songs from the Golden Age of American music; fewer still approach them with as much warmth and artistry as Grisafi’s. Say You’ll Always Remember is the fifth recording by the band since its formation in 1994, and as on those previous albums, Grisafi’s inspired arrangements reanimate a time when Glenn Miller, the Dorsey brothers, Ellington, Shaw, Basie, Goodman, James, Barnet and their peers led everyone’s Hit Parade. And as before, the program accentuates but is not limited to big–band favorites by such celebrated composers as Ellington, Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Sammy Cahn, Burke and van Heusen, Harry Warren and Isham Jones. Grisafi himself wrote four charming originals, one of which, “Say You’ll Always Remember,” is sung by the band’s superb vocalist, Denise Richards (who I suspect may have composed the lyrics under her given name of Sciortino). The album opens with Grisafi’s bouncy “Swing a Ding Ding” and includes his “Just a Minor Thing” and “I Remember Sonny,” the last dedicated to the late Sonny Sasso who played tenor sax on the band’s first two recordings. Grisafi is the tenor soloist on that one, as he is on Ellington’s graceful “Sophisticated Lady” and (with trumpeter Frank Guerriero) on “Cocktails for Two.” Every big band needs a talented lead trumpet and drummer, and Grisafi has them in Brian Lewis and Rob Levy, as well as a number of sturdy soloists including trumpeters Guerriero and Carl Fischer, altos Gary Meyer and Julius Tollentino, tenor Jeff Gordon, baritone Tim Croan, trombonist Frank Vaccaro, bassist Pete Chivily, guitarist Randy Langone and pianist John Caponegro. It doesn’t hurt to have a great band singer either, and Richards is absolutely marvelous, awakening fond memories of such big–band icons as Helen Forrest, Peggy Lee, Helen O’Connell, Martha Tilton, Jo Stafford and others on “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “With a Song in My Heart,” “Day by Day” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Even with these potent weapons at his disposal, however, Grisafi is careful to keep the ensemble in the foreground, sketching resourceful charts that preserve and enhance the big–band tradition. While it may seem impossible to look forward and backward at the same time and to have an unobstructed view in both directions, Ben Grisafi and his band prove again that it’s not only feasible but enormously productive as well.
Contact:Ben Grisafi Orchestra, 3478 Daniel Crescent, Baldwin, NY 11510–5152. Phone 516–623–4725; e–mail Swingsax@ix.netcom.com
Track Listing: Swing a Ding Ding; Say You
Personnel: Ben Grisafi, leader, tenor sax solos; Gary Meyer, Julius Tollentino, alto sax; Jeff Gorden, Jimmy Cassata, Bobby Nelson (5, 7, 12), tenor sax; Tim Croan, baritone sax; Brian Lewis, Carl Fischer, Phil Gray, Frank Guerriero, Gus Kalin (5, 7, 12), trumpet; Steve Barbieri, Khadafy Khan, Frank Vaccaro, Ozzie Melendez (5, 7, 12), Kevin Doolittle (11, 13, 17), trombone; Jeremy Kempton (1