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L.A. Music Today: Danny Freyer

"Must Be Love" features a unique approach to jazz standards, and originals
"Must Be Love" features a unique approach to jazz standards, and originals
Matt Perko

“One of the best jazz vocals CD’s I’ve heard in a long time,” says DJ Mark Landesman, at WWOZ New Orleans’ Jazz station 90.7 FM.

“With a resonant voice powering an easy swinging vibe on a load of chestnuts, Freyer is sure to be able to pack them in anywhere ears welcome vocalists,” says critic Chris Spector, of Midwest Record.

This is some of the praise for “Must Be Love” which introduces us to the extraordinary talent of jazz vocalist Danny Freyer. Upon hearing him sing, the Sinatra influence is apparent, as are welcomed comparisons to contemporary vocalists who have continued in the same tradition, such as Michael Bublé and Steve Tyrell. Of this, Jersey Jazz Journal critic Joe Lang says Danny “should stack up quite well alongside these peers. To my ears, I find Freyer a more attractive vocalist. He can swing, has a pleasant baritone, and really puts over his material, including a few originals that show him to be an effective songwriter.”

“Must Be Love” has already charted on the CMJ jazz charts. When it hit #21 on the charts, it stood alone as the only independently released male vocalist release. It is currently in rotation on 160-170 stations, and Danny has recorded station IDs and bumpers for some of these stations.

Three significant events in his early musical development include hearing “The Blues Had a Baby and They Called it Rock n’ Roll” by Muddy Waters, being exposed to Chuck Berry and that “rootsy rock n’ roll I always loved through the “American Graffiti” soundtrack, and finally having his mind blown by Jimi Hendrix and his amazing guitar on “Electric Ladyland”. The boundary-breaking approach of these artists have continued to influence Danny, as he has studied the music of the masters that proceeded him, yet stretched out into a style which is his own.

Danny grew up in Greenwich Village, and lived just a few blocks away from Hendrix’s last known residence in New York City on 12th Street. As a kid, he played along with Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix records, and when he discovered Charlie Christian he developed a love for Benny Goodman, and other jazz big bands. He also heard Django Reinhardt, but couldn’t wrap his head around how he played guitar. Through his family, he was also exposed to the music of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Art Tatum, among other jazz greats. Danny had a job distributing flyers and posters for a blues club. He and his friend Alex, who played harmonica, participated in some blues jams, including some that included Big Joe Turner, and the Holmes Brothers. He took a guitar solo while jamming with Big Joe Turner. He was also lucky enough to see Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Lightnin’ Hopkins perform. Another great memory is of the time he met Dizzy Gillespie at The Blue Note. Dizzy actually knew Persian, and had Hebrew letters on the back of the business card that he handed Danny.

Though he had a deep appreciation for jazz, and a little experience playing some big band jazz guitar in college, Danny played and sang mostly rock and folk music. He didn’t become serious as a jazz singer until around 2006 when he decided to audition for a retro-swing band called The Esquires. He already had a love for Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong. But it wasn’t until this opportunity came around that he realized how comfortable he was singing jazz standards made famous by Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Sinatra in his natural baritone range. Before long, he had a large repertoire of standards under his belt. Danny still performs with The Esquires who play mostly weddings and fundraisers.

Danny took lessons with Annette Warren-Smith, who provided the singing voice for Ava Gardner in the film version of the musical “Showboat”. After she felt Danny had developed his technique enough, and was belting out standards, she suggested that he begin working on songs with her husband, who was the legendary piano accompanist Paul Smith. At this point, Paul was 90 years old, and had a storied career working with many of Danny’s favorite singers including Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, and Anita O’ Day, among many others. Danny and Paul began working on material

for recording Danny’s first jazz album, when Smith became ill. Paul recovered a few

months later, but by that time Danny’s recording project had progressed into the studio

with other musicians. Paul passed away before the album was complete. Danny greatly enjoyed Smith’s anecdotes of his jazz memories, and he still works with some of the tunes that Smith helped him arrange.

Around the same time, Danny came to sing in a jazz club at a weekly jam session that was hosted at the time by Evan Stone, who is a drummer, and producer. Upon hearing Danny, Evan asked if he had any recordings available. At the time, Danny was performing with The Esquires, but he had no recordings with them, or even a demo of him singing jazz. He told Evan, “I don’t have any recordings, but I have a full book of standards, so if you ever need a singer...” Gradually, they developed a friendship, and Evan suggested that he was interested in producing an album for Danny. Upon determining that it would be within his budget, Danny expressed interest in recording some standards, as well as some originals that he had worked up.

A single eight-hour session yielded the basic tracks for all ten songs on the album “Must Be Love”. These tracks included Roger Shew on bass, Matt Politano on piano, and producer Evan Stone on drums. This was the core group at the jazz jam, and though they only had one four-hour rehearsal session prior to recording, they sound like they have been refining these arrangements for a much longer. Jeff Elwood, also a frequent guest in the jam sessions, also provided saxophone solos on a few tracks in this single session. That there were very few alterations to these original takes is testament to the skills and talent of the players. Though Evan and Danny were both happy with the results of the session, Evan envisioned a more polished production for some of the tunes. “Everything he did was far beyond the call of duty”, states Danny. Evan “heard violins in his head” for “Promise Me You’ll Remember”, which lead to adding a string section with arrangement by Ryan Pryor, for this love theme from The Godfather Part III. This ballad is further highlighted by Jeff Elwood’s extended one-take sax solo.

“Must Be Love or Else I’m Drunk”, and “Tanked as a Fish, Buzzed, Bombed & Blitzed” is a two-part story of songs about the struggles with romance paired with drinking. In this case, the guy has been a player who now feels he has found true love, though it’s obvious he has been drinking heavily. The second part “Tanked as a Fish, Buzzed, Bombed & Blitzed” picks up the tempo, and borrows a few key lines from the previous tune. Jeff Elwood’s solo provides an energetic push, and is followed by a very tasteful solo by Matt Politano. These originals sound like standards, and are indicative of the modern-day approach to swing that best define Danny’s style. Another great example is taking Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite”, and adding the “Let’s Make Babies, Baby” original lyrics. Danny enjoys word-play, internal rhyme, and incorporating his sense of humor into his lyrics.

Other elements of color which add variety to the album include accordion by Phil Parlapiano on “Begin the Beguine”, which also employs a Latin beat. Dannielle DeAndrea is featured in the three-part vocal harmony on “Goodnight My Love”. “New Orleans Dixieland horns” are featured on the Tony Guerrero/ Evan Stone arrangement of “Lean Baby”. Tony Guerrero also plays a trumpet solo on this track, as well as on “Goodnight My Love”. Not only does “That Old Black Magic” feature a Latin beat, but the intro/outro by Roger Shew and Matt Politano borrows an idea from Bizet’s opera “Carmen”.

There is currently a press announcement in the works, and Danny celebrated the release of his album “Must Be Love” with gigs at the storied jazz venue The Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach, and Vitellos Upstairs jazz club in Studio City. Though The Esquires is really a separate project from his own style and material, he will be performing with them on 8/16/2014 at Swing Pedro in San Pedro. If you catch him there, you could pick up a signed copy of his new album, even though they won’t be performing that material at that gig.

“I have a bunch of ideas literally from Beethoven and Jimi Hendrix to Tom Waits”, says Danny of future musical plans. He looks forward to other projects with Evan Stone, though he aspires to collaborate artistically with other musicians as well. Combining his jazz foundation with storytelling, and lyrical craft, Danny says “You have to sing something you feel and you love”.

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