An envelope arrived the other day. Inside was a CD and a note. The CD was Sammy's new release entitled On the Sammy Side of the Street. The note from Sammy Nestico said, "Marc: I don't know if this is the best one but it is my favorite one. Check out the two Johnny Mandel tunes. The soloists are wonderful."
Sammy's wrong. I find that each of his releases is his best work. That's the beauty of Sammy. He's an extraordinary swinger who puts everything into his charts and albums—always thinking of the listener's feet first and foremost. There's never any dead air on Sammy's albums, spinning wheels or wooden passages. Everything jumps with sparkling energy, like a Jack Russell terrier at dinner time.
For those of you unfamiliar with Sammy Nestico, I refer you to my interview conducted last January. In short, Sammy started out as a trombonist and arranged extensively for the U.S. Air Force Band—the Airmen of Note. Then he arranged for Count Basie in the late 1960s, '70s and '80s, delivering some of Basie's finest late-period albums. For me, it's hard to beat Basie's Sammy-arranged albums Straight Ahead (1968) and Have a Nice Day (1971). Scott's Place from the latter is so solid.
Three of Sammy's albums for Basie (Prime Time, Warm Breeze and 88 Basie Street) won Grammys. Sammy was nominated three times for Grammys, most recently in 2009 for Fun Time: Sammy Nestico and the SWR Big Band. He should have won.
His new album is loaded with plenty of surprises. This time around Sammy is working with his West Coast studio orchestra, and he recorded the ablum at Capitol Studios. Among the heavies are Bill Watrous, Pete Christlieb, Hubert Laws and Tom Scott. The 14 tracks include expansive and expressive arrangements of In a Sentimental Mood, Smile and Surrey with a Fringe on Top.
Many are rip-roaring with solos and pep. Dig trombonist Andy Martin's tribute to Kai Winding on Surrey. Wow. And catch how Sammy intros Sunny Side of the Street with a nod to Sy Oliver's chart for Tommy Dorsey back in the '40s. How's your foot doing? Still going up and down?
As for those tunes by Johnny [pictured] (one of Sammy's favorite composers), Sammy chose Shadow of Your Smile and Emily, which features trumpeter Warren Luening. Not satisfied to take the waltz as a ballad, Sammy picks up the tempo after the first read-through. Sammy's own Free Flight #2 flicks Billy May's Come Fly with Me intro but immediately resolves as one of Sammy's infectious warm charts.
The album goes out with Ya Gotta Try...Harder, which Sammy originally wrote for Quincy Jones' Basie and Beyond (2000).
Another swinging album. Bravo, Sammy!
JazzWax clips: Here's Sammy's arrangement of Scott's Place on Count Basie's Have a Nice Day...
Here's Sammy's Fun Time from his Grammy-nominated 2009 album of the same name...