Music » Band of the Week

Piano Man

Harry Bacharach fronts a big band on new DVD



On Monday and Thursday nights, singer-pianist Harry Bacharach can be found in the lush environs of Ohio City's Velvet Tango Room, offering the audience a mix of pop standards, contemporary pop tunes, his own compositions and smart-aleck humor to go with their fancy cocktails. You can expect a somewhat different sort of show when Bacharach celebrates the release of his DVD, Live at Cain Park, at Nighttown this week. The DVD captures another format for the performer to stretch the boundaries of his music.

"Last summer we played at the Alma Theatre at Cain Park," he says. "I had an eight-piece band with me. [Cleveland filmmaker] Tom Kondilas, who directed PolyCultures, this film about local food and sustainable agriculture, helped me. He hired the cameramen, and we did a five-camera shoot. He edited it."

At Cain Park, Bacharach performed numbers like "The Crutch" and "Philandering Fool" from his 2008 release Live at the Velvet Tango, as well as crowd-pleasing standards like "My One and Only Love." He says he's using the 15-song, hour-long DVD primarily for promotional purposes.

"I don't know who the hell will buy it, to be honest," he wisecracks. "Actually, I'm really happy with the way it turned out. My brother Noah — who dances four or five nights a week — was in town from San Diego for a balboa competition. I said, 'You'll be in town for my show; I want you to swing-dance with somebody for my show.' We found this woman Megan, and they danced this cool little number together to Tom Waits' 'Ice Cream Man.'"

Bacharach adds that he himself does a dance number at the end of the show to "The Crutch." However, dancing talent apparently doesn't run in the family; he describes his own dance skills as "ludicrous" and "ridiculous."

At Nighttown, he'll reprise some of the tunes he did with the larger band, this time with a smaller combo that includes Roy King on drums, George Lee on bass and Jim Cirillo on sax. He'll do some new songs too. And he's already looking ahead to putting on an even more spectacular show.

"What's even more exciting is that I've got my date for the Cain Park show next summer — July 20," he says. "This time, I'm going to have the Mojo Big Band with me. They are a 17-piece big band that plays Brother's Lounge every Monday. The bandleader is this guy named Matthew Bott; he's a trumpet player. I met him at the Happy Dog one night, about a month ago. I went to see the big band perform at the Brothers Lounge and was blown away. He's got some veterans in the band and some younger dudes. They play big-band arrangements, Quincy Jones arrangements, and they're really tight. What's cool is they rehearse from 7 or 7:15 until 8 o'clock every week before they perform, so you can watch him do his thing. He's got such a terrific ear for all the different sections."

The show this summer will be even more diverse than last summer's, thanks to the expanded possibilities such a large number of musicians offers. Bacharach says he'll do some Frank Sinatra-Harry Connick Jr.-type standards with the big band and some smaller ensemble numbers, and feature the Mojo Big Band by themselves on a few numbers.

Bacharach is also excited that he's hiring Paul Ferguson to do big-band charts for some of his tunes for the show. The veteran trombone player has been a mainstay of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and director of jazz studies at Case Western Reserve University since 1988.

"We've only talked on the phone, but I discovered he lives a street over from me, so hopefully I can look over his shoulder and learn a little something," says Bacharach. "He just knows so much."

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