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I think Sonny Payne is my favorite player from the Big Band era. I love Basie and I love Sonny’s time feel and smart/reserved/strategic playing (see Sinatra’s It Might As Well Be Swing). Today’s drum solo feature of Sonny is a classic example of the drum solo culture in the 50’s and 60’s…

Observations:

– This dude knows his rudiments. Can YOU make 5 minutes on just the snare drum this interesting?

– Holding off on the cymbals almost entirely for a while and then bringing them in as their own motif later in the solo seems like a hallmark of the old school approach to soloing. 

– The stick twirling showman thing starting at 7:20 really reminds me of Zoltan.

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Album of the Week this time around is a classic. It Might As Well Be Swing is a collaboration between Frank Sinatra (arguably the all-time greatest American male vocalist), Count Basie (one of the founding fathers of the Big Band sound) and producer Quincy Jones (79-time Grammy winning American music icon). Many of the records featured in the AOTW series have been personal favorites of mine, and this one is no exception. This is the album I listen to when I’m just starting my day – a day when I’m in a good mood and want to stay that way. Picture yourself strolling through a park on a sunny afternoon and imagine the ideal soundtrack.

It Might As Well Be Swing, recorded and released in 1964, is the 2nd team effort from Sinatra and Basie, after 1963’s Sinatra-Basie. The album contains no Bossas, up-tempo tunes, or ballads to speak of. The music is, as it’s name suggests, just deep, swingin’ groove from top to bottom. (Note: I literally HATE cliche jazz terminology like the word “swingin”, but I use the rhetoric intentionally here because this record so embodies the vibe that cliche jazz terms seek to communicate.) The song list contains many famous Sinatra hits (“Fly Me to the Moon,” “The Best Is Yet to Come”) in addition to a nice smattering of typical jazz standards. It’s a perfect introduction to the stereotype of old school “Jazz,” and it’ll be a very enjoyable listen for almost anyone.

A cool element for drummers in this recording is the mix. Sonny Payne can be heard clearly in all the tracks, which isn’t always the case for old-school Big Band records. Payne just puts on a clinic on how to drive a 18-piece jazz orchestra, all while supporting Sinatra in the lead role. Grooves, hits, set-ups… everything he plays is assertive, driving, and of course his every note is deeply swung.

You should probably buy this album, and in the meantime you can preview some excerpts here.

(PS. I am writing this from Billings, MT. I’m on a short tour with Elizabeth Hunnicutt this week and part of next. We played in ND yesterday, and we’re in MT today, then Washington and Idaho and then home. I’ll post some updates of the shows as they happen.)

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