Danny Bacher has been called a lot of things – most of them good – and one of the most common, usually after someone has watched his stage show, is “old soul.” This singer, songwriter, arranger and gifted soprano sax player can come across as someone who’s time-traveled from the 1930s or ‘40s.
“If I had a nickel for every time someone said that to me, I’d have … a lot of nickels,” Bacher laughs.
Today, in fact, is his 44th birthday.
They call him that because Bacher has effortless command of the sort of swinging dance music that characterized the era, and he sings with the warm, breezy style of Great American Songbook stylists like Sinatra or Torme.
Or, to bring us to the present day, like Feinstein and Buble, to whom Bacher has drawn favorable comparisons.
A recipient of the prestigious Margaret Whiting Award, Bacher was nominated for best male vocalist in the 2019 National Jazz Times reader’s poll, along with Harry Connick, John Pizzarelli and Tony Bennett.
The New York-area musician is on a short Florida excursion this week, and he’ll headline Sunday afternoon’s jazz concert at the Palladium Theater.
He’ll perform with a group of some of the bay area’s finest players – pianist John O’Leary, bassist Alejandro Arenas, trumpeter James Suggs and drummer Rick Costa.
“When people ask me what I do, and I tell them I’m a jazz musician, I usually have to explain more,” Bacher says. “Because people have formulated these ideas of what jazz is. I’ve heard so many people saying it’s ‘old white people music,’ which I think is a riot, or ‘it’s elevator music.’
“It’s very hard to define what jazz is – there are a lot of sub-genres – but I always say the music I do is very accessible jazz. Because it’s jazz that jazz fans can really enjoy, but people who aren’t necessarily fans, or don’t know they’re fans of jazz yet, can listen to the stuff I do and get into it.”
He considers himself an entertainer. “I like to have audience participation. I like to wink and lean on the audience a lot. It’s from my background as an actor.”
In the 1980s, when he was growing up in suburban Wayne, New Jersey, Bacher never made a connection with the music of the day – the Madonnas, the Van Halens, the Michael Jacksons.
His family spent nearly every weekend at the home of his maternal grandparents. They had a pool – more importantly, to impressionable young Danny, his grandfather had a collection of classic big band and swing albums. “I just assumed that was the music everyone listened to,” he says.
At 10, he announced he wanted to learn to play the drums. Or the saxophone. His parents vetoed the former (too loud) and encouraged him to try the sax.
“I’m glad of that,” Bacher says, “because it was a melodic instrument, and I think so much melodically when I play. Even to this day, if I was to analyze my approach to solos and improvisation, it’s always very melodic.
“So many great composers from that era just had such melodic sense. Jazz is such a great marriage of so many things – rhythms from Africa, but also the melodies from classical music. In particular, I love the French impressionist music. I find it very beautiful and melodic.”
While he was first studying, as a kid, he had a deal with his grandfather. He’d borrow a couple of records – Basie, Ellington, Miller or Goodman – and when he returned the following weekend, he’d play something he’d learned. All the melody lines, all the solos, every instrument on his saxophone.
He’s recorded two albums so far – the first a tribute to three of his favorite jazz players (and inspirations), Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima and Louis Jordan (he calls them The Three Louies) titled Swing That Music!
His latest, Still Happy, collects 12 swinging nuggets of musical positivity – from “Get Happy” and “Shaking the Blues Away” to “Hooray for Hollywood.”
Like many who dream to introduce the old school to the new, Bacher is happy when it’s suggested that’s he’s an ambassador for the music he so loves.
“One of things in jazz that we have to be careful about is this pedagogical approach to the music,” he says. “And I think we get bogged down in it – I think it possibly turns some people off, instead of getting into the music.
“So I feel like, let’s do something fun – it’s almost like ‘let’s have a party, and everyone’s invited.’ While I’m onstage, I’m going to get people as into it as I can.
“In hopes that they become no only lifelong fans, but they get curious and they want to know more about this kind of music.”
Sunday’s show starts at 4 p.m. Tickets and information here.