A Walk in Time

Liner notes by Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Sun-Times

There may be no second acts in American lives, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but for Swiss native Sam Burckhardt, the more acts, the merrier. His amazing first act opened in 1975, when as a 17-year-old from Basel, he talked his way into playing drums with Chicago blues piano legend Sunnyland Slim in a German club––a performance he captured on tape and issued in 1991 as “Sunnyland Slim Live in Europe-1975.” Sunnyland took to both his accompaniment and his youthful enthusiasm––not to mention his ability to promote what had been a sparsely attended gig into one attended by a roomful of Swiss students.

During a subsequent visit to Europe, Sunnyland invited Burckhardt to look him up in Chicago. By the time his number one fan from abroad accepted the invitation, he was playing the tenor saxophone. Not only did he become a regular member of Sunnyland’s band, he also moved in with him and became his right-hand man and driver. Particularly for someone born into a family of doctors and lawyers––who for all their support had to have been shaking their heads over the direction he had taken––he had carved out an unlikely career for himself at the age of 24.

But that was only the first act for Burckhardt. Following the intermission of Sunnyland’s death in 1995, he shifted gears and became part of a very different scene in helping launch the neo-swing revival in Chicago as a charter member of the Mighty Blue Kings. These showboatingjump and juke specialists packed them into the Green Mill and other clubs. But even at the height of their success, Burckhardt was hearing a different sound in his head and envisioning a more authentic context in which to celebrate jazz and blues tradition. Following an unfriendly leavetaking from the Blue Kings and a stint with another contemporary swing band, The Big Swing, he traded in his novelty-act credentials and nostalgia card to make more genuine music.

Though the title of his 1999 debut album, “Chicago Swing,” seemed aimed at the same party-happy audience, it transcended with its warmth, richness and flowing ease. Featuring such standout local players as saxophonist Ron Dewar, organist Dan Trudell and guitarist Steve Freund, the ensembles dipped and swayed, the blues grooves wiggled and wagged and the solos grabbed your ear without being showy. In some ways, Burckhardt’s leap from disposable neo-wing to lustrous “Chicago Swing” was as unlikely as his leap from Basel to the Windy City. You won’t run out of fingers to count the number of flash-in-the-pan jumpers and jivers who have gone on to thrive in the world of real music. And with “A Walk in Time,” Burckhardt proves that his debut recording was no fluke. Again mixing and matching proven Chicago players with the impressive unknowns, he combines the results of three different sessions featuring three different bands. His nonet features two leading female jazz artists, baritone saxophonist Juli Wood and bassist Marlene Rosenberg. His quintet includes pianist tom Vaitsas, who has played with Bob Perna, Von Freeman, and blues star Lurrie Bell. And his duo features 19-year-old pianist Dan Nimmer.

Burckhardt is a fine, emotive tenorist who throws himself back to past eras and past heroes without ever overpaying his debts. He has an agreeable, wonderfully direct sound and, as befits a former drummer, a fine sense of pacing. But it’s as a bandleader that he makes his strongest impression. His lack of formal training and his varied background conspire to give his harmonies a wonderfully friendly, intuitive, nonfussy quality––you’re instantly attracted to the clean lines and contrasting colors. You never feel like you’re being sold a bill of goods, or retroactively paying for the bills for music school lessons.

As revealed by the nonet’s affecting reading of “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing,” Burckhardt was born under the sign of Ellington and Strayhorn. On that song and two others (including “A&E Blues,” dedicated to Albert Luandrew––a.k.a. Sunnyland Slim––and bluesman Eddie Boyd), he benefits from the arranging prowess of young altoist Doug Angelaccio, a former cohort of his days in the The Big Swing.

Perhaps reflecting his appreciation for the trust that was shown in him when he was starting out, Burckhardt has kept his ears open to the work of younger players. He is especially excited  about the work of Nimmer, who has an uncanny wisdom to go with the chops of a full-fledged phenom. On the impromptu “9:30 Blues,” the last tune of their session, the pianist caught him by surprise with his sense of self-containment. “It was such a perfect conversation,” said Burckhardt, whose hardcore blues experience have not roughened his courtly. soft-spoken manner. “Dan started out reharmonizing the tune, then he did these nice rhythmic things. And then on the last chorus, he does this incredible run, which he follows not by doing another chorus, as most young players would have, but by getting out. He knew that he had said what he wanted and that was enough.”

Burckhardt is also very fond of the pianist on the nonet tracks, Pete Benson, who is in his twenties. “He has a real feeling for space and knows how to play with and against the sections,” he said. As for pianist number three, the more seasoned Vaitsas: “He plays with a lot of soul. Some players have a tendency to keep reharmonizing or playing on the outside. Without being boring or bland, he plays to the substance of the tunes, which really gives me something to respond to.”

Clearly, Burckhardt trusts the musicians with whom he has shared bandstand time in such haunts as Andy’s and the California Clipper. They return that trust by playing with a freshness and resourcefulness he might not get from musicians for whom “A Walk in Time” might be just another date. Like his tenor playing, this is not the kind of album that shouts out for your attention, but rather one that draws you closer and closer through the honesty of its expression and the confidence of its interactions. At this writing, Burckhardt was preparing to return to Switzerland for a series of performances. His family may well still be shaking their heads over his career choice, but you can bet that they’ll also be swaying their hips and tapping their feet in affirmation of his second act––with more acts still to come.

Musicians:

A & E Blues, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, A Walk In Time, Samba Ease, Splanky

Sam Burckhardt, tenor sax
Doug Angelaccio, alto sax
Juli Wood, baritone sax
Chuck Parrish, trumpet
Jason Wick, trombone
Pete Benson, piano
Kyle Asche, guitar
Marlene Rosenberg, bass
Corey Radford, drums

Spring Blue

same as above, without Wood, Parrish, Wick

Dondessa’s Waltz, When You Know, You Don’t Know What Love Is, 9:30 Blues

Sam Burckhardt, tenor sax
Dan Nimmer, piano

I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance, Kittiwake, Riding Around, Sunday Morning Boogaloo

Sam Burckhardt, tenor sax
Tom Vaitsas, piano
Dan Peters, guitar
Patrick Williams, bass
Bob Carter, drums

Recorded at Airwave Studios, Chicago; January 4, 23, & 30, 2002, by Kyle White
Design by Beht Strever
Photography by Eileen Ryan
Arrangements by Sam Burckhardt and Doug Angelaccio
Copyright: © ® 2002


79mb .zip file

1. Sunday Morning Boogaloo    Samuel B. Burckhardt
2. Samba Ease     Samuel B. Burckhardt
3. Riding Around     Samuel B. Burckhardt
4. You Don t Know What Love Is Don Raye, Genen De Paul
5. Spring Blues     Samuel B. Burckhardt
6. A & E Blues     Samuel B. Burckhardt
7. A Walk In Time     Samuel B. Burckhardt, Douglas M. Angelaccio
8. 9:30 Blues      Samuel B. Burckhardt, Dan Nimmer
9. A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing     Billy Strayhorn
10. When You Know     Samuel B. Burckhardt
11. Kittiwake     Samuel B. Burckhardt
12. Dondessa s Waltz     Samuel B. Burckhardt
13. I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance     Victor Young, Bing Crosby, Ned Washington
14. Splanky    Neal Hefti