With a new CD, saxophonist-vocalist Erich Cawalla goes big and goes home – Reading Eagle

As the face of the Uptown Band for 15 years, saxophonist Erich Cawalla has developed a huge following.

With equal parts courage, determination and talent, he made this nine-piece R&B/jazz/funk band one of the most in-demand bands in the region and beyond, releasing a few CDs in the process of road.

But Cawalla and some of those around him always felt like he had a little unfinished business. It seemed natural to record a solo album of standards showcasing his talents not only on saxophone, but also on vocals, à la Michael Bublé.

With the national release on May 10 of “Erich Cawalla – The Great American Songbook” via Chicago-based Bluejazz Promotions, consider it mission accomplished.

The album will be celebrated locally with a preview of Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest, featuring a big band and 24-piece orchestra, Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Gov High School Auditorium. Mifflin.

It features standards such as “Have You Met Miss Jones”, “All My Tomorrows” and “Ooh Baby Baby”, as well as “When Sunny Gets the Blues” in memory of Kenny Rankin, “Almost Like Being in Love” in memory . by Natalie Cole and “The Curtain Falls” in memory of Bobby Darin.

A two year wait

The release was a long time coming. It was originally scheduled for spring 2020, but when the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Cawalla opted to put it on hold as the extent of the lockdown became clear. At the time, he had no idea that it would take two years for the dust to return.

“We were supposed to release it on March 25 (2020), and 10 days before the whole world stopped,” Cawalla said, “and I was like, ‘This is amazing’.”

What happened in the meantime has been mixed. There have been deaths along the way, including Cawall’s arranger, Dave DePalma, and percussionist Leonard “Doc” Gibbs, who plays on the CD. And others too.

“I think what’s really sad for me is that so many people who were my mentors and I wanted to hear this CD have now passed away, and that’s really upsetting for me,” Cawalla said. “People like Don Walker and Bobby Mercer and Tony Kurdilla and (Robert) ‘Doc’ Mulligan.”

But on the bright side, Cawalla was able to make some changes to the record, including adding strings, courtesy of Yanni’s violinist Karen Briggs, to “All My Tomorrows.”

“We thought we had two more years to work on it, so might as well perfect it as much as possible,” Cawalla said. “So we put it on and it made a big difference on the track.”

Another plus is that the rescheduled CD release show ended up where Cawalla debuted.

“It’s the third time it (the venue) has changed, and it’s at my alma mater now, and I have the band I played with 25 years ago opening for me, the Gov. Mifflin Statesmen jazz ensemble, so that’s pretty cool,” Cawalla said. “Now it’s the same stage I started on, in Mifflin.”

Five years of preparation

For Cawalla, the 11-song CD was no small feat. Five years in the making, it features a supporting cast of friends and musical acquaintances in a 17-piece big band that plays on five of the tracks. He says it’s the best lineup of musicians you could get together in the area, with names like Grammy-winning guitarist David Cullen, former Maynard Ferguson drummer Marko Marcinko, Yamaha pianist Steve Rudolph, legendary Philadelphia saxophonist Larry McKenna and jazz saxophonist Andrew Neu.

“So it’s all local, Pennsylvania guys, but they’re all amazing,” Cawalla said. “They’re all creme de la creme guys.”

A big band of big names records backing tracks at Spyro’s Modern Music in Laureldale. (Photo courtesy of Erich Cawalla)

In an attempt to achieve a vintage sound like when Sinatra recorded with a big band at Capitol Records, he brought them all together at Spyro’s Modern Music in Laureldale for a live session.

“We got four (paintings) and I looked at the price and I was like, ‘Oh man, this isn’t going to be a cheap record,'” Cawalla said with a laugh.

For icing on the cake, he turned to Philadelphia trumpeter and Berks Jazz Fest member Randy Brecker, whose resume includes stints with Blood, Sweat & Tears, the Horace Silver Quintet and, of course, the Breckers. Brothers. Brecker rips it solo on Cawall’s version of “Stella by Starlight.”

“I wanted to put a bigger name on it,” Cawalla said, “just to get Grammy consideration, and just to show people that this is an album that’s special.”

Brilliant arrangements

For most rankings, he turned to DePalma, whom he met backstage at the Showboat in Atlantic City, NJ, 20 years ago, even though they lived a few miles apart. other. Cawalla said DePalma, who resides in Denver, Lancaster County, was adept at creating anything from power tower vibes to Sinatra-esque big band and orchestral arrangements.

“He was just brilliant and he was local,” Cawalla said. “To find a guy like that, who was world class, we were very lucky.”

Songs that do not feature the big band may have smaller horn sections, strings, oboe, bass clarinet, or flute.

“It has a lot of different textures,” Cawalla said. “It takes you back to the Sinatra-Basey years, where you really get that big band sound; then it takes you into the Capitol (Records) years, where you really get that orchestral sound; and the kind of Charlie Parker album with strings too.

Sky is the limit

Erich Cawalla, left, on saxophone with longtime friend Bennie Sims, who produced his CD. (Reading Eagle)

Cawalla’s longtime friend and musical partner, Bennie Sims, who served as a producer (and bassist), says the sky’s the limit once the album is released.

“I’ll tell you right now, I don’t think anyone will be ready for the level of talent they have when this record comes out,” Sims said. “Nobody knows. I mean, everybody knows he’s got talent, but they don’t know how much. And this record, he’s gonna blow people away.

Cawalla has what Sims described as a soft, easy falsetto that exudes warmth, and he also has a good vocal range.

“His voice, it’s very inviting,” Sims said. “He brings you in with his voice and his tone.”

Favorite tracks

Together with DePalma and Sims, Cawalla wrote an original for the record, titled “Life’s About Forgiving”. He said he modeled it after a song he loves that Bublé did on a Chris Botti record called “Let There Be Love.”

He also chose the closer album, “The Curtain Falls”, as his favorite.

“If you watch the movie ‘Beyond the Sea’, you’ll hear that song at the end, and it really spoke to me,” Cawalla said.

It’s about breaking down the barrier between performer and audience, a lesson he learned from Bobby Mercer.

“It’s really about experiences,” Cawalla said, “and that’s what this song is about, just the relationship between the audience and the performer.”

“A bit of emotion”

The Sims recalled the night two years ago when they finally put the finishing touches on the disc, or so they thought.

“We sat in Erich’s car and listened to him – because we always do,” he said with a laugh. “And it was kind of emotional, man, because it’s such a great sounding record, and I think I was able to really capture the essence of his talent. The arrangements are stunning. Dave DePalma did the most of the arrangements and, I mean, they are stunning. Those arrangements are so powerful.

Cawalla said the release of “The Great American Songbook” marks the peak of his career so far.

“But hopefully it will continue to grow,” he said, “and that point will only grow more and more.”

If you are going to

“The Great American Songbook” will be on sale at Wednesday’s concert.

Event: Berks Jazz Fest Preview by Boscov, Erich Cawalla — The Great American Songbook

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Or: High School Auditorium Gov. Mifflin, Shillington

Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for students in advance at erichcawalla.com or by calling 610-781-8312. ($20 and $15 at the door)

Jack L. Goldstein