Guilderland jazz musician releases album of Christmas standards

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Categories: -The Daily Gazette, Entertainment

This summer, when Al Santoro recorded his first album, he had this in mind: “If we could get each and every person to smile while listening to ‘Christmas in July’ — that would be my true accomplishment as a jazz musician during this pandemic,” he said.

Along the way, he pays homage to the late Al Jarreau, his mentor and inspiration, and whose scat jazz singing style he often emulates.

Santoro recruited well-regarded Capital Region musicians to play on “Christmas in July,” recorded in his Guilderland home studio (and released on Nov. 26). It was a tricky proposition adhering to the social distancing guidelines during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was quite an adventure. We had to put people in different rooms to abide by the codes and then we just synced in to our headphones,” he said. “Compliments to the musicians for getting it down that way.”

The result is a nine-track album featuring Santoro’s vocals on such holiday classics as “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Silent Night,” “The Christmas Song,” “Christmas Time is Here,” “Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas” and others.

Joining percussionist Santoro on the album are Wayne Hawkins, piano/keyboards; Pat Perkinson, bass; Pete Sweeney, drums/percussion; Vito Speranza, trumpet/flugelhorns; and Joe Agastopolis, tenor sax. John Profeta was studio engineer.

“When you’re around great musicians, it’s that much easier to get it done,” Santoro said. “Everybody was focused, everybody’s soul coming together.”

Santoro, who works as director of sales for Logical Net in Schenectady and is the lead singer for local band The TS Ensemble, said he always wanted to make a holiday album.

“With everything going on in the world, I couldn’t think of a more perfect time to share the Christmas magic of what is in my musical soul,” he said.

Stylistically, he said, “It’s really all about my mentor, Al Jarreau. I always wanted to put something together that had that scat jazz feel — when somebody hears [that form], it’s Al Jarreau. Period.”

Santoro studied jazz vocals with Jarreau in New York City and had kept in touch with the Grammy Award-winning musician (remember “We’re in This Love Together” from 1981 or the “Moonlighting” theme from 1987?) through Jarreau’s agent before the singer’s death in 2017.

He cited some of the clearest examples of scat jazz on “Christmas in July.”

“I would have to say ‘Winter Wonderland,’ with its improv going back and forth with me and the trumpet player. I would say that’s my favorite,” said Santoro. “And ‘The Christmas Song’ — I thought the ending of the tune came together with our sax player, and it was just put together nicely as far as filling out some spots. The layers between the sax, the rhythm section and the scat vocals I just thought were special.”

Santoro freely admits to borrowing Jarreau’s scat vocal on “White Christmas,” from Jarreau’s own holiday album. “It was [taken] directly from that album,” he laughed.

The album is available as a physical CD in stores and on Amazon as well as digitally on all the major streaming and downloading platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music. Visit alsantoro.hearnow.com for more information.

“We’re getting some hits,” Santoro said, noting that Europeans especially like the scat jazz sound.

“It’s really gone nationally and some international. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve gotten some really good feedback.

“The whole idea was to do an album during the doom and gloom and to brighten things … we’re just trying to bring a smile.

“Even though we’re dealing with this pandemic, we have to just take a step back and appreciate that we’re here in this world.

“And the other reason — live entertainment is dead. I said, ‘you know what, I don’t see it coming back anytime soon, so let’s do something to keep the arts going.’ ”

Santoro gave special mention to Latham photographer Dino Petrocelli for his work on the album photos.

“My thoughts were, we did this in July, so nothing better than to do it with a sports car and Christmas gifts, to have winter and summer. We were able to drive the car [a ’97 Corvette] right into his studio,” Santoro said.

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