Reviews

Brad Walseth, Jazz Chicago, June 2006
Was wandering down the street with time to kill during the Jazz Fest – had a few hours to go before Nicholas Payton’s Miles tribute – so hit the Jazz Record Mart for a bit and then decided to stop in Andy’s for a crispy pizza. Was relaxing with a Sam Adams, when a Sam of a different, but no less tasty flavor hit the bandstand, as tenor saxman Sam Burckhardt and his tight band came on and blew me away.

Possessing a smoothly confident style and a tone so sweet it could be packaged as Swiss chocolate and sold at a confection shop, Burckhart won me over and caused me to seek out his “A Walk in Time” recording, and I was not disappointed. A former founding member of Chicago’s neo-swing “Mighty Blue Kings,” the Swiss-born sax player has moved in a more tradional direction, while still maintaining a sense of fun. Surrounded by a talented cast of musicians, Burckhardt pays tribute to the ghosts of the past, without being a nostalgia act. The supporting musicians swing and support admirably – pianists Pete Benson, Tom Vaitsas and Dan Nimmer add tasty lines – each in a somewhat different style, while the horn section of Doug Angelaccio (who also provides clever arrangements), Juli Wood, Chuck Parrish and Jason Wick are solid. Bob Carter and Corey Radford fill the drum roles nicely, and guitarists Kyle Asche and Dan Peters pitch in with admirable layering. Bassists Marlene Rosenberg and Patrick Williams propel things forward, and it is abundantly clear that Burckhardt knows a thing or two about chosing sidemen (and women).

“Sunday Morning Boogaloo” opens the CD with it’s good time feel, jingling guitar from Peters and a Williams bass line so chewy you could lose teeth on it. “Samba Ease” continues the fun in a slightly new direction and other uptempo tracks like the saxophonist’s own “Spring Blue,” “Kittiwake,” and the incredible “Splankly” showcase Burckhardt’s writing chops, as well as his ability to play strong and fast without showing off and detracting from the song itself. But it may be the ballads like the title track, Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” the lovely original “Dondessa’s Waltz,” and the old Bing Crosby, Victor Young, and Ned Washington penned chestnut “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance” where the tenor player’s smooth clean lines shimmer most and inspire the most admiration.

Well worth picking up – “A Walk In Time” is a wonderful addition to anyones’s jazz collection, and a snapshot of a young tenor player who is still growing in ability, and I would recommend checking out his sets when he plays Andy’s in the future. One can only imagine what the future will bring for Burckhardt, but I am interested to listen and find out.

 

G.E.Murray, Jazz Institute of Chicago, December 2002
Swiss-born Sam Burckhardt has been a uniquely varied force on the Chicago music scene for almost 20 years-first playing tenor saxophone in the legendary Sunnyland Slim Blues Band and, later, as a key member of the jump-and-jive Mighty Blues Kings and Big Swing. In 1999, Burckhardt cut his debut album with the unassuming title of Chicago Swing, which turned out to be a warm and rich transitional vehicle from blues grooves to a more standup jazz style.

Now A Walk in Time extends that direction in multi-faceted ways. This CD is actually the result of three separate sessions with Burckhardt leading three different combos. His large-sound, nine-player group includes two of Chicago’s hottest female jazz players, baritone saxophonist Juli Wood and bassist Marlene Rosenberg. Anytime you get a chance to hear Juli and/or Marlene, take it. Both are just coming into their own both as group players and occasional leaders, and are accomplished innovators.

Sam’s nonet also gets superb support from alto sax Doug Angelaccio and pianist Pete Benson as the group plays beautifully on Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lonesome Thing,” and Burckhardt’s own title composition. I kept skipping back to both of these selections.

Burckhardt’s introspective work with young pianist Dan Nimmer hits a peak with “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Also not to be overlooked are Burckhardt’s originals, “9:30 Blues,” “When You Know,” and “Dondessa’s Waltz” -which enable Sam to display some versatile and vintage chops on his tenor horn.

Burckhardt also works to stunning advantage with pianist Tom Viatsas and Dan Peters on guitar in their sensitive version of “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance.” Another notable is the straight-ahead “Sunday Morning Boogaloo,” which opens this CD with some mellow upbeat strokes.

Throughout, Burckhardt establishes himself not only as a quality tenor player, but an interesting composer and energetic group leader as well. It’s all good now, but you have to believe there will be more interesting twists and turns to encounter with the ongoing and intriguing evolution of Sam Burckhardt.
Kevin Toelle, Illinois Entertainer, June, 2002
Skilled tenor saxophonist (and a founding member of The Mighty Blue Kings) Sam Burckhardt has released his second solo CD A Walk In Time (Airway Records) on which he continues to make the superb music he first performed on his debut Chicago Swing back in 1999. Mixing jazz, swing, jump, and blues on the 14-track effort, Burckhardt and a seasoned supporting cast cover a lot of musical ground on this well-produced CD. The program consists mostly of original material, though Burckhardt and band also turn in sparkling interpretations of classics like Neil Hefti’s “Splanky” and Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lonesome Thing.” Working variously with a nontet, quintet, and dueting with pianist Dan Nimmer, Burckhardt demonstrates impressive technique, musical imagination, arranging ability, and a relentless sense of swing on this top-notch outing.
Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 27, 2000
It’s a story that seems more like something from an independent film than someone’s life. In a German nightclub in the mid-’70s, a college kid politely approaches a legendary Chicago blues pianist who is muttering to himself about the meager turnout. They strike up a conversation and the kid, who is from nearby Basel, Switzerland, mentions that he played drums as a teenager with American bluesmen including a crony of the pianist’s. The pianist lights up and the kid offers to play drums with him as well.

The pianist accepts the offer and things go well, particularly the next night, when the kid gets a bunch of students to pack the place. The next time they meet up in Europe, the pianist invites the kid, who has switched to saxophone, to look him up in the States. When the kid makes it to Chicago, having turned 24, he not only joins the pianist’s band, but also moves in with him in Englewood and then on the West Side, drives him around and becomes part of the blues community.

Sam Burckhardt, who has since relocated to the North Side and a life in jazz, still can’t believe his good fortune in hooking up with Sunnyland Slim during the years leading up to his death at 88 in 1995. “It sometimes seems like a dream,” he said. For others, the idea of a Swiss kid from a wealthy family of doctors and lawyers making the grade as a Chicago bluesman is too unlikely to be true. But Burckhardt, who will lead his swing band at 8:45 tonight as part of the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s Jazz Fair at the Cultural Center, refuses to let questions about his image get in his way. “I decided from the start that I wasn’t going to worry about that stuff, that I was just going to be myself,” he said. His easygoing, soft-spoken manner belies his determination, which he revealed in dropping out of school to hook up with the colorful and eccentric Sunnyland Slim (“He was like my grandmother in never saying good about my playing in front of me, but bragging about me in front of others”) and then in pursuing his own vision.

A charter member of the Mighty Blue Kings, who launched the jump and swing revival in Chicago five years ago, he knew even when the band was packing clubs and he was wagging his sax in the spotlight that he wasn’t in it for the long run -that the Kings’ hyped-up sound wasn’t the sound he heard in his head.

After a less-than-amicable parting with leader and lead singer Ross Bon (who has since refashioned the still-popular Kings as an RandB and swing unit), he became part of the five-horn contingent in the Big Swing, for which he frequently handled leadership chores. Still not satisfied, he left that band (which faded out not long after changing its name to the Vanguard Aces) to start his own. For his impressive 1999 debut album, “Chicago Swing,” which he released himself, Burckhardt rounded up musicians he had played with and/or admired including vaunted veteran saxophonist Ron Dewar, organist Dan Trudell and blues guitarist Steve Freund. While he can’t be said to have more than a serviceable style on tenor, his songs are alive with sweet harmonies, wistful melodies, fetching arrangements and fresh slants.

“I always have tried to do what Duke Ellington said to, which was to have a song contain something familiar and something unexpected,” he said. During his initial years in Chicago, Burckhardt held day jobs as an interpreter and translator and teacher of German and French. Before emigrating here, he did field work in Africa as an anthropology student. Now, his field work is restricted to places like the California Clipper, where he holds down a regular Thursday gig. Burckhardt, who is largely self-taught as a musician, confessed to being intimidated by “legitimate guys who can read off the page like there’s no tomorrow.” But the memory of his final gig with Sunnyland Slim at Legends provides him reasons not to worry about perfection.

“He could no longer play what he used to,” he said, “but in keeping things simple and focused, he got at the essence of the blues – filtered, distilled and distilled again. It gave me chills. Just thinking about it, it gives me chills again.”
January 5, 2000
#5 of 1999 best Jazz CD by Chicago Sun-Times’ Lloyd Sachs
Tenorist Sam Burckhardt spurns the vacuous neo-swing movement…to craft warm, sweetly textured originals that strike an artful balance between contemporary and classic. A fine soloist, the Swiss native is backed by a strong cast.
Kevin Toelle, Illinois Entertainer, December 1999
Former saxophonist for Sunnyland Slim and The Mighty Blue Kings, Sam Burckhardt has produced a jazz/blues/swing gem with his all-original instrumental debut Chicago Swing. Burckhardt’s well-conceived compositions run the gamut of jazz styles from the ’40’s through the ’60’s, and he has recruited an all-star band including fellow tenor player Ron Dewar, drummers Bob Carter and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, keyboardist Brian O’Hern, and a host of similarly outstanding players to help him bring this ambitious project to fruition. From unabashed swingers like the toe-tapping “Honey Chile Jump” to “Monk’s Hat,” an appropriately moody and offbeat tribute to Thelonius Monk, Burckhardt and his musical collaborators prove they know their stuff. Skillfully produced and creatively arranged, Chicago Swing might just be the best local effort (in any genre) to appear this year.

rated an 8 out of 10

 

Dave Chamberlain, New City, Chicago, Nov. 4, 1999
One of the original court members of the Mighty Blue Kings, Sam Burckhardt, has also been making music since the early seventies, including collaborations with blues and jazz artists Sunnyland Slim, Erwin Helfer, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers and Yoko Noge. Burckhardt just released “Chicago Swing,” fourteen tracks of authentic jump blues without a single Cherry Poppin’ Daddy to be found. Sam plays the tenor sax, and he knows his history; there are no covers on “Chicago Swing,” but every song sounds as if its straight from 1944. (There’s even a version of “Honey Chile Jump,” a Mighty Blue Kings staple that Burckhardt wrote.) The man can blow the blues through a horn, and if you want to hear it for yourself before you spend the money on a record, check him out at any number of weekly gigs he plays (most often, Thursday nights at the California Clipper in Logan Square)
Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 24, 1999
There are a million questions in Jazz City. Here (is one) of them: Is there life after swing–or, more to the point, any real life in it? If you are Sam Burckhardt, there certainly is. With “Chicago Swing” (Airway), the tenor saxophonist has released the best neo-swing album to reach these ears–one that far outdistances the mannered jump and jive of his old band, the Mighty Blue Kings, with its warmth, richness and flowing ease. Burckhardt, who after leaving the Kings played with the Big Swing (now called the Vanguard Aces), boasts a deep, soulful, throwback sound on tenor. But it’s his writing that carries the day. Working in six to nine-piece settings, with spirited players including saxophonist Ron Dewar, Hammond organist Dan Trudell and blues guitarist Steve Freund, he creates something unexpectedly fresh out of familiar materials. The ensembles dip and sway, the blues grooves wiggle and wag and the solos grab your ear without being showy. If most neo-swing artists treat past jazz and blues styles with an ironic chip on their shoulders, Burckhardt approaches them straight up, without guile–perhaps a reflection of his coming to this music late. A native of Basel, Switzerland, he broke in as a teenage drummer backing American blues musicians. A two-day gig with Sunnyland Slim led to a meaningful association with him–and to Chicago. There are some tangy blues on “Chicago Swing,” most notably “Indigo Bunting,” on which pianist Christian Rannenberg tears it up, and “Rabbit Riff Blues,” a steamy organ feature. There are also some gorgeous harmonies. On “Dreamtime,” the leader serves up wistfulness sweet and pure, buoyed by answering horns. On the lovely mid-tempo ballad “I Will See You,” you can hear Johnny Hodges playing even as Burckhardt lays on sturdier feeling. Good swing music for the ’90s? Imagine that.
David Whiteis, The Chicago Reader, June 6, 1986
Sam’s saxophone style shows that he’s got people like Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins on his mind as much as he does anyone from Mississippi; he flows like water over the solid comping of Sunnyland and the well-oiled band behind him.