Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Erich Cawalla set to release ‘American Songbook’ album

Friday, March 20, 2020 by DAVE HOWELL Special to The Press in Focus

Editor’s Note: The concert by the Erich Cawalla Quartet, 7:30 p.m. March 20, in the “Jazz Upstairs” series, Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown, was canceled because of concerns about the Coronavirus.

It has taken four and one-half years, but Erich Cawalla is releasing his first solo album in March: “Erich Cawalla - The Great American Songbook.”

The new album’s official release date is scheduled for March 25 at a Berks Jazz Fest preview show with a 25-piece big band and orchestra.

The album includes the three members of the quartet. Along with Cawalla, saxophone and vocals, the quartet is Steve Rudolph, piano; Bennie Sims, bass, and Marko Marcinko, drums, and several other musicians, with Sims as producer.

Cawalla was interviewed by phone from Deerfield Beach, Fla., where he was visiting relatives. He went to Orlando to see 84-year-old Bobby Mercer, who gave Cawalla his start in show business at the age of 19 by inviting him to join the Bobby Mercer Road Show.

The warmth and emotion Cawalla gives to the Great American Songbook takes over the stage whether he is playing with a quartet or a big band.

“I want to break down the barrier between the performer and the artist,” he says.

With a singing style that includes falsetto and scat, the outgoing Cawalla obviously enjoys his work, sharing a feeling that captivates audiences.

“My goal is to be a Michael Buble who also plays sax,” he says.

It is a challenge to switch back and forth between singing and playing, but doing both gives Cawalla insight into the American Songbook.

“I play melodies, instead of just notes,” he says.

He mentions Frank Sinatra, who learned phrasing from Tommy Dorsey when he played with Dorsey’s big band. He believes that instrumentalists should learn the lyrics of the songs they play, even if they do not sing them.

Cawalla mainly plays alto sax, although he’s known to play tenor sax, soprano sax and a flute.

Cawalla, who lives in Reading and grew up in nearby Shillingon, is well-known to audiences at the Berks Jazz Fest. He estimates he has appeared there about 20 times in total, 13 years consecutively, both as part of the Groovemasters and his own Uptown Band. Last year, he was there with the Erich Cawalla All-Star Big Band & Orchestra. He appeared three times with the Reading Pops Orchestra.

The Uptown Band has nine players. One of the two female vocalists is Cawalla’s wife Jenifer Kinder. They were at Musikfest last year and are to appear there in 2020. They have also performed at the Allentown Fair and the Sands and Wind Creek casinos, doing about 100 concerts annually.

Many of the album’s tracks feature a 17-piece big band, with original arrangements by Dave Dipalma. Cawalla put the band together from musicians he has worked with over the years.

The album includes “That’s Life,” “When Sunny Gets Blue,” Smokey Robinson’s “Ooh Baby Baby,” and the original “Life’s About Forgiving,” by Cawalla. Dipalma and Sims.

One of the musicians on the album is Grammy award-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker, who did not record at any of the three studios where the album was put together.

“It was amazing,” says Cawalla. “I just mailed the track to him and he mailed it back through the Internet. Things are a lot different now than in the old days.”

After high school Cawalla graduated with an accounting degree from Shippensburg University, but gave up the profession to go into music full-time. He also teaches and runs a booking agency that does about 150 shows a year.