In another time and place, Jerry Costanzo wouldn’t be interpreting the Great American Songbook. It’s likely he’d be conceiving it. Midwest Record deemed the luminous vocalist and bandleader “a cat that knows how to swing it and grab the Vegas vibe that most of us never were old enough to experience,” while Jazz.com
raved, “As all great singers do, he tells a story.”
Raised in a musical family, Costanzo’s musical stencil was etched with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Count Basie, Mel Torme, Jerry Vale and Nat King Cole. He was playing saxophone by third grade, and developed chops as a performer studying acting at New York’s Herbert Berghof Studio. A stint as personal aid and chauffeur for Al Pacino further apprised Costanzo to the arts, before he joined his father Joseph’s big band,
The Memories Of Swing, first on sax and then as the outfit’s lead vocalist.
While well into his 30s before the New Yorker recognized his calling card – bringing his musical idols back to life – Costanzo is making up for lost time. Today, the man behind the mic is a full-time troubadour and bandleader, surrounded by a “Who’s Who” of the jazz world.
In 2008, his debut full-length album “Destination Moon,” produced by Andy Farber and accompanied by Farber & his Swing Mavens octet, served up a dozen chestnuts, including the title track, “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” “Come Fly with Me” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” Showcasing 13 masterful musicians, the project includes tenor, baritone and alto sax, trombone, trumpet, piano, bass and drums.
“Moon” earned Costanzo a dedicated live following, with gigs including the Annual Sinatra Birthday Bash at The Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J., New York’s Metropolitan Room, Feinstein’s at The Loews Regency and Waldorf Astoria, the Long Island, N.Y., Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, Hofstra University’s Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman Centennial Concerts with the Long Island based Swingtime Big Band. Plus dozens of concerts up and down the East Coast.
And now, Costanzo’s follow-up disc, “Can’t We Be Friends?” – released on Daywood Drive Records and co-
produced by Costanzo with acclaimed vocalist and composer Kevin Fitzgerald Burke – raises the torch to fever pitch, featuring a five-piece rhythm section comprising piano, guitar, percussion, bass and vibraphone. The triptych of 10 songs, which again pays homage to musical heroes who painted the original brush strokes on American standards, thematically personifies Costanzo’s romantic relationships over the decades, embraced with a vibe he describes as “George Shearing meets The Nat King Cole Trio meets Milt Jackson.”
Costanzo conveyed his concept to several of the album’s players – Andy Farber, Mike Carubia, Tedd Firth and
Dan Block – and asked for their take on arrangements. The common bond, of course: Alongside the palette of
elegantly crafted songs is Costanzo’s warm, embracing vocal-ease, and his distinctive vocal stamp offering fresh interpretations of each selection. Highlights include a creamy reading of Cole’s 1952 “Penthouse Serenade (When We’re Alone)”; a tantalizing arrangement of his 1958 “Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps (Quizas, Quizas, Quizas)”; a frisky take on the 1930 Guy Lombardo hit “You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do)” – featuring crackerjack alto sax, piano, vibes, guitar and percussive solos from Costanzo’s sidemen – and a lustrous, purring version of Glenn Miller’s “Stairway to the Stars.”
In an interview with All About Jazz, Costanzo was asked to conjure his dream band. He joked, “They’re all dead. I wish I’d have been in my prime in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s.”
No doubt, those who have influenced the music of Jerry Costanzo would offer a collective thumbs up for skillfully preserving their legacy. He is indeed breathing new life into a venerable chapter of America’s songbook.
Chuck Taylor served as a writer and senior editor at Billboard magazine for 14 years. He has appeared on CNN, ABC’s “20/20,” VH1’s “Behind the Music,” A&E’s “Biography,” and been quoted in the New York Times, USA Today and numerous publications about music.