The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘art tatum’

How is this possible? Art Tatum

Posted by keithosaunders on December 15, 2017

Art Tatum was, arguably, not only the greatest jazz pianist of all time, but the greatest pianist period.  He is responsible for influencing Charlie Parker, who took a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant that Tatum was appearing at merely to be close to the man. Tatum also had a profound effect on Bud Powell, hence every single subsequent jazz pianist.

Tatum, born October 13th 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, came of age in the swing era, a good ten years before the be-bop revolution.  Though he emerged in an earlier era,  his harmonic sense – his voicings, as well as re-harmonization of songs –  is as modern, if not more so than that of anyone who proceeded him.  His technique is flawless and he sounds just as comfortable at breakneck tempos (see Liza) as he does when he plays a ballad.

There are two facets of his playing that have always astounded me.  One is his impeccable time.  No matter how complicated and ornate a run he plays he never drops a beat.  His sense of pulse is a thing of wonder.

Then there is his gift of harmony.  It’s easy to be hypnotized by his Olympian technique, but listen a little closer and you will hear intricate re-harmonizations – chords that flow into one another with deft ease, sometimes on every beat. They are beautiful to behold, but difficult for the laymen (read 99.99 % of us) to grasp, and hence nearly impossible to assimilate.

Listen to Moon Song.  At 3:11 you’ll hear Tatum launch into one of his impossible runs, his right hand a whirling dervish, while his left hand stride solidly holds down the time.  He doesn’t complete the run until 3:18 at which point the audience breaks into spontaneous laughter.  They can’t believe he has stuck the landing!

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It’s all music

Posted by keithosaunders on November 16, 2016

If you’ve never heard a live recording of bebop music when it was in its prime in the mid 40s then you’ve never really heard it.  There is an immediacy and an electricity about it that does not fully emerge in the studio recordings.  Don’t get me wrong; anything that Bird ever recorded is nothing short of outstanding, but to get the complete picture you must check him out live.

This is top of mind because as I write this I’m listening to a compilation of live radio broadcasts of Bird on a disc entitled, The Complete Live Performances.  The host of the broadcasts is the New York disc jockey,  Symphony Sid.   Sid had a hipster way of speaking (“Blow Bird, blow!“) which I’ve always gotten a kick out of.  It sounds to my ears, however, that he got under the skin of the musicians whom he revered.

On one of the tracks Sid says to Bird, “Can I get a few words about the sides you did with Machito? [In the late 40s Parker recorded The Afro Cuban Suite with Cuban percussionist, Machito]   It sounds like you’re trying to bring bop to a larger audience – make it more commercial.”   Bird responds in an affable, yet slightly condescending tone, “Well, if you say so, Sid, it’s all just music to me.”

Birds response – it’s all music – is revealing in that it implies that he was more interested in making great music than leading a bebop revolution.  The modern musicians of the 40s knew they were onto something special and that they had made breakthroughs, both harmonically and rhythmically.  We know that Bird was influenced by Lester Young and Art Tatum, but he also loved classical music and was influenced by Igor Stravinsky.  There were a myriad of influences that effected modern jazz music, among them the Cuban music that Bird had played with Machito, and later on his own Verve date.

I’ve always distrusted fellow musicians who blithely announce that they’re going to play a bebop song.  It’s a diminutive term – as if you’re choosing from categories on a menu. Sure, it is useful for describing a brief jazz epoch, but in the end, if you are going to become a jazz musician, you are going to have to grapple with the genius of Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and all those that came before and after them.

It’s all music!

 

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Bud Powell’s Sure Thing

Posted by keithosaunders on June 6, 2016

Those that follow my blog know that the pianist, Bud Powell, is the jazz musician whom I feel the closest to .  I believe he has had a greater influence on jazz pianists than any other musician.  This includes Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, and Herbie Hancock, all of whom are giants in their own right.

Not only was Bud a brilliant pianist but he was also a transcendent composer.  Many of his compositions combine classical, African, and Latin American influences which are filtered through his extremely personal and infectious harmonic and melodic sensibility.  Some, such as Celia, Dance of The Infidels, and Bouncing With Bud have become jazz standards –  repertory which musicians are expected to know.  Others, such as the forward looking Un Poco Loco, Glass Enclosure, and Sure Thing are less accessible vehicles for improvising, and thus with the passage of time have been overlooked.

This year’s resolution has been to transcribe and learn some Powell’s lesser known compositions and I am proud to say that at mid year I am right on schedule.  I began with Dusk at Sandi, and last week, after about a month’s work, I finished Sure Thing.  (Next up will be Glass Enclosure)

Here is a screen shot of the first page of six:

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Forgive my amateurish screen shot skills.  My patience ran out so I ended up taking it from my phone.

I am now offering jazz piano lessons via Skype.  In fact, since the main focus of lessons will be on improvising, I can teach any instrument.  The lessons are affordable, and being that I will not be leaving my apartment to teach, I charge less than my usual fee.

You may contact me via email or through my website.

OK enough with the commercial, we now return you to your regular scheduled curmudgeonly blogging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The first and last word on jazz piano: Bud

Posted by keithosaunders on August 21, 2010

There have so many pianists that have shaped the legacy of jazz music but there is one who towers above them all. Without Bud Powell there would be no Wynton Kelley, no Horace Silver, no McCoy Tyner, and no Chick Corea. Certainly Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, and Sonny Clark would have sounded much different. Even the pianists you might think are not influenced by Bud, such as Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, owe a great deal to the master. Early Bill Evans recordings reveal a close stylistic affinity with Powell, and Jarrett has recorded many of Powell’s compositions on his trio dates- enough to let you know that he has more than a passing fancy.

The first Bud record that I owned was s Verve “twofer” called The Genius of Bud Powell, which comprised his trio and solo work from 1949-1951. I was just fifteen, new to jazz, but from the opening off-to-the-races intro of Tempus Fugit, Bud had won yet another disciple.

It would be impossible for me to overstate his importance to jazz pianists. The connection I felt to him was instantaneous and thrilling. These sessions, recorded in such a brief span of time, are the lexicon from which future pianists would study.

His technique is prodigious, but not as frightening and daunting as that of Art Tatum. He’s just mortal enough to allow you to have a smidgen of belief that it is attainable.

The technique, however, is the tip of the iceberg. Check out his clarity of ideas. He rarely repeats himself, even on the extended choruses of All Gods Children Got Rhythm, Tea For Two, and Parisian Thoroughfare. His attack is hard, yet he never forces the beat. He is secure in the center of the beat, rarely clams a note, and is so confident in the up tempo numbers that they hardly sound fast at all – just musical. His ideas, in fact, are so well-formed that he becomes a be-bop impressionist – painting in colors we could not dream of.

These sides, and I’ve heard them hundreds of times, never get old to me. I am as dumbfounded listening to them today as I wax 35 years ago. His ballad playing is like no other pianist I’ve ever heard. Phrases come in clusters, seemingly unrelated to the beat, but that is only an illusion; his time is never less than perfect. He appears to have found a way to use the maximum amount of pedal without ever slurring notes. He is romantic but never scmaltzy.

His personality looms over everything. From the startling originals, Hallucinations and The Fruit, to the clever re-working of the standards Tea For Two and Cherokee, he is in command and the music has such forward momentum that you almost get the feeling that his sidemen – Max Roach and Ray Brown – giants in their own rite, are merely along for the ride. This is bourne out on his solo sides of 1951, in which the tunes are so alluring, and his time so strong that on first listen one can be forgiven for not noticing the absence of a rhythm section!

Bud, you left us far too soon, but thank you for all that you have given us. We can never repay you, and we will never forget you.

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