Tag Archives: Hod O’Brien

HOD O’BRIEN’S MELODIES

HOD JP

Hod O’Brien, who left this earthy realm this year, was both taciturn and soft-spoken: I would lean forward to catch a few words. But at the piano keyboard, he was quietly eloquent, offering his own lyrical caress to every song.

Here are a few more performances by Hod and bassist Daryl Johns that I recorded at Mezzrow on March 19, 2016.

BLUE BOSSA:

ALONG CAME BETTY:

RAY’S IDEA:

I HEAR A RHAPSODY:

Thank you, Hod, for letting us eavesdrop on your rhapsodies.  We miss you.

May your happiness increase!

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HERE’S THE MELODY: HOD O’BRIEN (1936-2016)

hod-obrien-portrait

Pianist, composer, bandleader Hod O’Brien left the planet on November 20, 2016, at 80, having been dueling with cancer for some time. Illness made him shy, reticent, unwilling to talk about himself — but wanting to shine the spotlight on wife Stephanie Nakasian and daughter Veronica Swift, both singers.

Although Hod was heralded as a bebop pianist, I thought of him more as a great melodist.  Even when he was illuminating songs with altered chords, the melody was never far away.  Here he is, at Mezzrow, on March 19, 2016 — eight months before his death — with the young bassist Daryl Johns.  You’ll understand what I mean about Hod’s deep melodic streak, and the way he cherishes any lyrical composition.  Thank you, Hod, for making beauty for us so generously.

YOURS IS MY HEART ALONE:

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU:

ASK ME NOW:

and the sorrowfully appropriate ALL TOO SOON.

I captured Hod at other gigs here and here in 2015 and here in 2016 — performances that show off his gently propulsive lyricism.

May your happiness increase!

LYRICAL SWING: HOD O’BRIEN and DARYL JOHNS at MEZZROW (March 19, 2016)

HOD JP

At this Mezzrow gig in New York City, a few months ago, the wonderful pianist Hod O’Brien had laryngitis.  But his winding melodies, his ingenious harmonies, and easy swing had their own powerful voices.  He was accompanied — in the simplest meaning of that overused word, which to me suggests a companion at one’s side — by a string bassist I’d never met before, the very youthful Daryl Johns, who will impress you as he did me.

Here are five explorations of that art form, lyrical swing improvisation.

SAVE YOUR LOVE FOR ME (Hod pointed out that this was originally done by Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley, but he felt the tune in a more Basie fashion):

EV’RYTHING I LOVE:

TADD’S DELIGHT (for Mister Dameron):

and two classics —

I CAN’T GET STARTED:

TANGERINE:

Much more to come from this session.  And when I saw Hod in June, he had his voice back.

May your happiness increase!

MASTERY: JON DE LUCIA, GREG RUGGIERO, AIDAN O’DONNELL, STEVE LITTLE, RAY GALLON (CITY COLLEGE, APRIL 15, 2016)

I first met Jon De Lucia at a concert celebrating tenor legend Ted Brown’s birthday.  The concert was held at Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s The Drawing Room, so I knew the very gracious young man traveled in the best company.

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

Photograph by Richard Daniel Bergeron

But I hadn’t heard him play.  It turns out that my ignorance of Jon — altoist, clarinetist, and imaginative composer / improviser — was a serious loss, which I remedied on April 15, 2016.  Slightly after noon on that day, Jon gave a graduate recital at City College of New York — a degree requirement so that he could receive his Master’s in Jazz Studies.  With him (and alongside him) were Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Steve Little, drums.  Pianist Ray Gallon joined in for two performances.

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

Aidan, Jon, Steve, and Greg at City College

A Master in Jazz Studies is what Jon De Lucia is, and as I write this he hasn’t even worn the robes or gotten his diploma.

Jon’s recital lasted about an hour, and he and his ensemble performed seven improvisations — most of them his own arrangements and reinventions over moderately familiar chord sequences (with one glorious ballad).  But this wasn’t an afternoon of thin contrefacts, so that the members of the audience could say in two bars, “Oh, that’s LADY BE GOOD.”  “Again.”  No, Jon showed off his craft, his subtle gift for creating luxurious melodies, actual songs.

As  you’ll hear, some of the music had a dreamlike serenity — elusive and lovely; at other points I thought of the dear seriousness of Fifties West Coast jazz, or dance movements from early modern classical yet with a strong pulse.  It was delicate yet pointed, light-hearted but never effete.

Jon’s music didn’t fit easily into stylistic boxes (which is delightful): his lines soared, his solos had their own internal logic; the music breathed and rang and glistened. Not only is he a wonderfully seductive altoist, his tone sweet and tart, avoiding avian flurries of notes or post-Parker harshness, he is a master of that unforgiving horn, the clarinet.

I was thrilled to be in the audience.  And once you’ve heard only a few minutes of this music, you will understand why.

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST:

CONFLAGRATION:

I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU (a breathtakingly gorgeous performance):

VALSE VIVIENNE:

RONDO A LA RUSSO, featuring Aidan O’Donnell:

THE Q 25 BLUES, inspired by a bus and its route:

LOST AND FOUND, by Hod O’Brien, its title a sly wink at its origin, as is the riff that sets up Steve’s solo passages:

Now I see that Jon and friends have gigs in Manhattan and Brooklyn — information you can find out here and there is more information at his website.

I salute him and his colleagues, and look forward to hearing more.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN, WRITER

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Pianist Hod O’Brien is a master of melodic improvisations.  If you missed his July 2015 gig at Mezzrow with bassist Ray Drummond, the evidence is here.

But here’s the beautiful part.  Some jazz musicians keep words at a distance and their expressiveness comes out through the keyboard, the brass tubing, and so on.  But Hod has written a pointed, light-hearted memoir that operates the way he plays.  His words seem simple, his constructions are never ornate, but he gets to the heart of things and leaves the reader enlightened, renewed.

HOD BOOK

The first thing to say about this book is how pleased I am to read a book by someone who, like Hod, has been an active part of jazz for six decades.  It’s not “as told to,” nor is it embellished by a jazz scholar as a posthumous tribute.  Here is part of  Hod’s preface, which reveals much about his character:

“This book is not intended to be a strictly biographical text, but, rather a collection of funny, little incidents and stories I’ve witnessed and heard along my way, on my path as a freelance jazz musician over the past 60 years of my professional life.

It’s intended mostly for fans of mine, whomever and wherever you all are, and fellow musicians, who might be interested in hearing a little bit more about me from another perspective, rather than from just my music and recordings alone. . . . The jazz community is a small, but hip part of the world, of which I’m happy and proud to be a member, and to whom I wish to express my deep gratitude — to those of you in it and interested in my work.”

I was immediately struck by Hod’s self-description as “happy and proud,” and the book bears him out.  “Proud” doesn’t mean immodest — in fact, Hod constantly seems delighted and amazed at the musicians he’s gotten to play with, but his happiness is a great and reassuring undercurrent in the book.  (When was the last time you met someone deeply nourished by his or her work?  Hod is that person.)

His  book moves quickly: at the start he is a child picking out one-finger melodies on the piano, learning boogie-woogie, hearing JATP and bebop recordings; a few pages later it is 1955 and he filling in for Randy Weston at a gig in Massachusetts, hearing Pepper Adams, getting threatened by Charles Mingus, meeting and playing with Zoot Sims and Bob Brookmeyer.  Oscar Pettiford (called “Pet” by Thad Jones) gets a longer portrait.  The O.P. portrait is so good that I won’t spoil it, but it has cameo appearances by Bill Evans and Paul Chambers, Chet Baker, and Philly Joe Jones.  In case you are realizing that Hod has managed to play with or hear or meet many jazz luminaries in the past sixty years, that alone is reason to buy the book.  There’s J.R. Monterose and a defective piano, a compromised Wilbur Ware, friendliness from Max Roach and Arthur Taylor.

The book (and Hod’s life) takes a surprising turn with Hod losing interest in his jazz career, studying with Charles Wuorinen, and delving into physics, higher mathematics, and early computer programming.  But a reunion with his old friend Roswell Rudd moves him back to performance and the club scene.

Interruption: for those of you who can only read about doomed heroic figures, victims, or the chronically self-destructive, this is not such a book.  Hod has setbacks but makes friends and makes music; he marries the fine singer Stephanie Nakasian, and they remain happily married, with a singer in the family, daughter Veronica Swift (born in 1994) — who just won second place in the Thelonious Monk jazz competition.  Now back to our regularly scheduled narrative.

Hod’s experiences as a clubowner are somewhere between surreal, hilarious, and sad — but his reminiscences of Sonny Greer (and a birthday gift), Joe Puma, Chuck Wayne, Al Haig, Stan Getz, and the little East Side club called Gregory’s (which I remember although I didn’t see Hod there).  There’s  Hod’s playing a set with Dizzy, Ornette, Ed Blackwell, and Teddy Kotick . . . and much more, including more than fifty photographs, a discography, and a list of Hod’s compositions: very nicely done at 122 pages.

You can buy it here — and you can also find out more about Hod . . . such as his return to Mezzrow on March 18-19, 2016. But until then, you can entertain yourself with a copy of HAVE PIANO . . . WILL SWING! — a book that surely lives up to its title.

May your happiness increase!

POETIC SWING, THE SECOND SET: HOD O’BRIEN / RAY DRUMMOND at MEZZROW, JULY 17, 2015

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

The wonderful pianist Hod O’Brien has fans worldwide, so at intervals I get polite emails from people far from me, asking, “Michael, any chance of our getting to see the second set with Hod and Ray Drummond from Mezzrow?” By popular demand, then . . .

And here is the first set, complete with admiring and well-deserved prose.

Now, for the second.  Notice Hod’s precise yet warm lyricism, and don’t ignore the beautiful spirit of Ray Drummond — what a gentle wise person and player.

RIDIN’ HIGH:

STROLLIN’:

IF I WERE A BELL:

THEME FOR ERNIE:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

BLUES BY FIVE:

HOD BOOK

Hod has a new book out — a wonderful unaffected chronicle of his musical adventures — “Have Piano … Will Swing! Stories about the Jazz Life.” Here is an engaging article by David A. Maurer about Hod and the book.  I’ll write more soon about the book, which I’m enjoying, but you can find a copy at Hod’s website.

May your happiness increase!

POETIC SWING: HOD O’BRIEN and RAY DRUMMOND at MEZZROW, PART ONE (July 17, 2015)

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Everybody told me that the unassuming, gentle Hod O’Brien was “a great bebop pianist,” and my reaction may say more about my narrowness, but I assumed that his playing with had a certain rhythmic angularity and be built on extended harmonies.  Well, some of that stereotype is correct: he is anything but predictable rhythmically and his harmonies are deep — but the secret needs to be a secret no more: he is a great lyrical player, someone deeply entranced by melodic improvisation.  His lines sing, and his playing is entrancing on many levels.  He was joined by the equally lyrical, eloquent string bassist Ray Drummond for an evening of duets at Mezzrow — July 17, 2015 — and here is the first set, full of surprises and consolations, music that uplifts and embraces.

LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING:

DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:

THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE:

ALL TOO SOON:

JUST YOU, JUST ME:

IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD (featuring Ray):

YARDBIRD SUITE:

Quite wonderful.  And the atmosphere at Mezzrow was somewhere between a family picnic and a class reunion, with Hod nearly mobbed before each set by people who wanted to tell him with great love how they had first seen him in Montreal in 1977.  Send love out; get love back.

I promise that there will be a second set for all to savor soon.  Hail, O’Brien and Drummond — great poets of swinging improvisation.  Here is  Hod’s website. And he’s just published a very delightful memoir, HAVE PIANO. . . WILL SWING! — Stories From A Jazz Life, which I am currently enjoying.  More about that soon.

May your happiness increase!