Tag Archives: jazz piano

NOT ONLY BUT ALSO: ROBERTA PIKET, “WEST COAST TRIO”

When I taught freshman composition, some of my best students had grown up speaking a language not English.  They were often far more perceptive than the local talent whose radius of exploration was fifty miles. But the “ESL” crew occasionally had trouble with English idioms that native speakers take for granted.  One, memorably, was “not only but also,” and perhaps its apparent negation becoming affirmation was too much to digest at first.

While I was listening to pianist-composer Roberta Piket’s new CD, WEST COAST TRIO, the expression came back as a perfect way to describe her work, a great compliment.

If you don’t know Roberta’s work, you will want to scamper ahead to the video to hear it; she is also, not surprisingly, quietly eloquent about how she perceives what she does, and where she’s come from: here is a recent interview.

But to the music: in a landscape of artists who equate modernism with abstraction, Roberta always remembers that the heart of music is song, so her work, even when she is exploring, is always melodic and soulful, free from cliche, welcoming us in.  And whatever meter or tempo she chooses, her music has the pulse of a heartbeat.  To some, swinging improvisation is no longer relevant.  From the first measures of MENTOR, the first song on the disc, I was bobbing my head: for me, very good evidence of enjoyment.  The result can be innovative or technically sophisticated, but it’s mobile and warm, never chilly.

Here is the behind-the-scenes look at the session, extremely valuable because not only does it provide a tasting menu of the music, but also we see and hear Roberta speaking about it:

and here you can listen to longer samples of the music, download it, or purchase the actual disc — the last of which I recommend because Thirteenth Note Records’ products are superb, and Bob Bernotas’ liner notes equally so.

One of the other things to love about this CD is it shows off Roberta’s wide range of musical affections: standards by Legrand, Rodgers, and Donaldson (MY BUDDY is aimed right at our hearts), compositions by Shearing, Corea, Hicks, and two originals by Roberta.  Beautiful recorded sound and beautiful playing by Joe La Barbera, drums; Darek Olszkiewicz, string bass, with telling cameo appearances by Larry Koonse, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.  There’s great variety: some performances seem dreamy, musing; others are superb dance music.

When I’d played the disc the first time, I wanted to hear it again.  You will, too.

May your happiness increase!

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MEL POWELL SENDS HIS LOVE, WITH A FLOURISH

Mel Powell is one of the most brilliant pianists (and later, composers) that most people haven’t heard of, which is a pity.  I never met him, but I knew his music very early in my jazz-listening years through his work with Goodman and Glenn Miller, then his recordings for the Vanguard label in the Fifties.  In this century, I had the immense good fortune to meet his daughter Kati, who now has her home in a Southern town where we hope happiness will find her every day. Here is a 2017 post that combines music and history.

But this post, like some others, is motivated by objects that I delight in sharing.  One crossed my monitor just this afternoon — yes, eBay again — and an autographed photograph of Mel serving his country overseas:

The link is here, should you wish to get in on the fun.  My team of financial advisers held a conference and said, “No,” so the field is clear to bidders.

Kati very generously allowed me to borrow a number of Mel’s home-recorded discs, which I transferred in the least sophisticated way possible, knowing how delicate they are, how they would not stand up well to washing and repeated playings.  Some are difficult to listen to, but all are marvelous.  I’ve chosen two for this posting, because, after all, a photograph without a soundtrack is just a silent picture.

Incidentally, please don’t write to lecture me about the care of fragile discs.  I’m doing the best I can: Ristic is gone, and the Audiofixer is understandably overwhelmed.

Here is Mel’s meditation on I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, which starts in mid-performance because the outer portion of the disc was damaged:

And something I am calling A FLOURISH — Mel practicing the end of a song, although I have not yet figured out what the song is.

There might be more rare Mel Powell music in future.  But savor this now.

May your happiness increase!

RAY SKJELBRED AT THE PIANO: FOR THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 27, 2015)

I read once of how an eminent musician, in a hotel room with musician friends, would open a new bottle of Scotch, and before drinking, pour a little out on the rug and say, “That’s for the guys who have gone before,” or perhaps “That’s for the guys upstairs.”  A libation in honor of the Ancestors.

PIANO keyboard

When Ray Skjelbred plays, no liquids are spilled, but he honors the Ancestors in his own way, by evoking them in his own fashion.  Here are four brilliant evocations that he created at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2015.

SKJELBRED solo

Although Ray is a peerless band pianist (hear him with his own group, the Cubs, and many others, lighting the way from within the ensemble) he comes from the glorious tradition, the days when the pianist was the band.  Perhaps it’s a kind of Scandinavian thrift, a genetic offering from his personal Ancestors, who say, “You have these ten fingers; why only use two or three?”

For Tiny Parham, STOMPIN’ ON DOWN:

For Joe Sullivan, GIN MILL BLUES:

Also for Sullivan and his friends, OH, BABY! — and those delightful startling dissonant surprises at the start:

For Oro “Tut” Soper and the shade of Baby Dodds, IT’S A RAMBLE:

I look forward to seeing and hearing Ray (with Dawn Lambeth and Marc Caparone) at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here’s a sample of what that wonderful combination did in 2015:

May your happiness increase!

HE’S A HERO OF MINE

Who’s that?  Why, the pianist, arranger, and occasional singer Mark Shane.

SHANE

I’d heard Mark on records and bootleg concert tapes going back to the late Eighties, but didn’t get to meet him until 2004.  And I was astonished.  He’s quiet; he doesn’t rely on volume or pyrotechnics, but he swings beautifully.  (He is A Stride Monster, but it’s not his only claim to our hearts.)  His playing is thoughtful, delicate, without being stiff or effete.  Right now, you are most likely to hear Mark as pianist and musical director for that force of nature, Catherine Russell.

But I thought a few minutes of Shane-beauty would help us keep perspective in these troubled times.

Here he is at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party, lovingly making his way through BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL, a hymn of praise and grief for Herschel Evans:

And, a year later, Mark’s stylish romp on MOONGLOW — always melodic, ticking away like a swing clock, with beautiful voicings and subtly varied embellishments:

Please notice how much the musicians onstage (Messrs. Chirillo, Weatherly, and Dorn) are appreciating it as well.  That says a great deal.

Here’s Mark with Tal Ronen and Dan Block — thinking about Fats and his Rhythm — playing YACHT CLUB SWING:

and another salute to gorgeous melody, Mark and Terry Blaine performing SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in 2015:

“Don’t be shy,” says Terry.  And I’m not shy about my absolute admiration for Mister Shane.  Here is his website, where you can hear and learn more from this master.

May your happiness increase!

TWO TICKETS TO CHICAGO: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 27, 2015)

Ray Skjelbred, away from the piano.

Ray Skjelbred, away from the piano.

I tell the Youngbloods, “Yes! Go see Ray Skjelbred play piano and (once in a great while) sing.  It is a magical experience.”

Here are two more beauties from his solo session at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2015.  Ray loves what we call the tradition — as distinguished from “OKOM,” a term I don’t use — by honoring the Ancestors while being himself all the time.  And he continues to surprise and transform, skirting cliche always.

ROSETTA (for Earl Hines and Henri Woode) with a wondrous brooding beginning:

ELGIN BREAKDOWN (in honor of / in mourning for Cassino Simpson):

I hope to see you at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, which will take place over the Thanksgiving weekend — November 23 through 27.  Here’s another piece of the magic Ray (with friends Dawn Lambeth and Marc Caparone) created at that same festival:

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!

STRENGTH, POISE, FEELING: ROBERTA PIKET, “EMANATION”

In a world where we are asked to pretend that the hologram is human, pianist / composer Roberta Piket’s music is so refreshing for its integrity and honesty. I feel that she approaches her music with that most winning openness: “Let me see what can come of it,” and the results are elating.  She has power but she isn’t angry at the keyboard or at us.  Rather, hers is a singular balance between toughness and gentleness: her music peers into the darkness without getting downtrodden and brings back light from surprising angles.

Her playing is original without being self-consciously “innovative,” and it isn’t a catalogue of familiar gestures, audience-pleasing bobs and weaves . . . there is nothing formulaic in her art.  Honoring her and our Ancestors, she pays them the best tribute, which is to sound like herself.

Her art — deep and subtle — is wonderfully on display on her new solo CD, which is (happily for us) her second solo exploration, EMANATION.

Roberta-Piket-Emanation-Cover-300x268Roberta’s chosen repertoire is for the most part recognizable — not an ego-display of one “original” after another) but she isn’t trapped by the Past.  Her evocations of Monk, Romberg, Gillespie, Arthur Schwartz, Kern, McPartland, and Hancock are both reassuring and playfully lit from within. One could play this CD for someone who “doesn’t like jazz” without causing trauma, but it is galaxies away from Easy Listening Piano For People Who Aren’t Listening.

Her two originals, the wistful SAYING GOODBYE and the sweetly curious EMANATION, are full of feeling — novellas of sound.  The CD closes with her variations on a Chopin theme . . . both a loving bow to the source and a gentle statement of her own identities.  The CD — beautifully recorded, with wonderful notes by the eminent Richie Beirach — is a fifty-minute journey into other worlds, both nearby and tantalizingly far-off.

Visit here for sound samples and ordering information and here to learn more about Roberta, her music, and upcoming gigs.

Because I know my audience is honest and trustworthy, I offer a boon for those who check out the CD and Roberta’s site (I’ll know!): music from a divine duo concert by Roberta and Lena Bloch, from February of this year, at The Drawing Room — here.  Gorgeous searching music from two modern masters.  (Learn more about Lena here.  Music and musicians like Roberta and Lena give me hope.

May your happiness increase!