The Jazz.com Blog
October 13, 2008 · 2 comments
Hank Jones and James Moody are redefining the meaning of those “golden years” spent in leisurely retirement. Jones recently celebrated his ninetieth birthday, and did it (as with so many other earlier birthdays) playing on the road. James Moody, a comparative youngster at age 83, recently went on a 54-city tour with the Monterey Jazz All-Stars. Jazz fans are fortunate that these road warriors continue to bring their music to a new generation of music lovers—but they should also be glad that Jones and Moody found time in their busy schedules to collaborate on a new CD. Chris Kelsey explains below why their release, Our Delight, should also be your delight. T.G.
I first heard Hank Jones play with Charlie Parker on one of those Verve compilation albums in the early '80s. Jones made no impression on me at the time—not because he didn't play superbly, but because none of Bird's sidemen showed up on my radar screen in those days. I was a 20 year-old sax chauvinist. I might as well have been Dean Benedetti—the guy who recorded tons of Parker's live gigs, but only ran the tape during the alto solos—and Jones could as well have been Al Haig, Duke Jordan, or any of the other pianists who played with Parker. They were all the same to me. I only had ears for Bird.
My youthful fixation on sax players to the exclusion of other musicians didn’t last long. I'm happy to say that I've been listening to everyone and everything for quite some time now. I will admit to remaining a bit sax-centric, however, and like most anyone who's listened to a lot of jazz saxophone, I've heard Hank Jones' piano pop up on some wonderful recordings over the years. From those dates with Charlie Parker to his 1985 quartet recordings with Anthony Braxton and a more recent collaboration with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, great saxophonists seem to be attracted to Jones like paparazzi to Brangelina.
It's little wonder why. At age 90, Jones remains one of the most versatile and supportive jazz pianists anywhere. He swings as hard as anyone, yet his playing has a dignified, magisterial air. It's self-possessed without being aloof, elegant without being stuffy. Hank Jones has always lent grace—as well as a strong, distinctive voice—to any band of which he's a part.
Jones's latest sax-playing partner is another veteran bebopper, the one and only James Moody. Moody made his name as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's groups, but he's also had great success on his own since his '40s debut with Diz, leading countless record dates for the Blue Note, Cadet, Vanguard, and Muse labels, among others. Two years ago, Jones and Moody were paired in the studio for the first time in their long careers. The resultant album, Our Delight, was released this autumn on the IPO label.
Our Delight finds the two men (joined by bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Adam Nussbaum) jammin' over a collection of jazz classics, the majority written by Gillespie or the great composer Tadd Dameron. The repertoire includes some of the most deservedly familiar bop compositions—tunes like like Dameron's "Good Bait," "Lady Bird," and "Soul Trane", and Gillespie's "Birk's Works," "Con Alma," and "Woody 'N You."
Most of the tunes are taken at a moderate tempo, better for Jones to exercise his swinging savoir faire. Certainly, no pianist has a better ability to add the precisely right thing at the perfect time. He's the consummate accompanist—unobtrusive, dynamically sensitive, and rhythmically astute. He's still a monster soloist, too. On Sonny Stitt's "Eternal Triangle," the album's most burning track, Jones shows he's lost very little to the passage of time, his deft right hand churning out inventive single-note lines augmented by the occasional parallel harmony. His touch is sure, his grasp of the fundamentals of jazz performance as highly evolved as ever.
On tenor and flute, Moody is in fine form, as well. While obviously influenced by Parker (and Gillespie, naturally), he's always had his own thing. His improvised lines have never sounded more spontaneous then they do here. Bassist Coolman and drummer Nussbaum seem happy enough just to be in the studio with Jones and Moody. Their contributions are tasteful if generic—which, I hasten to add, is precisely what the occasion called for.
Hank Jones isn't just the world's best 90 year-old jazz pianist. He's one of the best period—and has been for a long time. I'm glad that I eventually opened my ears long enough to find that out.
This blog entry was posted by Chris Kelsey