Richard Twardzik: Bess, You Is My Woman


Bess, You Is My Woman


Richard Twardzik (piano), Carson Smith (bass), and Peter Littman (drums)


Russ Freeman / Richard Twardzik: Trio (Pacific Jazz: 46861)

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Richard Twardzik (piano), Carson Smith (bass), Peter Littman (drums).

Composed by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and Dubose Hayward


Recorded: Hackensack, New Jersey, October 27, 1954


Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

"Then there was this white cat," Cecil Taylor later recalled, "Dick Twardzik . . . He had destroyed some Kenton people by playing like Bud Powell first and getting them all excited and then going into his, at that time, Schoenbergian bag." Twardzik was dead before his 25th birthday, a victim of heroin abuse, and only a handful of recordings testify to his forward-looking combination of modern jazz and avant-garde classical currents. On "Bess, You Is My Woman," Twardzik opens with a rubato chorus which turns the Gershwin standard into a harmonic showpiece. Thick sonorous chords are intermixed with brittle fragments of wounded voicings and brief stabs of polytonality. (Pianists, check out Twardzik's pedaling . . . How often have you heard it done that well in a 1950s jazz recording?) The trio settles briefly into a straight groove during the final seconds of the track, but this deference to conventional jazz vocabulary sounds almost like an afterthought. Even today, Twardzik would stand out in a crowd of keyboardists, but back in 1954 he was a lone warrior at the frontier of the jazz idiom. A definitive performance from a musician who deserves to be far better known.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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