Lennie Tristano: Yesterdays [Glad I Am]


Yesterdays [Glad I Am]


Lennie Tristano (piano)


Live at Birdland 1949 (Jazz Records JR-1CD)

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Lennie Tristano (piano).

Composed by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach


Recorded: Chicago, 1945


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Here is one CD that you can't judge by its cover. The song is listed as "Glad I Am," but is actually "Yesterdays." Tristano is credited as composer, when Jerome Kern should get the nod. The cover of the CD promises a quintet live at Birdland in 1949, but this track is a solo piano selection from Chicago in 1945.

Ah, these are quibbles. Don't let the phony factoids stop you from checking out the music. This track is an inspired exercise in harmonic reconstruction, unlike anything else in jazz, circa 1945. Tristano takes the song at a leisurely pace, and the chords move slowly enough for us to savor the wry dissonances and the curious progressions, unexpected changes sometimes unfolding with four-surprises-to-the-bar. I have heard Tristano's protégés play standards in a similar manner, without ever resolving into a tonic key—an odd and unsettling philosophy when applied to a sentimental old ballad. Lennie stops short of such in-your-face atonality here . . . but just barely. Everything fits together, and resolves, but the games he plays in the process are fascinating to observe.

Yet pick up another Tristano CD and you will probably hear him play in a completely different manner. It's to this pianist's credit that he was able to forge such an identifiable sound, while making so many changes in his approach. I wish he had recorded more music in this vein—heck, I wish he had recorded more music in any vein—or perhaps had attempted to translate this approach into a combo or big band concept. As it stands, the 1945 solo piano tracks are just more outliers on the elongated Tristano bell curve, idiosyncratic performances that give little sense of where this artist would be a few years later, but still stand out as essential listening for anyone with a deep interest in piano jazz.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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