Jaki Byard: Willow Weep For Me

This solo piano version somewhat references the Art Tatum version. When Jaki hits his solo, it's so well paced and beautiful, it makes me want to go to the piano. He has a way of giving me everything I want to hear in a song when he's at the piano. I love the ending of this with the tremolo in the left hand; it's as if a ghost is still playing the bass line. This is a great way for one to approach solo piano. It's difficult, but it's a form that I am blessed to say that I learned directly from Jaki.

September 14, 2009 · 0 comments


Helen Sung: Willow Weep for Me

I was once teaching some student musicians how to play a medium-groove song, when one of them, a twenty-something saxophonist, walked away in despair. This young musician, a devotee of the School of Coltrane, declared: "To play this song, I need to do something tasty. And I don't know how to play tasty."

Let me tell you about pianist Helen Sung, she definitely knows how to play tasty. Every little lick and aside, all the dynamic shifts and interjected chords, are loose and swinging and oh-so-right. She reminds me of Ray Bryant or Wynton Kelly, those masters of the subtle groove, who never waste a phrase and can deliver a C7 chord that almost forces you to gyrate your hips at least a little bit in response. "Willow Weep for Me" has been played by so many pianists over the years, and the classic versions encompass everything from Bud Powell's grit to Art Tatum's grandeur. Ms. Sung choruses won't dislodge these icons from the pantheon, but (as Garrison Keillor says apropos of Powder Milk Biscuits™) heavens, they're tasty.

April 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Lou Rawls: Willow Weep for Me

Although he'd made his first recordings in a gospel group during 1954, and was subsequently seasoned as a backup vocalist with, among others, R&B legend Sam Cooke, Stormy Monday marked Lou Rawls's debut album as a leader. On this track, the silky throated singer puts his indelible stamp on a well-worn standard. Nicely accompanied by the soulful blues pianist Les McCann and his trio, Rawls makes an auspicious entrance into the world of jazz and blues with this gutsy rendition.

A deliberately slow tempo set by McCann's blues-tinged piano intro forces Rawls to use his evocative voice to wring out the words in his most soulful way. His delivery creates perfect pathos with his addition of "oooooouu cover me"—emphasis on the elongated "ooooouuu"—sung in a delightfully heart-wrenching way.

After the first chorus, McCann adroitly steps up the tempo, playing a more upbeat blues solo that releases the tension built from the graver tones set earlier by the singer. Rawls swings back into the second verse, quickly adding an element of hope that wisely rescues the performance from melodrama. But this is after all the blues, which he and McCann know better than most. They skillfully return to the slower tempo, allowing Rawls to extract his last bit of angst from the performance. With his beautifully sensuous voice, Rawls heightens the drama, ending on a smoothly sustained note that fades into nothingness.

February 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Jan Johansson: Willow Weep for Me

Jan Johansson's love of Art Tatum led him to try out numerous imitative ideas on this popular song, which Tatum himself used as a vehicle for runs, tricks, and lightning-quick stride. No one does it better than Tatum, but here Johansson's flourishes are calm, yet delicate and spry. With 8 Bitar Johansson (8 Pieces of Johansson), the young pianist solidified his place at the top of the Swedish jazz elite, and won his third Golden Disc Award from jazz magazine Orkester Journalen in 1961.

February 10, 2009 · 0 comments


David "Fathead" Newman (with Ray Charles): Willow Weep for Me

David "Fathead" Newman first made his mark as a member of the Ray Charles band. But a talent this large was not destined to remain a sideman. Yet what a coup for Newman to have his debut as leader take place under the auspices of Mr. Charles himself—on Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David 'Fathead' Newman. Here the saxophonist picks up the alto to deliver an impassioned rendition of Ann Ronell's 1932 standard "Willow Weep for Me." Even before you get to the solos, Newman puts so much oomph into the melody statement that you already know that you are in the presence of a world-class artist. Not to be outdone, Ray Charles (in a rare sideman role) shows off his jazz chops. Charles gives a passing nod at Art Tatum's famous arrangement of this song in his intro, but then gets into his own distinctive bag of funky tricks. Newman would continue to delight jazz fans for another half-century, but even at this young age was a confident stylist with a sound all his own.

January 22, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Tatum: Willow Weep for Me (studio 1949)

Art Tatum's rendering of this tune is unlike his best-known manner. He displays few flurries of high-speed notes, opting instead for elegiac phrasing at medium tempo, with short accelerations maintaining a constant suspense about the evolution of the melody. Improvisation and interpretation are thus intertwined in a way that 19th-century romantic virtuosos may have employed, reminding us that Tatum—besides being a peerless jazz pianist—was a great admirer of Chopin and Liszt.

February 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Pat Martino: Willow Weep for Me

This is a rather unusual tempo for Pat Martino, but on this whole ballad record he decided to renounce his "fastest gun in the West" reputation and to open his heart. Here he chose to sit down under the willow tree and let his guitar gently weep, to stretch the melody and stress its blues implications in order to enhance its emotional qualities. And when his fingers occasionally take momentum during his solo, Goldstein's poised electric piano maintains the steady pace and the meditative spirit.

January 30, 2008 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown: Willow Weep for Me

Clifford Brown doesn't even have to take a chorus to be one of the greatest jazz trumpet players of all times. Here, arranger Neal Hefti chose to feature him "against" two registers of strings that open up with a high riff and a lower countermelody. In this context the horn acquires a strongly dramatic quality simply by playing the melody with a phrasing and timbre all its own. And now and then a short foray out of the written line reminds us how inventive Brownie can be whenever he improvises.

January 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Art Tatum: Willow Weep for Me (live 1949)

        Erroll Garner and Art Tatum at Birdland, 1952
                        Photo by Marcel Fleiss

Tatum's April 2, 1949 live recording at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles is a must-have CD for fans of jazz piano. He plays at top form, and seems invigorated by the move from smoky jazz clubs to the concert hall setting. "Willow Weep for Me" was one of his favorite songs -- at least a half-dozen recordings of Tatum playing it survive from the late 1940s and 1950s -- but he never delivered a better version than in this setting. Every last detail is perfect, from the rich harmonies of his classic intro, through the racecourse stride, all the way to the dramatic conclusion. Tatum owns this song, and any pianist who wants to tackle a solo version must operate in the expansive willow tree shadow of this memorable performance.

January 02, 2008 · 0 comments


Dexter Gordon: Willow Weep for Me

One of the high points of Dexter Gordon’s 15-year self-imposed exile from the U.S. is this Parisian collaboration with fellow American masters Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke, and French bassist Pierre Michelot. “Willow Weep for Me” is especially worth noting due to Gordon’s reputation for beautiful ballad playing. This solo presents his ability to improvise introspective, delicate solos while maintaining his forceful, spacious sound. Powell is in fine form here in both his accompaniment and solo roles, this marking one of his last performances before his detrimental return to New York and untimely death shortly thereafter (July 1966).

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments


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