Hampton Hawes' style integrated vestiges of stride with his own version of bebop. His sound was uniquely his own. Recorded in the back warehouse of the Contemporary Records office in 1955, the same year that he was acknowledged by Metronome magazine as “arrival of the year”, Hawes' recording of "Yesterdays" showed that he had indeed arrived. Playing with Red Mitchell on bass and Chuck Thompson on drums, the pianist stretched out in this classic recording.
Perhaps the casualness of his surroundings contributed to the easy flow of this recording. Hawes stylistically embellished introduction, with its elongated arpeggios, runs and flowery flourishes, presents a window into his story-telling soul. His romanticized intro is in stark contrast to the bouncy, free-flowing swing he ultimately settles into on the chorus. I am especially fond of the climbing, slightly dissonant, percussive run he uses before Mitchell and Thompson join in and the tempo moves upward. His approach is both joyous and harmonically rich as he is encouraged along by Mitchell. Hamp’s swing subtly floats in an effortless display of sublime West Coast cool. When Mitchell solos, it is with equal harmonic invention. Thompson lays back nicely in the pocket, never intruding on the conversation between Mitchell and Hawes. Hamp’s delivery is effervescent and he conveys a profound sense of joy while exploring the bounds of musical sophistication, a rare quality matched by few of his peers.
While his trio arrangements typically included a solo piano introduction, "Yesterdays" (originally from the 1933 Broadway musical Roberta
) is a fantastic window into Erroll Garner's solo piano concept. In one of his earliest recordings after his New York arrival, Garner's appreciation of the great Art Tatum is evident from his use of customary Tatum techniques, including offbeat left-hand chordal accents, expansive runs covering the length of keyboard, walking tenths, harmonic substitutions, and a few of Tatum's signature right-hand fills. In this arrangement, Garner exhibits the masterful sense of form and variation of a skilled composer.
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.
David Leonhardt is an accomplished and lyrical pianist, and though he tackles some interesting choices on this album, he seems most comfortable and most vibrant on the tried and true standards. On this Jerome Kern classic, he and his able trio swing with an easy, dancing and playful swagger. Garnett lets loose with an explosion of cymbals and some penetrating rim shots adeptly placed. Parrish plucks in and around the time, and Leonhardt has a light airy touch that traverses the keyboard with a dance-like quality. His explorations are tasteful and driving, and his rhythm section responds accordingly as he builds to a climax. He ends in a crescendo of chords punctuated with a nice roll by Garnett at the end. A solid piece of straight-ahead piano trio work.
Among the wave of new female singers that came to prominence in the last decade of the 20th century, Patricia Barber is certainly the most original. First because she's a great pianist, second because she's a unique singer. Her piano influences are easy to trace, at least to Bill Evans, but her voice is so deeply personal that it stamps its own mark on whatever she sings, from a timeless standard, as here, to a pop tune by the Doors. In a trio setting, she creates a haunting atmosphere with lush chords and hushed voice while bass and drums softly dance around her piano until rising to dramatic heights during her intense solo.
Those who don't like brass with strings (and that includes many jazz buffs) should be assuaged: Clifford Brown with Strings
is an exception. And "Yesterdays" is the opening piece of this beautiful record that nobody should listen to without a box of tissues within reach. Indeed, the intensity and emotional quality of Brownie's sound and phrasing on this track and on the other ballads he tackles here as sole improviser are sometimes breathtaking. And even the purists will admit that Neal Hefti – himself a trumpeter – did a great job with the small string orchestra that, along with Brown's usual rhythm section, surrounds one of the greatest geniuses of the instrument.
Decades before recycling became fashionable, Russ Garcia was doing his part, reworking an arrangement of "Con Alma," written for Oscar Peterson's Swinging Brass
(1959), into a chart for another Verve album, this one by Anita O'Day. Thus did yesterday's Garcia arrangement become Garcia's arrangement of "Yesterdays." O'Day, however, had a tougher row to hoe, since she was stuck with the preposterous 1933 lyric by a former English professor. "Joyous, free, and flaming life," it goes, "forsooth was mine." Forsooth?
Get thee uptown, Otto! Somehow, out of this emerges a hip and highly enjoyable track. Please recycle.
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