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Event #154: The New Harlem Renaissance
LAST WEEK's EDITION
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Those thoughts struck home as I listened to several new CD's featuring outstanding work by some of jazzdom's most respected and accomplished pianists.
Billy Taylor first came to prominence at 52nd Street in New York during the '40s. He worked as house pianist at NYC's fabled Birdland jazz club in the '50s. For many years he has been the resident jazz performer, teacher and interviewer on the wonderful CBS show, "Sunday Morning." His keyboard work has attracted millions of fans around the world.
To my mind, his recording of "That's All" is my favorite jazz trio arrangement of all time. Billy Taylor, who has worked beyond jazz and played with symphony orchestras, is simply one of the best pianists of the age.
At 77, Taylor shows no evidence of decline in ideas or execution. His brand-new release, "Ten Fingers, Once Voice" (Arkadia Records), marks only the second solo jazz album of a career spanning a half-century. And it will be ranked as one of the best releases of the entire year of 1999, even though as I write this, it's only February.
The eleven selections on this 54-minute set include some of the best standards ever written, ranging from "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" to "Joy Spring." Taylor is simply magnificent with his tender reading of "Laura," and he sets goosebumps into motion with his rendering of Cole Porter's perennial, "Night and Day." Other tunes on the release include "In a Sentimental Mood," "Tea for Two," and the always delightful "My Heart Stood Still."
This is truly one of the best solo piano releases in memory.
RAY SHERMAN ROMPS
Pianist Ray Sherman has enjoyed a long career as a musician after entering the business in his teenage years, when he won first prize on an amateur swing contest on a radio show headed by Tommy Dorsey. After serving in World War II, Sherman worked with the Will Osborne, Jan Savitt and Jerry Wald big bands. He later entered radio, working in such talents as Judy Canova, Abe Burrows (later famous for his Broadway musicals) and Phil Harris.
Sherman stayed active in film and TV work for decades. One of the highlights of his piano career was a series of 42 albums issued by Time-Life under the title, "The Swing Era." He played piano on every cut. Now 75, Sherman continues active in music, performing in jazz festivals in the U.S. and abroad.
His first solo jazz album, "Piano Chicago Style" (Arbors) shows the superb musicianship of a veteran performer who knows how to please. This is an excellent, full-bodied, ten-fingered exhibition that should find an audience with anyone who appreciates solo piano. Sherman handles a variety of tunes with finesse, including "Just in Time," "My Romance," and "When It's Sleepy Time Down South."
As an improviser, Ray Sherman knows all the right things to do, and he does them with great style. An excellent album!
TWIN PIANOS, DOUBLE PLEASURE
Years ago, the piano duo of Ferrante and Teicher gained a big following in concert venues around the world, performing their ornate, quasi-classical style on a menu that included light classics and popular tunes of the times. These two fellows, who demonstrated an old-fashioned and somewhat boring style, somehow managed to captive listeners and draw big crowds wherever they showed up.
In many towns through the Midwest, an annual visit by Ferrante and Teicher was almost as a regular as the summer flourishing of farmer's corn fields. For this listener, however, their style quickly induced sleep.
That's certainly not the case with a wonderful new set by piano experts Dick Hyman and Derek Smith. These veteran jazz players fit together perfectly in their new album, "Dick & Derek at the Movies" (Arbors). This wonderful album contains 15 standards, performed with a zest and verve that's simply captivating.
Both Hyman and Smith have achieved lots of honors and praise in their long careers, both in their own groups, and occasionally working as a jazz duo. Hyman has been one of the most active pianists in the business for decades. You name it in music, he's done it. Smith started his career in the U.S. (he was born in London) working at Basin Street East in New York with Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald. He's been a busy fellow ever since those halcyon days.
The new album contains 15 tunes taken from a variety of films, including "Casablanca" ("As Time Goes By," of course), "Invitation," "The Purple Rose of Cairo" and "Meet Me in St. Louis." The latter's great song is, of course, that wonderful "The Boy Next Door," originally done by Judy Garland.
Here's an album that will win multiple spins and take a place of prominence in your collection.
Bob Powers has been writing about music since the mid '50s. At work in his office, he keeps the stereo equipment working hard throughout the day.
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