Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Posted by Steven Cerra at 10:53 AM
Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Piano is such an intriguing instrument. Not only can one pound the hell out of it, but it can also be played softly, almost caressingly, to a point that one wonders if it’s the same instrument.
Gene Lees, the eminent Jazz story-teller, recounts a time when he and pianist Bill Evans walked into a club to catch a set by Oscar Peterson who could, and often did, play the piano very aggressively. During a lull in the performance, Gene turned to Bill and asked him why Oscar didn’t employ Bill’s method of understated and implied chords voicings. Bill replied: “It wouldn’t fit with what he was doing.”
Since the piano doesn’t have a personality, one’s approach to the instrument may have more to do with a player’s own personality than the instrument itself.
Although Oscar Peterson could certainly play quiet ballads on the piano, he preferred to play it in a percussive manner often employing riotous tempos and the full orchestral range of the instrument through the use of highly accented and syncopated rhythmic riffs. At times it seemed that his style of piano trio Jazz could generate the intensity of an entire big band.
Indeed, there are a couple of example of recordings featuring Oscar with big bands in which Peterson gave the entire band a run for its money! Oscar, who at times could seem as big [both physically and in terms of his aura] as the piano itself, appeared to have a personality that sought out the instrument’s more percussive qualities, not to mention that, in Oscar’s case at least, employing 10 ‘fingers’ onto eighty-eight keys could generate many notes flying by at a very rapid pace.
When I’m in the mood for it, there’s nothing I like better than fastening my seat belt and letting Oscar transport me into a world of foot-stompin, finger-poppin’ and heart-pounding percussive piano trio Jazz excitement.
But there are times when I like to enjoy Jazz that unfolds slowly, quietly and very introspectively; the quiet moments made possible by a pianist who display a softer touch. This does not necessarily imply slower tempos and ballads, but a softer touch does connote a more controlled expression and one in which notes and phrased are doled out more selectively and with more spacing.
Recently, I was in a pensive mood and the pianism of Karl Boehlee of The Netherlands formed a perfect complement to it.
Boehlee’s penchant for sensitively played piano offers plenty of room for him to display his quite exquisite touch on the instrument. If you love the ringing sounds of the piano keys with all of their stated and implied overtones, Karel creates a piano sounds that is simply gorgeous.
Even on medium and the up-tempo tunes, Boehlee is very much a minimalist,. He is able to express a variety of emotions with what always seems like just enough notes.
Although he has been playing professional for about twenty-five years, Karel Boehlee is perhaps
's best-kept Jazz secret. The following
comments about him were offered in an interview with Karel’s bassist, Hein van
de Geyn, who is also the owner of Challenge Records: Holland
I remember hearing him play in the early eighties, when I just returned from the
. He was the first pianist of
this kind of modern class I had ever heard in United
And on what level! Over the years Karel has improved and improved. The lines
became more thoughtful, the harmony more precise; the rhythm was always very
strong, but became larger, more in the pocket. Yet underneath all these ingredients
there was always something more powerful: the sound! Karel's sound is unique;
his touch just seems to reach you right in the centre of where music enters the
soul. With impeccable taste Karel will always come up with something fresh,
something his own and makes it sound so good. Holland
Hein had this to say when asked why Karel is such a well kept secret or why is it that so few people in the Jazz world know about him.
Karel is a real player; he simply loves to go out and play. He will play with his old pals in little cafés, he will play with young and upcoming musicians, he will play with the best pop singers. Karel is a musician at heart. And the business doesn't know how to deal with this. The business wants exclusivity, wants to put a label on someone, wants an image. And somehow Karel is not playing that game. He is not chasing record deals; he is not showing his face at the right spots at the right time, he doesn't search for journalists to do interviews with him. He is busy doing what a musician should do: play music!
“On top of being a pianist, Karel is a very original composer as well. Over the years he has written quite a large repertoire of strongly individual originals. And I must say that it is through his original compositions that I hear most clearly what Karel wants to portray. To put it in words is not easy, so it seemed best to me to record it on my label, and share my enthusiasm with the listeners in this way
Perhaps it takes people with a broader outlook to recognize Karel's sublimity. People like Mikoto Kimata, the owner of M&I records based in
who has recorded ten CD's by Karel for his
Japanese label; roughly at a pace of one album a year, Tokyo
And while Karel Boehlee is largely unknown outside The Netherlands, he is well-known and very popular in
and his CDs
continue to captivate Japanese
fans. Perhaps one of the reason for his
popularity there is that he was the founding member of the anonymous-sounding
European Jazz Trio, which helped ignite the "European jazz boom" in Japan nearly two
decades ago. Japan
Aristotle once noted: “How different we all are with regard to those things we hold in common.”
The wonderful thing about Jazz is that it communicates itself to us in so many different ways.
And the wonderful thing about the Jazz pianism of Karel Boehlee is how quietly and almost unsuspectingly his music can overwhelm us with its beauty and its majesty.
Listen for yourself as Karel performs Gato Barbieri’s theme from the movie, Last Tango in Paris, with Hein van de Geyn on bass and Hans van Oosterhout on drums on the following video.
Monday, July 13, 2020
Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved
The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to keep Gene's memory alive on these pages with the following example of his insightful and instructive writing.
It’s always food-for-thought when reading
Gene Lees on the subject of Jazz.
Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Melody, harmony, and rhythm are all to be found within a single sound. Music is what the brain makes of the ordered processing of vibrations, i.e. rhythms. When you strike a guitar or bass or violin string, you seemingly hear one sound. But you hear many. The basic tone, the fundamental, is caused by the vibration of the string along its whole length. But that vibration subdivides, and in fast action photography, you can detect this phenomenon. There is a second vibration that is half the length of the string. It produces the first overtone. The next vibration divides the string into three parts, a sort of long S shape, giving the second overtone.
It is almost impossible not to know the do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do scale, that is to say the major scale. If you look at a piano, and start at middle C, which is the white note immediately below the grouping of two black keys, and go up the scale until you get to the C above it, you've played the do-re-mi scale in the key of C. In western harmony, chords are traditionally built by playing every other note, skipping the one in between: do-mi-so gives you a chord called the major triad. But re-fa-la gives you a minor triad. The major scale contains two major and three minor triads. Musicians think of the tones of a scale not as do-re-mi but in numbers,
1-2-3. So a simple C triad is made up of the 1,
3, and 5 of the scale. The two tones C and E constitute a major third. The
interval 1 to 5 is called a perfect fifth.
It is the overtone series that determines our scale and harmonic system, and the timbre of our musical instruments. The overtones contained in a low C pile up in this series: C C1 G (the fifth of the scale) C2 E (the third), G2, B-flat C3, D, E, and an "out of tune" F-sharp (the raised eleventh — and also the flatted fifth), and more above that. Many musicians can actually hear a long way up the overtone series. If you analyze the lower tones in the series, you will see that they give you a dominant-seventh chord, the most gravitational in western music. Its natural tendency is to go to the chord built on the I of the scale, called the tonic triad.
Harmonic development in the vocabulary of Western music proceeded up the overtone series. Early music was triadic, and conventional country-and-western music still is. But composers began using more complex harmonies as time went on, and often they were considered crazy for doing so: the Fifth Symphony was called by some the final proof that Beethoven was insane. A
critic wrote: "Beethoven took a liking to uneuphonious
dissonances because his hearing was limited and confused. Accumulations of
notes of the most monstrous kind sounded in his head as acceptable and
well-balanced combinations." Similar things would be said of Parker and Gillespie. Paris
By the time of Richard Strauss, composers were using the harmonic extensions implicit in the overtone series. Debussy refined the method, arriving at the view that a chord didn't have to be "going" anywhere, as in Germanic music, but had meaning in and of itself. This produced a floating quality, which passed in time into the Claude Thornhill band, the writing of Gil Evans, the work of Miles Davis at his greatest period, and more.”
Gene Lees, Jazzletter, March, 1999, Vol. 18,