Friday, March 18, 2011

Dave Pike: It’s Time, Again

“I was in [Roy Harte’s] Drum City in Hollywood one afternoon in 1953, where I saw a vibraphone for the first time, picked up the mallets and started playing. I knew immediately that I had found my means of expressions.”
- Dave Pike

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Although we went to the same high school, Dave Pike is five [5] years older so I missed him.

He was President of the high school’s Instrumental Music Association, as was I, and for a time, our photos hung together above the wall of the music room.

By the time I graduated and had started gigging around Hollywood, Dave had already left for the East Coast and was gigging around New York.

Given my long association and friendship with Victor Feldman and Larry Bunker, both of whom were exceptional vibraphonists, vibes were always a part of my musical life. Some of my earliest Jazz gigs as a drummer were playing in trios and quartets that featured them on vibraphone.

All three of us were to become great admirers of Dave Pike’s skills on the instrument.

I’ve also always been a big fan of be-bop, a style of Jazz that Dave Pike specializes in and which he plays passionately and with great reverence for its traditions, particularly those established by its principal co-founders, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Therefore, when Orrin Keepnews, President, Artists and Repertoire man and Chief Cook and Bottle washer for Riverside Records issued his 1961 LP – It’s Time for Dave Pike - it seems that I was destined to own a copy [Riverside RLP-9360].

The 2001 CD reissue of this recording on Original Jazz Classics [OJCCD-1951-2] contains the following annotation on the back tray plate.. Presumably written by Orrin, it is an excellent summation of Dave Pike’s playing:

Dave Pike occupies a distinctive niche in modern Jazz. A vibraphonist with an attack and sound like no other, he plays with a concentrated strength that makes the improvised lines all but take physical shape.”

The ace graphics team at CerraJazz LTD put together this video tribute to Dave on which he performs Solar, one of the tracks from the It’s Time for Dave Pike, along with Barry Harris on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Billy Higgins on drums.

We’ve also gathered the following observations about Dave by Thomas Schnabel, Zan Stewart and Mark Gardner, Ira Gitler, and a little more from Orrin Keepnews in closing. The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought these might be helpful in providing some perspective on this marvelously talented and too often overlooked musician.

“The sound of the vibraphone is like no other instrument. At once seductive and ce­lestial, the sound is transparent, cool, and airy, yet it is capable of filling a large room with a soothing warmth. Countless people have been fascinated with its magic sound, yet ironically there are only a dozen mallet players world wide who have mastered the instrument. Of these precious few artists, some have exploited the instrument's gentle pulse, churning out syrupy ballads; others have been seduced by the harpies of com­mercialism, while others have remained sub­merged in the tidepools of esoterica. That leaves the world with just a handful of truly creative and evolving players, an exceedingly small family of gifted artists in which Dave Pike has secured for himself an enduring and enviable niche.

Pike is a gentle and slightly built man, whose ingratiating and soft-spoken manners don't betray the rhapsodic power one exper­iences when watching and hearing him per­form. He was born in Detroit on March 23, 1938, and though not from a musical fam­ily, found himself playing piano, drums, and horns from an early age. A percussive player, the vibraphone perfectly suited his artistic needs. "The minute I touched the instrument", he began in his thoughtful and deliberate manner, "that was it, I knew that this was the instrument I was meant to play. I was physically designed to play it. Your whole body's involved with it, your soul, heart, and mind, just like the drums, but with the enormous universe of harmony and melody. I love the sound, I believe music should be beautiful and strive for a beau­tiful sound, and I just can't imagine playing anything else."
- Thomas Schnabel, liner notes to Let the Mnstrels Play On [Muse Records MR-5203

“The vibraharp, or vibraphone, a descendant of the xylophone developed in the United States in the late 1920's, is an instrument with an unusual, very clear tone. A superior set of vibes can send a reverberating sound across a room, filling that space with a sooth­ing diffused warmth. With the mallets in the hands of a master player, the vibraharp can sing the softest song or wail the wildest waltz, always with that sen­suous, percussive timbre that only it possesses. The vibraharp is, indeed, a magical instrument.

Dave Pike is a magical vibraharpist. He is a player of sensitivity and emotion, of imagination and power. His concept of music is broad and open, allowing for many diverse styles in the make up of the complete musician. Over the years, he has shared the limelight with such heralded compeers as Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, Charlie Haden, Paul Bley, Herbie Mann and Lee Konitz, and his art reflects the expanded horizons he experienced while working alongside these greats. Whether playing free form or jazz-rock, Dave Pike is a superb modern creator in the jazz idiom.”
- Zan Stewart, liner notes to On A Gentle Note [Muse Records MR- 5168]

“… [Dave’s] style is notble for its well resolved and quicksilver ideas, inspired more by such bop giants as Charlie Parker and Bud Powell than any other vibraphonist. Pike's sound has come in for much praise from his fellow musicians and jazz critics over the years. Dan Morgenstern wrote in 1963: 'Dave's sound is neither excessively vibrato-laden nor excessively dry; it is clear but not brittle, lyrical but never sentimental. The honesty and warmth of his playing is underlined by his habitual 'singing' - as much a part of his improvisation as Hamp's 'grunts' are part of his.'”
- Mark Gardner. Insert notes to Pike’s Groove [Criss Cross 1021]

“The electrically amplified set of metal bars, first made popular in jazz by Lionel Hampton, is known by many names-vibraphone, vibraharp, vibes and bells are some of its appellations. Dave Pike has another name for his set. He calls it the "steam table,”  a humorous title, but one that has accuracy.

Adjectives like "steamin',” "cookin’,” etc. have been used to signify playing with heat, or, to put it even more basically, swinging. The best jazz vibists have always realized the percussive nature of their instrument and have never allowed it to become a purveyor of bland sounds. While Dave Pike is a steamer, he is not a steam fitter. He is a dancer and a singer.

Let me qualify this. Pike's physical approach to the vibes is very active. On up tempos he seems to be interpreting his own modern dance; on ballads his toe-work is gracefully in a ballet bag. Of course, you can11 see this on a record, but you can hear another example of his complete involve­ment with his instrument in the singing with which he underlines his playing. This is common practice among many pianists and vibists, but in Dave's case it is perhaps more intense. Most importantly, you can hear his playing. Inspired more by Charlie Parker and Bud Powell than by other vibists, his conception is original and becoming more so all the time.”
- Ira Gitler, insert notes to Pike’s Peak, [Portrait RK 44392]

“The intensity with which … DAVE PIKE ap­proaches the vibes seems to me so compelling and over­whelming that it surely can almost be felt —  like a ghost at a séance that cannot be seen or touched, but is nevertheless so convincing a presence that you're ready to swear it's definitely there. Having watched Dave at work, I considered the possibility that I was assuming too much in feeling that this aura of vivid excitement comes through clearly on a recording. But a couple of judicious advance experiments with listeners who had never seen him in action convinced me that all that spirit and energy are really audible, and almost tangible, here.”
- Orrin Keepnews, insert notes to It’s Time for Dave Pike [OJCCD-1951-2]

In case you haven’t already done so, it’s time for you to take a hearty sampling of Dave Pike’s music.