Monday, May 7, 2012

Phineas Redux

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

After a recent listening of the Sackville compact disc For Phineas SKCD2—2041] by pianists Harold Mabern and Geoff Keezer, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it might be fun to reprise its earlier feature on the late piano giant Phineas Newborn, Jr. which you’ll find in the left columnar or sidebar portion of the blog.

With the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the ace production staff at StudioCerra, we have also put together a video tribute to Phineas [pronounced “Fine As”] that is located at the conclusion of these insert notes by John Norris, the producer of the Sackville CD.

The tune is “For Carl,” bassist Leroy Vinnegar’s memorial to the late pianist, Carl Perkins. Phineas recorded it on The World of Piano Contemporary CD[Contemporary LP S-7600; OJCCD 175-2]:

© -John Norris, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“FOR PHINEAS celebrates the legacy of creative artists who have left an indelible mark on the music. Nat Cole, Thad Jones, Phineas Newborn and Duke Pearson were consummate musicians but they also possessed the rarer ability of creating melodies which remain in the listener's mind.

HAROLD MABERN and GEOFF KEEZER give these tunes a unique, one time interpretation which emphasizes their qualities as well as illustrating the intuitive brilliance of the two pianists.

TWO PIANO JAZZ is a dangerous path to tread. There are few pre-ordained landmarks and success comes only to those who display a high level of empathy, a mutual understanding of how the music should flow and the imagination to instantaneously respond to each other's thought processes.

Music for two pianos was once a popular part of the European Music Hall and American Vaudeville circuits, but its aesthetics had nothing to do with the spontaneity of jazz. Just listen to Ferrante & Teicher and Albert Ammons & Pete Johnson to comprehend the difference.

The Boogie Woogie duo of Ammons & Johnson made a success of their collaboration in the 1940s, but there are duet recordings dating back to the twenties by jimmy Blythe & W.E. Burton, James P. Johnson & Fats Waller and Bennie Payne & Fats Waller. For a brief period Waller incorporated a two piano version of I Got Rhythm with Hank Duncan as part of his stage show.

Stanley Cowell's Piano Choir was considered experimental in the 1970s and required a great deal of formal organization, the same has been true for James Williams' Contemporary Piano Ensemble-The Key Players. But for the most part two piano collaborations have been infrequent, unrehearsed and often stimulating and provocative. There's space to only mention a few: Willie "The Lion" Smith & Don Ewell, Jay McShann & Ralph Sutton, Dick Hyman & Ralph Sutton, Tommy Flanagan & Hank Jones, Marian McPartland & John Lewis. The success of these partnerships is the similarity of their musical approach rather than the juxtaposition of opposites.

Harold Mabern and Geoff Keezer have a common musical vision. They have both been inspired by the breathtaking originality of Memphis pianist Phineas Newborn who, in the 1950s, came up with a dazzling fresh take on the "locked hand" concept used previously in jazz by Milt Buckner, George Shearing and Red Garland.

HAROLD MABERN, of course, was there when Newborn was in his prime and took that inspiration with him when he left for Chicago to begin a career which has included engagements with most of the music's giants. He's now a Jazz Master whose depth of vision and life experience makes him an instantly identifiable stylist.

GEOFF KEEZER came to this music by a different route. He was still in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, when he first heard Newborn via his classic Contemporary recordings. Since he arrived in New York, his career has been guided by James Williams, who himself was an alumnus of Newborn's Memphis heritage. Keezer's phenomenal pianistic vision encompasses many different horizons but he is a truly exciting "of the moment" performer who is already fully capable of sitting shoulder to shoulder with a Harold Mabern on equal terms.

No description of this music can replace the exhilaration of actually experiencing it. Fortunately, for us, the tape machine was rolling when Harold Mabern and Geoff Keezer took to the stage of Toronto's Montreal Bistro for these selections, which come from the second night of their performances together [January 25, 1995].

JOHN NORRIS - January 1996”

Harold takes the first solo beginning at 2:14 minutes and Geoff’s solo follows at 4:40 minutes.