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You really have to mine the Jazz literature to find anything about Al Haig, who was part of a group of the fine, pioneering Bebop pianists that included George Wallington, Joe Albany,and Dodo Marmorosa.
Unfortunately, they drew little attention during their time in the music and even less so today.
In an effort to help correct this lack of awareness, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be fun to share the references that we dug out about Al and string them together into the following composite feature.
John Chilton, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz
“Haig was among the first jazz pianists to blend the postwar innovations of bop into a consistent, personal style. His exceptional technique, besides allowing him to relax even when improvising at very fast tempos, gave him a flexibility and quickness of response that made him a fine accompanist to soloists as stylistically diverse as Stan Getz and Fats Navarro, though his associations with Gillespie and Charlie Parker were musically the most significant of his career. His many brief solos on recordings led by other musicians during the 1940s show the ability he acquired for concise expression; while unflaggingly inventive, they are usually understated, with sensitive rhythmic and harmonic nuances. Haig's later work is richer in texture and of greater emotional depth.”
Ira Gitler: Jazz Masters of the 40’s.
“Al Haig, the pianist for Parker and Gillespie in their classic quintet of 1945, was superficially like Powell but quite different in his lighter-touch approach. His style was impeccable and quite pianistic, reflecting a very highly developed technique. He was a definite influence on Hank Jones and, through him, on other men, such as Tommy Flanagan. Besides his solo abilities, Haig was an excellent accompanist. One trademark was his "comping" two octaves below his right hand's single solo lines. "At their best Haig's accompaniments, like those of John Lewis, are enhancing commentaries rather than mere backgrounds," Max Harrison wrote in the June, 1960, issue of The Jazz Review.
Haig shone as both soloist and accompanist with Charlie Parker's quintet (1949-1950) and Stan Getz's quartet and quintet. After that he drifted in and out of obscurity, appearing briefly with Chet Baker in 1954 and Gillespie in 1956. By the sixties, he was back in the New York area on a permanent basis, but his musical alliances were with small pop groups that catered to the dancing needs of the society set, from East Side clubs to Southampton and Bermuda.
Haig and Wellington went through a lot of the personal turmoil peculiar to their idiom and era, but when they leveled out, each in his own way, both left jazz.
The same seemed true of Dodo Marmarosa, ….”
Dick Katz, Pianists of the 1940s and 1950s in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz.
“Naturally, Powell had many followers. Among the earliest to master the style was Al Haig, a pianist with a refined technique, who brought a cool, controlled approach to the idiom. Whereas Powell was torrential, Haig played shorter lines with a light touch and cool aplomb. His ballads showed his classical training to good advantage; his pedaling was exemplary. His best work, in the opinion of many, was with Parker, and also on the early records of Stan Getz on the Roost label.”
Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz
“Along with Bud Powell, Haig was among the first and best of the bop pianists., who quickly adapted Parker and Gillespie's melodic and harmonic ingenuity to the pno. His technical expertise made him seem relaxed, even at whirlwind tempos, and his numerous late '405 recs. as sideman for an incredible array of musicians display the sensitivity and prowess that made him so much in demand.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
“Acknowledged as a master of bebop piano, Haig has nevertheless suffered in comparison to many of his peers through his neglect as a recording artist in later years; he never made a single album for a major label. His work with Parker, Gillespie, Getz and others shows how fine an accompanist and group pianist he was, but his 'name' work is even finer and implies a rare mastery: he was effectively an understated, 'cool' stylist inside the hot medium of bebop. He enjoyed a revival of interest in the 1970s but died before he could reap any great rewards from it….”
Al Haig was deplorably served by records in the earlier part of his career, and as a result he is almost the forgotten man of bebop piano. Yet he was as great a figure as any of the bebop masters. If he denied himself the high passion of Bud Powell's music, he was still a force of eloquence and intensity, and his refined touch lent him a striking individuality within his milieu. The first trio album The Al Haig Trio Esoteric! [Fresh Sound FSR-CD 38 Haig; Bill Crow (b); Lee Abrams (d). 3/54.] originally released on the Esoteric label, is a masterpiece that can stand with any of the work of Powell or Monk. Haig's elegance of touch and line, his virtually perfect delivery, links him with a pianist such as Teddy Wilson rather than with any of his immediate contemporaries, and certainly his delivery … has a kinship with the language of Wilson's generation. Yet his complexity of tone and the occasionally cryptic delivery are unequivocally modern, absolutely of the bop lineage. Voicings and touch have a symmetry and refinement that other boppers, from Powell and Duke Jordan to Joe Albany and Dodo Marmarosa, seldom approached.
Haig went through a burst of recording late in his life and he remained a marvelous musician to the end.
C. Gerald Frazer, New York Times, November 17, 1982 [Obituary]
Al Haig, an early be-bop pianist, died of a heart attack yesterday in his Manhattan home. He was 58 years old. Mr. Haig was a member of the Charlie Parker Quintet, which performed at the Three Deuces on West 52d Street and which is credited with helping to introduce be-bop. The group was made up of Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Mr. Haig. He also played the piano on the classic Guild recordings made in 1945 with Mr. Parker, Mr. Gillespie, Curley Russell and Sid Catlett.
In an interview several years ago, Mr. Haig said that he and Tiny Grimes, the guitarist, had been playing at the Spotlight on 52d Street, noted for its numerous jazz clubs, when he first heard Charlie (Bird) Parker's alto saxophone:
''One night, Dizzy and Bird came in with their instruments, unpacked them and swooped up on the stand and started playing 'Shaw Nuff' or some damned thing. I'd been following Dizzy on records, but it was the first time I'd ever heard Bird. I knew they were auditioning me because they were so businesslike. They unpacked their horns like they were machine guns.'' Lean and Delicate Style
Mr. Haig's piano style, lean and delicate, was influenced by Nat (King) Cole, Teddy Wilson and then Bud Powell, one of the creators of bop. The be-bop style originated in the early 40's. Its specific creation, however, has not been authenticated.
''The big mystery is that nobody knows who did what,'' Mr. Haig once said. ''I often thought that it might have been Bud Powell out in the woods with the trumpet player Cootie Williams. Powell was really the creator of the whole thing because his playing was so completely perfect and so highly stylized in that idiom. He outbirded Bird and he outdizzied Dizzy. And here he was playing on a percussive instrument, not a front-line instrument, and at times outdoing any of them.''
During World War II, Mr. Haig, played with Coast Guard bands; later, he worked with Jerry Wald, briefly; Charlie Barnet, Jimmy Dorsey, Stan Getz and Chet Baker. Over the years, he made numerous appearances at cocktail lounges and jazz festivals.
The following video tribute features Al playing as a member of trombonist Kai Winding's sextet and performing "Donna Lee" along with Red Rodney on trumpet, Kai, Zoot Sims on tenor sax, Clyde Lombardi on bass and Tiny Kahn on drums.