Monday, December 29, 2014

Richard Twardzik - The Jack Chambers Biography [From the Archives]

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

“The Eisenhower years, so Miltown-ized on much of the home front, were turbulent times for jazz. The revolutionaries of the early 1950s were themselves ushered aside by a new avant-garde before the close of the decade. Jazz was like one of those newspaper chess problems: move from bop to free in ten moves. Change was the byword, and it proved to be a cruel taskmaster. Even jazz stars who had perfected wondrous styles—Miles and Coltrane serving as the preeminent examples here—soon felt compelled to throw them overboard in pursuit of the next (and in itself transitory) new thing.

Yet the personal lives of the jazz elite were often even more tumultuous than the music itself. Critics and historians have danced around the issue of jazz and substance abuse, whitewashing and demonizing by turns, but a simple perusal of the names and dates on the tombstones tells you that something was seriously wrong with the masters of the art form during this era. Not everyone was a casualty, but even those who survived, often paid a price in other ways: time in prison, broken families, potential unrealized, financial security traded for a string of fixes.

In the midst of this, it is easy to lose track of Richard Twardzik. This pianist, dead at age 24, never lived to see the release of his first leader date on the Pacific label. It was almost a miracle that this material was issued at all. Pacific only had 22 minutes of Twardzik's music on hand, and needed to package it with trio sides by pianist Russ Freeman in order to fill up an LP album. Over the years, other recordings of Twardzik's music have become available, usually featuring him in a sideman role; but none of these projects is well known outside an inner circle of jazz devotees.

It would thus be all too easy to forget Richard Twardzik. . . except that his music is anything but forgettable….

Now Jack Chambers, a jazz critic best known for his two-volume biography of Miles Davis, has written the first full-length biography of the pianist, Bouncin' With Bartok: The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik, published by The Mercury Press. Chambers, who first heard Twardzik on record back as a high school student in 1956, has taken this mysterious figure from a bygone jazz era and brought him fully to life in the pages of this remarkable book.”

- Ted Gioia writing on

I’ve now studied with Jack Chambers on two, different occasions, which is no mean feat considering the fact that he is a Linguistics Professor at the University of Toronto and I live in Southern California.

Of course, in this era of online education, one could assume that the geographical gap between us could easily be bridged by the Internet.

But that would be an incorrect assumption as both of my tutorials with Professor Chambers involved reading books he has authored, one of which was written over thirty years ago.

Please let me explain.

After a long absence from Jazz due, in part, to the usual personal and professional reasons that find all of us otherwise preoccupied and away from the passions of our youth during “the middle years,” I reconnected with the music in a big way when the compact disc era that began in the 1980s provided easy access to much of the recorded history of Jazz.

At some point in this reawakening, I realized how little I knew about Miles Davis’ music before his now classic records on Columbia [Sony] such as Miles Ahead, Kind of Blue and Porgy and Bess.

During one of my Saturday pilgrimages to the Borders Bookstore at the corner of Post and Powell Streets in San Francisco [just north of the St. Francis Hotel], I came across a copy of Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis [New York: William Morrow, 1989].

Its author was Jack Chambers.

I had never heard of Jack, but after thumbing through the book, I gathered that the work had originally been published as two, separate books with 1960 as the dividing line, a year that would have roughly coincided to when I began to listen to Miles in earnest.

I bought a copy, found it so fascinatingly full of information on Miles that I couldn’t put it down.

I carried it with me everywhere including on my business travels of which there were many in those days. I’d make notes about Jack observations of Miles’ early recordings on labels such as Savoy, Prestige and Blue Note.

And then, upon returning home, I’d seek out the CD reissues of these Miles recordings at the Tower Records Store on Columbus in the Russian Hill section of San Francisco which had a room set-off from the rest of the store that was totally devoted to Jazz [Can you imagine?].

Armed with my newly acquired digital Miles treasures and Jack’s book on Miles, I would relate one to the other while listening to the music on my portable CD player during subsequent business flights and the accompanying [and seemingly interminable] hotel stays.

Jack became my mentor on everything-Miles before 1960 [and after 1960, too, when I read Part II of his definitive work].

Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis has assumed an honored place on my Jazz books shelf.

Aside from the odd reference search every now and again, there the matter rested until I began to “study with” Jack almost 20 years later on a completely different Jazz topic.

Please let me further explain.

While doing some research for a blog feature on the music of Richard Twardzik, a rather obscure Jazz pianist who had an all-too-brief career in the early 1950s before succumbing to a heroin overdose in 1955, I came across an essay that Ted Gioia wrote for

At the time of its writing, Ted’s Twardzik essay was essentially based on a review of a new biography about the pianist entitled - Bouncin’ with Bud: The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik [Toronto: The Mercury Press, 2008].

The author of the Twardzik biography was - you guessed it - Jack Chambers!

I wrote to Ted concerning his Twardzik essay and he sent me Jack’s e-mail address and suggested that I get in touch with him.

In the meantime, I had written to a friend who is probably THE leading authority on all aspects of Pacific Jazz Records - the label that thankfully recorded Twardzik performing some of his music before his sudden death - and asked him if I could borrow his copy of Jack’s biography [I just assumed he’d have a copy because he has just about everything and anything ever written about Dick Bock’s Pacific Jazz label].

I was right, he did have the book and he offered to bring it along with him when we next met for one of our Jazz-and-coffee-get-togethers.

Since Jack’s book was forthcoming as a loan from my Jazz buddy, I never did get around to writing to Jack, per Ted’s suggestion.

I didn’t have to because he wrote to me!

It seems that my friend who is expert in all-things-Pacific-Jazz and Jack Chambers had been corresponding for quite some time.

As a result of their friendship, Jack sent along my very own copy of Bouncin’ with Bud: The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik and inscribed it with a personal greeting!

After reading Jack’s book, it soon became apparent to me that any blog posting that I might prepare on Richard Twardzik had to incorporate Jack’s knowledge and perspective on the subject.

So I wrote to him, thanked him for his generosity and asked:


As a starting point for my planned feature on Richard Twardzik and his music, I don't think I can do much better than the introductory chapter to Bouncin' with Bartok - A Crutch for the Crab.

May I have your permission to use it in its entirety? ...

Although the album in question would no doubt be different, I'm sure that many Jazz fans can relate to your anecdote about happening upon Twardzik's music, being intrigued by it and then going on a quest to find out more about it.
Thanks for considering this request.

Kind regards,


Jack sent back the following reply:

“Steve— I am pleased to give permission for you to reprint Chap. 1 with the acknowledgments and links you list below. Yes, I am sure most music lovers have an experience like mine on first hearing a magnificent piece of music. After I put a note about it on my website, I discovered that many others had their experience with "A Crutch for the Crab."

One person wrote and said, ‘Until I read your article, I thought Richard Twardzik was a figment of my imagination.’

Best wishes,


© Jack Chambers and The Mercury Press. Used with the author’s permission;, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

1. A Crutch for the Crab

“I first heard a recording of Richard Twardzik playing piano in 1956, when I was a high-school student. The tune was called A Crutch for the Crab, and it was one of the tracks on a promotional LP put out by Pacific Jazz, a sampler called Assorted Flavors of Pacific Jazz (LIFS-1). It cost $1.98 brand-new; and that was the kind of bargain you couldn't pass up if you were a jazz-struck, underachieving, underage smoker with a pompadour and black horn-rims who made five dollars on Saturdays squeegeeing the windows of Welsh's Butcher Shop and three other stores on King Street in a town called Stoney Creek on the Canadian side of the Niagara border.

Side One of Assorted Flavors strung together a lot of excerpts from the Pacific Jazz catalogue while a man with a radio voice told a kind of company history of West Coast jazz, starting with Gerry Mulligan's piano-less quartet at the Haig in 1952.The radio man sounded like he gargled with Coppertone. His voice-over commentary obscured the beginning of A Crutch for the Crab, and the ending disintegrated in a fade-out. The excerpt, counting the commentary, was less than two minutes long. It was, you would have thought, the worst way to hear any kind of music.

In fact it was sensational. Twardzik's piano playing was fluent and eccentric and painfully beautiful. His tune—a composition, really, when we finally got to hear all of it—was full of jagged turns and crisp releases. Somehow it came out sounding exactly right for its wild title, crabbily fluid with sudden lurches. It was like nothing else in the world. It was a revelation.

What the narrator said, oozing cool, was also a revelation. He said:

'When Chet Baker went to Europe in September of 1955, he took with him a startling new pianist from Boston named Richard Twardzik. Twardzik died in Paris a few months later, depriving us all of the great ability that was his. Here's the late Richard Twardzik as he sounded in 1954 playing his own composition, A Crutch for the Crab.'

It was the only time I ever heard a news item on an LP.

I tracked down the source LP, partly fearing that I had been bamboozled—that Richard Twardzik would turn out to be an ordinary piano player who had been cleverly edited to make a few brilliant minutes on a promotional record. I had to wait a long time to find out. Twrardzik's LP was a new release, copyright 1956, the same as the sampler. I had to order it at the record store, as an import."It's gonna cost you, son," said the man at the record shop,"and it's gonna take six weeks at least."

The LP was called Trio (Pacific Jazz 1212). Just looking at it, holding it in my hand still swathed in its protective plastic sheath, took my breath away. The cover was the print of an oil painting in shades of brown, with three solid figures, guys built like cairns, tossing boulders around as if they were helium balloons. The credit line said "west coast artists series/Edmund Kohn" and the back cover carried a profile and a small picture of old Edmund, a round man with a handlebar mustache and a kerchief knotted around his neck, looking like the street musician with the dancing monkey you see in cartoons. It also told about Edmund's success as an illustrator and about the awards he had won at the Sacramento State Fair and other lesser places. Since then I have read testimonials by very serious people about how their lives were changed forever when they saw Picasso's Guernica or Botticelli's Primavera. For me, it will always be Edmund Kohn's unnamed cover painting for Trio.

The billing on the cover indicated that Twardzik shared the LP with another piano player, Russ Freeman. In fact, it gave Twardzik second billing on the cover, but on the actual disk the six tracks by Twardzik's trio filled the first side. The second side was given over to Freeman, and I already knew7 something about him. He was the dean of West Coast piano players by dint of appearing on nearly every jazz record that came from California.

The back cover was packed with information: besides the box about Edmund Kohn, there were six column inches about Russ Freeman, another six column inches by Freeman about Richard Twardzik, and two black & white 3.5" x 4" portraits. One of the portraits was of Freeman by the famous California photographer William Claxton showing Freeman with a pencil mustache and dark suit, looking more like a used car salesman than was surely intended. The other portrait was of "The Late Richard Twardzik" (as the caption portentously put it),and it showedTwardzik against a dark background, hollow-cheeked, staring into the distant gloom. It was (and is) brilliantly evocative, and for many years it was the only known portrait of Twardzik.

The liner credited the portrait to "Nick Dean, Boston," not a name that registered any recognition. Years later, I spoke to numerous Boston contemporaries of Richard Twardzik, and none could place Nick Dean, the photographer. But some 45 years later, I discovered more photographs by Nick Dean, as we shall see, some of them the equal of the back-cover portrait. His old business address is stamped on the back of one of the portraits: "Photograph by/ Nick Dean/41 Charles Street/Boston 14, Mass./CA 7-8440." And finally, with the help of Richard Twardzik's second cousin who was born long after Richard had died but came to maturity in the internet era, I would find Dean himself.

Freeman was credited as producer of Twarcizik's recording session. In his liner notes about Twardzik's music. Freeman praises Twardzik's "really original concept," and tells how he came across him in Boston and was struck by his music, "fresh and very uninhibited, especially harmonically" Freeman said that the recordings by Twardzik came about because he phoned Richard Bock, the owner and producer of Pacific Jazz Records in Los Angeles, to tell him about this hot young player, and Bock gave him permission to record Twardzik for the label.

Freeman says the recording took place "late in 1954," but the exact date— 27 October 1954 —was only fixed 35 years later with the kind of sleuthing (as we will see later) that jazz discographers revel in. The recording was made in Rudy Van Gelder's parlor in Hackensack, New Jersey, the now-legendary recording studio that was just beginning to earn its reputation when Freeman took Twardzik and the other musicians there. Accompanying Twardzik were Carson Smith, Chet Baker's regular bassist, a Californian who was young, only 23, but already well known for playing in Mulligan's Quartet as well as Baker's, and a young, unknown Boston drummer, Peter Littman. (Complete details for these and all other recordings by Twardzik are listed in the discography at the end.)

Freeman's endorsement sounds like an understatement on the evidence of Twardzik's music. The original Pacific Jazz release included three standards, Bess You Is My Woman Now, 'Round About Midnight and I’ll Remember April, and three originals, Albuquerque Social Swim, Yellow Tango and, of course, A Crutch for the Crab.

The standards were fresher then than we can imagine today. Twardzik's recording of Bess You Is My Woman Now pre-dates by four full years the Porgy and Bess boom that came with its movie version in 1959 and brought with it jazz versions of its score by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, Mundell Lowe, Bill Potts, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and others. Gershwin's opera had been revived in 1952 for an international tour starring soprano Leontyne Price, but that was a more operatic version than the film would be, and it hardly caught the attention of jazz musicians, except for Twardzik. Although several George Gershwin songs ranked high in the standard jazz repertoire, the ones from Porgy and Bess were not common among them except for Summertime, and that by virtue not of the opera but of a seminal 1939 jazz recording by Sidney Bechet.When Twardzik recorded Bess You Is My Woman Now in 1954, it was completely unknown as a jazz vehicle.

More surprisingly, so was 'Round About Midnight. Thelonious Monk had made his original studio recording of his song in 1947 and, apart from an obscure solo recording he made of it in Paris in 1954, he did not record it again for a decade, until 1957. By then, it had been widely discovered as a jazz vehicle and Monk's interpretation of his own ballad was one of dozens, albeit primus inter pares. It was destined to become one of the two or three most recorded jazz compositions of all time. But Twardzik's pensive, almost introverted, take on it in 1954 caught it on its rise into the standard repertoire, and surely it was one that caught the ear of many other piano players.

Refreshing as the ballads were, Twardzik's original compositions were positively brilliant. Yellow Tango is a confection based on a mannerly Latin beat sustained by bass and drums while Twardzik teases the genre with high-note filigrees in the manner of then little-known Ahmad Jamal. Albuquerque Social Swim is tougher, its oblique melodies played staccato with sudden, unexpected stops.The improvised choruses burst into rock-steady 4/4 time, and after the stutters of the theme they come as a blessed relief. The device of inexplicable stops released into flowing melodies dominates Albuquerque Social Swim and animates it by creating knots of tension and unraveling them in flowing melody. In A Crutch for the Crab the stop-and-release is just one of several devices.

If Twardzik's side of the original LP had a flaw, it was in programming. A Crutch for the Crab and Albuquerque Social Swim were set together at the beginning, as tracks one and two, where their similarities somehow tempered their stunning differences.

A Crutch for the Crab, heard in its entirety, is a 3-minute symphony. Its structure is ambiguous: the opening exposition takes 24 bars but the final reprise takes only 20, having lost the first four bars. Those first four bars open the piece as a kind of cadence; they might be a prelude. The second four bars are syncopated, with the piano playing on one and three while the drums accent two and four. The effect is unforgettable, and sets up a repeated figure in the 17th and 23rd bars where the piano fills the second and fourth accents with its own out-of-tempo syncopations. The same figure comes back at points in the improvisation, and so do references to other melodic figures, always modulated in some way. The performance is rich with nuance. It ends too soon from one vantage point, but from another it entices you to go back to it time and again, as real art always does.

In my mind's eye, the syncopation caught the crab's motion of the title with unimaginable perfection, seemingly lurching, almost awkward, but at the same time fluid and swift.Try to catch it and it darts through your hands. It is edgy and slightly frightening, and just when you think you have it cornered, it is gone.

Twardzik offered an alternate explanation for the title in the liner notes. It came, he said, "from watching the hands of the Polish pianist, Jan Smeterlin, as they scurried crab-like into the keys." But that came too late for me. By then, I had my own objective correlative for the title embedded in the music, and it could not be shaken. Besides, there was good reason for not taking Twardzik literally. Another explanation that he put forward was obviously intended to give the finger to the unwary. Yellow Tango, he said, "wras written as incidental music for a Shake-dance." Oh sure.

The recordings by Richard Twardzik on the Trio LP last 21 minutes and 44 seconds. (A mistake on the timings printed on the cover made it seem even less by more than a minute, but Yellow Tango is over five minutes, not 4:18.) Of the six tracks, the three ballads arid three originals, all but Yellow Tango are around the three-minute mark, the industry standard length in the era of brittle old 78 rpm shellac records and one that was imprinted so forcibly onto the psyches of musicians and producers that it was still the industry standard length in 1954, two years after jazz recordings invariably came out on unbreakable vinyl at 33 rpm.

Twardzik's Trio recording was easy to miss, even for vigilant jazz fans. It was, after all, just half a record by an unknown piano player with too many consonants in his name. His music held up to repeated listenings, in fact endlessly, but there was still too little of it. You never got tired of it.You never got enough of it.

From the start I knew there was more recorded music by Richard Twardzik, because Russ Freeman, in his liner note, wrote, "He recorded with Serge [Chaloff] and Charlie Mariano," who I knew about as two Boston jazz musicians with national reputations. Freeman added, "He also had an original, The Fable of Mabel, recorded by Serge for Storyville Records."

Those were tantalizing clues, and they cost me many frustrating hours. The man at the record shop could find no listings for either Chaloff or Mariano as leaders, and nobody I knew with a jazz collection had ever heard of these particular records. Even Joe Rico, the jazz jockey on Buffalo radio who seemed, in my teenage pantheon, to know everything worth knowing not only about jazz but about life, when I finally got a friend of a friend's friend to make an inquiry, just shrugged.

In 1956, channels of communication were sluggish. It was years before I realized that those other records Twardzik had played on had had mainly local distribution around Boston, and that the Mariano record was out of print even before I had started making inquiries about it. Probably the Chaloff record was too. In 1963, when I found a discography of Richard Twardzik's recordings in an English jazz magazine called Jazz Monthly (Morgan 1963), I finally learned more of the details—labels, titles, recording dates, personnel, instruments, compositions. It turned out there were two Mariano records with Twardzik on them, and not only did Chaloff record Twardzik's composition The Fable of Mabel, but Twardzik played on it too. I wrote the titles of all three records on the list of collectibles I carry in my wallet. Over the years, dozens of items on that list came and went, but those Boston LPs took on a frustrating permanence. As jazz buffs do, I watched for the records to come up in delete bins and record auctions. As my travels broadened, first in my college days when I found myself across the river from Detroit and then as my professional pursuits took me to conferences all over North America and eventually Europe, I spent hours pawing through dusty stacks of vinyl in far-flung cities on two continents.

To this day, I have never found those records, any of them, in the LP format. I finally got to hear them when the commercial boom brought on by the new CD technology at the tail-end of the 1980s led record companies to sweep out their vaults.

Freeman's liner note also offered the news that Twardzik's "professional career began at the age of fourteen," and that "he worked with Tommy Reynolds, Charlie Barnet, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, Serge Chaloff, Charlie Mariano, Sonny Stitt and Chet Baker." With that background, somewhere there had to be live performances on acetate or tape reels, and, sure enough, a few years later a single track surfaced of Charlie Parker with a pick-up band in a Boston nightclub. Twardzik's piano was largely inaudible, but he was there, and the very existence of the performance held the promise of more, and over the decades more performances have slowrly accumulated, never out of regard for Twardzik himself but usually triggered by lingering sentiments for the leaders of the bands he happened to be playing in—Parker, Chaloff, or Chet Baker.There is quite a bit more to come, I now know; and come it will if the growing sentiments for Twardzik, or at least curiosity about him, gather a little momentum.

With only the twenty-odd minutes of the trio recordings, it might have been impossible for me and for other jazz fans to sustain interest in the ill-fated piano player for the next half-century or so. But there was more. Pacific Jazz Records released a new recording with Twardzik on it the same year as the trio record, and the second recording was a small treasure of beguiling, open-minded, cool music that provided a whole new view of Twardzik's brilliance, and solidified his singular ability in case there were any doubts.

The records were made in a Paris studio by the Chet Baker Quartet in two sessions. The date of the second session was exactly one week before Twardzik died. The LP that was issued in North America was called Chet Baker in Europe (Pacific Jazz 1218), and it carried the grandiose subtitle A Jazz Tour of the NATO Countries. The tracks with Twardzik consisted of six pieces of extraordinary delicacy, almost like chamber music. Once again, they amounted to only half a record. They filled the second side, all 25 minutes of it. There were also five tracks on the first side, fillers in my mind, by Baker with European musicians recorded after Twardzik's death.

My copy of the Pacific Jazz LP has disappeared, as things tend to do in four decades or more. It was a rare one. It has never been reissued in the original format and I now realize that its rarity has nothing to do with the tastes of the company executives, about whom I harbored resentment for years, assuming they did not know they were hiding a masterpiece in their vaults. I now realize that the music never belonged to the American distributor, Pacific Jazz, but had to be leased by them from Barclay Records in Paris, the original producer and owner.

That explained why the LP came with strangely impersonal packaging, with a cover photo focusing on the tail of a Pan American airliner instead of the customary romantic pose of Chet Baker, who was not only the best-selling jazz musician of the moment but also a highly photogenic boyish hipster. I now know that Baker was still in Europe when Pacific Jazz leased this music and packaged it in an effort to keep alive the American fin interest in their hottest musician. The cover photo shows a young couple embracing in the shadow of the airliner, but it isn't even Baker, although the male figure obscured by the woman shows a Chet-like pompadour.

Baker's cover poses, except for this one, had a certain cachet. In fact, they have proven to have something close to the lasting power of art. Years later they were collected in coffee-table format in Young Chet (Claxton 1993). So at the time of its release, the cover of Chet Baker in Europe seemed a bit weird, with make-believe Chet hidden behind the young woman hugging him on his supposed return to American soil. Equally weird were all those strange foreign names of the musicians on the filler tracks. But come to think of it, they were no stranger than the names of what had been, until Twardzik's sudden death, Baker's working quartet.

Baker's young sidemen were so unknown beyond their own hometowns that advertising them by name would have stirred no expectations abroad and almost none at home.

What set Chet Baker in Europe apart was the music. The brilliance of the recordings Baker made in the Paris studio with Twardzik would turn out to be due in part to an invisible fifth member of the new quartet. Baker's group recorded nothing but original compositions in the Paris studio, a very unusual situation for Baker, whose reputation rested on ballads and jazz standards before this and, it would turn out, forever after. Of those original compositions, one was written by Twardzik, and the other five were written, according to the composer credit on the label, by "Bob Zieff." There were actually three more Zieff compositions recorded at these sessions but it would be several years before we knew that, except for the few fans who had access to the original French issue on Barclay Records.

Bob Zieff was another mystery man, arid the mystery was hardly solved by Baker's identification of him in the liner note (1956) as "the young Boston writer that Dick Twardzik, my pianist, brought to my attention." His music was mysterious too.There were no funny valentines, no lilting Mulliganesque ditties, no harmon-muted bleeding sentiments—in other words, none of the hallmarks on which Baker's popularity was based.

Baker was well aware of the differences. His liner note added, "The originality and freshness of Zieff’s line and chordal structure is going to please a lot of people, I think—at least musicians and other serious listeners." That statement seemed like an attempt at preparing Baker's regular fans for the kind of departure that Zieff's music represented. It was, above all, cerebral music. (You can dance to it, in the bop mockery of the hopelessly passe Swing Era, but only if you work out your steps very very carefully.) Each composition is an intricate little gem. Each note seems deliberately laid into its position in the composition. Each composition sounds more difficult to play than the last one, no matter what order you listen to them in, but the rewards of mastering their difficulties are obvious in the subtle swing and the melodic surprises.

Playing Zieff's compositions obviously requires discipline and control, the aspect that gives the pieces the chamber-like feel, but that should not imply that the quartet's performances of these pieces are subdued or in any way timid. Baker and Twardzik, the principal soloists, range freely through key changes and tempo shifts with what seems uncanny ease.

Baker was praised from the beginning of his career for his spontaneity He had a knack for inventing attractive phrases on the spot. In jazz, spontaneous invention is essential, and most jazz musicians rely on rote devices to relieve them of the burden of constant invention. Baker needed fewer of them than many others. When it came to spinning lines of disarmingly simple and lyrically attractive variations, he had few peers. All that was widely recognized, but in his career he received scant notice for the beauty of his tone or the fullness of his range on the trumpet, perhaps because he displayed them so infrequently, sticking almost exclusively to the middle register. There was no way he could do that in Zieff's music. It required him to move briskly over the scale, especially on the tunes called Rondette and Re-Search, and to play rapid exercise-like sequences in Mid-Forte and Piece Caprice, sometimes requiring octave leaps. Baker carried it off with total control. He made it sound easy. His technical skills were seldom so evident, before or after. And through it all his lyrical bent, the heart of his talent, never flagged for a second.

Zieff's music sets Baker into brooding moods on Sad Walk, Just Duo and Brash, and winsome melodies with minor drags on Rondette, Sad Walk and Pomp. The ingenious harmonies draw out Baker's sensitivity, seeming to extract it without pretense or posing as he traces fresh melodic lines over the layered harmonies.These recordings may represent the apogee of Baker's talents as a pure musician.

The only other composition recorded by the young quartet in Paris was composed by Twardzik himself, called The Girl from Greenland. If I had never heard A Crutch for the Crab and Albuquerque Social Swim (and, eventually, The Fable of Mabel, Twardzik's other remarkable composition) it would be tempting to credit Zieff with it rather than Twardzik. The kindred feelings in the music of Twardzik and Zieff were no coincidence, I would discover 20 years later, when I accidentally sat down beside Robert L. Zieff at a conference in Oldham, Lancashire, on the music of Duke Ellington.

Twardzik's Girl from Greenland is a ballad (A A'B A') built on a lilting rhythm. Baker's statement of the ascending scale of the melody is countered by Twardzik's trills at the top of the piano. When Baker and Twardzik break free of the melody in their solo choruses, they sustain the contrasting moods of their melodic motifs. Baker emphasizes the minor mood, brooding over it quietly. Twardzik mocks the mood, teasing it by spreading four bars of melody over eight and inverting phrases. Baker is involved and Twardzik is aloof. Baker is romantic and Twardzik is cynical. It is an ingenious arrangement, perfectly executed. Both musicians play their parts brilliantly, but it is the interaction of the parts that raises the music to a higher level.

And when the last note of The Girl from Greenland faded, there would be no more music from Richard Twardzik. Or so it seemed. As the man with the Coppertone voice on the Pacific Jazz sampler said, "Twardzik died m Paris a few months later, depriving us all of the great ability that was his." Now, to add to that, we had the eyewitness testimony of Chet Baker. In his liner notes for Chet Baker in Europe (1956),Baker included this diary entry in his account of his tour of the NATO countries (with the elisions in the original):

‘OCT. 21 —Today here in Paris, alone in his room, Dick Twardzik died suddenly at 24, cheating all of us of his very real genius.... His conception was so completely original; the way he played with meter was uncanny, turning it around and around, never goofing, always there. He leaves behind far too fewr examples of the genius he possessed. My association with him has enriched my life greatly and I'm thankful for that.We are all deeply saddened.... a wonderful person and a brilliant musician.’

There did indeed seem to be too few examples of his genius. The Baker quartet tracks from Paris, on the Pacific Jazz release, amounted to 24 minutes and 29 seconds. Add to that the 21:44 of the piano trio recordings and you get the grand total: 46 minutes and 13 seconds. Enough to establish a reputation, but hardly enough to sustain it, by any reasonable standards.There would be, miraculously, another 15 minutes of Bob Zieff's music by Baker and Twardzik in Paris, and when it is added on it brings the grand total to 61:12, one hour and one minute and a few seconds. Eventually more music by Twardzik would be found, a fair amount really, considering the brevity of his life, some of it excellent, but the very best of it is here, in the hour from these two studio recordings.

Over the years, I have returned to this music often, and always with the fear that I would find its pleasures gone flat. As I left behind the horn-rimmed teenager I had been when I first heard Richard Twardzik playing A Crutch for the Crab, I feared that I might find out that my feelings for it were based on nothing more than adolescent brooding for a doomed young artist. I was afraid something inside me would say, Snap out of it, for god's sake.

It hasn't happened.”

For order information on Jack's book please go here.

For the following video tribute to Richard Twardzik, I selected his interpretation of Bess, You Is My Woman Now because as Ted Gioia explains:

His interpretation of "Bess, You Is My Woman" is a case study in the jazz-ballad-as-art-song. This latter performance is worth hearing for the pedaling alone—and how often can you say that about a jazz track? But even more striking is his splashes of sound color—the term "voicings" hardly does justice to what Twardzik

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Two from Tommy Vig [From the Archives]

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

For those of us who were fans of the music of Stan Kenton, Tommy Vig stepped into our lives on Monday, April 4, 1966.

That was the night that Stan’s highly [overly?] ambitious Neophonic Orchestra premiered Tommy’s Four Pieces for Neophonic Orchestra.

At the time of the premier, few Kenton fans knew anything about Tommy Vig.

Frankly, I would venture to say that few Jazz fans anywhere knew anything about this 28-year old percussionist, composer-arranger who had come to the United States as a refuge from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Ultimately, Tommy chose the vibraphone as his main instrument and gained a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music where he studied composition.

From New York Tommy moved to Las Vegas and Hollywood, where his bold approach to arranging was well received. As a vibraphonist and a percussionist, he performed with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Tony Curtis, Miles Davis-Gil Evans big band, Woody Allen, Diana Ross, and The Carpenters, just to name a few. He is the percussionist on all the albums of the legendary Rod Stewart. 

There is more information about Tommy on his comprehensive website which you can locate by going here.

In Los Angeles in August, 1967, Tommy recorded Four Pieces for Neophonic Orchestra with his own orchestra along with five other arrangements of his original compositions. Earlier, in April, 1967, Tommy had recorded six of his charts with a band based in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas tracks were released as Encounters with Time [Discovery LP #DS 780] and the Los Angeles tracks were issued as Sound of the 70s [Milestone LP #MSP 9007].

In 1986, Discovery/Trend coupled both albums together as a CD release entitled Space Race DSCD-925.

In order to give you a sampling of Tommy’s extraordinarily exciting big band arranging and the unusual use of percussion instruments in his scoring, here are two videos featuring soundtracks from both the Los Angeles and Las Vegas 1967 sessions.

The first features a rapid burst version of Sunrise, Sunset from the score of the Broadway show Fidler on the Roof which was subsequently also made into a Hollywood film. Charlie McLean takes the alto solo.

The second video also features Charlie Lean, this time on Tommy’s arrangement of Satan Takes a Holiday, which Larry Clinton composed as the theme for his swing era, big band. Shelly Manne is on drums.

Beginning at 1:09 minutes of this track, be sure and checkout Tommy’s solo on the 18 note chimes which are made up of 1¼” brass tubes that are struck at the top of the tube with a rawhide mallet [both pictured above]. These are usually played one note at a time, but on his solo, Tommy uses two mallets and plays the chimes as though they were a vibraphone – not an easy thing to do. He’s even figured out a way to dampen or stop the sustaining tones on the chimes!