Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tamir Hendelman - An Astoundingly Accomplished Pianist

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

“Trio is the basic platform for expression for guitar. You can accompany yourself and still play Jazz choruses. You can make the group sound like a big band; you can make it quiet. You get a good feeling and you get to have fun.”
-Guitarist Barry Zweig as told to Zan Stewart, Los Angeles Times, 11.6.1997

When he is not in the company of vocalists - Tierney Sutton, Janis Mann, Diana Krall, Polly Gibbons, Barbra Streisand, Roberta Gambarini, Jackie Ryan and Natalie Cole come to mind - pianist Tamir Hendelman is featured with drummer Jeff Hamilton’s trio and, along with bassist John Clayton, he and Jeff form the rhythm section for the brilliant Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.

If that’s not enough, he heads up his own trio with Alex Frank on bass and Dean Koba on drums and also works on various projects as a sort of consulting musical director for George’s Klabin’s Resonance Records for whom he has recorded a CD entitled Destinations with bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Lewis Nash [[RCD-1017].

To put it succinctly, in any Jazz setting, Tamir is an conservatory trained [Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY] Jazz musician who swings his backside off. Thankfully, the former didn’t interfere with the latter.

His ability to function in either environment - a classical conservatory or a Jazz club - brings to mind the early career of Andre Previn. Perhaps another commonality between Tamir and Andre is that each had a close and long term friendship with a premier Jazz drummer: in Andre’s case it was with Shelly Manne; in Tamir’s it’s been an almost 20 year association with Jeff Hamilton.

Jeff’s long involvement with piano, bass and drums trio Jazz dating back to his work in the 1970s with Monty Alexander [with bassist John Clayton] and continuing with pianists Gene Harris, Benny Green, and Geoff Keezer [all with the legendary bassist, Ray Brown] and his own trio with pianist Larry Fuller, and now, Tamir, have no doubt been of inestimable value to Hendelman.

Knowing how to keep things interesting with only three musicians performing each tune on the same instrument takes great skill and lots of imagination.

Which bring us to the opening quotation by guitarist Barry Zweig about the trio being a basic platform for expression. In this format, there no place to hide: the listener hears everything.

And yet because of this heightened exposure, the trio platform is also a great place to experiment with familiar songs and tunes by playing them in keys that give them a different sonority, sometimes modulating to other keys within the same tune. Tempo changes, Latin beats, styles ranging from Boogie Woogie to Classical counterpoint to Bossa Nova, adding, riffs, extensions and tags [turnarounds], mixing in original compositions with Jazz Standards and selections from the Great American Songbook to vary the program of offerings - these and other musical devices and elements can all be applied to the trio platform to engage and entertain the listener.

All of this and more is on display on the thirteen tracks that make up Playground [Swingbros CMSB-28022] Tamir’s first CD as a leader on which he is joined by bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton.

Here’s a narrative the contains background information on Tamir and how the Playground CD came to be.

“It all began with a concert in New York. In January 2007, after a duo set with NY bassist Jay Leonhart, pianist Tamir Hendelman was approached by Swing Bros, producer Mr. Ikuyoshi Hirakawa. Mr. Hirakawa had seen the artist perform with the Jeff Hamilton Trio and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra in his native Japan. After hearing the evening's performance, he invited Tamir to record his first trio album with Jeff and John and the seed for Playground was planted.

Growing up in Israel, Tamir Hendelman began keyboard studies at age 6 in Tel Aviv. At age 12, concerts given by Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea were a revelation on the freedom of jazz music. Within a year, his family moved to Los Angeles, and by 14, Tamir had already won his first accolade in Yamaha's national keyboard competition. At 15, he toured Japan with Yamaha's Junior Original Concert group of young composers/performers. Jazz piano studies with Clare Fischer, Billy Childs and Joe Harnell followed.   This led to a summer at Tanglewood and a composition degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.

Summers, Tamir would return to LA, performing with saxophonists Teddy Edwards, Rickey Woodard and Jeff Clayton. His love of the Great American Songbook would lead to collaborations with vocalists such as Tierney Sutton and Barbara Morrison.

In 1999, after a duo set in an LA jazz club, Tamir was approached by drummer Jeff Hamilton, who was in attendance and was impressed with Tamir's musical approach. Jeff's musical associations since the 70’s include Monty Alexander's Trio, Ray Brown and the Oscar Peterson trio, among many others. It wasn't long after this meeting that Tamir was invited to join Jeff's trio.

Tamir returned to Japan with the Jeff Hamilton Trio in 2000. It was then he truly experienced the Japanese audience's love of Jazz. In 2001, he joined the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (CHJO), conducted by jazz and classical virtuoso bassist/composer/arranger and Ray Brown's favorite protege, John Clayton.

Tamir would later return to Japan for concerts with the CHJO and John Pizzarelli in 2004 and 2006 and most recently in 2008 with vocalists Natalie Cole and Roberta Gambarini and his own trio.

In recent years, in addition to touring and recording with the Hamilton Trio and CHJO, Tamir has become known as arranger/plan first with vocalists like Roberta Gambarini and Jackie Ryan, has performed with Houston Person and James Moody and more, all in addition to his own solo and trio activities.

The arrival of Tamir Hendelman's debut CD in Japan brings him full circle to a place where he first observed: "Japanese audiences are some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated jazz fans. They really listen with their hearts."
One of Tamir's most special memories was in 2001, the year he joined the CHJO and performed Oscar Peterson's Canadiana Suite. The tradition of jazz music has always been about a brotherhood of musical sharing. The genre's elders pass on their knowledge and encouragement to aspiring young talents.

One such figure is piano legend Oscar Peterson, whose passing in 2007 left echoes of his greatness in the jazz world. Peterson's music, loved by many, has been a great influence on jazz pianists of the next generation. He himself nurtured young talents, watching over them and sharing his insights.

On August 21, 2001, the CHJO premiered John Clayton's new orchestration of Oscar Peterson's Canadiana Suite at the Hollywood Bowl. The crowd of 17,000 music lovers celebrated the occasion graced by Peterson, the honored guest. At the piano was Tamir Hendelman.

Oscar Peterson wrote his thoughts on his web journal on Sept. 10, 2001:

"As I sat In the wings, I was exhilarated to hear this different and thoughtful reading of my compositions... I must single out some wonderful and creative solo segments by a young pianist named Tamir Hendelman. It was a satisfying feeling to follow the various tunes and then suddenly hear a new young voice make some exhilarating and thoughtful solos in the spaces that I used to occupy in those pieces. I was not only pleased to hear this invigorating performance of my work, but also refreshed by the inventive passages provided by Tamir. I look forward to hearing more from him."

And, as to the trio platform, Tamir delineates how he embellished and modified each of the tunes on Playground in the following annotations, as told to Makoto Gotoh:


1   DRIFTIN' - A groovy tune from Herbie Hancock's Blue Note debut album back in 1962, TAKIN' OFF. While it was written by Hancock, Tamir's interpretation of it has the natural groove of the Oscar Peterson Trio. Jeff's drumming is featured in the last 4 verses.

2   I'M OLD FASHIONED - Speaking of the song, Tamir said "I like the melody and Jerome Kern's sense of harmony." The contrast created by the intricate rhythm patterns and the bass lines is fresh and innovative. Once it gets into the solo, it starts to swing powerfully, solidly supported by the veteran rhythm section of John and Jeff. Pay close attention to the subtle brush work by Jeff in the last half until the tune swings into the last theme.

3   PLAYGROUND - Two weeks before the recording, Tamir was inspired to compose this tune.   "It captures the mood of this album and this period of my life. This is an especially happy time, with the birth of my daughter Zoe. My wife and I would take her to the playground and watch her smile as she would swing." The structure is complex and elusive: A short bass solo segues to the 8 bar syncopated intro. The first theme mostly continues the syncopation in phrases of 6,8 and 6 bars before repeating. An extended bridge returns to the intro, then the solo.  Finally, the bridge reprises and returns us to the intro. The trio plays this intricate piece with a flawless execution and easy, natural swing which belie its complex nature.

4   SYCAMORE - This is a beautiful cinematic ballad. "My father and I would often take walks along our sycamore-lined street, talking about life, when I was growing up. The quiet rustle of the leaves in the breeze and my father's way of listening and being always made me feel peaceful and refreshed after our walk." The performances are subtle and moving, highlighted by Clayton's superb bowing.

5   TIGER'S LAIR - "This tune is about being strong, taking risks, living life as an adventure."  Contributing to the theme's modern feel, the 32-bar form's A sections are all in 5/4 time. What characterizes this performance most is its harmonized melody, single note runs and left hand work reminiscent of early McCoy Tyner.

6   IT'S ONLY A PAPER MOON - "It's only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea..." Nat King Cole made this song a favorite.  Jeff Hamilton's brush solo evokes a soft shoe tap routine. The groove reminds you of Ray Brown, the piano tickles, and in the interlude towards the end, the exquisite brush work by Jeff Hamilton, shines through.

7   IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND - Inspired by young Miles Davis' famous version, Tamir found his own take on this bittersweet song. John Clayton's arco playing conjures up the sound of a human voice. The piano, delicate and subtle in sound, softly sings the melody in the theme.

8   DO NOTHIN' TILL YOU HEAR IT FROM ME - This is a contemporary arrangement of a classic made famous by the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Tamir's performance is grounded with a bluesy feel.  John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton provide a soulful groove.

9   SPRING ACTION - The song is about movement. After an 8 bar intro, we hear the theme, full of accents and minor tonalities. The piano then solos for 2 choruses on the tune's 40 bar AABCA form. After some quick trades with the drums we return to the theme. Watch out for the ending, played in octaves like Phineas Newborn.

10   SINGING IN THE RAIN - "I have loved this tune ever since I heard it in the movie as a child. In my own version, I tried to imagine the quiet feeling of the sound of rain." Featured in it are a pizzicato solo by John Clayton and a piano solo by Tamir, inspiring that visual image of Gene Kelly dancing in the rain.

11   I'M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU - John Clayton is featured in this rendition of the famous tune also well known as "the theme song" of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. The first theme's melody is played by bass in pizzicato, picked up by piano only in the bridge. Tamir plays the first solo in a pleasant groove.

12   THE CAPE VERDEAN BLUES - An original song written by Horace Silver in 1965 following his hit SONG FOR MY FATHER. After the intro, the piano playing and the arrangement of which are reminiscent of Chick Corea, Tamir's piano passionately sings the dynamic melody against the rhythmic background of beats drummed by Jeff Hamilton.

13   ALMOST SUMMER -  Tamir's original ballad in his words: "One summer afternoon, after a long recording day in Utah, I stepped out of the studio to get some fresh air. And when I saw the sun setting over the mountains out there, this melody came to me. I am attracted to tunes with strong and lyrical melodies, melodies that get etched in the listener's mind. Through my music, I would like to create stories, depicting the atmosphere of the scene and human emotions. I want to take my listeners out to another place. Jazz is a kind of music where you get to show who you are through your performance. There are many individual ways to do that, and you can be yourself doing it your own way - I think that's wonderful."

April, 2008,
Makoto Gotoh

Tamir’s astounding and accomplished talents are on display in the Horace Silver’s Cape Verdean Blues which forms the soundtrack to the following video montage. Can you hear the key change[s]?

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