Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Stars of Jazz: A Complete History of the Innovative Television Series, 1956-1958 by James A Harrod

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Critical praise lauded the programs seen that summer in newspapers where the local stations broadcast Stars of Jazz. National publications like Down Beat and Metronome continued to mention and praise the series. Despite this, Stars of Jazz has fallen into oblivion.”
- James Harrod, author and researcher

There’s never been anything like it before, and I doubt that there will ever be anything like it again - a regular, weekly series devoted to Jazz on a major television network. A series about Jazz which even won an Emmy award!

The backdrop for these opening remarks was the ABC television series, Stars of Jazz which aired from 1956 - 1958.

[As a point in passing, Steve Allen, a television personality and fine pianist, produced 26 half-hour Jazz Scene USA programs in 1962 but these were syndicated on regional and local television stations and not televised nationally on one of the major networks].

On two previous occasions, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles posted blog features about Ray Avery, the late photographer and Jazz recordings maven, who became the unofficial “official” photographer of the Stars of Jazz . A compilation of Ray photographs from these shows was published in 1995 by the Danish firm Jazz Media with editorial guidance from Cynthia T. Sesso 

Cynthia is a major authority on Jazz photography, and licenses Ray’s work along with the images of a number of other photographers who specialized in Jazz. You can locate more about Cynthia and her work at her website. She may also have copies of Ray’s book about Stars of Jazz still available for sale.

There the matter stood for almost 25 years until Jefferson, North Carolina based McFarland’s recent publication of James A Harrod, Stars of Jazz: A Complete History of the Innovative Television Series, 1956 - 1958.

In addition to concise annotations of all 130 episodes of the show which aired over the three year period from 1956-1958, Mr. Harrod’s work contains and Introduction that places the musical groups that appeared on the television show within the larger context of the West Coast Jazz scene of the 1950s, an interview with Ray Avery, the previously referenced unofficial “official” photographer of the program as conducted by Jazz columnist and record producer Will Thornbury, a discography, a filmography and chapter notes that convey the detailed nature of the research that he conducted in writing the book.

Also on hand is an outstanding assemblage of Ray Avery’s photographs curated by Cynthia Sesso that offer both behind-the-scenes views as well as portraits of the musicians appearing in front of the camera, very few of which have ever been made available in previous publications. Each episode and each related photograph has expert commentary by Mr. Harrod which further enriches the reader’s vicarious experience of this landmark television series on the subject of Jazz.

It’s not easy to make a book about a television series interesting, especially one, the remnants of which have been stored away in garage boxes, private collections, and university archival vaults since it ceased airing over 60 years ago.

But Mr. Harrod’s clear, concise, conversationalist-like writing style succeeds in accomplishing this task with a detailed and descriptive trip into a Jazz World that is no more and, if you blinked while it was in existence, you more than likely would have missed its brief appearance of the national entertainment stage

The background for how the series came to be is contained in these excerpts from the book’s Introduction.

“Norman Granz gave jazz performance in Los Angeles a boost when he launched his Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in July of 1944. The success of that event motivated Granz to take his concept on national tours of the United States in the following years. Gene Norman helped to fill the concert performance demand when he began his Just Jazz concerts in the late 1940s.

A jazz enthusiast, Gene Norman became Los Angeles' leading disc jockey via programs on various local radio stations. Gene Norman's Just Jazz concerts featured leading jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter, Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, June Christy, Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, Red Norvo, Dave Brubeck, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Cal Tjader, and Erroll Garner at venues including the Embassy Auditorium, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, and the Shrine Auditorium. Gene Norman and Frank Bull inaugurated their Dixieland Jubilee programs at the Shrine Auditorium in the late 1940s to satisfy the legions of traditional jazz fans in Los Angeles.

Norman introduced the Snader Telescriptions (1950-1952), a prototype MTV-styled concept documenting recording personalities and jazz artists of the era, on NBC-TV. He hosted one of the first televised jazz concerts on KTLA, as well as The Gene Norman Show and Campus Club on KHJ. …

Los Angeles became a national focal point for jazz when the Gerry Mulligan Quartet attracted media attention in the fall of 1952. The subsequent founding of Pacific Jazz Records accelerated the recognition of the West Coast as a center of new trends in jazz. In a similar fashion, Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars launched the modern jazz series at Les Koenig's Contemporary Records and introduced a style of playing that became known as West Coast Jazz. Norman Granz established Clef and Norgran Records as a vehicle to record artists associated with his JATP organization. All three were headquartered in Los Angeles. …

Los Angeles was experiencing a continuing jazz renaissance in the spring of 1956. Nightclubs featuring jazz were thriving. Tiffany Club, Crescendo, Interlude, Zardi's Jaz-zland, Oasis, Peacock Lane, Jazz City, the Lighthouse, and The Haig were booking top names in modern jazz. Traditional jazz bastions included Royal Room, Astor's, 881 Club, 400 Club, and Beverly Cavern.

Jazz was making inroads on television as well. Ed Sullivan featured jazz occasionally and other personality shows like The Nat King Cole Show featured jazz, most notably shows with Norman Granz introducing stars from his JATP organization. But the unheralded program that presented jazz regularly, night after night, was Steve Allen's Tonight. ...

Steve Allen's Tonight was one of the first network programs to regularly feature African American artists. When the show premiered in September of 1954, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision from May 17,1954, permeated news headlines. This was during the early years of the civil rights struggle and it would be another year before Rosa Parks launched the Montgomery bus boycott after she refused to yield her seat in the black section to a white passenger.

Allen's roster of guest artists from the first six months of 1956, noted above, provides ample proof that Tonight continued to present artists on the basis of talent, not color. The production team who conceived Stars of Jazz at KABC shared the same conviction, that guest artists would be hired based on talent, not the color of their skin.

Stars of Jazz was created by a group of Channel 7 KABC employees including producers, directors, writers, cameramen, and assorted technicians who were serious fans of jazz. They were keenly aware of the absence of a dedicated TV show featuring jazz. The petition to develop and present a show devoted to jazz was led by Peter Robinson, Bob Arbogast, Norman Abbott, and Jimmie Baker who had been badgering the station's executive in charge of programming, Selig J. Seligman, for years. He finally relented and in the spring of 1956 gave Peter Robinson and Baker, the producers who would shepherd the show, a green light. He told them there was no budget for the show but they could have dead studio time and a bare bones staff, no frills. They would have to stick to musician scale, write their own material, scrape together their stage sets, and they could produce four shows. If they didn't land a sponsor by the end of the fourth show it would be canceled. …

Stars of Jazz was seen in Los Angeles on Channel 7, K ABC, from June of 1956 through April of 1958, a total of 92 shows. In mid-April of 1958 the show was granted network status where it was seen on 70-plus ABC stations across the country. KABC recorded 29 episodes for distribution before being canceled by ABC headquarters in New York in October of 1958. It resumed local-only broadcast in Los Angeles for the remainder of the year and nine final episodes. The disposal of the Stars of Jazz kinescopes sealed its fate. Surviving episodes or portions of episodes have surfaced on YouTube, making access and viewing of the program easier for audiences. Available YouTube segments are listed with each episode.”

Many of the elements that came together to make Stars of Jazz  “innovative” are detailed in the book’s Coda, among them:

“Stars of Jazz was seen on over 70 stations in 39 states and Canada when it debuted on ABC's national network in the spring of 1958. The move to network broadcast was facilitated by the introduction of videotape technology that quickly gained a presence on all three national TV networks.

CBS had 14 Ampex VT-1000 videotape machines in its New York headquarters and nine in Hollywood. NBC opened its Hollywood center in April of 1958 and was in the final stages of completing a million-dollar videotape center in New York in the fall of 1958. ABC had six videotape machines in its Chicago center that was a hub for distribution to other ABC affiliates. KABC had six videotape machines in its television center in Hollywood. …

Troup spoke with Wally George at the Los Angeles Times about the challenges of presenting jazz on television in March of 1958. He credited the success of Stars of Jazz to imaginative programming, the scripts, musical examples, historical images, and creative camera work. He pointed out that the chief difficulty in presenting a show of this type was to give it visual appeal: "No one will watch long if the same standard shots are used time and again. We try to combine sight and sound into an attractive package. At times we may have ended up in left field, but at least no one can accuse the show of not trying."

Baker tapped William Claxton as artistic consultant when the show was being formulated. Claxton's eye for photography had been a major factor in the success of Dick Bock's Pacific Jazz label, and Claxton was instrumental in placing Pacific Jazz artists like Chet Baker, Jack Montrose, Chico Hamilton, and Bud Shank on Stars of Jazz.

The visual presentation of jazz was innovative although the finger painting and artist sketching on stage might have been the "left field" that Troup mentioned. The films of Charles and Ray Eames, the visuals of devices with a beat, water in motion, and other films that conveyed motion with a cadence presented jazz for the eye as well as the ear. John Wilson's film, ABC's of Jazz, likewise presented a visualization of jazz for viewers. It is regrettable that the planned visuals by John Hoppe for a future edition of Stars of Jazz were not realized. His special effects on The Bing Crosby Show dazzled the Stars of Jazz team who asked Hoppe to create effects for an episode.

One of the greatest assets of Stars of Jazz during the two and a half years it ran on Los Angeles television was the camera crew. Baker provided detailed breakdowns on every number performed as a guideline for the cameramen to follow as the jazz musicians performed the tune, but the cameramen's intuitive knowledge of music and what to focus on made every show a gem to watch and behold. The camera work seen on Stars of Jazz has not been equaled or surpassed by any television jazz program before or since.”

As the book makes clear, all styles of Jazz were represented on the program, 
and some of the original makers of the music such as Paul Whiteman, Jack Teagarden, Red Nichols, Ray Bauduc and Red Norvo were still alive in the late 1950s and made appearances on the program

For those of us who were fortunate to view the series wholly or in part when it originally aired, it’s easy to agree with Hr. Harrod when he concludes:

“Hopefully, this history and the increasing availability of Stars of Jazz on internet sites like YouTube will raise an awareness of this landmark series that deserves recognition in critical media studies and histories.”

Monday, March 30, 2020

THE HOUDINI'S - Fat Groupie -

Remembering Gerry Teekens - 1935-2019

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Criss Cross releases have a certain standardized and simple look, each one accompanied by lengthy liner notes reflecting a fastidious house style. I wrote more than 30 of these, starting in 2002. Teekens would sometimes invite me to Systems Two — where I witnessed recording sessions by pianist David Kikoski and guitarists Adam Rogers, Lage Lund and Mike Moreno, among others — before commissioning me to write.

He wasn’t especially chatty between takes, and hard to read at times, but out of the blue he could start reminiscing about seeing Bud Powell live in Europe in the early ’60s. Inscrutable, he might cease contact for years, only to end the silence with a sudden voicemail, in that unmistakably gravelly high-pitched voice: “This is Gerry Teekens. I need some liner notes. I’m in a terrible hurry.”
In an email, Orrin Evans remembers Teekens as “an opinionated dude with strong views on what was ‘swinging’ or not.” Evans adds: “Most times we fought about my sidemen and the material I chose for my record dates — but he helped me pay my rent with those dates at least once a year, and by watching him run a label I learned what to do and what not to do when I started my label.””

David Adler WBGO Live Stream Jazz November 6, 2019

“When Bruce Lundvall asked me to join him in reviving the Blue Note label in 1984, we had, as part of a major label, many considerations and expectations to deal with from reissues to crossover artists. During those early years, I kept thinking that if we were to function in the spirit of the original label, we’d be doing just what Gerry Teekens was doing with Criss Cross at the time. David Adler’s well-researched obit captures Gerry and his accomplishments perfectly.”

-Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records

This posting is a tribute to the memory of Gerry Teekens, a man who, like me played drums, but, a man who, unlike me, lived his dream to become an independent producer of Jazz recordings.

And what a producer - 400+ recordings over a 40 year period from 1981 until his passing in 2019!

That may not seem like a big number but considering that this output emphasized straight ahead, swinging Jazz during a period of time when this approach to the music had a very small following, this yield was prolific in the extreme.

To add to the significance of Gerry’s accomplishment, he funded these recordings himself and most of them featured young artists not widely known among fans of this style of Jazz.

In this regard, Gerry was continuing the tradition of independent Jazz producers that dates back to Milt Gabler of Commodore Records, Norman Granz and the various labels that combined to create Verve Records, Ross Russell at Dial Records, Bob Weinstock at Prestige, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff at Blue Note, Orrin Keepnews ar Riverside and Jazzland [later Milestone and Landmark], Richard Bock at Pacific Jazz, Lester Koenig at Contemporary and the Weiss Brothers at Fantasy Records.

Here’s more background about Gerry and his achievements on behalf of the music and its makers as drawn from the Jazz literature.

The following appeared in the November 7 edition of the JazzTimes.

Gerry Teekens, Head of Criss Cross Jazz, Dies at 83

For almost 40 years, the Dutch producer and label owner made it his business to put out music with “some fire and some blood”

“Gerry Teekens, a record producer and label owner who was passionate in his embrace and promotion of straight-ahead jazz artists (especially in the United States), died on October 31 in Enschede, the Netherlands. He was 83.

His death was confirmed by his son, Gerry Teekens Jr., and by Criss Cross Jazz, the record label Teekens founded in 1981 and operated until his passing. Cause of death has not been disclosed.

Teekens’ passing unleashed a torrent of reactions from jazz musicians and fans on social media. “It’s hard for me to overstate the impact that [Teekens] and his label #crisscrossjazz have had on my life,” wrote violinist Zach Brock on Instagram.

“Criss Cross Records was THE label for me growing up,” said bassist Paul Sanwald on Twitter. “I’d buy as many new releases as I could afford and I knew they’d all be great.”

Himself a veteran drummer, Teekens was also a tour producer and promoter in the Netherlands. He founded Criss Cross Jazz as a means to record one of his clients at the conclusion of a European tour. Over the course of nearly four decades, he would oversee a prolific and beloved recorded legacy of over 400 albums—nearly all by American artists, whom Teekens would seek out and record on his biannual trips to New York.

His output was almost entirely “inside” mainstream jazz, though in his last years he made space at Criss Cross Jazz for some denser, more experimental releases. “There are never any restrictions on my dates; I just let the musicians play their music,” Teekens told jazz journalist David R. Adler in 2003. “As long as the music has some fire and some blood, I’m happy.”

Geert Teekens was born in The Hague on December 5, 1935. He became a fan of jazz at about the age of 12, when the music was reaching a zenith of popularity among Dutch music lovers. “Even the girls in the street knew Kenton and Konitz,” he recalled in a 2005 interview.

Teekens became a professional drummer in the 1960s, playing jazz throughout Europe for much of the decade. He was also fluent in German, and when he left the road he was offered a position as a college professor in that language, a job he retained for 25 years. However, he never lost his affection for jazz, and in the late 1970s he began booking Dutch and larger European tours for American jazz artists. When guitarists Jimmy and Doug Raney concluded one such tour in February 1981, Teekens made arrangements for them to record in the Dutch city of Hilversum with a European rhythm section. The resulting album, Raney ’81, became the first release on Teekens’ new recording imprint, Criss Cross Jazz—named for the transatlantic travel that the musicians and their music undertook in order to make the records.

Thus began a series of releases that numbered 404 as of May 2019. With a single exception — Back on the Scene, a 1985 album by Dutch saxophonist Joe Van Enkhuizen — Teekens’ releases were made by artists based in the U.S. and Canada. The Criss Cross catalogue included a wide swathe of musicians that crossed styles and generations, from post-World War II legends Chet Baker and Warne Marsh to 21st-century arrivals Lage Lund and Matt Brewer.

He had a particular soft spot for up-and-coming young musicians, telling Adler that “I’d rather record guys who are really eager to play than feature big names who have recorded many times already. There’s a lot of fire among the younger musicians.”

Criss Cross’ earliest releases were recorded in the Netherlands, but in 1984 Teekens began making twice-yearly trips to New York in search of new additions to his roster. “He asks everyone he meets the same question: ‘What have you heard recently that you like?’” wrote Peter Watrous in a 1996 New York Times profile. “And like the most successful record companies of the past, he has relied on musicians as his talent scouts.”

As the sole proprietor of Criss Cross, Teekens kept it a resolutely small operation, albeit one with a reputation for high-quality production and packaging. This allowed musicians to escape the corporate atmosphere of promotion and marketing that was associated with larger domestic labels. The flip side, however, was that they had to reckon with Teekens’ notoriously spendthrift ways — a source of both amusement and bemusement for the artists with whom he worked.

Teekens and Criss Cross continued putting out music at a regular pace, with a handful of new releases coming approximately every four months until the 404th, saxophonist Noah Preminger’s After Life, in May. Even then, however, there was no indication that the schedule would cease any time soon. “I’m still here,” Teekens said in 2005, “because I go for this music!”

In addition to his son, Gerry Jr., Teekens is survived by his wife and two granddaughters.”


Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. 

JAZZ VIEW; Album by Album, a History Emerges

By Peter Watrous
New York Times Jan. 21, 1996

“THE ARRIVAL OF EIGHT NEW CD'S FROM the Dutch label Criss Cross brings a feast of mainstream jazz. The pianist Darrell Grant's "New Pop" is a tribute to the Horace Silver school of small-group arranging, but made modern. Tim Warfield's "Cool Blue" is an unrestrained and passionate session by one of the strongest young tenor saxophonists in jazz. The pianist Bill Charlap's "Souvenir" has ease and elegance that are rarely found in jazz, especially among younger musicians.

The releases are a reminder of how important independent record labels are in the formation and documentation of jazz. Criss Cross is filling the same role that labels like Blue Note and Prestige had during the 1950's and 60's: It is recording works that make up the backbone of jazz, played by musicians who might not be photogenic, charismatic or extroverted enough to be taken up by the pop star-making machinery of major labels. Criss Cross's releases are a record of the daily activity of jazz practice without the intrusion of marketing or the weight of financial expectation.

Its efforts assume even greater importance as the major labels continue to back away from any extensive treatment of the music. As a result, Criss Cross serves as a farm team for developing talent as well as a home for the Hank Mobleys of the world, strong improvisers whose moderation and balance guarantee them a modest audience.

The evolution of Criss Cross since its founding 15 years ago by Gerry Teekens, a former college teacher who lives in Enschede, the Netherlands, illustrates how far jazz has come since then. In 1981, it was possible to declare that jazz had no center, no shared language. There were too many approaches to the music, with fusion, the avant-garde, the downtown experimentalists and others all competing for primacy. Therefore, Mr. Teekens had to search far and wide to find musicians playing the sort of mainstream jazz he liked. Those he came up with included the guitarist Jimmy Raney, the pianists Kirk Lightsey, Cedar Walton and Kenny Barron, the saxophonists Warne Marsh and Clifford Jordan, the trombonist Slide Hampton and the trumpeter Chet Baker.

Fifteen years later, Mr. Teekens is overwhelmed with possibilities. Now, twice a year, he spends nearly a month in New York searching out the new. He asks everyone he meets the same question: "What have you heard recently that you like?" And like the most successful record companies of the past, he has relied on musicians as his talent scouts. The drummer Kenny Washington, for one, has helped him over the years. As an indication of how radically different the jazz scene has become, Mr. Teekens's roster is made up almost exclusively of younger musicians. And good ones, all capable of making solid records. There is a center, and Mr. Teekens captures it.

Like his predecessors at Blue Note and Prestige, Mr. Teekens uses many of the same musicians regularly, creating a distinct sound for the label. He occasionally records older, better-known musicians. He takes full advantage of the New York jazz scene, recording the groups that one might find playing at the Village Vanguard or Bradley's or Smalls and letting the musicians reproduce in the studio what they perform in clubs.

In the process, Mr. Teekens has documented the environment from which important figures can emerge; he has a good ear for music. He recorded Josh Redman, the sideman, before he became Joshua Redman, the band leader and media darling. He recorded the pianists Benny Green and Brad Mehldau early on, as well as the saxophonists Kenny Garrett, Don Braden and Javon Jackson. And he regularly used the bassist Christian McBride.
Just a list of the saxophonists and trumpeters on the label gives an idea of Mr. Teekens's thoroughness. Among the saxophonists are Chris Potter, Steve Wilson, Sam Newsom, Eric Alexander, Seamus Blake, Jon Gordon, Mark Turner, Vincent Herring and Gary Thomas, along with Mr. Garrett and Mr. Warfield. The trumpeters include Brian Lynch, Terrell Stafford, Scott Wendholt, Wallace Roney, Greg Gisbert, Tom Williams, Ryan Kisor, Joe Magnarelli, Tim Hagans and John Swana. They may not be stars, but they form the core of an intelligent mainstream in New York.

THE RESULT IS A CATALOGUE THAT IN 20 years will help explain what happened in the city during a period of real growth in jazz activity. Even though he works within the mainstream and often uses many of the same people, the records are surprisingly diverse. Yet all are rooted in the same language.”

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Kenny Drew, Jr. - Unacknowledged and Underappreciated

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

For some Jazz fans, solo piano is the ultimate conceit. Unbridled and unrestrained, to their ears it represents a kind of Jazz-gone-wild. Unchecked by the structure of having to play within a group, they view it as simply a vehicle for pianists to show off their technique, or to just show-off. And unless the solo pianist is particularly adept at dynamics, tempo changes and repertoire selection, solo piano can develop a sameness about it that makes it deadly boring to boot.

For others, solo piano represents the ultimate challenge: the entire theory of music in front of a pianist in black-and-white with no safety net to fall into. For these solo piano advocates, those pianists who play horn-like figures with the right-hand and simple thumb and forefinger intervals with the left [instead of actual chords] are viewed as being tantamount to one-handed frauds.

Can the pianist actually play the instrument or is the pianist actually playing around the instrument?

Ironically, at one time in the music’s history, solo piano was a preferred form of Jazz performance. As explained by Henry Martin in his essay Pianists of the 1920’s and 1930’s in Bill Kirchner [ed.], The Oxford Companion to Jazz [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 163-176]:

In New York, the jazz pianist of the early 1920s was called a “tickler”‑ as in “tickle the ivories.” Since Jazz was part of popular culture, the audience expected to hear the hit songs of the day, stylized and personalized by their favorite players. Often hired to provide merriment as a one‑man band, the tickler was a much‑honored figure of the era. He was wary of de­parting too often or too radically from the melody, since this could alienate listeners. As recordings were relatively rare and not especially lifelike, the piano was the principal source of inexpensive fun - a self‑contained party package for living rooms, restaurants, bars, and brothels. The ticklers exploited the orchestral potential of the piano with call‑and‑response patterns between registers and a left‑hand “rhythm section” consisting of bass notes alternating with midrange chords. This “striding” left hand lent its name to “stride piano,” the principal style of the 1920s." [p.163]

In particular, beginning in the 1920s and continuing well into the 1930’s, solo piano recitals by James P. Johnson, Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller and Teddy Wilson were a source of much delight and admiration for listeners when Jazz was still the popular music. Later in this period, the boogie-woogie piano stylings of Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis and Joe Turner were all the rage.

Indeed, the first 78 rpm issued by Blue Note Records, which was to become the recording beacon for modern Jazz on the East Coast in the 1950s and 60s, would be by Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. The 18 performances that were recorded on January 6, 1939 singly and in duet by Ammons and Lewis have been reissued as a CD entitled The First Day [CDP 7 98450 2] and are examples of solo blues and boogie-woogie piano at its best.

Perhaps the epitome of Jazz solo piano was reached in the playing of Art Tatum, or as Henry Martin phrases it – “the apotheosis of classic jazz piano” – whose dazzling command of the instrument was a constant source of wonder and amazement to the point that some thought that they were listening to more than one pianist at the same time!

And while Erroll Garner, Nat Cole, Lennie Tristano, George Shearing and Oscar Peterson continued the tradition of solo piano into the modern era, pianist Bud Powell’s use of the right hand to create horn-like phrasing as an adaptation of the bebop style of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie transformed many pianists into essentially one-handed players in an attempt to mimic Powell’s artistry.

What’s more, over the second half of the 20th century, solo Jazz piano became something of a lost art with fewer and fewer pianists performing in this style and still fewer listeners seeking it out.

So, in the face of what had become a mostly languishing form of the art, the Concord Jazz, Maybeck Recital Hall series stands out as somewhat of an anomaly.

For not only does it revive the solo Jazz piano form, it does so in grand fashion by offering the listener forty-two [42] opportunities to make up their own mind about their interest in this genre. And, in the forum that is the Maybeck Recital Hall, it does so under conditions that are acoustically and musically ideal.

Maybeck Recital Hall, also known as Maybeck Studio for Performing Arts, is located inside the Kennedy-Nixon House in Berkeley, California. It was built in 1914 by the distinguished architect Bernard Maybeck.

"The 50-seat hall, ideal for such ventures, was designed as a music performance space by Bernard Maybeck, one of the most influential and highly revered of Northern California architects. Maybeck, who died in 1957 at the age of 95, was a man renowned for his handcrafted wooden homes in what became known as "The Bay Area Style." An architect whose principles included building with natural materials, Maybeck constructed the hall of redwood, which allows for an authentic, live sound that neither flies aimlessly nor gets swallowed up, thus making for an optimum recording environment." - Zan Stewart, Vol. 35, George Cables

The hall seats only 60 or so people, and before assuming that it’s name reflects some form of political reconciliation between the major opposing parties, the hall was designed by Maybeck upon commission by the Nixon family, local arts patrons who wanted a live-in studio for their daughter Milda’s piano teacher, Mrs. Alma Kennedy. Hence the name – Kennedy-Nixon House.

The room is paneled, clear-heart redwood, which contributes to an unusually rich and warm, yet bright and clear acoustic quality. There are two grand pianos: a Yamaha S-400 and a Yamaha C-7.

In 1923, the hall was destroyed by fire, but was quickly rebuilt by Maybeck.

The house was purchased in 1987 by Jazz pianist Dick Whittington, who opened the hall for public recitals.

In 1996, the house was purchased by Gregory Moore. The recital hall is no longer open for public concerts, although it is used for private concerts that are attended by invitation only.

Between 1989 – 1995, Whittington and Concord records produced and recorded the previously mentioned 42 solo piano, Maybeck Recital Hall performances. Each featured a different Jazz pianist and Whittington made a concerted effort to include in these recital pianists whom he felt deserved wider public recognition. In addition, Concord also released CDs of 10 jazz duets that were performed at Maybeck during this same period.

At this point, almost 25 years later, some of the Maybeck Recital Hall, solo piano discs issued in the Concord series may require a bit of a treasure hunt to locate, but the editors of JazzProfiles thought it might be in the interests of the more adventurous of its readers to at least make information about the complete series available through a listing, cover photo and brief annotation of each of the discs in the series.

These performances represent an all-inclusive overview of solo Jazz piano at the end of the 20th century, as well as, an excellent opportunity for the listener to make up their own mind about this form of the music as played in a more modern style.

One wonders if such an all-inclusive opportunity will exist in the 21st century or if the historical record is now closed for future solo piano recitals to be offered and recorded on this scale?

Which brings me to Kenny Drew, Jr. [1958-2014], who for much of his career was an unacknowledged and underappreciated Jazz artist.

At number 39 in the series, the CD of his performance at Maybeck on August 7, 1994 was in danger of not making the “cut,” a potential tragedy in the making for me had it not happened as it was my introduction to the playing of this brilliant pianist.

Kenny has such a massive technique that at times it’s almost impossible to absorb everything that he is laying down. Notes come in a fast and furious manner with blinding fast arpeggios, parallel lines octaves apart [sometimes 10ths], and clusters of single note phrases that are dazzlingly complex, all of which combined to make him sound like a harmonically modern version of Art Tatum. 

Kenny’s pianism is of the highest order and is very reminiscent of that of the late Michel Petrucciani. Like Michel, beyond this display of phenomenal technique is a brilliant mind, one which is able to put the technical facility to good use fashioning interesting improvised “stories” that are full of unexpected twists and turns. 

Perhaps the best explanation of what he Kenny does particularly well is described in this excerpt from Larry Kelp’s  Maybeck notes- “Listen as he strips away the tune's facade, tosses out most of what is familiar, and digs inside, examining the structure — what really makes the song work, not just the memorable melody. Then he reassembles those elements into his personal statement.”

Sadly, Kenny passed away at the relatively young age of 56, but Maybeck did launch a 20 year recording career as both a sideman, the leader of his own trio and as a solo pianist and he has left us a number of excellent albums which will be reviewed on the page in subsequent features.

In the meantime, here are the complete insert notes by Larry Kelp from Kenny's auspicious debut as a solo pianist as captured on Kenny Drew Jr. at Maybeck [Concord CCD 4653; Maybeck Recital Hall Series Volume Thirty-Nine].

“Yes, the opening song is Stella By Starlight. But, much as he does with the closing Autumn Leaves, Kenny Drew, Jr. reinvents an overdone pop standard in a way that makes the piece his alone. Listen as he strips away the tune's facade, tosses out most of what is familiar, and digs inside, examining the structure — what really makes the song work, not just the memorable melody. Then he reassembles those elements into his personal statement.

By the second tune, Horace Silver's lovely Peace encased in virtuosic arpeggios and other ornamentation, there should be no question in anyone's mind that Drew possesses massive keyboard technique, a command of the bebop language as well as classical expertise. He could add florid icing to any composition if he wanted to impress listeners. Instead, decoration is used strictly in service of the particular song's development.

Take his choice of three compositions by one of his major influences, Thelonious Monk. Well You Needn't  has been performed by most of the jazz piano masters, but never like this. Instead of using it as a jumping-off point for his own ideas, Drew utilizes as his materials only the basic components of the tune, as he wildly pushes and shoves them about, collapsing them together into a dense, fissioning pile of notes, and just as quickly makes them explode forward and stumble at breakneck speed toward the surprising climax, avoiding any sense of regular rhythm because this is clearly how the tune should be played. At least when Drew tackles it.

"I've played that one hundreds of times over the years," Drew says, "and I'm sure I'll play it hundreds of times in the future. He's one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century. The Monk piece before it, Ugly Beauty, is just a beautiful tune that I love to play, and is the least Monkish in my approach to it, a more impressionistic approach than Monk would take."

A shy person offstage, words don't come nearly as easily to Drew as music does. Like his father before him, bebop pioneer Kenny Drew, Sr., he seems to like music. However, he didn't study at his father's feet. Born in New York City in 1958, Drew was raised by his aunt and grandparents.

"It's hard to say why I was attracted to music or when I got serious about it," Drew says. "I started learning how to play piano when I was four." (His aunt Marjorie gave him classical piano instruction.) "My dad's brother and sister played piano, and so did my grandmother. There was always music in the family, so I didn't think about it as being a choice."

He does know when he began to think of jazz as a career. With a laugh. Drew states "It was when I was 19 or 20 and started getting paid to play in clubs." In his early years he played piano and electric keyboards in rock and funk bands as well as jazz combos. Once the Jazz world discovered his mastery of the keyboard, Drew found himself busy working with a wide array of leaders: Smokey Robinson, Slide Hampton, Stanley Turrentine, Out of the Blue, the Mingus Big Band, Sadao Watanabe and Frank Morgan among them.

Winner of the 1990 Great American Jazz Piano Competition, in recent years he has recorded ten albums as a leader for a number of labels {principally in Europe and Japan), with bandmates including Al Foster, Ralph Moore, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Fddie Gomez, George Mraz and Terence Blanchard.

Following his appearance on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz radio series, McPartland recommended Drew to Concord president Carl Jefferson, who approached him with the suggestion of recording at Maybeck Recital Hall. In spite of Drew's impressive credentials, this album marks his recording debut for Concord Jazz, his performing debut at Maybeck Recital Hall (one of his very few appearances on the West Coast), and it is his first solo piano album to be released. As distinctive as his prior recordings have been, this disc is the ultimate resume, the one that most clearly demonstrates just who Drew is as a musician.

One can hear references to the giants on whose shoulders he stands, which is as Drew wants it. "My style came from various things, from listening to all the great recordings my dad made, from being heavily influenced by Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson; from the rock and funk things I've done. I've also always studied and listened to classical music. I like a lot of modern things, so every once in a while a little Schoenberg or Messiaen might sneak into my playing. It all sinks in and becomes a part of you."

For the Maybeck concert, "I've been playing most of these tunes a long time, usually in group settings. I'm comfortable with them, and they make good vehicles for me. I like doing less well-known songs, like Cole Porter's After You, which I learned from a Bill Evans album. He's the only one I've ever heard play it. There are a lot of great songs that get lost in the shuffle, and I like to find them."
Drew offers his comments on the other tunes on this album:

Peace - It's one of my favorite ballads. I can't even remember the first time I heard it, but I'm sure it wasn't by Horace Silver (the composer). It was probably Bobby McFerrin's version."

Coral Sea - I wrote it eight years ago while I was in Key West. I'd gone out on a boat on a snorkeling trip with some friends. We spent time on a reef, and I guess the tune came from that, at least the title did. Later I found
out the Navy has an aircraft carrier named the Coral Sea. I hope nobody thinks this is about an aircraft carrier!

Images - It's my father's composition from his final album. I think it's one of his most beautiful tunes. It shows his harmonic sense, his technique, his sense of swing, and it's always in perfect time."

Waitin’ for My Dearie - Drew picked one of the least-known songs from the well-known Broadway musical, Brigadoon. "I was watching the play on television years ago, and I loved this song as soon as I heard it. But I didn't think it would work as a trio tune, so I've always played it as a solo piano piece."

Drew observes: "This was a much different album for me. Not only was it recorded live, but also it is solo. Without other musicians you have the freedom to change at will the tempo, the harmonies and keys, things you couldn't do so easily in a group context. But the risky part is that you're alone, and you have to work harder."

Maybe so, but Drew's performance at Maybeck is the most definitive statement on record that he has yet made. With no other musicians to turn to or collaborate with. Drew has clearly defined his style, maybe in the context of more standards than he usually tackles at one sitting, but also with A finely focused sense of what he wants to say. "Jazz isn't like classical music where you play what's written," Drew says. "Not even all classical music is like that. The point is to honor and pay respect to the people who have gone before, not to copy but to assimilate all those influences and make them a part of who you are."”

Here’s Kenny Drew Jr.’s version of Monk’s Ugly Beauty, which may be the only waltz that Thelonious ever composed.