This week we showcase three heavyweight pianists who probably don’t get the love and attention showered on more popular artists like Keith Jarrett and Dave Brubeck. These three are highly original artists, with their own signature style, career longevity, internationally lauded by followers around the world. They have also influenced many other musicians, not only other piano players but other instrumental musicians as well. Ahmad Jamal is the best known of the three, but Bley and Kuhn need to be better known.
First there is Ahmad Jamal. Born in Pittsburgh in 1930, he got his start in the late 1950s, and his version of the song “Poinciana” made him famous. A complete original, Jamal never imitated any other players; he was always his own man. He has an elegant touch and articulation when he plays, an economy of notes which made Miles Davis love his work. We’ll hear three songs, two from an old Cadet lp that never got reissued (too bad), and a more recent recording of the classic “Blue Moon.”
Next it’s Paul Bley. Originally from Toronto, he studied with French classical teachers while simultaneously picking up the bebop style that became popular in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, particularly Horace Silver. What Bley does is flavor bebop with modern classical dissonance, and the combined synergy makes him an interesting player. Like Jamal, he has recorded many albums since his debut album, Introducing Paul Bley (1953), with Charlie Mingus on bass and Art Blakey on drums. It was on Mingus’ Debut label. Bley was also influenced by Ornette Coleman (played with Ornette in LA, too, the famous Hillcrest Club sessions). We’ll hear his version of Ornette’s song “Crossroads aka The Circle.” We finish the Bley segment with another Ornette song, “Latin Genetics” with Gary Peacock playing bass.
Our third pianist is Steve Kuhn. He also has his own musical language, and has recorded many records over the years. He is based in New York City, and rarely comes west or tours, although he may tour Europe. We’ll hear two selections from him, first with Miroslav Vitous on bass and Aldo Romano on drums.
These are idiosyncratic pianists whom I’ve loved for many years. Hopefully they will enter your jazz library and vocabulary as well.