Show #199: Five Superb Jazz Pianists

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This week we check out five great piano players from the jazz arena. I love jazz piano—it combines the best of creative improvisation, chord substitutions, and artistic brilliance. With 88 keys, a talented musician can do almost anything, both melodically and harmonically. It’s an incredible instrument, and hearing these superb artists really brings that home. Sure, there are many others I’m not featuring here: Steve Kuhn, Kenny Barron, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock—with the latter two artists having influenced almost every jazz player on the scene today. So this is just a small list, a piano quintet if you will, of some artists I’m listening to these days.

We start with Michael Wolff, who I first saw perform with Nancy Wilson many years ago. He must have been a teenager then when he was on stage, at either the Hollywood Bowl or the Cocoanut Grove, I can’t remember exactly. The song “if i were a bell” comes from his CD Joe’s Strut, with “Joe” being the late Austrian pianist Joe Zawinul, another legendary keyboard wizard.

Billy Childs was already a good pianist before he went to USC to study classical music; his music is rich and complex, and we hear his version of a Horace Silver classic, “Peace” from a new CD, Rebirth.

Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez, who adapts the keyboard for flamenco music, then performs John Lewis’s classic “Django” in memory of gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. His new solo album Over the Rainbow was recorded live in Barcelona.

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Joey Calderazzo has been in Branford Marsalis’s wonderful quartet for almost two decades, and shares a musical telepathy with him. We hear a beautiful ballad from Joey’s 2015 CD, Going Home.

We top it off with a song written by Gil Evans’s disciple Maria Schneider, “Walking by Flashlight,” rendered here by pianist Frank Kimbrough on his new album Solstice. (The original recording was on Maria’s triple-Grammy winning album Winter Morning Walks.) Kimbrough’s new album is a trio outing, with ballads from Carla Bley, Annette Peacock, George Gershwin, and others. This ballad is one of the loveliest pieces of music I’ve heard lately.

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Rhythm Planet Playlist for 2/24/17

  1. Michael Wolff / “if i were a bell” / Joe’s Strut / Wrong Records
  2. Billy Childs / “Peace” / Rebirth / Mack Avenue Records
  3. Chano Dominguez / “Django” / Over the Rainbow / Sunnyside
  4. Joey Calderazzo / “I Never Knew” / Going Home / Sunnyside
  5. Frank Kimbrough / “Walking By Flashlight” / Solstice / Pirouet