Who Was Dick Twardzik?

Written by
Richard+Twardzik chetbaker
Dick Twardzik with Chet Baker in the background

Dick Twardzik (1931-1955) is one of the unsung heroes of jazz piano, unsung and unknown because of his early demise. As original as Paul Bley, Herbie Nichols, Bud Powell, or Lennie Tristano, the young piano genius was much in demand by top players in the jazz arenagbbbb. Serge Chaloff, famous as one of the Four Brothers, the great sax section of the Woody Herman band (Getz, Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff & Herbie Steward) had a Boston-based classical piano teacher for a mother, and she taught Twardzik modern harmonies and modern compositions by Bartok and other composers. He made his classical debut at age 14. He was a teenage wunderkind and absorbed it all. He was one of the new generation of modernists who came of age in the post-bebop world of the 1950s.

He became addicted to heroin as a teenager. He went on the road to Europe with another junkie, Chet Baker, replacing Russ Freeman,  Baker’s regular piano player. He died in a Paris hotel room, just 24 years old.

dick twardzik trio
Released in 2004

I recently bought a copy of the Dick Twardzik Trio / Complete Recordings.  Sadly, there is only enough material for one album, and the 2nd half of the album has him playing on a miserable piano totally unworthy of his superb talent.

KCRW’s jazz genius, the late Will Thornbury, used to play Twardzik’s unusual composition “A Crutch for the Crab”. You can hear him experimenting with harmonies and sequences way ahead of his time.  Here is a video:

And here is a recording of him with Chet Baker in Paris doing “Tommyhawk”, just before he died: