Misha Mengelberg, Jazz Pianist and Co-Founder of ICP Orchestra

Jazz in Haarlem (1960) – Watch on YouTube

Misha Mengelberg was an avant-garde jazz pianist whose influences included Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. He recorded his own interpretations of both artists, but was also a prolific composer on his own. Along with Willem Breuker (reeds) and Han Bennink (drums), Mengelberg started the ICP (Instant Composers Pool) Orchestra in the 1960s. Performers would come and go from that group, but Mengelberg and Bennink were often at the core.

Born in Ukraine, Mengelberg spent most of his life in the Netherlands, where he attended the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. In the early 1960s, his trio (with Bennink) backed Johnny Griffin, Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor and performed at the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival.

To hear how Mengelberg and the ICP Orchestra interpreted Monk, here are a few takes of  “Four In One,” including one by Monk himself.

Thelonious Monk (Genius of Modern Music: Vol. 2 (Rudy Van Gelder Edition))

Misha Mengelberg Quartet (Four In One)

ICP Orchestra (Herbie Nichols/Thelonious Monk)

“If Thelonious Monk had been born 20 years later in Europe, he may indeed have been Misha Mengelberg.” – Thom Jurek, All Music Guide to Jazz

Misha Mengelberg, June 5, 1935-March 3, 2017

“Hypochristmutreefuzz” on Spotify

Horace Parlan, Jazz Pianist Who Turned Disability To His Advantage

With Dizzy Gillespie and Cliff Jordan in Köln (1986)–Watch on YouTube

Horace Parlan was a hard bop jazz pianist, who initially became known through his work with Charles Mingus. As a child, Parlan contracted polio, and he lost the use of the fourth and fifth fingers on his right hand as a result. He compensated by using his thumb, index and middle fingers to complete chords from his left hand. For solos, he did short melodic runs with his right that led into percussive chords.

Hard bop is jazz influenced by rhythm and blues. Some consider it a reaction to the laid-back LA “cool jazz” and a reassertion of the African-American roots of jazz. Along with Mingus, Art Blakely and Miles Davis, Parlan contributed to this style through recordings he did for Blue Note in the 60s.

“C-Jam Blues” on Spotify

Buddy Greco, “The Ultimate Lounge Singer”

“The Lady Is A Tramp”–Watch on YouTube

Buddy Greco (August 14, 1926-January 10, 2017) was a jazz singer and pianist, long associated with Las Vegas, lounge acts and a Rat Pack-sensibility. Although he never achieved the fame of Rat Pack stalwarts Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He recorded over 70 albums and performed relentlessly. “The Lady Is A Tramp” was the closest he had to a hit, and even that did not crack the Top 40.

Reviewers were generally not kind:

“…a strangely empty, unfocused act…” -New York Times critic John S. Wilson (1977)

“Frank Sinatra  Jr. Is Worth Six Buddy Grecos” -GQ (1994)

“…the epitome of a certain kind of saloon performer.” -Chicago Tribune critic Larry Cart (1985)

Greco’s first love was jazz and piano. He played with the Benny Goodman Orchestra for four years beginning in 1948 and can be heard soloing on Goodman’s album Undercurrent Blues, a brief detour for Goodman from swing into bebop.

Greco was inducted into the Las Vegas Entertainers Hall of Fame in November.

“Like Young” on Spotify

Sources: The Washington Post, Billboard, JazzWax

 

Barrelhouse Chuck, Legendary Chicago Blues Piano Player

At the Terrassa Blues and Boogie Reunion, 2012–Watch on YouTube

 

Charles “Barrelhouse Chuck” Goering was a dedicated student of the blues from the time he bought his first Muddy Waters album. He started collecting as many blues albums as he could, and followed Waters and his pianist Pinetop Perkins throughout the South as they played at clubs.

He eventually migrated to Chicago, home of the electric blues, where he met more of his heroes. He learned the techniques of legends Perkins, Sunnyland Slim,  Blind John Davis, Detroit Junior and Little Brother Montgomery.

His apprenticeship paid off. Goering (July 10, 1958-December 14, 2016) got to perform with blues royalty, opening for Waters, B.B. King and Willie Dixon and playing with Bo Diddley. He joined musicians  on the soundtrack of the movie Cadillac Records, a movie based on the history of Chess Records, and participated in an all-star lineup to promote the film’s music at the Apollo Theater.

He was nominated for a traditional blues Grammy in 2010 and received the 2014 Living Blues Magazine Critics Award for “Most Outstanding Musician (Keyboards).”

“Salute to Sunnyland Slim” on Spotify

Mose Allison, Jazz and Blues Piano Player with a Rock Fan Club

“I Don’t Worry About a Thing” on Soundstage–Watch on YouTube

According to Richard Skelly in the All Music Guide to Jazz, Mose Allison “suffered from a ‘categorization problem'”–a boogie-woogie, beboppin’  jazz and bluesman who was also a great songwriter. His admirers include John Mayall, Pete Townshend, Tom Waits, the Rolling Stones, Diana Krall, Van Morrison, The Clash and another excellent pianist/songwriter, the late Leon Russell.

Born in Tippo, Mississippi, Allison (November 11, 1927-November 15, 2016) picked up piano in the first grade. He moved to New York in 1956 and released his debut album Back Country Suite the next year. He recorded and performed until his retirement in 2012 and became an NEA Jazz Master in 2013.

Despite his rock cred and blues leanings, Allison considered himself a jazzman. “My definition of jazz is music that’s felt, thought and performed simultaneously, ” he said in a 2006 BBC documentary. “And that’s what I’m looking for every night.”

“Parchman Farm” on Spotify

My Memories of Leon Russell in 11 Songs

 

I first discover Leon in the record bin of Boury’s Appliance Store in Wheeling, WV. I’ve never heard of him before, but I’m struck by the man looking back at me on the album cover. When I put needle to vinyl, I’m as captivated by his music as I am by him.

My friend Eddie and I chance upon Mad Dogs & Englishmen, the documentary about Joe Cocker’s world tour, at the Victoria Theater in Wheeling. In his stovepipe hat, Holy Trinity basketball jersey, Les Paul Gibson, and  his “hippy commune” of musicians and singers, he represents the type of free-spirited life I aspire to.

B.B. King is my other teenage musical idol, and I’m thrilled to see Leon playing piano for him as King performs a Russell song, “Hummingbird,” on The Mike Douglas Show. 

Here’s Leon’s original version.

During my freshman year at West Virginia University, a friend and I spend the better part of the year listening to Leon Live while drinking daiquiris and learning the Swahili chorus of “Out in the Woods.”

I see Leon for the first of five times at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. He and his carnival of a band open for Three Dog Night, which seemed a reversal of the natural order. One of the things that appeal to me about Leon is how he blends and celebrates country, rock, blues, classical, jazz and gospel, as he does when he gives the stage here to the Rev. Patrick Henderson.

Leon goes on tour to promote The Wedding Album, an record he produced with his then-wife Mary McCreary. I see them at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota with my then-wife. They would also perform the song on one of the earliest episodes of Saturday Night Live.

In the early aughts, I catch Leon at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis. He has aged considerably, is drawing a much smaller crowd and rushes through his setlist on an electric piano. A highlight for the audience (and I’m sure him) is one of his daughters, who supplies backup vocals and a few solos. After playing sold-out stadiums and mingling with musicians from George Harrison to Eric Clapton, he must have felt like he was in a strange land indeed.

A Netflix documentary, The Wrecking Crew, celebrates a largely unknown group of LA studio musicians who backed and provided the sound to many of our favorite songs. Turns out, Leon was one of them, recording on tracks for The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Monkees–even Sinatra and The Rolling Stones.

At the Trylon Microcinema, I see A Poem is a Naked Person, the surrealistic rock documentary by Les Blank. Produced by Russell and Denny Cordell, Leon kept it from release for 40 years. While the film  was ostensibly about Leon, he’s rarely in it. With his subject on a worldwide tour, Blank didn’t have the budget to travel along–most of the footage focuses on Russell’s home base and studio in Tulsa.

Leon has a late-life revival, when Elton John repays the kindness Leon had showed him as a young artist. Their joint album, recorded as Russell recovered from brain surgery, is highly acclaimed and puts Leon back in the spotlight. John makes sure Leon can afford to tour in a respectable bus with a real grand piano. Leon is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (introduced by Sir Elton) and Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I see Leon for a few last times, at the Dakota and Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. He seems happy to be on stage with an adoring audience before him. RIP, Leon, I will miss you, but your music will always live on for me.

Irving Fields, Pianist Who Recorded Hit Album “Bagels and Bongos”

“Miami Beach Rhumba”–Video on YouTube

Irving Fields made a career out of mashing up musical styles, often by taking Eastern European sounds and putting them to a Latin beat. His hit 1959 album Bagels and Bongos sold two million copies and spawned a series of followups: Bikinis and Bongos, Champagne and Bongos, Pizza and Bongos and More Bagels and Bongos.

As a pianist with the Irving Fields Trio, he performed at many of the hot nightclubs of midcentury Manhattan–Copacabana, the Latin Quarter and Mermaid Room. Just months ago, he could still be heard performing at Nino’s Tuscany Steakhouse. He was 100 at the time.

Fields (August 4, 1915-August 20, 2016) had a humorous side to him (as if his “…and Bongos” albums aren’t proof enough). He composed and recorded “The YouTube Dot Com Theme Song,” which has been viewed over 800,000 times.

“Mazeltov Merengue” on Spotify

Paul Bley, Jazz Pianist and Innovator

“Alrec” Live on French TV, 1973

Thom Jurek, writing in The All Music Guide to Jazz says it all: “Paul Bley is among the most influential jazz pianists and composers of the 20th century and a founding father of avant-garde jazz.”

Live in Oslo

In the course of his long career, he organized concerts or recorded with such 20th century jazz legends as Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ornette Coleman.

Performance

Bley (November 10, 1932-January 3, 2016) released nearly 100 recordings and two autobiographies. He taught at the New England Music Conservatory.

Gladstone Anderson, Jamaican Studio Pianist And Singer

“Just Like A River” with Stranger Cole

Gladstone “Gladdy” Anderson was a prolific pianist, keyboard player and singer, who contributed to the sounds of numerous reggae, ska and rocksteady (a subgenre he’s credited with naming) bands in his native Jamaica.

“Love Me Today” with Stranger Cole

Anderson (June 18, 1934-December 3, 2015) was associated with a number of bands, perhaps most notably, Lynn Taitt and the Jets, and his own Gladdy’s All Stars.

“You’re Welcome”

He also appears on several albums with flautist Herbie Mann, including Reggae recorded in London in 1973 for the Atlantic label, and with Jimmy Cliff on House of Exile.

Seymour Lipkin, Piano Prodigy and Conductor

Mozart: Piano Sonata, K.V. 576, Mov. 1

Seymour Lipkin considered it a “moral responsibility” to stay true to the intentions of the composer and to not take a piece in a direction of one’s own choosing. He took this to such lengths that he would have actual dialogues with dead composers, as recounted in his New York Times obituary from an interview originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Seymour Lipkin Talks About Piano Music

Lipkin (May 14, 1927-November 16, 2015) came to fame in 1948 when he won first prize in the Rachmaninoff Fund Piano Contest at Carnegie Hall. But he had already received some acclaim three years before, when as a teenager he entertained the Allied troops with violinist Jascha Heifetz.

Chopin: Nocturne in F sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2

Lipkin turned to conducting after his initial success as a pianist. He served as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic and was conducter of The Long Island Symphony and Joffrey Ballet. He also served on the faculty of the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music.