Pianist Dick Hyman has to be recognized as one of the foremost students of historical jazz. The authentic-sounding retro background tracks you hear behind scenes in many Woody Allen movies came from bands led by Hyman and his like-minded sidemen.
Cornetist Tom Pletcher obviously shares Hyman’s enthusiasm for exploring old works and making them new again, as demonstrated on this joyous paean to two musical geniuses of the early 20th century.
The concept and name for the album comes from a 1996 concert Hyman and Fletcher performed at the 92nd Street Y as part of its jazz series. The theme is so appropriate and simple, it’s surprising it hadn’t been done before. Both George Gershwin and Bix Beiderbecke were active in the ‘20s, the former changing the face of American musical theater, the latter changing the face of jazz. Both also died before their time, Gershwin of a brain tumor, Beiderbecke of alcoholism.
Left to his own devices, Hyman’s piano playing sometimes suffers from his reverence for the music. This is usually more evident in his solo and duo work. Happily, on this album Hyman is nestled in a wonderful group that demonstrates an appreciation for the music while not displaying it in a museum display case.
Dan Levinson’s clarinet and C-melody sax, David Sager’s trombone and Bob Leary’s banjo and guitar help maintain the authentic sound. At the same time, modern recording techniques afford them room for nuanced playing and subtlety not possible in the primative studios of the music’s original era. Vince Giordano, himself every bit a musicologist as Hyman, is a rollicking joy on the bass sax while Ed Metz Jr. plays his drums authentically, but with a lighter feel of someone exposed to a later generation of players.
Hyman’s arrangements are perfect period pieces. If his chart on “I Got Rhythm” is guaranteed to get toes tapping, “But Not for Me” will conjure up elegant couples out for a night on the town in the roaring ‘20s. He does engage in a little musicologist speculation, playing Beiderbecke’s “In a Mist” as might have been done by Gershwin, with snippets of Gershwin tunes thrown in.