Here's a trivia question for music fans: What do Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, George Benson, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan share in common (aside from musical talent)?
Answer: All were discovered by John Hammond Sr.
The late John Hammond was a filthy rich Vanderbilt heir who parlayed his love for black music into an extraordinary career as a talent scout and producer. The Vanguard label is in the midst of compiling and re-releasing material from the 40-odd jazz albums that Hammond produced for the company from 1954 to 1958. Key One Up is a piano CD with 16 tracks lifted from three separate recordings produced by Hammond. It features Bobby Henderson, Sir Charles Thompson and Ray Bryant in sessions influenced to varying degrees by Fats Waller. If you're into swing piano, this one is well worth checking out.
Hammond enjoyed all kinds of music, but his favorite was pre-bop jazz. His goal at Vanguard was to record jazz artists with the same careful attention to sound quality that distinguished the classical labels. Hammond achieved this aim, with considerable help from Vanguard founders the Solomon brothers.
The seven Bobby Henderson tracks are taken from his 1957 solo album Handful of Keys, an overt tribute to Waller. Henderson is most remembered as Billie Holiday's one-time boyfriend, but he was also an ornate pianist with a very melodic approach. His ivory tickling here is a bit remindful of Erroll Garner, and his lighting-fast take on "Handful of Keys" is as difficult a stride piece as you'll hear.
Sir Charles Thompson's style is more derivative of Count Basie, so it's appropriate that his four cuts feature Basie's great '50s rhythm section: Walter Paige on bass, Freddie Green on guitar and Philly Jo Jones on drums. The tunes "Swingtime in the Rockies," "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" swing out elegantly, while "These Foolish Things" offers a sentimental change of mood.
The last five cuts showcase the great Ray Bryant in a 1958 trio setting led by drummer Jo Jones with older brother Tom Bryant on bass. An intense mainstream pianist whose style incorporates blues and gospel with an aggressive swing feel, Bryant remains an extremely soulful musician to this day. My favorite cuts on this album are his bluesy renditions of "Bicycle for Two" and "Little Susie."
Key One Up
presents three graceful stylists, each with a distinctive approach to jazz piano, and each who benefited from a relationship with the great John Hammond.