92 Street Y Continuum: From Dick Hyman to Bill Charlap
Pizzarelli, who I recently saw honored by his son John at George Wein's JVC Jazz Festival for attaining his 80th year, treated us to Bill Challis' transcription of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke's piano composition, "In A Mist, on seven string guitarand that's quite a solo feat! This was followed by Hyman and the gang "Stompin' at the Savoy, in which Hyman demonstrated that he's not one to hog the spotlight, turning this stomp into a feature for Leonhart's bass fiddle.
During intermission I had an opportunity to ask Hadassah Markson, the originator of the Jazz in July Series, how she discovered Dick Hyman. "Dick was doing a 92nd Street Y Lyrics & Lyricists, and I liked the way he played and asked him if he would do an educational music class.
Opening the second half "Clarinata, a Hyman piece composed for clarinet and piano, was introduced as "through-composed and included Rosenthal at the piano with Charlap as page turner. It evolved into a very precisely rendered, amazingly intricate, classically synchronistic performance. Afterward in the Weil Art Gallery, surrounded by photos of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz history, Peps asked me if I knew that Dick Hyman's first instrument was clarinet. He then went on to describe how that was the reason Hyman could compose such a complicated a piece that was easy for him to play on clarinet.
The astounding centerpiece of the evening was 15 "Etudes for Jazz Piano," composed by Dick Hyman with respect to each originator. In addition, as each was performed an historical black and white photo was projected on a huge screen behind the two grand pianos. The audience was to determine who was playing by observation.
Charlap played Scott Joplin's "Azalea Rag," followed by Jelly Roll Morton's "Decatur Stomp"immediately recognizable as if it were played by Morton's hands. James P. Johnson's "Cuttin' Loose" was played by Hyman, while Earl Hines' "Struttin' on a Sunny Day" was delivered by Charlap, filled with complex intricacies. Fats Waller's "Ivory Strides" was the richest melodic etude, with Charlap injecting dynamics and humor, while Hyman played Teddy Wilson's "Pass It Along."
Jimmy Yancey, Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons' "South Side Boogie" found Hyman and Charlap playing together. In addition to being the longest etude, this study of Boogie Woogie really syncopated and rocked with the magnificence of left-handed piano playing. Charlap played Duke Ellington's "Oceanic Languor, an eloquent study but not in Ellington's style. Hyman performed Art Tatum's "Onyx Mood," a reflective melody that sounded a bit timid for Tatum. Erroll Garner's "Bouncing in F Minor" was boldly played by Hyman.
Bud Powell's "Bird in the Roost" was nicely played, Charlap reflecting its period. Hyman interpreted Oscar Peterson's "Deep Groove," while George Shearing's "Roses in Cream" found Charlap's warm locked chords immediately recognizable, demonstrating that Charlap has a special facility for Shearing. Hyman played Dave Brubeck's "Time Play" before Charlap joined him for Bill Evans' "Passage, this final study getting into Evan's space as a complete tone poem.
Afterwards Charlap repeated his story of meeting Hyman at age 15 and smiled boyishly as he held up his original 1982 Eastlake Music folio to show it was torn and well worn.
And as if that were not enough, more sides of Hyman continued to be revealed. From the Woody Allen movie Zelig Hyman rendered his "Chameleon songs, sounding a bit like Irving Berlin trying to sing and play the exact musical notation without emotion or vocal affectation. His Shakespeare music, sung in beautiful voice by Broadway actress/vocalist Terry Burrell, actually made Shakespeare swing. He continued with "Shadowland, inspired by Bix Beiderbecke's recorded coda on "I'm Comin' Virginia. This piece belongs in a Broadway show and Peps' solo revealed its melody to have similarities to Hoagy Carmichael's writing.
The finale included everyone onstage for "Cherokee," two at each piano led by Peps' clarinet playing the melody. Smith and Rosenthal were on the right with Charlap and Hyman on the left. Playing together, they traded fours in round-robin sequence supported by consistent rhythm and Pizzarelli's foot tapping. Peps began trading fours, then threes and twos with himself by quickly jumping to face his shadowmuch to the delight of the crowd. He concluded by running to play the last few notes on Rosenthal's piano! Eddie Locke topped them all by playing the most dramatic solo.
This extraordinary evening was but a brief reflection of Dick Hyman's seventy-nine years of assimilating America's indigenous music with the determination and skill to render most any composer's personal style at will. For those that want more he's already scheduled in 2007 for Jazz Piano at the Y in celebration of his 80th Birthday.