Charles Gayle at Ortlieb's Jazzhaus in Philadelphia
July 13, 2006
In the annals of jazz, Charles Gayle's story is unique. Gayle originally came to prominence as a free jazz tenor and alto saxophonist. In the early 1990s Gayle found religion. His concerts became sermon. Gayle would preach instead of playing his music. Eventually he became homeless, playing his sax on the streets of New York.
Fortunately Gayle rose like a phoenix, reinventing himself. He returned to the jazz world, now playing piano, his first but long-abandoned instrument. He is currently touring in support of his second solo piano release. Times Changes, his excellent new CD consists of all original compositions.
On piano Gayle's playing style is nearly impossible to classify. On this night he was a solitary figure sitting at the bar. Walking wordlessly up to the piano, he proceeded to play a set which lasted slightly over one hour, never acknowledging that there was an audience. The music encompassed almost every jazz genre. Each song moved between ragtime, stride, bebop, free, blues, classical and the post-war European avant-garde of Stockhausen. One could hear quick fragments of recognizable tunes seeping forth before they were washed away. Songs moved effortlessly from Tatumesque speed to James Johnson-style stride, all the while in an eclectic, post-modern style that was wholly unique to Gayle. Powerful left handed chords which shook the piano were immediately followed by delicate right handed tinklings which segued into classical bent. Songs beginnings and ends all flowed together; creating the feeling that one was hearing a suite rather than individual pieces. The set ended, Gayle thanked the audience and retreated to his bar stool.
The second set replicated the first, with Gayle walking wordlessly to the piano for forty more minutes of sheer artistry. Gayle's style, while definitely not mainstream, is melodic and accessible and is worthy of reaching a wide audience. Unfortunately, on this evening there were only about forty people in attendance.
Gayle's piano had an elaborate set-up of microphones, which appeared to be for the purpose of recording the show. If this is the case, one can only hope that this inspiring and eclectic show will at some point be released for public consumption.
At the end of the show, Gayle said "Some people feel it is a novelty when someone plays another instrument, I am not saying it is not a novelty, but your applause makes me practice harder. Then, as quietly as Gayle first approached the piano, he left the building.