Roger Kellaway: The History Man
Roger Kellaway could not be called a best kept secret. He's been active for over 40 years, performing with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Zoot Sims, Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, Barbra Streisand, and yes, Bobby Darin, the subject of the first two discs reviewed here. Kellaway's sprawling experience is reflected by his black-hole talent. His command of the entire history of piano styles is staggering and it's exhilarating to hear it all at onceand on these three recordings, the listener is treated to this exact experience.
Roger Kellaway Trio
I Was There: Roger Kellaway Plays From The Bobby Darin Songbook
When considering Roger Kellaway, the only format that beats the traditional piano trio is solo piano. I Was There: Roger Kellaway Plays From The Bobby Darin Songbook, the first of two recordings dedicated to Darin's music, is a sharply conceived collection, and it coincides well with the biopic release about the singer, Beyond The Sea (Lions Gate, 2004), starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth.
Born Walden Robert Cossotto, Darin was a popular big band singer and teen pop idol of the late 1950s. One could reason that it was Darin who assumed the mantle of Francis Albert Sinatra when that singer moved his gig to Las Vegas. Darin's style broadened out from Sinatra's beloved American songbook into newer territory, including early rock and roll ("Splish-Splash ) and, oddly and fortuitously, pre-war German stage music ("Mack The Knife, whose melody was based on Kurt Weill's "Moritat Vom Mackie Messer from The Threepenny Opera).
Kellaway wastes no time in getting to his point by opening I Was There with perhaps Darin's finest ballad, "Beyond the Sea. Kellaway bounces through the introduction before settling into a beautiful melody-driven treatment that captures Darin's, Kellaway's, and the composition's personalities perfectly. "Charade is introduced with a rumbling discord before smoothing out to a harmony-melody axis that would have sounded well in place in the more ominous sections of The Sound Of Music. Kellaway solos broadly, and I mean all over the sonic, rhythmic, and chronologic map. Here his pianism approaches (and often achieves) the flourishes of a Tatum or a Peterson.
"My Buddy shows a blues bent and approaches "One More For The Road. Kellaway plays it quiet and plaintively, never entering the roadhouse, only the bar at Tavern on the Green at closing time. "When I Look Into Your Eyes proves to be the spooky ballad it is, with Kellaway providing just enough dissonance to keep the listener off center. "The Shadow Of Your Smile does the exact opposite. "All By Myself, "My Funny Valentine and "When Your Lover Has Gone are all performed with Kellaway's obvious love and respect for his subject. Solo piano outings simply do not get any better than this.
Roger Kellaway Trio
Remembering Bobby Darin
Remembering Bobby Darin is the piano trio companion disc to I Was There: Roger Kellaway Plays From The Bobby Darin Songbook. Add Kellaway's trio to the mix and the dimension of the cabaret is added. Guitarist Bruce Forman perfectly places that Eddie Lang touch on every song. If anything, the superb song list is transported in style to two decades earlier. Kellaway plays his best Ralph Sutton on "Remember. Forman's chord solo is nostalgic in the best sense of the word.
Hoagy Carmichael's "Up A Lazy River is the most ensemble-oriented piece on the recording, with bassist Dan Lutz forcing the rhythm and time at gunpoint. Kellaway displays his outstanding two-fisted piano technique. "Meditation is presented as a Caribbean dream, with Forman's staccato chording providing just the breeze necessary to provide that island flair. "Splish-Splash needs to be heard twice before the listener will fully appreciate it. All three players are necessary and basically fully separated, showing off all of their individual talents. Only during Kellaway's rollicking solo does the rhythm section lay down a wicked 4/4.
On the ballad "Oh, Look At Me Now, Lutz's introductory arco bass transforms this pop tune to chamber music (with just a touch of the blues). Perhaps the finest song on the collection, "Oh, Look At Me Now allows all parties to paint on a broad canvas. But that is only the first half of the song. Then it's back to the 1930s with a toe-tapping 2/4 that only needs Stephane Grappelli to be at the Hot Club. Kellaway reprises "Beyond The Sea, allowing Forman and Luzt to carry the harmony and melody respectively, while Kellaway himself waits for the second chorus to come out and play.
The disc ends as it only could, with "Mack The Knife. Kellaway opens the piece from an old acetate transfer before transforming it into a post-bebop cornucopia, where the pianist decides to explore the history of jazz and popular music in four minutes.
Roger Kellaway Trio