Jack Reilly: Making the Most of the Gift of Life
AAJ:. He apparently didn't look for them to interact with him. Scott La Faro would probably not be a good match for Lennie.
l:r Jack Reilly, Dave Green, Steven Keough
JR: No. In fact, when Paul Motian playedhe played once and Lennie told him to stop all the other stuff and he was quite annoyed and I don't know if he lasted the week or not, it was at the Half Note, and he had come in to sub for somebody. He stayed a few days but I don't know if he was ever invited back to play with Lennie.
To get back to your first question, I think that Lennie had so much going on in his head that anything that was not just strict time would interfere with the way he wanted to express himself at the piano. That's just a wild guess maybe on my part. I understand that as a pianist. Drummers can ruin you as a pianist. It's such a delicate position to have, in a trio especially.
AAJ: You ran into Bill Evans while you were both in the military. How did your exposure to Evans affect you at first?
JR:I heard him practicing at the U.S. Navy school of music where we both were [stationed]. I just heard a joy in his playing and a totally different linear melodic sense. It still was connected to the bebop school, this was 1951, before he even recorded. That caught my ear right away, and as soon as he recorded I bought the record and I wore it out. The Riverside, New Jazz Conceptions (1956). I heard him as a complete musician, one who was technically complete and who had a harmonic sense. Everything he did sounded right to me. I was not intimidated; I wanted to absorb it and so I listened and listened and listened. At one point after the Portrait in Jazz (Riverside, 1959) album, I started to try to play in the spirit of his style.
AAJ: You were obviously smitten by Bill. Your first recording, Blue Sean Green (Unichrom, 1968), clearly has an Evans-like approach to the trio format, and some voicings reminiscent of his work, but it is clearly from your own source. You subsequently did a detailed study of Evans approach in your book The Harmony of Bill Evans. What do you most credit Evans for in your own development?
JR: The inspiration to being a complete musician. I love classical music, so I never stop studying that and I went into [studying] the contemporary schools of classical music. It was his unusual sense of swing and choice of melodic notes. He was an introspective person, but in his playing, to me, he was extroverted. You have to be introspective to get as deep as he did and that's what inspired me about his playing
AAJ: Your musical journey has taken you down many paths. You gigged in the downtown jazz clubs in the fifties and sixties. During this period who was the most exciting artist you played with and what made playing with him or her so exciting?
JR: In the late fifties I played in clubs where I'd have to accompany singers. I was hired for jam sessions on the off nights in different clubs. It happened to be a singer, Sheila Jordan, I started with her in 1959. Sheila was one, we kind of connected right away, she did great tunes and she liked the way I played behind her. I worked with her a long time.
AAJ: Many musicians shy away from studio gigging, claiming it to be a compromise. Others embrace it as just another way to keep playing. What is your take on the studio scene for an accomplished but dedicated musician?
JR: That's a touchy question. If you continue with studio playing or commercial playing when you're trying to break into your own expressive jazz playing, I think it's a big conflict and I think you're kidding yourself. There's a point when you have to say no. If you have to do it for a living, you do it. I don't know anybody that came out of the studio career and turned to jazz and has made it. There's no chance of developing your jazz artistry or your unique voice as a jazz artist.
AAJ: What did your time with the Radio City pit orchestra or as the musical director for the David Frost show, That Was the Week That Was do for you musically?
JR: Radio City gave me experience reading for one hour these piano parts that have to be played exactly. That was a challenge. After five shows in one day, I was a regular sub but I wasn't the main pianist, so I didn't have to play that all the time, that would have driven me crazy.
[David Frost's show] was a challenge also. I love theater and I love actors who are creative. His troop, most of them were from England, and they [would] come over here and I worked at what is now the Bottom Line, [or what] used to be. I came in to relieve Ray Bryant who was the regular pianist, who just didn't want it. Sheila [Jordan] recommended me to the actors and I came in and it was fine.
AAJ: How did you transition from being a jazz pianist, a studio musician and a teacher to being so prolific as a composer who tackles the challenges of composing for a full orchestra?
JR: Composing sort of filled in when I didn't practice or when I was inspired. I wasn't like, say, Elliott Carter, who gets out every morning and writes for four hours, has lunch and writes another four hours. There are composers like that. The piano was my expressive instrument and I'd compose, maybe like Chopin, through the piano. So I would be practicing, then I would suddenly get an idea and maybe I'd write it out. The larger works started in 1968, when I wrote my Requiem mass. I had Sheila in mind to do certain parts of the mass. I was just drawn to the larger works only because [of] being a classical musician. All those large choral works from Mozart to Verdi; Brahms, especially Brahms, my whole body shakes when I hear a certain part of the Brahms Requiem, so why not a jazz Requiem? The oratorio was a commission by the National Endowment for the Arts and the orchestral and piano concertos were commissions. It's exhilarating.