Keith Ingham: Speaking On Jazz Piano History
On Bud Powell: "Love him. Great composer. I would say that not only was he a genius pianist, but his composition was fabulous," says Ingham. "They are marvelous pieces, marvelous structure. The man was a genius. Percussive, and crazy too. He had that element of: you're right on the edge, bordering on the edge. It always comes out with him."
Wynton Kelly, also a famous Miles Davis alumni, was "most swinging," says Ingham. "He was on so many records before he joined Miles. He was from the West Indies. I actually got to see him when I was playing on a ship from England. I came here, and he was playing with Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers. That was Miles' rhythm section. They were doing a little thingI don't know why they were playing it, but they were playing "Surrey With the Fringe On Top" and it was a knockout. I remember that. It was a promotional thing. A friend of mine who worked in Sam Goody's Record store when it was Sam Goody's was an English guy... He had his hear to the ground (about what was going on), and he said 'Come on, they're playing and it's free.' I forget where it was, in a hotel room. They floated on air, those guys... We've lost it all now, we really have. (It's all) anger and ego (now)... Nonsense."
He says those faults apply to all genres of music. "Everything is image now, of course, and it's visual. If you looked like Ella Fitzgerald you wouldn't get a chance to sing (now)... Well , she came up singing on radio, but nobody cared with radio. You couldn't see them."
Ingham has some interesting reflections on the nature of the piano as an instrument.
"You've got 88 keys, and you don't use most of those... not the top and bottom (notes). Classical Pianists, you can tell certain people by their touch, but in general, not. (But in jazz), isn't it amazing how some people can just get a different tone and sound out of that thing? It's an impersonal instrument ... You're not blowing into it. When you touch the piano, there's the mechanical action of the hammers being hit before you actually strike the chord. Bill Evans had a sound, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Oscar Peterson. It's amazing. Your personality transcends the mechanism of the damn piano. And you're not blowing through it, where it's easy enough to get your own sound."
"It's very interesting how jazz has made the piano, in its way, a very approachable and warm instrument. You can tell the jazz pianist. Each one is different".
While the famous classical pianist Artur Rubinstein, for example with Chopin, was quite identifiable, other classical pianists sound more mechanical.
"Yes," agrees Ingham. "He was more dramatic and passionate. Spontaneous. Improvised, in a way".
In Rubinstein's autobiography, he says that when he was about 20, if there was a part in a concerto that was very difficult and he couldn't really be bothered playing it, he would hit the sustaining pedal and fake it, and the audience wouldn't know the difference. They would think it was amazing.
"Yes, they're full of tricks," says Ingham. "It's like jazz. You put the pedal down and play rapid triplets and everybody thinks that's fantastic. It's not difficult to do."
Ingham's trio had just played "Mr. PC" from Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1959), to end off the last set. "Yes, I've got a story about 'Giant Steps,'" says the pianist. "Tommy Flanagan was on piano the first time that 'Giant Steps' was played, and he just gives up. I asked him about that. He said, 'I couldn't play that shit, it was flying by so fast. I finally had to just leave it to the bassist.' And you can hear it on the record. But when he came to record his own album of Coltrane pieces, he played it beautifully. But it was one of those things, it was so different."
Ingham says he is not in general familiar with the new jazz pianists. "Duke Ellington said the whole Thing. He said, 'To play jazz, one day, you'll have to come out of a conservatory. You'll have to be classically trained.' And it's probably become true. The problem is, they all sound the same".
Ingham feels jazz education being too narrow now, in effect just a treatise on a few works of Coltrane and Miles Davis, and that's it. "That jazz educator thing fell apart. They didn't get any funding anymore. But they're the ones responsible for making everything the same because it was all they could do. So they told the students the same rubbish."
Jazz did not develop by people learning rigid material. "They listened to each other," says Ingham, "and they stole from each other, as the classical guys did."