Roland Hanna, Tete Montoliu, and Andre Previn
While there are scores of brilliant pianists from years gone by, there are many excellent artists who aren't typically included in pre-gig-conversation. Fantastic players who've slid underneath the radar of pop-jazz citation. Somehow these players of old don't usually make it onto required listening lists.
Chosen below, are three valuable pianists who've contributed to the jazz genre. Exceptional pianists who don't often receive the attention they deserve.
Sir Roland Hanna was a master painter trapped in a pianist's body. He held the piano like a mink brush, and handled phrases like brush strokes. His work is creative, and spontaneous. And yet, Roland is not largely known by the mainstream flock.
Hanna was a classically trained prodigy, and later studied at Julliard. Roland Hanna worked with most every great player in New York during the "golden era." Working with Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus and the Thad Jones Orchestra in his career. As a professor, he was intelligent, and educated. As a player he was brilliant.
On albums where Hanna appears with other well-known musicians, like The New York Jazz Quartet In Concert In Japan (1975), or Stephane Grappelli Meets the Rhythm Section (1974), he gently commands the group with surety. However, even though Hanna was a skilled group player, it is in his solo playing that he touches something miraculous. On albums like Informal Solo (1974), or Bird Tracks: Remembering Charlie Parker (1978), Roland dabbles in pure magic. His overheard grunts and groans give the strong sense of introspection. In Hanna's music, listeners can expect to witness the purest form of spontaneous music creation.
Tete Montoliu was born and reared in Spain, oceans away from popular American jazz. Born blind, Montoliu learned how to read music using braille. When listening to Montoliu's work, his playing is almost messianic in substance. His technique on the piano is bright, and his personality is even brighter.
Tete had an exceptional ability of expressing his musical ideas, quite clearly. His aggressive style of playing is mirrored in many contemporary jazz artists of today. Montuliu was pioneering his freshly creative style in the late 1950s, and yet his work is so contemporary it's prophetic.
Montoliu worked his way up through the chain of New York musicians, playing with most of the greats, and quickly earning the respect of the city's in-crowd. Not an easy task for a young blind Spaniard in the early 1950s. Montoliu also later played extensively in Europe, being among the first to bring the music to an overseas audience. A Tot Jazz (1965) is perhaps one of his greatest known works. The playing is pointed and sharp, and the mood is classic jazz at its best. Moving forward, to the past few decades, albums like Tete! (1995) portray a matured Tete dancing with unmatched control. Tete's playing carries unbelievable nuance, and is very round in comparison to the music of many of his peers.
Andre Previn is widely known, and very highly regarded, as a successful conductor and composer. His work on iconic films like My Fair Lady, Porgy and Bess and Paint Your Wagon have earned him a heap of Grammy awards. Previn's melodic sense for film score, is simply moving. However, it is sometimes forgotten that Andre Previn is a pianist of gigantic proportion as well. Previn's melodic construction fortifies him a dignified master of the jazz piano.
Previn's jazz playing is nothing short of subtle genius. Imagine a musical cross between Johannes Brahms, and Art Tatum. Previn is not a lilly-white conservatory child, who "tried his hand" at jazz. Andre Previn is a highly respected jazz player in the jazz community. He is a rare jazz pianist who possesses the valuable composing abilities of a symphonic mind.
Previn, with Shelly Manne, and Leroy Vinnegar released Modern Jazz Performances Of Songs From My Fair Lady (1956) and made a giant splash in the jazz genre. The album featured Previn handling each timeless tune with such arranged sensitivity. On Andre Previn Plays Jerome Kern (1958) Andre plays solo piano, and makes matters completely clear to the discriminating jazz listener, proving he is capable of gliding alongside the best pianists in the field. Andre Previn brings a classical romanticism to the music of modern jazz in a gentle way, and treats commonly known standards as if they were flowing works of refined art.