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Dick Hyman: The Beat Goes On

By Published: March 8, 2013
AAJ: You were also one of the first people to record an album on the Moog synthesizer?

DH: I think my album (Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman [1969, Command, reissued by Varese/Sarabande]) was the first jazz/pop album in that genre, and it came after Switched-On Bach (by Walter Carlos [1968, Columbia]) but before Fumi Tomita on RCA-Victor. I believe mine was the first to venture away from the classics. I did two albums and one or two tracks additionally, which are heard on some albums by Enoch Light
Enoch Light
, but the big number—and a fair-sized hit—was "The Minotaur."

AAJ: Do you see yourself ever returning to electronic or synthesizer music?

DH: No, I don't. I played it in those days, but then other people began to specialize in it. I was still basically a pianist. But what I played a lot of in those years was organ, first a Hammond, then a Lowery, then a Baldwin. Other people were turning to electronics and becoming Moog artists, but I was beginning to wind it down, and when my mini-Moog kept needing repair, I got rid of it, and that was the end of it.

Late Last Summer

AAJ: Let's now turn to your 85th birthday celebration in 2012, which occasioned several releases of new music and even a book compilation. You will celebrate your 86th birthday on March 8. Let's begin with Late Last Summer: What's it like to create something that you know will endure artistically with someone you love as much as your daughter?

DH: It was wonderful. And since that time, which has been about a year since we recorded it, we've been closer in every way. We speak more often and I look forward to our getting together. We have a great deal more in common now having done this album and placing our hopes in having it heard. The collaboration was very sweet and healthy in that way. And it has already led to other performances.

AAJ: Why do you think the waltz form has endured for centuries?

DH: I don't know, but you're right to observe that. It certainly represents romance. It represents fun and gala occasions and all the images out of Vienna. Musically, waltzes have always been appealing. And they still work!

AAJ: It seems like you only need to pick up on its rhythm once, and you never lose it afterwards.

DH: Recently, when my daughter was visiting us, we happened to go through a book of old music that had quite a number of Strauss waltzes in it, and I played them for her and we analyzed and appreciated them. They're so well written, so nicely arranged for the piano.

AAJ: Is there anything you or your daughter learned about each other during its recording?

DH: You know, it was an interesting position for me to be in, because I was taking her compositions and in some cases adding some elements of harmony that hadn't occurred to her. So I was arranging them to some degree, and of course, she was rearranging them. It was good to work together, and I came to realize how professional she has become in her career. We were able to work together very well, even with occasional differences of opinion about certain things. We always came to a result we both liked.

AAJ: It seems safe to suggest that Lock My Heart with Heather Masse was also "a result we both liked."

DH: That happened so accidentally. I was a guest on Garrison Keillor's show—I was mainly there to play some piano solos and to do some two-piano duets with Rob Fisher
Rob Fisher

. But Garrison had me accompany Heather with almost no notice and very little preparation. And it worked so well that when Heather had the idea about recording together, I was delighted.

AAJ: There's a lot of beautiful music on Lock My Heart, including and especially "Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered." Whoever programmed the CD must also have liked it, because it's the very first tune.

DH: We both had a hand in it, but I think that was my immediate choice because the verse accompanied only by unison piano tones was so unusual, and we were so together on it, that it seemed like the perfect introduction.

AAJ: What is it about this tune, in her voice (and in your hands) that makes it sound so haunting and beautiful?

DH: It is a fine song. I recorded it on my previous solo piano album of Richard Rodgers songs, and I've played it many times throughout my career. I began playing it when I was doing club dates around New York City, playing what we used to call "society" affairs with Lester Lanin and that sort of orchestra. That's where a good deal of that old show tune repertoire comes from. You had to know those tunes and be ready to play them at a moment's notice.

AAJ: Is that one of your favorite moments on Lock My Heart too?

DH: Yes! That's why I wanted to put it first.

AAJ: Is it fair to say that Ken Peplowski
Ken Peplowski
Ken Peplowski
is to jazz clarinet what you are to jazz piano?

DH: Ken is something else. I guess he cuts across genres as I do. I can't remember when I first met him. I know that, for one thing, he was in the Benny Goodman Orchestra on Benny's last television show, for which I was musical coordinator in 1982, I think. Ken was in the sax section—he plays excellent tenor, you know.

We have a common improvisational sense. There are many lucky moments on the new album we recorded together at Kitano, but when Ken and I play together, we assume those moments are going to be there because we tend to think alike. Usually, it's the pianist who's all over the place, supporting an instrument such as the clarinet when you have duets; but, in this case, Ken can do the same sort of all-over-the-place embellishment that I can. Without any preparation at all, we inject whole sections and interludes and long endings or delayed entrances and we follow each other. It's remarkable to play with him. We'll be together again, for the third time, at the Kitano in April 2013.

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