At Ken Poston's all-star tribute to trumpeter Maynard Ferguson in Los Angeles last October, the pianist for most groups, large or small, was Maynard's son-in-law, Christian Jacob, who didn't land the gig because of family connections. When Tierney Sutton, who has worked with Jacob for nearly a dozen years and is the guest vocalist on "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" and "I Fall in Love Too Easily," introduces Christian as "one of the greatest living jazz pianists," she isn't saying that just to be nice. A number of astute observers agree, including Bill Holman, Benny Golson and the man whose idea it was to have Jacob perform the music of the great Broadway/Hollywood composer Jule Styne, legendary English bandleader/impresario Vic Lewis.
Even with their support and well-wishes, the album almost never happened, as no label expressed an interest in producing it. Enter Christian's wife, Wilder Jacob, who learned how to move it from drawing board to finished product practically by herself, hence the label WilderJazz. That, I surmise, is what is meant by the term "helpmate."
The album's title, Styne & Mine, refers to the fact that nine of its thirteen numbers were co-written by Styne (with various lyricists), the others by Jacob. While Styne's melodies are more familiar, Jacob's have an insistent charm of their own and might respond well to the solicitude of an accomplished lyricist (even though he has prosaically named three of them "Piece 1," "Piece 2" and "Piece 3"). Jacob also wrote "Lydia's Crush" and left the rest in Styne's capable hands.
Jacob is an excellent pianist whose formidable technique is tempered by his marvelous touch, cheerful temperament and impressive capacity to bring out the best in any song. While "one of the greatest" is clearly in the ear of the beholder, Jacob reminds me of such other renowned young pianists as Bill Charlap, Jan Lundgren, Eric Reed and Benny Green, and perhaps that is praise enough. One has to save some applause for Henry and Brinker, each of whom plays his part admirably. Henry is one of the most sought-after bassists in southern California, and it's easy to hear why. He's always at the top of his game. Like many drummers, Brinker has a natural tendency to roar, but softens his approach when necessary to help make this a trio in the best sense of the word.
Not much need be said about Styne's songs, as connoisseurs of popular music will no doubt recognize them after only a few bars and may be able to recite the lyrics to most. Jacob and his partners handle them with care, Sutton adds warmth on two numbers, and when all is said and done, the album that almost wasn't is no less than a modest treasure.
Personnel: Christian Jacob, piano; Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, drums. Special guest -- Tierney Sutton (3, 11), vocals.