In so many ways, the piano trio is really one of the most perfect combinations in jazz. In the right hands, the impression of a much larger group is possible and various combinations of each instrument allow for freshness and variety. Knowing a good thing when they heard one, the magic of the piano trio was not lost on Columbia Records when they decided to launch a series of “Piano Moods” back in 1948. It was really a combination of ideas and technology, however. First of all, these records would be among the earliest examples of the long-playing 33 1/3-rpm format. Secondly, the 20 albums eventually issued would ultimately take in some of the more popular styles in addition to obvious jazz sensibilities. As an added source of inimitability, many of the original records were produced with no pauses between tracks, giving the side of a record album the feel of having someone performing for you right there in your own living room.
Even excepting the non-jazz sessions left out of the present collection, the sheer volume of material contained in this seven-disc manifesto makes it impossible to comment on each and every artist or session. However, a brief overview finds the pianists involved easily separated into two camps- mainstream jazzmen and more commercially oriented players. Of the former category, you’ll find substantial sets from Earl Hines, Errol Garner, Ralph Sutton, Jess Stacy, and Teddy Wilson. Less known, but certainly no less interesting when considering the scope of this project, other featured pianists include Joe Bushkin, Eddie Heywood, Buddy Weed, Bill Clifton, and Max Miller.
Breaking from the strict boundaries of the “Piano Moods” series, Mosaic has seen fit to also include Ahmad Jamal’s The Piano Scene of Ahmad Jamal, recordings from 1951 and 1952 originally done for Epic and featuring the first tastes of this Nat Cole-inspired trio of piano, bass, and guitar. There are also two sets that cover the music of Fats Waller, one from Joe Sullivan and the other by Ralph Sutton. As an added bonus, don’t miss the1949 recordings of Art Tatum captured in performance at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
With the bulk of these recitals spanning the years 1950 to 1952, popular tunes of the day provided the fodder for interpretation, including “Jitterbug Waltz,” “Rosetta,” “Poor Butterfly,” Autumn in New York,” “Rose Room,” St. Louis Blues,” and many more. Swing at a premium, it’s the Stride style that predominates throughout this bible of early piano jazz. And assuring that no one is left out, please note that among the notable sideman featured you’ll find the names George Wettling, Walter Page, Al McKibbon, J.C. Heard, Shadow Wilson, George Van Eps, and Bob Haggart.
It goes without saying that Mosaic’s presentation is nothing short of exemplary. Sound quality, especially in terms of the early material transferred from disc, is surprisingly solid and listenable throughout. A 16-page booklet includes a witty remembrance from original producer George Avakian, comments on session highlights by pianist Dick Katz, and photos from the libraries of Frank Driggs, Duncan Schiedt, Ray Avery, and Francis Wolff. All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT. 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.
Personnel: Errol Garner, Ahmad Jamal, Earl Hines, Joe Bushkin, Ralph Sutton, Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Buddy Weed, Teddy Wilson, Bill Clifton, Eddie Heywood, Stan Freeman, Max Miller, and Art Tatum (piano) with various rhythm sections