92 Street Y Continuum: From Dick Hyman to Bill Charlap

Daniel Kassell By

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This extraordinary evening was but a brief reflection of Dick Hyman
Dick Hyman and Bill Charlap,
Jazz in July,
Kaufman Hall, Tisch Center for the Arts,
New York, New York,
July 19, 2006

"20 years on a wonderful carousel ride is enough, pianist/producer, Dick Hyman mused for a New York Sun reporter upon retiring, at age 77, from New York's most successful annual series—Jazz In July at the Kaufmann Concert Hall in the Tisch Center for the Arts on 92nd Street. Hyman successfully produced six evenings per year from 1984 to 2004, totaling 120 well thought-out, musically arranged, and staged shows. One rehearsal would take place the afternoon of the performance, with the performance in true jazz improvisation fashion occurring that same evening at 8 pm to a sophisticated audience who expected perfection and were rarely disappointed. Hyman's advice to his successor, pianist Bill Charlap, was to "remake the program in his own image (TimeOut New York).

Following the same tradition as Hyman for the 2005 season, Charlap brought together some of the world's best jazz players, continuing to emphasize mainstream piano jazz but with more modern players and instrumental pioneers. His "Dream Team as well as his regular rhythm pair bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington were also well received.

Dicky Hyman (l) with Bill Charlap (r)

To commemorate Hyman's prodigious contribution, the July 19, 2006 evening was titled: Dick Hyman: A Jazz Life. The band included electric guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli with his rheumatically accurate foot tapping plus pianists Derek Smith and Ted Rosenthal, drummer Eddie Locke, bassist Jay Leonhart, clarinetist Ken Peplowski and vocalist Terry Burrell, with Charlap serving as MC.

As the audience was being seated they were greeted by a running history of Dick Hyman publicity photos reflecting the changes in his appearance from a youthful wunderkind pianist to the tuxedoed gentleman honored tonight by being the first "Legend feted by the 92nd Y Series. In the usual fashion the evening proceeded with a procession of individual pianists followed by groups made up of tonight's performers introduced by Charlap. Charlap told of "first meeting Dick Hyman when he [Charlap] was only 15," relating how helpful Hyman had been in encouraging the growth of his career as an example of Mr. Hyman's consideration for other young pianists.

"S' Wonderful introduced Smith on the left grand piano, Rosenthal opposite, Leonhart behind Smith, Locke behind a full drum kit on a riser above the right hand grand, Pizzarelli seated in the curve of Smith's piano and Peplowski in the curve of the other piano for a welcoming warm-up number. After they all walked offstage Charlap announced, "Here's Dick Hyman, inviting appreciative applause from this audience that, from observation, had witnessed all twenty years of performances.

Impeccably dressed for the occasion in black suit, white French cuffed shirt with a pink triangle design satin tie and white hair well slicked back, Hyman introduced "Lover. He began by establishing the verse, followed by its melody, quietly adding short bursting runs that got more elaborate and classical, inserting a few Art Tatum-like tidbits on occasion. Smith then joined on the right piano for "Have You Met Miss Jones and both played so much piano together it was hard to know who to watch!

Smith, joined by the rhythm duo, performed Duke Ellington's "Squeeze Me and he became the first of the evening to inject the blues and some emotional swing, on top of Locke's backbeat layered over Leonhart's string bass rhythms.

Charlap popped out again to introduce Peplowski (aka "Peps ), who took the mic to speak about his admiration for Hyman. He called him, "a jack of all trades and a master of them all, and related a story of being asked at the last moment by Hyman to play improvisation on a never before played tune at a Waterloo Village, New Jersey event. Then from the outset of "Limehouse Blues he sped through its melody, inserting all kinds of improv, trading frequently with Leonhart and Locke. Listening to Locke it became obvious that he's a master of the well-tuned drum kit.

Rosenthal introduced "Baby Boom, composed by Hyman, followed by an exploration of the father of stride piano James. P. Johnson's "You've Got to be Modernistic —attempted because "Dick is so diverse. But Ted's conception was based upon reading music to play all the right notes—unlike Johnson he hasn't mastered the use of the spaces between them so we were left without the drama and tension that stride pianists build into every performance.

Pizzarelli, who I recently saw honored by his son John at George Wein's JVC Jazz Festival for attaining his 80th year, treated us to Bill Challis' transcription of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke's piano composition, "In A Mist, on seven string guitar—and that's quite a solo feat! This was followed by Hyman and the gang "Stompin' at the Savoy, in which Hyman demonstrated that he's not one to hog the spotlight, turning this stomp into a feature for Leonhart's bass fiddle.

During intermission I had an opportunity to ask Hadassah Markson, the originator of the Jazz in July Series, how she discovered Dick Hyman. "Dick was doing a 92nd Street Y Lyrics & Lyricists, and I liked the way he played and asked him if he would do an educational music class.

Opening the second half "Clarinata, a Hyman piece composed for clarinet and piano, was introduced as "through-composed and included Rosenthal at the piano with Charlap as page turner. It evolved into a very precisely rendered, amazingly intricate, classically synchronistic performance. Afterward in the Weil Art Gallery, surrounded by photos of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz history, Peps asked me if I knew that Dick Hyman's first instrument was clarinet. He then went on to describe how that was the reason Hyman could compose such a complicated a piece that was easy for him to play on clarinet.

The astounding centerpiece of the evening was 15 "Etudes for Jazz Piano," composed by Dick Hyman with respect to each originator. In addition, as each was performed an historical black and white photo was projected on a huge screen behind the two grand pianos. The audience was to determine who was playing by observation.

Charlap played Scott Joplin's "Azalea Rag," followed by Jelly Roll Morton's "Decatur Stomp"—immediately recognizable as if it were played by Morton's hands. James P. Johnson's "Cuttin' Loose" was played by Hyman, while Earl Hines' "Struttin' on a Sunny Day" was delivered by Charlap, filled with complex intricacies. Fats Waller's "Ivory Strides" was the richest melodic etude, with Charlap injecting dynamics and humor, while Hyman played Teddy Wilson's "Pass It Along."

Jimmy Yancey, Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons' "South Side Boogie" found Hyman and Charlap playing together. In addition to being the longest etude, this study of Boogie Woogie really syncopated and rocked with the magnificence of left-handed piano playing. Charlap played Duke Ellington's "Oceanic Languor, an eloquent study but not in Ellington's style. Hyman performed Art Tatum's "Onyx Mood," a reflective melody that sounded a bit timid for Tatum. Erroll Garner's "Bouncing in F Minor" was boldly played by Hyman.

Bud Powell's "Bird in the Roost" was nicely played, Charlap reflecting its period. Hyman interpreted Oscar Peterson's "Deep Groove," while George Shearing's "Roses in Cream" found Charlap's warm locked chords immediately recognizable, demonstrating that Charlap has a special facility for Shearing. Hyman played Dave Brubeck's "Time Play" before Charlap joined him for Bill Evans' "Passage, this final study getting into Evan's space as a complete tone poem.

Afterwards Charlap repeated his story of meeting Hyman at age 15 and smiled boyishly as he held up his original 1982 Eastlake Music folio to show it was torn and well worn.

And as if that were not enough, more sides of Hyman continued to be revealed. From the Woody Allen movie Zelig Hyman rendered his "Chameleon songs, sounding a bit like Irving Berlin trying to sing and play the exact musical notation without emotion or vocal affectation. His Shakespeare music, sung in beautiful voice by Broadway actress/vocalist Terry Burrell, actually made Shakespeare swing. He continued with "Shadowland, inspired by Bix Beiderbecke's recorded coda on "I'm Comin' Virginia. This piece belongs in a Broadway show and Peps' solo revealed its melody to have similarities to Hoagy Carmichael's writing.

The finale included everyone onstage for "Cherokee," two at each piano led by Peps' clarinet playing the melody. Smith and Rosenthal were on the right with Charlap and Hyman on the left. Playing together, they traded fours in round-robin sequence supported by consistent rhythm and Pizzarelli's foot tapping. Peps began trading fours, then threes and twos with himself by quickly jumping to face his shadow—much to the delight of the crowd. He concluded by running to play the last few notes on Rosenthal's piano! Eddie Locke topped them all by playing the most dramatic solo.

This extraordinary evening was but a brief reflection of Dick Hyman's seventy-nine years of assimilating America's indigenous music with the determination and skill to render most any composer's personal style at will. For those that want more he's already scheduled in 2007 for Jazz Piano at the Y in celebration of his 80th Birthday.

Photo Credit
Dan Kassell

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