With Todd Barkan now at the helm of 32 Jazz, West Coast jazz musicians are receiving more attention, what with the label releasing new CD’s by under-recorded and vastly talented pianists Denny Zeitlin and Billy Childs, among other musicians with a West Coast presence. With the jazz press concentrated in New York and to a lesser extent in Chicago, Childs’ lack of visibility and his diligence in orchestrating projects like Dianne Reeves’ new album, The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan, have kept him behind the scenes more than he deserves.
Bedtime Stories rectifies Childs’ relative paucity of recording activity with a concept stressing the capacity of the piano for reassurance and the expression of subtle but complex thought. For the most part, his album, Bedtime Stories, consists of some of the more contemplative tunes that Herbie Hancock wrote and recorded. When Childs isn’t performing the Hancock songs, he plays with a Hancock approach to tunes with like-minded themes by composers like Wayne Shorter or Duke Ellington.
Rather than presenting his own style, Childs pays tribute to his inspiration by nailing Hancock’s style, with its shifting internal movement of notes within a chord or his unpredictable melodies or his relaxed accents within a disarming and deceptive simplicity. Drummer Billy Hart, who performed in Hancock’s Mwandishi group, says that “I can remember [Childs] coming out to hear the band whenever we were in L.A. when he was just a kid. He knows the music so well harmonically that he can sound like Herbie without imitating him.”
Well, that’s literally true. Even on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Childs reharmonizes the tune and adds a variation on the two-note theme at the end of the tune for understated intensity. And Sting’s “Fragile” is approached to elucidate its flow and melodic potential over shifting changes.
But Hancock’s tunes remain the center of the CD, and they’re the ones that bring out Childs’ technical excellence, theoretical comprehension and emotional flair. With most of Hancock’s tunes taken from his inimitable Speak Like A Child and Maiden Voyage albums, Childs has chosen to avoid Hancock’s fusion explorations like “Head Hunters” or his earlier simpler tunes like “A Tribute To Someone” or “Watermelon Man.” Childs writes that the tunes are meant to recall memories from childhood, and while I don’t subscribe to that theory, they do put the listener in a mood of calmness and reflectiveness. More importantly, they rightly give due recognition to Herbie Hancock as one of the most important pianists of his generation and possessing of a varied and seemingly bottomless imagination.
Childs recorded a stretch of CD’s on Windham Hill a decade ago and a few more on Shanachie and Metropolitan, and devotees of outstanding jazz piano music may hope that 32 Jazz will encourage him to record more frequently in the future.
Track Listing: Ain
Personnel: Billy Childs, piano; George Mraz, bass; Billy Hart, drums
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.