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17

Bud Powell: Bud Powell: The Scene Changes - 1958

Marc Davis By

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Bud Powell was unquestionably a major talent. Sadly, he was also unquestionably mad.
The legend of the tortured, tragic jazz genius exists because of people like Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. Both are bebop legends, among the greatest of the greats, founding fathers of the genre. Both were brought down by drugs and mental illness—Parker at 34, Powell at 41.

Bird and Bud had a lot in common. Not only were they creators of the new sound of bebop, both were astonishingly fast players—Parker on sax, Powell on piano. Powell took the sheer speed of Art Tatum and added quirks and flourishes. But more than that, Powell wrote many of his own tunes, and they are mostly stunning and original.

Also like Parker, Powell created most of his best music early on, much of it for Blue Note in the 1950s. Two of his very best albums are the first pair for Blue Note, The Amazing Bud Powell, Volumes 1 and 2, recorded from 1949 to 1953. These include breathtakingly original tunes, many played at breakneck speed, sometimes in trios, sometimes quartets. They are among the best bop of all time.

So what to make of Powell's later records? The eccentric pianist grew crazier and crazier as he aged, literally, and many fans believe his music suffered for it. The Scene Changes is Powell's last date for Blue Note, and while it's not quite up to the level of Volumes 1 and 2, by almost anyone else's standards, it's awfully good.

At his best, Powell was the kind of pianist who made you want to stand up and yell, "Go, man, go!" There are flashes of that on The Scene Changes, but not as many as on earlier albums. "Crossin' the Channel" is the standout, a breathless barn burner that harkens back to the early hyper-speedy days of bebop.

Another highlight is "Comin' Up," an eight-minute excursion with an odd Latin-ish rhythm. It starts with a catchy six-note theme, repeated over and over by the bass and drums. Powell explores the myriad possibilities, sometimes in rhythmic patterns, sometimes in heavy block chords, sometimes with vaguely Latin melodies. It's a lot of fun.

Bud Powell was unquestionably a major talent. Sadly he was also unquestionably mad. After The Scene Changes, he went to France, stayed for several years, returned to the U.S. and died. His later records aren't his best, but they all show flashes of brilliant exuberance. They're all worth a good listen, and if you're a piano fan, they're worth owning.

A side note: Check out the adorable album cover, featuring Powell at the keyboard with his young son looking over his shoulder. Aww!

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Easy to find

Cost: $7 used

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