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An admitted supporter of free jazz and the avant guard of music, I felt like a lurker as I pushed the play button on jazz piano traditionalist John Bunch’s recording of the British songbook. After a couple of tracks, I was hooked and an instant fan of this octogenarian master.
Bunch, born in Indiana, began playing jazz before WWII and continued his career after a stint as a POW. His career took him from Woody Herman, Buddy Rich to Benny Goodman and also a six year gig with Tony Bennett. More recently he can be heard with the traditionalists Harry Allen, Rudy Braff, and Scott Hamilton.
The concept of this recording was for Bunch to interpret British composers from Ray Noble to Anthony Newley and Noel Coward. Bunch’s mastery of the keyboards reminds one of the beautiful solo records John Lewis produced in the last few years of his life. Like Lewis, bunch plays with an economy of notes, but an extravagance of emotion. His touch draws from stride traditions and bebop interpretations of show tunes. His years of wisdom allow him to take on “Cherokee” as a trot instead of the customary gallop. When he does decide to swing, as on “Just In Time” he tosses a stride- inflected two-handedness to keep listeners a bit off balance.
And I hang on each note, pushing play over and over again.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.