Benny Green's talent is such that he can adapt to any situation, as proven by the ultimate testing grounds of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and Betty Carter's group, not to mention Ray Brown's trioall of which Green joined. As the aggressive hard bop pianist or the unpredictable Carter's accompanist who slips from one thought to the next within a single phrase, thereby creating special demands for her exceptional pianists, Green could switch from one style to another. And when Green worked with Ray Brown, he held the responsibility for melodic statement and vibrant improvisation, all the while remaining aware of the bass lines that served as the group's foundation. But which is Green's style?
On his last two CD's, Green teamed with Russell Malone and Christian McBride for Nat Cole-like instrumentation as they paid tribute in a relaxed style to the hard bop pioneers of Blue Note and, on Telarc's Naturally,
to the undersung jazz musicians arising from the city of Pittsburgh, including his mentor, Brown.
On Green's Blues,
Benny Green has chosen to go solo in a reverent nod of the headand stylistic workout for his fingersto the stride and stride-like piano virtuosos of preceding generations. The common characteristic of all of these pianistsEarl Garner, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Teddy Wilson, Ray Bryant, Oscar Peterson, Hank Jones, James P. Johnson, and even Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monkwas the assertive use of their left hands. That use of the left hand as keeper of the time, stroller of ascending tenths, developer of the walking lines and creator of orchestral effects allowed these masters of two-handed improvisation to comprise the entire rhythm section, soloist and harmonic back-up all in one person. Hank Jones said once, in a veiled reference to bebop pianists, "God gave me two hands, so I don't know why I shouldn't use both of them."
Benny Green has taken that approach to heart. No doubt, Oscar Peterson's mentoring played a large part of Green's stylistic development.
Yet, even as he appreciates these masters' innovative approaches to the instrument, Green still sees their work through the long lens of 30 or 40 years of perspective, when the youngest of them were in their heyday. Thus, consistently throughout the CD, Green re-arranges the tunes to fit his concept for the album while strongly including elements of the styles of those he pays tribute to.
For instance, on "It Don't Mean A Thing," Green starts the tune with the root-chord-root-chord pattern characteristic of most of the tunes, but then his deceptively simply improvisational chorus, while rooted firmly in the blues-like rhythm, plays with meter, as Monk would do. On Garner's "Misty," Green strips away the strong left-hand work for a more sensitive treatment that reveals the always-appealing harmonic potential of the tune. Garner's flourishes aren't accentuated, nor are his ever-present bass lines, even as the strength of the attack in the upper register is reminiscent of his style. Fats Waller's romp of a song, "Ain't Misbehavin'," starts with a dense chord followed by florid arpeggios before the barroom flavor of the tune commences, its exuberance masking the difficulty of the variations on the melody.
Like most of the sides that Green must have studied before creating his own arrangements, all of the tracks on Green's Blues
last little more than five minutes, while "Nice Work If You Can Get It" is less than half that length. In the midst of Green's re-creations of his predecessors' music, he inserts his own composition, "Green's Blues," a slow, densely chorded tune that encapsulates the appeal of the music of these piano players, who now are heard less often but, as Green knows, who will never go out of style.