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Jaki Byard at the Chicago Jazz Festival - September 6, 1992

Ken Dryden By

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I was introduced to the work of pianist Jaki Byard through his work as a sideman with Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus. Both his eclectic style and sense of humor appealed to me, so I soon found myself snapping up every record and CD in which he took part, even getting an opportunity to do liner notes for the long hidden tapes which made up the Jaki Byard Quartet with Joe Farrell: The Last From Lennie's , issued by Prestige in 2003.

When I learned that Byard was doing a solo set at the 1992 Chicago Jazz Festival, an event which was still being broadcast live at that time, I made sure to record it. The pianist didn't disappoint, even kidding the audience that it was "...great to be back in Springfield again."

Byard kicked off his set with an old favorite from the Broadway musical South Pacific, "Hello, Young Lovers." He's clearly in good spirits as he develops it into a rollicking number, followed by his original "Tribute to the Ticklers" ("all of 'em, except Liberace") which showcases his modern interpretation of stride piano.

He then introduces a medley tribute to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, kicking off with glissandi simulating a harp to introduce the gorgeous ballad "Lush Life," which turns a bit jaunty with a little bit of stride. He segues into Strayhorn's "Take the A Train" with a dissonant abstract introduction then gives it a rollicking treatment unlike anyone else.

The next surprise is a sudden detour into "Mood Indigo," with Byard getting almost a bit too cute with his handling of this harmonically rich composition. He wraps the medley with a strutting take of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" with a bass line that has the flavor of Fats Waller's "Bond Street" (from The London Suite ).

"Take Five" has almost become passe, but Jaki Byard had a unique approach to it. Byard deviates from Paul Desmond's famous theme almost immediately, playing tricks with time and refusing to be locked in to the left hand vamp that helped make it famous. He switches rather suddenly to his own "Cinco Quatro Boogie Woogie," a piece that would be welcome in any barrelhouse, before signing off with a semi-classical theme. Byard precedes his brief rendition of the decades-old "Chicago" by warning the audience that he is unsure how well he remembers it, but he ends up delighting the audience with a sure-handed performance.

Next is "The Hollis Stomp" (named for the section of New York that Byard called home), a piece that interweaves post-bop, stride and a bit of avant-garde. Byard, who recorded on many different instruments in addition to the piano during his career, tries something even more adventurous. He tells his audience that he is "a frustrated saxophonist, a frustrated pianist and a frustrated husband." Playing the keyboard with the left hand and what seems to be a soprano sax with his right, he treats the audience to an original he calls "Saxophobia For Me" (in what may be its only performance). Following a condensed but rapid fire solo piano version of his "European Episode," he brings out his sax for another oddball duet with himself, this time covering "The Man I Love," though he sticks mostly to piano after alternating between the two instruments.

It seems unlikely that this concert will ever be commercially issued, though there must have been a lot of other Jaki Byard fans who recorded it as it happened on September 6, 1992.

Playlist:

  1. Hello, Young Lovers (Rodgers/Hammerstein)
  2. Tribute to the Ticklers (Byard)
  3. Tribute to Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington:
    Lush Life (Strayhorn)
    Take the A Train (Strayhorn)
    Mood Indigo (Ellington/Bigard/Mills)
    Things Ain't What They Used to Be (Mercer Ellington)
  4. Take Five (Desmond)/Cinco Quatro Boogie (Byard)
  5. Chicago (Fred Fisher)
  6. The Hollis Stomp (Byard)
  7. Saxophobia For Me (Byard)
  8. European Episode (Byard)
  9. The Man I Love (Gershwin/Gershwin)

Jaki Byard/piano (1-8), piano & alto sax (6 & 8)


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