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Bill Mays and Friends: Mays Plays Mays

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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In a career that has flourished for more than half a century and shows no signs whatsoever of slowing down, pianist, composer and author Bill Mays has always been known for his immaculate technique, distinctive creativity, swing and wit. Few players on any instrument are this consistently light-hearted, whether it is reflected in spontaneous and funny quoting or the clearly audible fact that this genuinely happy man is, quite literally, "playing" music to delight himself, as well as the listener.

And now, with Mays Plays Mays, two more aspects of his remarkable talent come to the fore: his fine writing skills and deep affection for the special people and places in his life. Mays wrote thirteen of the fifteen tracks on this record; the others are a spirited tribute to him from a friend ("Mays in the Mirror") and a Gershwin standard, with verse ("How Long Has This Been Going On?"). Mays' tunes are variously dedicated to his wife, parents, siblings, friends, and even his long-term trio—bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson— who contribute their consummate skill with the deep empathy that comes from decades of playing together. There are extra colors here too, provided on three tracks each by superb guitarist John Hart and Mays' long-time band mate, the masterful Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Mays salutes the languid, peaceful Bahamas; the night sounds of Chelsea, his New York City neighborhood; and a Greek mountain village, a tribute that features an exuberant vocal chorus. The opener is a party in itself; the jubilant "Birthday Blues," written for an old friend, begins a musical journey in which joyful rompers and thoughtful ballads are nicely alternated and paced. Among many notable moments: his contrafact on a familiar winter tune, where Wilson helpfully drums the original melody ("Snow Job"); Mays tenderly singing the song he and his wife wrote together ("Play Song"); the easygoing waltz he dedicates to his brothers ("Mark David"), and the brief, haunting tribute to his "Whistling Pastor" father.

It is doubtful that many other musicians have done a recording quite like this, full of personal, heartfelt tributes that are so wonderfully expressed. After 38 CDs as leader, and fifteen studio years enhancing all manner of TV and movie soundtracks, Bill Mays has never sounded more intimate than he is here. In a global media landscape far too full of cynical commercialism, Mays Plays Mays is a rare and welcome gem.

Track Listing: Birthday Blues; Exuma; Mays In The Mirror; Jolie Joelle; MW2; Play Song; Snow Job; How Long Has This Been Going On; Ten; Chelsea Evening; For Woff; Martha; Whistling Pastor; Mark David; Eileen's Birthday Waltz; Kalavrita.

Personnel: Bill Mays: piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, vocals; Martin Wind: bass and acoustic bass guitar; Matt Wilson: drums and percussion; Marvin Stamm: trumpet and flugelhorn; John Hart: guitar.

Title: Mays Plays Mays | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: No Blooz Music

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