Rarely has such unanimously unstinting praise been bestowed on a less self-congratulatory recipient. As genial and matter-of-fact off the stand as he is fiercely individual at the keys, Tommy Flanagan handles his world class ranking with an equanimity, a modesty, an easy friendliness not always associated with the psychic burden of being Number One. Perhaps because almost instant early recognition by his peers and the universal affection in which he has been held by them over the years has made for a warm and artistically rewarding roost in the jazz jungle for Tommy Flanagan. Or perhaps it is owing to his wholesome origins, as one of six children of an upwardly striving, musically enthusiastic family in Detroit.
Whatever, Flanagan made his professional debut in 1945 at age 15, joining forces with fellow Motor City budding heavyweights Milt Jackson, Thad Jones, Elvin Jones and Kenny Burrell, playing clubs like the Bluebird, Detroit’s renowned jazz room. Flanagan hit New York in 1956, his first gig being a sub job at Birdland for Bud Powell, whom he recalls as a major influence on his own early development, along with Art Tatum and Nat Cole. Flanagan’s own gifts were so readily apparent, in short order he was tapped for recording dates with such jazz icons as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.
In 1957 Flanagan made his first trio album, Tommy Flanagan Overseas, with Elvin Jones and Wilbur Little, which has been reissued many times and is now a collectors’ item. He made more than 100 recordings from 1956 through 1968, many of which have become essential to any serious jazz record library.