For a number of years, pianist Roger Kellaway performed alongside Bobby Darin, and on two recent releases he pays tribute to the late frontman by playing instrumental renditions of some of the songs (plus a couple of originals) he played and/or arranged during his years with the singer, who passed away too soon in 1973 at the age of 37.
I Was There
On I Was There, Kellaway plays solo, going through staples such as "Beyond The Sea and "Just In Time masterfully but without losing touch with the simplicity of each song. A track that is especially interesting to the ear is Hart/Rodgers' "My Funny Valentine, a song that is often coveredbut sometimes horribly butcheredby many a vocalist. Here he gives it a subtle treatment, giving some classical touches in between the song's original notes. The opening notes of the title track (the only original tune in the record) reminds one of "Nice Work If You Can Get It but then changes into a cheerful, Brubeck-like feel, ending with a bluesy touch.
On "I'm Beginning to See The Light, Kellaway uses the song's original chorus as a space to improvise freely, making the song almost unrecognizable at times. The album closes with "Something In Your Smile, a song from Darin's Dr. Doolitle album, in which Kellaway takes the microphone and delivers a subtle but heartfelt vocal, which (according to the liner notes) was recorded in one take.
The Roger Kellaway Trio
Remembering Bobby Darin
On Remembering Bobby Darin, the pianist is joined by guitarist Bruce Forman and bassist Dan Lutz in what is intended as a "companion piece to the solo album. Once again, there is only one original song, the beautiful bluesy "Remember, which is almost a solo song, the other two players appearing only during a few moments. One of the tunes that immediately stands out is the respectful take on the Jobim/Mendonca tune "Meditation. A lot of contemporary musicians have given rather "personal" treatments to songs of the bossa nova era, so it is very welcome to hear this song with all the Brazilian nuances, even if Bruce Forman retains a more Americanized touch to his guitar playing. It is impressive how well Kellaway's piano here sounds as if he were channeling Jobim's style, hitting the keys more softly than in the other songs.
A fun moment is the only Darin composition in the CD, the teen-rock era "Splish Splash, which receives a playful treatment during the chorus that quickly brings to mind Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy, retaining a more improvisational jazz mode during the middle sections.
The trio revisits "Beyond The Sea with a straight approach, piano and bass trading leads on the original notes of the song. Kellaway then takes over showing his chops as Forman and Lutz provide a simple but effective background.
"Mack The Knife begins in a funny way: you hear the scratches of a vinyl record and then Forman provides rhythm guitar as Kellaway plays on a toy piano. That ends quickly as the trio goes into a serious mode, with twisting guitar and piano notes and then a more traditional feel. The song ends as it began, with the return of the toy piano and the vinyl scratches.
These two albums have a great feel, which will please jazz piano fans and also those who like to listen to familiar tunes with an open mind.
I Was There
Tracks: Beyond The Sea; Charade; My Buddy; Just In Time; When I Look In your Eyes; The Shadow of Your Smile; I Was There; I'm Beginning To See The Light; A Nightingale Sand In Berkley Square; When your Lover Has Gone; That's All; My Funny Valentine; All By Myself; Something in Your Smile.
Personnel: Roger Kellaway: piano.
Remembering Bobby Darin
Tracks: Remember; Up A Lazy River; Meditation; More; Splish Splash; Oh! Look At Me Now; Once Upon a Time; I'm Beginning To See The Light; Beyond The Sea; Mack The Knife.
Personnel: Roger Kellaway: piano; Bruce Forman: guitar; Dan Lutz: bass.