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When Nesuhi Ertegun perhaps serendipitously recorded Phineas Newborn, Jr. after Newborn had retreated to his hometown of Memphis in the mid-1970's, one of the founders of Atlantic Records helped to remind the jazz world of the overlooked potential of one of his generation's most promising, although perhaps not its most influential, pianists.
That's not to say that Newborn was without influence. Far from it. In fact, Harold Mabern and Geoff Keezer recorded a duo tribute to Newborn on Sackville recently.
"Solo Piano," however, gives us unvarnished Newborn playing certainly not a concert grand, but rather a studio piano that lends almost a barroom feel to his performance.
Following in the tradition of Tatum, Newborn was a pianist of incredible technique, utilizing both hands for unflagging emphasis, especially on the more percussive tracks like "Bouncing With Bud." Even when Newborn goes meditative on us, as on "Willow Weep For Me," he still exerts dynamic energy with force, arpeggiation and unexpected pauses.
Having suffered a mental collapse and leaving the active New York jazz scene by the time "Solo Piano" was recorded, Newborn lost not an ounce of technique.
We're fortunate that Atlantic had the foresight to record Newborn once again, even in less-than-ideal studio conditions, and that 32 Jazz saw fit to remind jazz enthusiasts of Newborn's vitality and freshness.
Together Again; Serenade In Blue/Where Is The Love; Lorraine's Walk/Willow Weep For Me; Nica's Dream; Goodbye/Flamingo; Live And Love/One For Horace; Bouncing With Bud; Memphis Blues; The Midnight Sun Will Never Set; Out Of This World; Giant Steps/Everything I Have Is Yours/Where Is The Love
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.