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As the accompanist for singers Dakota Staton, Carmen McRae, and Joe Williams, as well as a member of bands led by Johnny Griffin, Roy Eldridge and others, pianist Norman Simmons has spent little of his fifty-plus years as a musician in the spotlight. On the appropriately titled The Art of Norman Simmons, he successfully strikes a balance between putting his own talents front and center and melding them with musicians he respects and admires. The members of his quintet share the common goal of swinging in a relaxed, unhurried manner and no one ever feels compelled to shout to make a point. Even when Simmons, guitarist Henry Johnson (a colleague from the years with Williams), and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander (a former student of Simmons who has previously recorded with the pianist) are soloing, there’s a feeling of all of the instrumental voices are being heard in one genial conversation.
Simmons’ solos are a model of intelligence and good taste. On his up-tempo tune “Stiffed,” he effortlessly spins out single note bop lines without sounding rushed or harried. “The Hour of Parting” begins with Johnson floating chords around Simmons’ pensive playing of the melody, and continues with a turn by the pianist that is lovely in its restraint.
Although bassist Paul West and drummer Paul Wells (another longtime collaborator with Simmons) have a minimum of solo space, their contributions are invaluable in keeping the music moving forward. West has a rich tone, walks well, and frequently plays subtle counter melodies to Simmons’ lines, such as on “My Secret Love.” Wells’ drumming always conveys the essence of the music without any fanfare or excess. His unflagging shuffle beat on Simmons’ “I’m Your Boogie Man,” is pure motion in a straight line.
Track List:I’m Your Boogie Man; Joe; There Are Such Things; My Silent Love; Stiffed; Harlem Nocturne; 6 AM; The Hour Of Parting; Medley: I’m Getting Sentimental Over You/Roscoe Franbro.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.