In three decades of professional writing, I don't think I've ever used the word "twee." But I'm about to.
Look it up. Dictionary.com says "twee" means "affectedly dainty or quaint." Put another way: Unnaturally cute.
That's the celeste in jazz. It's cute and dainty and thoroughly unnatural. What's more, it's a mood killer. I can't understand why anyone would use it.
You've heard the celeste, even if you don't know it. It sounds like a toy piano. That's the problem. It's about the most un-serious musical instrument I can think of, except maybe a kazoo.
There's a place for the celeste in classical music. Tchaikowsky used it effectively in The Nutcracker. Think of the "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies." It's also in Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite."
But lately I've been listening to "The Blues Piano Artistry of Meade Lux Lewis." It was recorded in 1961 and it has 10 tracks. Seven of them are pure barrelhouse, booggie-woogie, solo piano pleasure. It's about as good and rolicking as a solo piano can get.
And then there are three tracks on celeste. Let's just say blues were never meant to be played on a celeste. The CD just stops cold dead at each track.
In fairness, Thelonious Monk used a celeste, too, on his classic "Brilliant Corners" album, five years before Lewis. He did it on one track, "Pannonica." At least he was smart enough to surround himself with other instruments. He plays the celeste with his left hand and the piano with his right. Plus there are two saxophones, drums and bass. And he does lay off the celeste for part of the track. Still, it doesn't sound right.
You have to wonder. Didn't anyone say to Monk or Lewis, "Dude, that's wrong. You sound like a 5-year-old. You sound... twee!"
I wish someone had.
Hammer Chatter; You Were Meant For Me; Celeste Bounce; Bear Trap Stomp;
Frompy Stomp; Rough Seas; Madame Vod's Celeste Blues; C-Jam Blues; Fate;
Breezing at the Celeste
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!
Get more of a good thing
Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.