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Derek Smith, Dick Hyman and Ralph Sutton: The Piano Giants at Bob Haggart's 80th Birthday Party

AAJ Staff By

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These selections were recorded in 1994 at the very first jazz party produced by Mat and Rachel Domber, owners of Arbors Records. The party was in honor of multi-talented bassist-arranger Bob Haggart's 80th birthday. I was present to hear these selectios presented to the live audience, so this review is a personal delight to share with the readers.

First, however, a brief explanation is in order. In contrast to a jazz festival, which usually implies a larger audience, usually at an outdoor venue, a jazz party is usually held under ideal circumstances: a hotel ballroom, for example, with presentation of musicians in various combinations. A jazz party typically will present twenty to thirty hours of music over a weekend, and patrons may listen to all or part of the presentations as their interests dictate. Usually the audience has educated tastes about jazz matters and are somewhat critical listeners.

In the case of this recording, the selections were originally presented at different times over the weekend. Some are presented as duo piano pieces, some solo piano and some in trio format with piano, bass and drums.

Watching two jazz pianists perform is, in some ways, like watching a championship tennis match. One pianist may plays a chorus while the other plays accompaniment and vice versa. There can be complicated rhythm and key changes which require the players as well as the audience to maintain keen attention to the action. Not every jazz pianist is up to duo-piano improvising—instant composition, in effect. One player may insert a musical quotation and the other play may answer with another quotation or a slightly revised answer to the original musical quote. It becomes a musical conversation. Most jazz listeners familiar with Louis Armstrong's recordings will remember that Louis would frequently work into his choruses the "My Country Tis of Thee" phrase.

Pianist Derek Smith, an Englishman who has resided in America since 1957, leads Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," Jimmy Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You," and Fats Waller's " Jitterbug Waltz" in trio format. He plays a lovely solo version of Manning Sherwin's "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," appropriate for a Brit who was a teenager during the dark years of WWII.

Dick Hyman is a New Yorker, now a part-time Florida resident, who is respected the world over for his pianistic and compositional prowess. He has composed the score for the movie Moonstruck and has performed on the sound track of most of Woody Allen's movies. Hyman performs solo on Bix Beiderbecke's "In a Mist" and George Gershwin's "Fascinatin' Rhythm" as well as in duo format with Derek Smith on "I'm Through with Love" and with Ralph Sutton on Jule Styne's "Sunday."

Ralph Sutton, a stride pianist who was considered by many as the greatest exponent of Fats Waller's work, plays Waller's "Alligator Crawl" in trio format and "Honeysuckle Rose" in duo format with Derek Smith. Unfortunately, Ralph Sutton died in December 2001 at age 79. Since this recording was made, bassists Bob Haggart and Milt Hinton have also died.

Proceeds from this CD are being donated to the Bob and Windy Haggart Scholarship Fund at the University of Miami, Florida.


Track Listing: Love For Sale, Sunday, In a Mist, Tea for Two, I'm Through with Love, It Could Happen to You, Honeysuckle Rose, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Alligator Crawl, Somebody Stole My Gal, Fascinatin' Rhythm, Sleep, The Jitterbug Waltz

Personnel: Derek Smith, Ralph Sutton, and Dick Hyman-- piano; Bob Haggart and Milt Hinton--bass; Bobby Rosengarden--drums.

Title: The Piano Giants at Bob Haggart's 80th Birthday Party | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Arbors Records

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