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Tom Szczesniak: Waltz for Bill

Edward Blanco By

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Toronto, Canada-based Tom Szczesniak is a veteran pianist, composer and arranger who has spent a portion of his professional life writing scores for over 100 films and numerous television shows. Settling in Canada in 1973 after a stint with the U.S. Air Force band in Washington, DC, Szczesniak has also worked extensively as a sideman on other artists' projects, performing in jazz clubs throughout Toronto, yet never found the time to produce his own music. Waltz for Bill has taken over three years to realize and marks his recording debut as leader.

For this outing, he collaborates with friends and associates in the business, cleverly harnessing the experienced acquired in a lifetime of producing, composing and orchestrating music for others. Szczesniak pens innovative new arrangements to selections from Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Miles Davis, adds a string orchestra on five of the eleven pieces, and contributes a few of originals, including the Bill Evans-inspired title track.

Including the leader, there are twelve outstanding musicians and two vocalists who perform here, with a supporting eighteen-member string section on several pieces. However, bassist Scott Alexander and drummer Bob McLaren team up with the pianist as the disc's core trio, beginning on the delightfully harmonic "What Is This Thing Called Love." The lightly melodic, classically tinged title tune and deliciously mellow Johnny Mercer standard, "Laura," are the other pieces performed in a trio format.

Deep baritone vocals from Michael Stuart—who also solos on tenor saxophone—leads the music on a sensational rendition of "I Wish I Knew," supported by the pianists' delicate piano lines and string section accompaniment. Arranged as a flute/piano/string feature, Oscar Hammerstein's classic "All The Things You Are" receives lush spacious treatment in one of the album's most gorgeous instrumentals, while Stuart again joins the trio on sax for Miles Davis' bop anthem "Solar," delivering sprite bop-ish phrases.

Vocalist Doug Mallory fronts the trio with an orchestral string background on Szczesniak's "Lament for Doc," played together with Sammy Fain's featured song from the 1938 musical Right This Way, "I'll Be Seeing You." The medley is dedicated to the late Canadian bandleader and Hammond B3 specialist Doug Riley, from whom the pianist borrows "Dinosaurus," featuring guitarists Rob Piltch and Bob Suttmann, with Szczesniak switching to B3 for the liveliest, most up-tempo swing of the set.

George Gershwin's immortal "Embraceable You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" are two string-laden arrangements and recording highlights. "Laura" and the brief solo finale, Szczesniak's dedication to wife Linda ("Lindy's Song), complete this remarkably enchanting debut from a remarkably talented pianist operating largely below the radar. Szczesniak's name may be hard to pronounce but will be easy to remember after only one spin of Waltz for Bill .

Track Listing: What Is This Thing Called Love; I Wish I Knew; Waltz for Bill; All The Things You Are; Solar; Lament for Doc/I'll Be Seeing You; Dinosaurus; Embraceable You; Someone To Watch Over You; Laura; Lindy's Song.

Personnel: Tom Szczesniak: piano, Hammond B 3 organ (7); Scott Alexander: bass; Bob McLaren: drums; Michael Stuart: tenor saxophone (2, 5), vocals (2); Les Allt: flute (4, 9); Colleen Cook: clarinet (4, 8, 9); Neil Deland: French Horn (4, 8, 9); Rob Piltch: guitar (7); Bob Mann: guitar (7); Vern Dorge: tenor saxophone (8); Neil Swainson: bass (9); Stephen Szczeniak: drums (9); String Orchestra (2, 4, 6, 8, 9): Carol Fujino: violin; Hyung-Sun Paik: violin; Bridget Hunt: violin; Angelique Toews: violin; Vera Tarnowsky: violin; James Wallenberg: violin; Wendy Rose: violin;Virginia Chen Wells: violin; Jennifer Thompson: violin; Ronald Mah: violin; Mi Hyon Kim: violin; Susan Lipchak: viola; Charmain Louis: viola; Christopher Redfield: viola; Winona Zelenka: cello; Marie Gelinas: cello; Audrey King: cello.

Title: Waltz for Bill | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Self Produced

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