It was with a little trepidation that I shared with you the list of my latest jazz CD purchases. While I admit to being opinionated — I know what I like and what I don’t like, and usually can give some reason why — I do not by any stretch consider myself to be an expert, and though at times I am quite critical, I never claim to be A Critic. So I was very pleased to receive this succinct endorsement from Mr. Rifftides:
I am fortunate to be rubbing elbows all these years with many great artists who I am lucky to call my friends. Many of them no longer walk among us but they have left the wonderful gifts of their music preserved on recordings. From time to time I talk about Joe Williams and Shirley Horn, but there are so many more that I miss often and mention all too seldom. I spent many a night with Helen Humes, most often at The Cookery in NYC but also in Boston and in Nice. Even without the CD I can hear her singing “Every Now and Then” (for me, no one else can do justice to that song), “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me,” and “If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight.” She did an album in 1960 titled Songs I Like to Sing! that has all three of those songs and nine others that she really did like to sing because I heard her sing each and every one of them, often, right up until her death in 1981. Helen liked to have a good time (we had wonderful BBQs at the home of her niece in Los Angeles) and she loved to be naughty (lyrics to “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” were more often than not altered to “a hard man is good to find”).
Despite my taking lessons with some truly legendary jazz pianists, and my preference for Bill Evans over Beethoven, my limited pianistic talents were stronger in the classical arena. My “serious” music studies during my high school years were at the Westchester Conservatory, but it was Roland Hanna who introduced me to the music of Scriabin. “I can’t play jazz,” I said frequently. “It’s all the same,” Roland would say. Then he’d ask, “What are you working on?” Sitting at the piano in his 72nd street studio, I’d play whatever it was, maybe a Chopin Nocturne or a Brahms Rhapsody. Roland would stroke his chin, nudge me to the edge of the bench and re-interpret the piece, proving that jazz or classical, it’s all music with which you could do as you felt. He could play anything, classical or jazz, bop, swing or out-to-lunch. I cherish, too, the memory of those nights at Bradley’s where he often played solo. It’s his solo recordings that are my favorites, especially his first solo album, Sir Elf, with “Bye Bye Blackbird.” I think some Japanese company released a CD, but, alas, I can’t find it. My Hanna collection currently includes his solo concert at Maybeck Hall, the Duke Ellington Piano Solos, Tributaries: Reflections on Tommy Flanagan, Solo: Round Midnight which I think is no longer available, and one ensemble recording Sir Roland Hanna Quartet Plays Gershwin.
I also miss Paul Desmond, Zoot Sims, Etta Jones, Art Farmer, Thad Jones, and Sweets Edison, to name just a few. If you want to know about my Desmond reminiscences you’ll have to read Take Five, the fantastic biography by Doug Ramsey a/k/a Mr. Rifftides. (I’m on pages 264, 296-7). And I’ll save these other memories for another evening when nostalgia strikes again.