Perelman & Shipp’s “Triptych”

Perelman cover

CD 1: Improvisations Nos. 1-12. Available for digital download at https://smprecords.bandcamp.com/album/triptych-1-digital-release

CD 2: 2 Improvisations, titled Side A and Side B. Available for digital download at https://smprecords.bandcamp.com/album/triptych-2-digital-release

CD 3: 2 Improvisations titled Side A and Side B. Available for digital download at https://smprecords.bandcamp.com/album/triptych-3-digital-release / Ivo Perelman, t-sax; Matthew Shipp, pno / SMP Records, also available as a combined CD-LP-cassette release, no number.

The Ivo Perelman-Matthew Shipp collaboration, which began two decades ago and has shown no sign of abating, is the most interesting and productive in the entire history of free jazz. Throughout their time together—at least half of which seems to be spent in the recording studio, turning out records for at least five different labels—they have refined and distilled their talents to a peak of perfection that is not only rare but unique in the free jazz world. Although both musicians have roots in classical music, Perelman as a rule abandons form in pursuit of the most extreme chord positions within his playing, while Shipp, though highly inventive in his own right, never completely abandons standard tonality—his chords often bring Perelman back into recognizable harmonic territory—or the concept of musical form. His playing almost always “goes somewhere,” thus over the years the two musicians have gravitated closer and closer to one another. The results have thus grown from their earlier experiments (some of them available on multi-CD sets from Leo Records) to their outstanding “Fruition” album on ESP-Disk, which I was privileged to review a year before it was released. This set is their latest collaboration.

In my email interview with Perelman and Shipp, the love and respect they have for each other is evident. In regards to this specific release, Perelman told annotator Hrayr Attarian that “We seem to keep developing in parallel for decades now so we never get tired of playing together, we are always avoiding comfort zones , it is always a thrill and a very rewarding experience for us to play music together.”

The reason for the strange titles of their duo-improvisations stems from the fact that SMP Records is planning to release this set not only as digital downloads, as noted in the header above, but also as a combined CD-LP-Cassette format. I really can’t say why the label is going to such extremes for this release, excellent though the music is. Although I know that there is, for some unexplained reason, a market for vinyl LPs (particularly in the jazz world, but also, it seems, in the classical field), I don’t know a single person who still collects cassette tapes. The cassette format died out even quicker than LPs once the CD revolution took effect in the mid-1980s. But such is life. The shortest set is the second, which consists of only two long tracks of a little over 15 minutes each. This is intended to be the cassette portion of the physical release.

So, on to the music.

In all my previous reviews of Perelman-Shipp collaborations, I went into great detail describing exactly what they were doing, but since I now have limited vision and need to conserve my computer time, I will have to be much briefer in my comments. This does not mean, however, that I appreciate their work together any less, only that I need to keep my reviews shorter.

Even from the very first improvisation on CD 1, it is obvious that they’ve picked from where Fruition left off. Warm, lyrical pieces, like the very first, are interspersed with more abstract and angular ones like th second, yet there is considerable “outside” playing in the first just as there is form and substance in the second. There’s just something very satisfying in listening to them go at it together—two musical minds that think as one. Among earlier jazz musicians, the only parallels I can draw with their work are the few chase choruses played by Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer, the many Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker collaborations, the work of tenor saxophonists Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and the synergy that existed between Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. In a more modern context, the work of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry should also be held up as an example of this sort of thing. Gillespie often referred to Parker as “the other side of my heartbeat,” and to my mind this phrase also applies to Perelman-Shipp.

Since these tracks are numbered sequentially, I would assume that they are presented in the order in which they were recorded. If so, they give as good an indication as any of how their musical minds work. By track three, they are so completely attuned to each other that every note and gesture by both musicians carries its own mood and feeling. Even the repetitious pattern played by Perelman towards the end of this track somehow fits in. Shipp’s longer-than-usual solo introduction to track four sets up a nice set of ideas for Perelman to take off on, and when the saxist decides to take it to an edgier level, Shipp is right there with him, willing to abandon the form with which they started in order to present more rhythmically and harmonically edgy figures. On this track, too, Perelman creates some remarkable upward-arching atonal figures, yet immediately after settles into harmonically stable territory…and Shipp is right there to catch him, like a safety net following a remarkably daredevil trapeze artist.

Shipp’s penchant for “filling in” missing harmonies in Perelman’s extempore playing stems back to his admiration for such earlier jazz pianists as Jaki Byard, who he told me in an email once was a player he admired who was vastly underrated. This in itself makes him different from such an avant-garde pianist as Cecil Taylor, a stunning virtuoso whose style was built around creating elaborate structures but leaving out the walls and floors of said structures. Charles Mingus was famously quoted as saying “You can’t improvise on nothing.” Shipp has taken this principle to heart, and his playing in turn keeps Perelman on at least some kind of track. Musical reference points are important, even in free improvisation.

As annotator Attarian has also pointed out, there are several moments in these tracks where Shipp’s playing is informed by the blues, something that most avant-garde pianists (and especially Taylor) generally bypassed. After several years of listening to Perelman now, one thing that strikes me is that his overblown high notes are always played loudly, with maximum force, whereas his warm, breathy playing, similar in sound to that of Ben Webster, is always played softly and in the lower register. I wonder about this. Could he possibly play those extended high notes more softly? They would surely be more effective with some difference in volume. Yet in tack ten in this first volume, he does play exactly two high notes in a mezzo-forte. I hope that he considers varying his high-range volume in subsequent performances.

As noted earlier, the playing time of Vols. 2 & 3 of this set are much shorter than Vol. 1 although the tracks themselves are much longer. In Vol. 2, Side A runs 18:58 and Side B runs 17:29. In Vol. 3, Side A runs 15:36 and Side B runs 15:22. With so much time to stretch out in, I was a little worried that these pieces, though probably containing some excellent moments, would not feel as structured as the shorter pieces in Vol. 1. Side A of Vol. 2 opens as a sad, forlorn piece, full of melancholy and sparse notes from both artists. It also presents us with an almost regular rhythm and is generally quite tonal. Interestingly, Ivo uses some pitch wavering, which I found very interesting, and this dolorous mood continues for several minutes. Although Perelman does eventually toss in some of his high-note squeals, there is a surprisingly long line in the music and it does indeed evolve although not in a conventional way. At about the 4:40 mark they increase the tempo considerably, with Shipp playing some roiling bass figures behind the saxist, but for the most part the pianist really does act more as an accompanist in this track. Around the 6:10 mark, things do get rather wild, but Perelman pulls back on both tempo and mood as Shipp expertly guides him back into the feeling of the opening section. Perelman creates some incredible “snaky” lines on his horn as Shipp largely comps behind him, occasionally throwing in little melodic cells and ideas to keep the flow going. The generally slow pace and seemingly less complex construction of this piece are deceiving; it would take a conventional composer at least a few weeks to come up with these musical ideas that Perelman tosses off spontaneously.

At about the 11-minute mark, Shipp’s playing becomes busier and eventually faster in tempo. At this point there is real duo-interaction between the two musicians. Then, at 12:20, the piece just stops. We think it is over, but no: a couple of seconds later, they pick up from where they left off, adding further variants. In a way, however, I felt that some of this section (but not all of it) was a little too much of a good thing, if you know what I mean, despite a lively uptempo section in which Shipp’s insistent ostinato chords prod Perelman into further explorations.

Side B is also a slow, relaxed piece, but here it closer resembles a pop ballad more than a sad, slow piece. (I sometimes wonder how Ivo would sound playing standards, just for a change.) An interesting feature of this performance is the way Perelman creates his own rhythmic world of sound against Shipp’s nearly continuous ostinato playing. Around the four-minute mark, Perelman really gets into some freaky, complex rhythms, following which he plays a chorus primarily (but not entirely) in his warm middle range. I did, however, feel that the various sections of this piece were more episodic and not developed with as much shape or direction as Side A. Just my own personal feeling, no offense intended towards the artists. Some sections, such as the one just before the 9:18 mark, wee quite good, and much to my surprise Shipp takes a solo of his own after this point for about 40 seconds. Yet I could not escape the feeling that this track consisted of some excellent “moments” that were more juxtaposed than continuously developed. Not so much a “string of pearls” as a rebus puzzle with various unrelated objects pushed together, interesting though many of those objects may be, although Shipp in particular did his level best to attempt continuity.

The piece in Vol. 3 on Side A begins like an alternate take of the previous Side A piece, though not quite as sad-sounding, yet it quickly morphs into a much more uptempo piece. Shipp prods Perelman with an alternating two-note figure in the bass, followed by clipped ostinato chords and then by some fairly wild, Cecil Taylor-like figures. The pianist is more fully engaged in the creative process on this track. A little past the five-minute mark, Shipp’s clipped minimalist figures prompt Perelman to join in before the saxist takes the music off in a different and very freaky direction. This is some of the most intense playing in the entire Triptych as well as some of the most fascinating music. The duo also manages to create more linear continuity in this piece, all of the various parts sounding like logical outgrowths of what has already transpired. This one had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, though most of the variations herein are more rhythmic than harmonic.

The last track is one of the most abstract pieces in the entire album, a free fantasy that sounds somewhat tonal but has no real tonal center. This is due to Shipp’s playing of largely “rootless” chords which center around certain pitches despite seldom being resolved. By this point in their relationship. however, Perelman has been so well grounded by the piano chords that Shipp normally feeds him that he can keep himself somewhat grounded as well. This makes this track less shapely in form but, thanks to Shipp’s highly creative playing, never really formless. One musical idea follows another in rapid succession, but the music never gets completely out of hand. I wish that Perelman could produce a rounder, less pinched sound in his upper register, but other than that I had no issues with the duo’s musical progression.

Triptych is, to my ears, a more extended and risk-taking project than Fruition, which I still consider their finest collaboration ever, but more often than not the risks pay off. Just be prepared to pay closer and more prolonged attention to what they are doing here. Your patience will be well rewarded.

—© 2023 Lynn René Bayley

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Granz’ Art Tatum Recordings: A Piano Method for Jazz

This was intended to be a thorough review of all 199 recordings that Art Tatum made for Norman Granz’s Clef and Verve Labels, but due to health problems I must stop the review at this time. I was only able to analyze his first 36 piano solos, but I think that what I was able to finish has some value to readers, thus I am publishing it.

I did, however, manage to upload all of my remastered versions of his solo recordings on the Internet Archive before my health problems worsen, thus I am happy to pass these page links on to you:

December 28, 1953 solos

December 29, 1953 solos

April 22, 1954 solos

January 19, 1955 solos

And now, the aborted article.

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Recorded December 28, 1953: 1. Can’t We Be Friends? (Swift-James). 2. This Can’t Be Love (Rodgers-Hart). 3. Elegie (Massenet). 4. Memories of You (Blake-Razaf). 5. Over the Rainbow (Arlen-Harburg). 6. If You Hadn’t Gone Away (Brown-Rose-Henderson). 7. Body and Soul (Green-Heyman-Sour-Eyton). 8. The Man I Love (G. & I. Gershwin). 9. Makin’ Whoopee (Donaldson-Kahn). 10. September Song (Weill-Anderson). 11. Begin the Beguine (Cole Porter). 12. Humoresque (Dvořák). 13. Louise (Whiting-Robin). 14. Love for Sale (Cole Porter). 15. Judy (Hoagy Carmichael). 16. I’m Comin’, Virginia (Heywood-Cook). 17. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (Barris-Koehler-Moll). 18. Dixieland Band (Hanighen-Mercer). 19. Embraceable You (G. & I. Gershwin). 20. Come Rain or Come Shine (Arlen-Mercer). 21. Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’ (Ellington-Strayhorn-Gaines). 22. There Will Never Be Another You (Gordon-Warren). 23. Tenderly (Lawrence-Gross). 24. What Does It Take? (Burke-Van Heusen). 25. You Took Advantage of Me (Rodgers-Hart). 26. I’ve Got the World on a String (Arlen-Koehler). 27. Yesterdays (Kern-Harbach). 28. I Hadn’t Anyone But You (Ray Noble). 29. Night and Day (Cole Porter). 30. Jitterbug Waltz (Thomas Waller). 31. Someone to Watch Over Me (G. & I. Gershwin). 32. The Very Thought of You (Ray Noble). 33. You’re Driving Me Crazy (Walter Donaldson). 34. (I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance (Young-Washington-Crosby) / Art Tatum, piano / available for free streaming at Internet Archive

Recorded December 29, 1953: 35. Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael). 36. I Cover the Waterfront (Green-Heyman). 37. Where or When (Rodgers-Hart). 38. Stay as Sweet as You Are (Gordon-Revel). 39. Fine and Dandy (Swift-James). 40. All the Things You Are (Kern-Hammerstein). 41. Have You Met Miss Jones? (Rodgers-Hart). 42. In a Sentimental Mood (Ellington-Kurtz-Mills). 43. I’ll See You Again (Jones-Kahn). 44. I’ll See You in My Dreams (Jones-Kahn). 45. Ill Wind (Arlen-Koehler). 46. Isn’t This a Lovely Day? (Irving Berlin). 47. Blue Skies (Berlin). 48. Without a Song (Youmans-Rose-Eliscu). 49. Stompin’ at the Savoy (Sampson-Webb-Goodman-Razaf). 50. My Last Affair (Haven Johnson). 51. I’m in the Mood for Love (McHugh-Fields). 52. Taboo (Ernesto Lecuona). 53. Would You Like to Take a Walk? (Dixon-Warren-Rose). 54. I’ve Got a Crush on You (G. & I. Gershwin). 55. Japanese Sandman (Whiting-Egan). 56. Too Marvelous for Words (Whiting-Mercer). 57. Aunt Hagar’s Blues (Handy-Brymn). 58. Just Like a Butterfly That’s Caught in the Rain (Woods-Dixon). 59. Gone With the Wind (Wrubel-Magidson). 60. Danny Boy (Weatherly). 61. They Can’t Take That Away from Me (G. & I. Gershwin). 62. Tea for Two (Youmans-Caesar). 63. It’s the Talk of the Town (Livingston-Symes-Neiburg). 64. Blue Lou (Sampson-Mills). 65. When a Woman Loves a Man (Jenkins-Mercer-Hanighen). 66. Willow Weep for Me (Ann Ronell). 67. Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Waller-Razaf)-Brooks). 68. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Kern-Harbach). 69. Mighty Lak’ a Rose (Nevin-Stanton) / Art Tatum, piano / available for free streaming at Internet Archive

Recorded April 22, 1954: 70. Stars Fell on Alabama (Parish-Perkins). 71. Blue Moon (Rodgers-Hart). 72. There’s a Small Hotel (Rodgers-Hart). 73. Caravan (Tizol-Ellington-Mills). 74. The Way You Look Tonight (Kern-Fields). 75. You Go to My Head (Gillespie-Coots). 76. Lover, Come Back to Me (Romberg-Hammerstein). 77. Sophisticated Lady (Ellington-Parish-Mills). 78. Dancing in the Dark (Schwartz-Dietz). 79. Love Me Or Leave Me (Donaldson-Kahn). 80. Cherokee (Ray Noble). 81. These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You) (Strachey-Marvell-Link). 82. Deep Purple (DeRose-Parish). 83. After You’ve Gone (Creamer-Layton). 84. I Didn’t Know What Time it Was (Rodgers-Hart). 85. Somebody Loves Me (Gershwin-McDonald-Sylva). 86. What’s New? (Haggart-Burke). 87. Sweet Lorraine (Burwell-Parish). 88. Crazy Rhythm (Kahn-Meyer-Caesar). 89. Isn’t It Romantic? (Rodgers-Hart). 90. You’re Blasé (Sievier-Hamilton). 91. You’re Mine, You (Green-Heyman). 92. (Back Home Again in) Indiana (Hanley-MacDonald). 93. That Old Feeling (Fain-Brown). 94. Heat Wave (Irving Berlin). 95. She’s Funny That Way (Whiting-Moret) / Art Tatum, piano / available for free streaming at Internet Archive

Recorded June 25, 1954: 96. Blues in C (Tatum-Carter-Bellson). 97. Undecided (Shavers-Robins). 98. Under a Blanket of Blue (Neiburg-Symes-Livingston). 99. Blues in B-Flat (Carter-Bellson). 100. A Foggy Day (G. & I. Gershwin). 101. Street of Dreams (Young-Lewis). 102. ‘Swonderful (G. &. I. Gershwin). 103. Makin’ Whoopee (Donaldson-Kahn). 104. Old-Fashioned Love (Johnson-Mack). 105. (I’m Left With the) Blues in My Heart (Benny Carter). 106. My Blue Heaven (Whiting-Donaldson). 107. Hands Across the Table (Delettre-Parish). 108. You’re Mine, You (Green-Heyman). 109. Idaho (Jesse Stone) / Benny Carter, alto sax; Art Tatum, piano; Louis Bellson, drums.

Recorded January 19, 1955: 110. I Surrender, Dear (Barris-Clifford). 111. Happy Feet (Yellen-Ager). 112. Mean to Me (Turk-Ahlert). 113. Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Dubin-Warren). 114. Moonlight on the Ganges (Myers-Wallace). 115. Moon Song (Johnston-Coslow). 116. When Your Lover Has Gone (Einar Swan). 117. The Moon is Low (Brown-Freed). 118. If I Had You (Shapiro-Campbell-Connelly). 119. S’Posin’ (Denniken-Razaf). 120. Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me (Bloom-Koehler). 121. Prisoner of Love (Columbo-Robin-Gaskill). 122. Moonglow (Hudson-DeLange-Mills). 123. I Won’t Dance (Kern-McHugh-Hammerstein-Harbach-Fields). 124. I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (McHugh-Fields). 125. Lullaby of Rhythm (Sampson-Profit-Hersch-Goodman). 126. Out of Nowhere (Green-Heyman). 127. I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues (Arlen-Koehler) 128. It’s Only a Paper Moon (Arlen-Rose-Harburg). 129. Everything I Have is Yours (Adamson-Lane). 130. I Only Have Eyes for You (Dubin-Warren). 131. On the Sunny Side of the Street (McHugh-Fields). 132. Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me (Ellington-Russell). 133. So Beats My Heart for You (Ballard-Henderson-Waring). 134. If You Hadn’t Gone Away (Brown-Rose-Henderson). 135. Please Be Kind (Cahn-Chaplin) / Art Tatum, piano / available for free streaming at Internet Archive

Recorded March 1955: 136. Night and Day (Cole Porter). 137. & 138. I Won’t Dance (Kern-McHugh-Hammerstein-Harbach) 2 tks. 139. & 140. In a Sentimental Mood (Ellington-Mills-Kurtz) 2 tks. 141. The Moon is Low (Brown-Freed). 142. Moon Song (Johnson-Coslow). 143. You Took Advantage of Me (Rodgers-Hart). 144. This Can’t Be Love (Rodgers-Hart). 145. I Surrender, Dear (Barris-Clifford) / Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Art Tatum, piano; John Simmons, bass; Alvin Stoller, drums.

Recorded August 1, 1955: 146. What Is This Thing Called Love? (Cole Porter). 147. I’ll Never Be the Same (Signorelli-Malneck-Kahn). 148. Makin’ Whoopee (Donaldson-Kahn). 149. Hallelujah (Youmans-Robin-Grey). 150. Perdido (Tizol-Landsfelder-Drake). 151. More Than You Know (Youmans-Rose-Eliscu). 152. How High the Moon (Hamilton-Lewis). 153. & 154. This Can’t Be Love (Rodgers-Hart) 2 tks. 155. Stars Fell on Alabama (Perkins-Parish). 156. Lover Man (Davis-Sherman-Ramirez). 157. Prisoner of Love (Robin-Columbo-Gaskill). 158. & 159. Love for Sale (Cole Porter) 2 tks. 160. Body and Soul (Green-Heyman-Sour-Eyton). 161. Please Be Kind (Cahn-Chaplin) / Art Tatum, piano; Lionel Hampton, vibes; Buddy Rich, drums (2 albums).

Recorded September 7, 1955: 162. Verve Blues (Edison-Hampton-Tatum). 163. Plaid (Edison-Tatum-Hampton). 164. Somebody Loves Me (Gershwin-DeSylva-MacDonald). 165. & 166. September Song (Weill-Anderson) 2 tks. 167. Deep Purple (DeRose-Parish). 168. & 169. What is This Thing Called Love? (Porter) 2 tks / Harry Edison, trumpet; Lionel Hampton, vibes/vocal; Art Tatum, piano; Barney Kessel, guitar; Red Callender, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.

Recorded January 27, 1956: 170. Just One of Those Things (Cole Porter). 171. More Than You Know (Youmans-Eliscu-Rose). 172. Some Other Spring (Wilson-Herzog). 173. If (Hargreaves-Evans-Damerell). 174. Blue Lou (Sampson-Mills). 175. Love for Sale (Cole Porter). 176. Isn’t It Romantic? (Rodgers-Hart). 177. I’ll Never Be the Same (Malneck-Signorelli-Kahn). 178. I Guess I’ll Have to change My Plans (Schwartz-Dietz). 179. Trio Blues (Tatum) / Art Tatum, piano; Red Callender, bass; Jo Jones, drums.

Recorded February 6, 1956: 180. & 181. Deep Night (Vallee-Henderson) 2 tks. 182. This Can’t Be Love (Rodgers-Hart). 183. Memories of You (Blake-Razaf). 184. Once in a While (Edwards-Green). 185. A Foggy Day (G. & I. Gershwin). 186. Lover Man (Davis-Sherman-Ramirez). 187. You’re Mine, You (Green-Heyman). 188. Makin’ Whoopee (Donaldson-Kahn) / Buddy DeFranco, clarinet; Art Tatum, piano; Red Callender, bass; Bill Douglass, drums.

Recorded August 15, 1956 live at the Hollywood Bowl: 189. Someone to Watch Over Me (G. & I. Gershwin). 190. Begin the Beguine (Cole Porter). 191. Willow Weep for Me (Ann Ronell). 192. Humoresque (Dvořák) / Art Tatum, piano

Recorded September 11, 1956: 193. Gone With the Wind (Magidson-Wrubel). 194. All the Things You Are (Kern-Hammerstein). 195. Have You Met Miss Jones? (Rodgers-Hart). 196. My One and Only Love (Wood-Mellin). 197. Night and Day (Cole Porter). 198. My Ideal (Chase-Whiting-Robin). 199. Where or When (Rodgers-Hart) / Ben Webster, tenor sax; Art Tatum, piano; Red Callender, bass; Bill Douglass, drums.

Background

Art Tatum was born in October of 1909. For nearly a century, however, a birth year of 1910 was generally accepted until proven false. He was born with cataracts in his eyes, which his family had surgically removed; his sight was limited but not extremely so until he was beaten up as a young teenager, a victim of racial violence. This set him back. For most of his life, he had limited vision in one eye, just enough, as he put it, to be able to read the value of playing cards and see his way to the piano when performing. His prodigious musical talent was discovered fairly early. His parents sent him for piano lessons, which started him on the road to his profession. A later teacher he had marveled at his extraordinary coordination: Tatum was able to play both hands independently of each other, and both had the same high level of virtuosity. His earliest influences were the famous stride pianists of his day who made records, James P. Johnson and Thomas “Fats” Waller, as well as a white society pianist named Lee Sims. Although Sims was not a jazz musician, he had similar two-handed dexterity, could negotiate the keyboard at lightning speed, and specialized in semi-classical “fantasias” on either popular tunes of the day or themes he created himself. Some critics view Sims as a small influence, but if one listens to some of Sims’ recordings of the late 1920s and early ‘30s, the similarity to Tatum is striking. Perhaps the main reason why Sims is often marginalized as an influence is that most jazz pianists didn’t even know he existed, thus he was outside their frame of reference.

Unlike some gifted jazz geniuses such as Bix Beiderbecke, Donald Lambert and Charlie Parker, who either had personality disorders which made it difficult for them to operate in society or serious addictions which interfered with their careers, Tatum was outgoing and friendly, although he hid his influences from both the public and fellow jazz musicians. In the 1930s, for instance, he added Earl Hines to his list of major influences, buying every Hines recording as it came out, yet he never told any but his closest friends about this. Hines himself, who like every other jazz pianist was intimidated by Tatum’s prodigious talent, never knew this until after Tatum’s death. Legendary bop pianist Bud Powell, who also had a somewhat reclusive personality in addition to mental illness brought on by another racially motivated physical attack, was extremely jealous of Tatum’s abilities and kept trying to compete with him. Tatum finally put this would-be rivalry to rest by telling Powell, “Anything you can play with your right hand, I’ll play with my left.” Powell never challenged Tatum again.

By the mid-1930s, Tatum was so famous—or, one might say, terrifying—to the musical community that he was noticed and praised by crossover and classical artists. George Gershwin considered him the single greatest musician, period, he had ever encountered in his life. Famed pianist and pedagogue Leopold Godowsky once said that “Art Tatum has the greatest technique of any pianist I’ve ever heard in my life.” Spanish virtuoso José Iturbi said, “The sad thing is that he can play anything that I play, but I can’t play what he plays.” Russian-American virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz went even further. He dragged his father-in-law, the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini, to hear Tatum. If anything, Toscanini was even more shocked than Horowitz by Tatum’s abilities. Horowitz befriended Tatum and invited him over to his penthouse apartment on many a Sunday afternoon to exchange ideas at the keyboard; there even exists a snippet of Horowitz playing Tatum’s arrangement of Tea for Two. Horowitz often said publicly that “If Art Tatum had been born white, I wouldn’t be considered America’s greatest pianist.”

What made Tatum’s virtuosity so extraordinary was that, probably due to his sight limitations, he played nearly all of his runs in either hand (or sometimes, both hands) with just two fingers, the index and middle, but he was able to do this so rapidly and with what pianists refer to as “quiet hands,” hovering just a half-inch above the keys, that those who watched him play close-up couldn’t figure out what he was doing. “His hands moved so fast, they looked like two hummingbirds,” one commented. Some pianists completely gave up the instrument, such as Les Paul, who switched from piano to guitar as a result of hearing Tatum. Fats Waller, who could play right-hand runs just as deftly as Tatum but not the incredible two-hand coordination, once saw him sitting in the audience of the club in which he was playing and told the audience, “I play piano, but tonight God is in the house.” In another instance, at a club where Tatum was holding sway, Duke Ellington was spotted in the audience and asked to come up to the piano. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” Duke said, “but there’s a clause in my contract that says I’m not to play the piano in the presence of Art Tatum.”

The irony of the situation was that Tatum was clearly a great enough pianist to make records but so complex in his approach to improvisation that he baffled many audiences. He really only achieved a modicum of fame in the mid-1940s, when he worked with a drummerless trio based on the one led by Nat “King” Cole. As a result, he tried to maintain this trio format to the end of his playing days, and although he never had a hit record he and his trio were often in demand at posh supper clubs where, if you an believe it, his hyper-busy style was often relegated to the status of background music to diners.

Tatum’s earliest recordings, found only in recent decades, were three piano rolls from 1930. His first studio recordings were made sporadically for both Brunswick and its offshoot, Decca, between 1932 and 1944. He then moved over to the independent Asch, Comet and Stinson labels, where he had his greatest success. The reason his trio was so popular is that Tatum now left some of the left-hand work to his guitarists, first Tiny Grimes and then Everett Barksdale, as well as his bassists, first of which was the formidable Slam Stewart. Audiences appreciated this less congested and “busy”-sounding Tatum; indeed, in this format he was popular enough to be signed by Capitol Records to record for them during the 1949-52 period. Yet, again, he had no hit records. His art was geared towards and fairly strictly appreciated by the jazz community—except for a few jealous pianists who weren’t worthy to shine his shoes, let alone compete with him at the keyboard.

But Tatum’s reputation among both jazz musicians and aware jazz fans was enough to keep him going. In the early 1950s, he gave a rare interview with the Voice of America’s jazz announcer, Willis Conover, who asked him why he played so many songs in public exactly the same way he had played them on recordings. Tatum’s reply was that he wanted to play them differently, but the paying customers paid to see if he could actually duplicate in person what they heard on the records, thus he didn’t want to disappoint them. This speaks volumes for both his photographic memory and his willingness to satisfy what public he had.

At the tail end of December 1953 Norman Granz, long an admirer of Tatum although he rarely used him in his massive “Jazz at the Philharmonic” jam sessions (mostly because other jazz musicians balked at playing with him), chose to embark on a unique project: have Art Tatum record as much of his repertoire as he wished to in state-of-the-art high fidelity sound for his Clef label. After three massive sessions of solo recordings, Granz then decided to embark on something even more ambitious, recording Tatum in group sessions with musicians who were not too terrified of him to do so. These included such famous names as Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Lionel Hampton, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Buddy DeFranco and Ben Webster along with the rhythm accompaniment of bassists Red Callender and John Simmons and drummers Louis Bellson and Buddy Rich. As we shall see, a few of these studio-created encounters turned out rather congested as the star musician in residence that day chose to compete with Art rather than, as he often told other musicians, “Just play your own thing; I’ll fill in as I want to and try not to disturb you.”

Tatum covers 1

In 1954-55, these recordings were released on Granz’s Clef label. These LPs had great sound but, by our standards today, highly stylized, cartoon-like cover art (see above) This sort of thing was considered very “hip” in the early-to-mid 1950s—even RCA Victor indulged in it for some of their jazz LPs—but for my taste they were cheap-looking and degraded the product therein. Granz did much better in 1956, when he initiated the Verve label, primarily to showcase singer Ella Fitzgerald but also for all his other jazz releases going forward. Here, he used good photographic cover art, not on a high a level as Francis Wolf’s famous photos for Blue Note but clearly better than the Clef days, as you can see from the following examples.

Tatum covers 2

For whatever reason, Granz became tired of running Verve records by 1961 even though he had just recently turned out some extraordinary live and studio recordings by Gerry Mulligan’s Jazz Concert Band (as well as some fine recordings by the Dizzy Gillespie quintet with Lalo Schifrin on piano), so he sold it lock, stock and barrel to M-G-M. One of his few stipulations was that, no matter who they chose to record, they would always keep the Tatum recordings in print, but this they did not do because, following Tatum’s death in November 1956, sales were very sluggish. Between this misfortune and the fact that neither Decca nor Capitol were reissuing his records with them, by the late 1960s Tatum was virtually forgotten by the public. Then, in 1968, none other than Columbia Records, which owned the rights to Tatum’s old Brunswick recordings, put out an album in artificially created stereo titled Piano Starts Here. In addition to four early Brunswick recordings, it also included a generous portion of a 1949 concert he gave at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, among which was his absolutely stunning version of Yesterdays. This arrangement, with its slow, out-of-tempo introduction, then a sudden boogie bass which propelled his right hand into whirling fantasias of sound, was, I learned later, one of his favorite arrangements. He played it the same way—not quite exactly in terms of accents and pacing, but otherwise the same—in his Clef recordings for Granz, and indeed he even played it on one of his only two TV appearances, this one on the Spike Jones Show.

Eventually, Norman Granz became so upset about his Tatum recordings not being available that he started another label, Pablo Records, in 1973, and once again, in addition to bring back the entire Tatum catalog, it was a label designed to promote Ella Fitzgerald, who had been somewhat neglected by the major labels in recent years.

Both the “Solo Masterpieces” and “Group Masterpieces” were thus reissued by Granz, who had bought all of the Tatum master tapes back from M-G-M. First they came out on individual LPs as they originally had, but eventually the solo recordings came out, as they should have done much earlier, as a complete boxed set.

Pablo set cover

But something had happened to the solo recordings between 1961 and 1973. Apparently, the new MGM-Verve company no longer had the original master tapes, only dubs of their inferior-sounding LP reissues. Gone was the striking clarity of sound which was the reason Granz made these sessions in the first place, using a bright-sounding Steinway D piano and miking it just right. The recordings now sounded as muffled as some of Tatum’s Asch, Comet and Decca sides. I have restored the original sound by making comparisons with the sound of his piano on the Group Masterpieces, which oddly enough remained just as Granz had recorded them. What puzzles me, however, is why Granz didn’t restore the sound himself; graphic equalizers were in their infancy then, but they did exist, and one would think that someone with as many connections as Norman Granz would have been able to accomplish this. Nonetheless, the work has been done, by me, and thus I give them to the world.

What no one has ever done, however, and which I will attempt to do here, is to go through each track individually and analyze exactly what Tatum has done with each piece. I don’t claim to have as perfect ears as those of Jed Distler, who 30 years ago transcribed several Tatum solos including each note in each chord that he played. How on earth he could hear this so clearly as to transcribe it is beyond my understanding, but I can clearly hear what type of chord he’s using at any given point, and I can also hear how exactly he constructed his solos.

In his liner notes for the 1975 release of the complete “Solo Masterpieces,” then-young American jazz pianist Benny Green (b. 1963) refuted Godowsky’s claim that 20 minutes was long enough for any human being to listen to Art Tatum. But if you are listening really closely, carefully and critically—as you should when experiencing a genius like Tatum—20 minutes at a stretch really is enough. You need at least a one-hour break between each 20-minute listening session. And this is what I recommend.

One final anecdote before dissecting the recordings. At one point in the solo sessions, the tape ran out while Tatum was in the middle of a number. Frustrated and aghast, Granz came rushing down out of the control room to tell Tatum what had happened, apologize, and assure him that he could re-record that song from the beginning.

“Oh, no, there’s no reason for that,” Tatum said. “I know where I left off. Just start a new tape and I’ll pick up from that point.”

And so he did. The two halves were spliced together, and from that day to this most people don’t even know which track it occurred in because they can’t hear the splice.

Session 1: 34 solos, December 28, 1953 https://archive.org/details/TatumSolos1

  1. Can’t We Be Friends? (Swift-James). From the very first chord of this performance, which has A as the top note but also includes a C# underneath (it should be C because it’s being played in F major), we can already hear how Tatum changed and challenged listeners’ perceptions of these old songs—despite the fact that he almost immediately resolves it before getting into the melody. Over the course of two seconds, however, during an extremely brief transition passage, he suddenly uses downward chromatic chords underneath. Then, at the 14-15-second mark, he suddenly tosses in another and quite foreign extended chord just for laughs. Between the 28 amd 31-second mark, he suddenly fractures the time in such a way that the tempo sounds as if it is running backwards. And note, this is just the first half-minute of the performance. But, as we will hear in many other of his performances, the use of these devices are a core element of his style. The difference between Tatum and many other pianists who attempt the same thing is that, somehow or other, he always manages to make them sound as if they were a natural part of the chord progression—IF one is unfamiliar with the song as it was originally written—except that, in the back of one’s mind, there is always a slight suspicion that this is not so because we know how regularly tonal the harmonies of most songs from the period in question that he drew from really were. Interestingly, however, Tatum always avoided such harmonic deviance from the norm when playing his pearl-like keyboard runs. These are almost always within the tonality of the original piece, and as I’ve already said, they were a way for him to please an audience which might otherwise be alienated by all the other things he was doing.

In the first improvised chorus, which begins around the one-minute mark, Tatum actually moves at a slow pace to start with. Only in the turnaround at the end of the first eight bars does he suddenly toss in a bit of rhythmic and harmonic legerdemain. The second half of this chorus, surprisingly, reverts to the original melody, but with his trademark runs thrown in and a few unusual luftpausen where they might not be expected, except at the break (1:38 to 1:42) where he is suddenly all over the map harmonically, moving through five keys in the space of a few seconds. The latter half of this chorus either sticks to or includes snippets of the original melody, so it’s not that far out, but it again includes several frills. The bridge is also played “straight” at first, but then between 2:14 and 2:25 he moves chromatics around like pieces on a chess board. Then it’s back to playing the melody fairly straight, albeit with a few little wrinkles. From 2:34 to 2:38 he again reshuffles chromatic changes, and around the three-minute mark he simply alters the harmony completely for a few seconds. In the last half-chorus his mutations are fewer and played slower, yet he ends on an F chord that includes an E natural.

Is there any wonder that Godowsky thought that 20 minutes of listening to Tatum at a time was enough for anyone? And this, be it noted, is primarily a ballad performance played at a medium slow tempo, not one of his 90-mile-a-minute pieces.

  1. This Can’t Be Love (Rodgers-Hart). This starts out in the key of G, and for once the opening chords are normal, except that at the 11-second mark he thrown in an extended chord and between 12 and 14 seconds in he moves downward through four chromatic chords. The remainder of this first chorus, however, is played relatively straight albeit with a few pearl-like runs thrown in. The improvised chorus is then played in a regular, acceptable stride piano style; except for some walking bass chords, this could be Fats Waller as much as Tatum playing. At the break, however, the right-hand runs become more complex than anything Waller could have done and the speed and accuracy of the runs, allied with a couple of small but noticeable chord shifts, tells you it isn’t. But this is the performance you should play for those deaf-eared folks who tell you that Tatum couldn’t swing. He sure could when he felt like it, and he certainly feels like it here. In fact, except for a few harmonic touches that let you know it’s Tatum playing, this performance is more of a casual romp on the keyboard for him. And here’s another contradiction in Tatum’s playing: for all the incredibly harmonic and rhythmic subtlety that was literally at his fingertips, he could and sometimes (as here) did shy away from becoming too ornate or harmonically experimental when he was in a swinging mood. Yet although this performance pretty much stays in G major, Tatum suddenly decided to modulate up a half-tone at the 2:20 mark for the rideout, and here also modulated up another half-tone and threw in some quick modulations in the space of two seconds, ending the performance on a suspended chord. Again, apparently just for fun.
  2. Elegie (Massenet). This, along with Dvořák’s Humoresque, were the two classical tidbits that Tatum enjoyed playing in a jazz fashion most often (although there is a superb live performance by him of a Chopin Waltz that is simply incredible to hear despite limited, boxy sound). Played in E minor, he opens it with a fancy, somewhat bombastic flourish. The first few bars are played close to the original slow tempo with some of his unusual harmonic changes underneath. He then plays a sustained E minor chord that includes a Db in it, but after another chord he suddenly ramps up the tempo, changing Massenet’s half notes to quarter notes, playing it at quarter note=212. The melody is played with his left hand while the right plays a dizzying, almost impossible-to-conceive flurry of notes—often just in seconds, but with occasional filigrees up and down the scale, in double time. Most of this first chorus consists of these modifications, but then at the 46-second mark Tatum suddenly begins playing a variant on Massenet’s original melody—again, with the left hand—while the right plays a dazzling filigree of runs. Then, at the 48-second mark, less than a minute into the piece, he suddenly shifts to C minor, then back to E minor. Return to the melody played by the left hand with double-time filigree in the right. The improvisation, which begins at 1:31, initially gives us a variant on the theme; then a brief quote from Franz Drdla’s corny violin piece Souvenir in the major. After a break, a variation on Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever (!). Following this is a sudden shift to B minor, a two-note figure played repeatedly like a ground bass with the left hand while the right plays a complex melody that sounds vaguely Russian. Then at 2:13, he jumps back into E minor and swings the melody in a hyper-stride manner with all kinds of little variants (and keyboard flourishes). At 2:48, however, he suddenly plays a gradual decelerando until he reaches the initial tempo once again, except now with little rubato touches to tease the listener, followed by an equally slow coda in which he goes through several keys until he reaches the finale. Elegie, indeed!
  3. Memories of You (Blake-Razaf). Eubie Blake’s famous song (although the majority of Americans at that time had no clue who Eubie Blake was) opens with an almost cocktail-piano-like introduction. The melody is played fairly straight with few harmonic changes, but Tatum does compress the note values in spots, shortening them up. He does, however, inject a suspended chord just before his return to the theme, now played faster, louder and even more compressed with keyboard flourishes and unusual harmonies. The rhythm, too, is even more abrupt here to the point of changing the rhythm so that it sounds more like 3 ½ /4 rather than 4/4. In the bridge he returns to a normal tempo, but keeps going in and out of neighboring keys; when he returns to the A theme, there is more compression and more flourishes. He then adds a quote from Edward MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose. The first improvised chorus eschews jazz rhythm entirely in favor of a classical bias; with his dazzling, pearl-like runs, it almost sounds like Chopin on acid. Again, rubato is used in the middle section, along with yet another reference to To a Wild Rose; then the medium-slow swing tempo chorus, replete with right-had runs. This is more of a playful piece for Tatum than a jazz one, but listen carefully to some of those runs: they are extraordinary, not just technically but musically, and fit the character of the piece. At 3:42 he begins a series of harmonic shifts, mostly chromatic but also dipping into neighboring and not-so-neighboring keys. The coda consists of out-of-tempo flourishes and yet another reference to the MacDowell piece (I think he really liked it).
  4. Over the Rainbow (Arlen-Harburg). Although Harold Arlen was one of the most jazz-oriented of pop music composers, having played and sung jazz tunes in the late 1920s with his band, The Buffalodians, Over the Rainbow is often considered his least jazz-oriented tune, certainly not as popular with musicians as It’s Only a Paper Moon, A Sleepin’ Bee, Blues in the Night, Ill Wind or Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. In fact, except for Boyd Raeburn’s highly imaginative orchestral arrangement from the late 1940s, I really can’t think of another jazz treatment of Rainbow during Tatum’s lifetime. Here again he begins in a fairly straightforward mode, playing the melody in Db, but again “abbreviates” the melody by shortening the note values, not giving them their full value. This seems to have been a trait of Tatum’s playing that was peculiar to him; I can’t recall of any other jazz pianist of his time, later, or even nowadays who does this except on very rare occasions, and then it is done consistently through the song, not just in spurts. (I should also quickly mention here that he never did this when accompanying another lead voice, e.g. trumpet, reed or vibes, but only in his piano solos.) He also throws in a few diminished chords. In the middle eight he again compresses some of the note values, but then, during a two-bar stretch, actually elongates them, thus playing cat-and-mouse with the listener. And of course, in the last couple of bars of this middle eight, he tosses in a few of his keyboard runs, but in this case the effect seems more humorous than merely flashy.

Tatum’s penchant for suddenly veering in and out of neighboring keys and extended chords were highly influential on the bebop generation which followed him. The difference was that Tatum did not “live” in these remote keys or chords as they did, but merely dipped into them to add color. Several critics have wondered why he didn’t follow suit and join them. My theory is that he liked being who he was and didn’t see a need to change. He was well aware that playing bop in the late 1940s-early ‘50s would have made him more “hip” with the advanced jazz crowd, but he was also aware that although bop was followed by a surprisingly large minority of jazz lovers, it was indeed a minority, and he wanted to continue to appeal to as many listeners as possible considering the fact that his style was already too complex as it was for many people to follow. Thus he would, as he does here at 1:23, throw in a Gb diminished chord, but just as quickly leave it. Tatum was indeed harmonically adventurous, but he used these exotic harmonies more as spice and “artificial flavoring” rather than making them the main flavor of his music.

Where he was unique and remained so was in this style of abbreviating or tightening the note values of the tune he was playing. The casual listener will, of course, notice these moments—how could he not, particularly if he was mentally “singing along” with the music?—but Tatum did it so frequently and so rapidly that it was disconcerting. And he does it frequently in Rainbow, a tune which, as I mentioned earlier, really doesn’t lend itself otherwise to jazz improvisation. In this performance, during the passage beginning at 1:32 and ending at 1:38, he does both: tightening up the note values and moving in and out of remote or neighboring keys, so rapidly that one must replay the passage a couple of time to catch all of them. But of course, someone just listening casually to him play this, either in person or on records, will know that he is “fooling around” with the music but have no concrete idea of what he is doing, while those with a trained musical ear will be able to identify (perhaps not on first listening!) everything he is doing but still be baffled as to how he could come up with such ideas at a moment’s notice—and, more impressively, execute them at a breakneck speed yet somehow make them sound organic. This is what classical pianist José Iturbi was referring to when he said that “he can play what I play, but I can’t play what he plays!” Not that, sitting and analyzing a performance such as this, Iturbi (or anyone else) couldn’t duplicate the same effects, but to play things like this as part of a spontaneous improvisation is still beyond the grasp of many jazz pianists, even modern ones.

There are more surprises in the second half of this chorus, including more keyboard runs that actually add structure to the piece rather than detract from it. The last chorus swings more and has a stride style about it, but still plenty of Tatum-isms to intrigue and perhaps baffle the listener.

  1. If You Hadn’t Gone Away (Brown-Rose-Henderson). This is one of the lesser-known songs from the era that most attracted Tatum, recorded by Jack Shilkret’s Orchestra in 1925 (the stiff, corny version) and Lanin’s Red Heads (a much jazzier version featuring Red Nichols and Vic Berton) in 1926. It’s one of those “pop” blues tunes that white composers like Buddy De Sylva, one of the three composers listed here, were wont to come up with, but Tatum miraculously transforms it into a real blues number. Except for his signature harmonic excursions into neighboring keys, he keeps it relatively simple, confirming Jay McShann’s statement that Tatum was one of the greatest blues players he’d ever heard. There are some instances, too, where he introduces his signature pearl-like runs, such as the passage between 1:05 and 1:10, but again, dear listener, heed how he makes them work musically within the framework of his improvisation. Detractors like Schuller never did seem to acknowledge that not all of Tatum’s fast keyboard runs were purely decorative. In the quick little passage between 1:26 and 1:30 he does both, doubling the tempo for his runs in addition to moving the harmony downward chromatically yet somehow, miraculously, returning to the home key of C minor. But when considering McShann’s statement you have to remember that he, like Fats Waller, was also a very accomplished pianist whose playing was (like Waller’s) sometimes quite ornate. The blues pianists who hated this kind of treatment were those like Art Hodes, who although good within his own style had a very limited technique. In short, those who could come at least close to what Tatum did acknowledged his musical superiority while those who had both a lesser technique and lesser imagination criticized him.

In the following improvised chorus, played quite softly, Tatum plays almost consistently at double time in the right hand, a steady stream of fast runs but not those spanning the full range of the keyboard. He also indulges in some of his time-shortening devices but in a more subtle way than usual; there’s a particularly nice one between 2:26 and 2:28. Surprisingly, the final chorus returns to the slower blues tempo and feeling of the opening, but he still can’t resist both doubling the tempo and shape-shifting the harmony before he finishes.

  1. Body and Soul (Green-Heyman-Sour-Eyton). Johnny Green’s popular song Body and Soul became a jazz standard shortly after it was introduced in the early 1930s due to its fairly sophisticated (for the time) harmonic sequence. Coleman Hawkins’ recording of it was the most famous of the various versions, but it certainly got around. Tatum uses one of his patented “fantasia”-like intros, not quite in a strict tempo but stating the melody clearly enough to be recognized—a device he borrowed from Lee Sims, but here modified with his harmonic daring and time-shortening. During the middle passage of the song, he indulges in some very tricky harmonies indeed, ending that passage with a cute (and quite funny) little two-finger flourish in the upper range of the keyboard. In his return to the principal melody, he reverses his usual pattern by chromatically changing the harmony upward rather than downward…and all of this within the first 1:15 of his performance!

Only at the 1:30 mark, when he begins the song anew for his improvised chorus, does Tatum finally being us to a steady 4/4 rhythm. There’s a remarkable passage between 1:38 and 1:52 in which Tatum suddenly “classicalizes” the rhythm and plays both upward and downward chromatics underneath, including a neat little passage between 1:44 and 1:48 in which he suddenly thrown in a two-voiced canon in single notes played by both hands. Nowadays, of course, there are numerous pianists who can emulate what Tatum did, but only because he recorded these pieces and they can not only be analyzed like this but, thanks to computer programs, copied and then transcribed to notation for others to play. To have initially come up with things like this in the heat of spontaneous improvisation is virtually inconceivable. I’ve yet to hear any modern jazz pianists, even such great ones as Matthew Shipp, Ake Takase or Satoko Fujii, come up with anything similar in their improvisations, even when allowing for their entirely different piano styles.

At 2:21, he suddenly throws in a quote from the spiritual Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen. I should point out that using quotes from other songs, not only here but in previous and (as we shall see) later pieces by Tatum, was fairly common in the era he worked in. In fact, you were often thought to be a better jazz musician because you could make such quotes work in context during that period in jazz history. This, however, is the one aspect of Tatum’s style that has really dated. Although even the early boppers did the same thing, by the time such pianists as Tristano, Silver, Evans and Byard came along—to say nothing of a “deconstructionist” like Cecil Taylor—this trait was considered to be “old hat” and in fact somewhat trite. But at 2:46, Tatum plays an astounding three-second break using augmented fourths rising upwards in whole tones for nine beats, yet is somehow able to descend gracefully to the home key in just a few notes using more conventional but still imaginative descending chords without these devices. At 3:07 he suddenly doubles the tempo and plays in a somewhat conventional swing stride style with several fast middle-keyboard runs in which the tempo is doubled still further, using the regular chord changes. Suddenly, however, he starts his note-reduction fractioning, here using the left hand to play notes between the irregular beats his right hand is producing (is there any doubt as to why Earl Hines and Bud Powell were frightened of him?) before resuming a straightforward stride tempo and phrasing. It is only at the 4:40 mark that he suddenly reverts to a more relaxed ballad pace.

  1. The Man I Love (G. & I. Gershwin). Tatum brings a similar approach to the Gershwin brothers’ well-known The Man I Love although, in the opening chorus, the keyboard runs are more decorative than functional. At 0:34 he begins to up the tempo; at 0:39 he increases it even more. At the 2:00-2:01 mark, Tatum plays two extraordinary “crushed chords” which temporarily make the music atonal, very much in the manner of Schoenberg or Webern. (No kidding. I had to slow the tempo down in half to actually hear it clearly. Try it yourself and hear what I mean.) A few notes later, he is playing chords that are advanced versions of the kind of harmony one hears in late Debussy. Around the 2:46 mark, Tatum suddenly conflates Debussy-like harmony with the blues, followed by an extended quote from Summertime—some of it using extended chords. We then get an allusion to I Got Plenty of Nothin’, followed by an extraordinary passage in which he suddenly begins playing in 6/4 meter rather than 4/4. Another quote from Porgy and BessIt Ain’t Necessarily So—immediately ensues. The latter is what he develops, in his swinging-but-ornate style, for a chorus. Then, after a bar and a half of transition music, he suddenly remembers that this is supposed to be a performance of The Man I Love and so returns to it. Not too fancy despite those double-time mid-keyboard runs. Suspension of the original tempo, then a return to the way he played it way back at the beginning of this track.
  2. Makin’ Whoopee (Donaldson-Kahn). Walter Donaldson’s famous song about the doubtful benefits of wedlock over bachelorhood has, again, never been a jazz musicians’ favorite since neither the melody nor the chord changes are particularly interesting or innovative. Tatum solves this problem by taking it at a quick clip to begin with, occasionally doubling the tempo as he rolls merrily along and adding his by-now-familiar harmonic substitutions—not as outré as in some of the previous performances, but clearly foreign to the simple structure of this song. The delight here is that he keeps it just complex enough to make it interesting without moving too quickly or becoming too daring in his harmonic substitutions. You might almost call this a light-hearted romp by Tatum standards; at 2:49 long, it isn’t even a very lengthy performance. Yet it is fun and keeps you on your toes. Let’s call this the “entrance exam” for the Tatum style rather than the Master’s thesis.
  3. September Song (Weill-Anderson). Kurt Weill’s famous tune is occasionally done as a jazz piece, but almost always in ballad tempo in order to retain the flavor of the original and very rarely with really imaginative substitute chords or tempo/meter shifts. Tatum brings his fantasia style to bear on the opening chorus, and it is almost too easy for him to extend the chord changes in the opening phrase (on the words “long, long time”) which are already strongly suggested by Weill’s original harmony. By now, if you’ve been paying close attention to the preceding nine performances, many of his “usual” devices are used in the opening chorus. Between 0:34 and 0:40 he pushes the chord changes into a very exotic realm, but just as quickly abandons it as he returns to the melody proper. Just before the one-minute mark, Tatum’s left hand suddenly plays a passage in a rhythm alternating two eighths with a quarter for two bars, beginning on the last beat of the bar preceding it, then a little later a passage in which his left hand plays an ascending whole tone scale while the right plays a descending one. After having a bit more fun with substitute chord positions on Weill’s changes, he moves into his “stride” chorus though tossing in a few of his time-altering devices. At one point around 2:06, however, it sounds as if Tatum was either a split-second late in playing one of the notes in one of his runs or did so on purpose, but since one never hears anything like this in any of his previous recordings or broadcasts, my guess is that this wasn’t done this way on purpose. We will note a few similar moments in other performances in this series. Again, by comparison with some of the other, much more complex performances before and after, September Song is almost a mental vacation by Tatum standards.
  4. Begin the Beguine (Cole Porter). Begin the Beguine attracts some jazz musicians but not many, in part because it’s not an A-B-A-C structure but a continuously evolving composition, which makes it hard to deal with. Tatum sets up a sort of fast rhumba rhythm at the outset, and is surprisingly respectful of both its melody and harmony—until he hits the 40-second mark, at which point he suddenly inserts a 10-beat phrase that departs considerably from the tune and uses extended chord positions into which he pours a breathtaking one-handed run (the right) before going immediately back to the theme. After another glistening keyboard run, at about the 1:10 mark, he slightly accelerates the tempo, at one point using a rapidly alternating two-note figure (Bb and A) under his right-hand playing. Although most of the performance is in D major, at 1:36 he suddenly plunges into one of his unusual harmonic passages, of which the top line consists of the following tones: Db-F below-Bb above-Db below-F above-Bb below-D above, all played so quickly that only someone with perfect pitch could name all of them immediately. This is followed by one of his downward chromatic passages played by both hands. Yet by the 1:45 mark he is solidly back in D major as if nothing at all had happened! By the two-minute mark, he ups the tempo just a shade and begins one of his super-stride choruses, with yet another downward chromatic break. He then plays a coda with a cute ending to wrap it up.
  5. Humoresque (Dvořák). This, as mentioned earlier, was Tatum’s other favorite classical trifle that he enjoyed playing as a jazz piece. After a little keyboard flourish as an intro, he immediately engages in his “shortening of the note lengths” during his statement of the theme. The second time he does this, he uncharacteristically drops a note. Again, this either indicates a chink in his formerly invincible technical armor or the fact that he might have been overtired when this session took place. (I don’t know the exact time frame in which he made these recordings, and although he was clearly used to playing all evening for the paying customers and then all night long in his after-hours sessions, he might have been a little tired in the studio.) In the break he indulges in his doubling of tempo and tossing in keyboard runs, this time simply for effect rather than functionality. In some of these moments he extends the bar lengths to incorporate them. Near the end of the middle section (the “B” theme), he tosses in a strange chord with an Eb on top and two dissonant notes, one of them an A and the other God-knows-what, below. Then at 1:46 he begins his stride chorus, played in D-flat with a few off-tonality excursions. There’s another dropped note around the 2:12 mark. In this section, his right-handed runs assume a more functional role in the improvisation. Then, at about 3:16, a real surprise as he plays a rapidly alternating figure of Ab-C in the left hand while playing what appears to be a passage in B above it. Leave it to Tatum to suddenly veer so far off the harmonic course, following which he suddenly waxes atonal for a few beats before again landing, by some musical legerdemain, back in Db for the remainder of the melody and chorus.
  6. Louise (Whiting-Robin). Another famous song from the early 1930s that seldom lent itself to improvisation, Tatum opens it with an intro using passing tones in the left hand to somewhat blur the tonality, at the 11-second mark playing an extended chord with A as the top note. He then plays the familiar theme in his by-now-familiar out-of-tempo fantasia style, still tossing in an extended chord here and there just for fun. At the 30-second mark, a G diminished chord; at 0:38, another diminished chord using G flat as its base, even though he is ostensibly playing the song in the key of D. More diminished and otherwise unusual chords appear in the middle sect-ion of the tune. At 1:21, he somehow incorporates a B-flat-diminished chord into the proceed-ings; at 1:24, a C-diminished chord. Many of his admirers, myself included, often wondered why he didn’t write songs of his own using devices like this and others; he clearly had the mind for it; but as I said earlier, Tatum never really had as wide an audience as did less complex pianists like Teddy Wilson, and he was probably afraid of alienating a good amount of them by departing so far from the norm that no one would be able to comprehend what he was doing.

Between 1:32 and 1:38, he plays the music as if it had been written by Mozart before moving easily and naturally into a medium-slow swing tempo—albeit with tempo quadrupling in his runs and extending not merely the note lengths but the bar lengths to include these runs. Unusual harmonic devices also continue to pop up, some of them quite surprising and wholly unexpected. Tatum was an absolute master of harmony, which allowed him to make these frequent and various changes, as well as dissonance. His mind must have been the psychological equivalent of a Rube Goldberg invention, able to instantly disseminate what he was doing and rearrange the components in such a way that only another musical genius could really follow what he was doing, let alone sit down at the keyboard and duplicate it. He continues to monkey around with the harmony almost up to the very end.

  1. Love for Sale (Cole Porter). Cole Porter, like Richard Rodgers (with Larry Hart’s lyrics) and Duke Ellington, were among Tatum’s favorite composers. In Rodgers’ case it was because Hart’s lyrics brought out his most adventurous side whereas, later on, Oscar Hammerstein’s often did not. But many people forget that Porter was classically trained, and he used this experience liberally in the creation of many of his songs, which had unusual (and sometimes chromatic) chord changes, all of which fascinated Tatum. Although Love for Sale is not one of his most sophisticated songs, it was quite sophisticated for its time, and Tatum reveled in it. His introduction to the piece takes the principal melody and again makes a free fantasia of it with added runs, including a diminished chord at 0:23 that has a Bb sitting atop a Gb. Part of his improvisation in this section also sounds, curiously like Humoresque. And again, in the middle section of the song, Tatum indulges in some fancy harmony-shifting, thought not as extreme as than in Louise, although at the 1:01 mark he suddenly jumps into a very remote chord indeed. Much of his improvising in the following section is, in fact, so complex that it bears no relationship to the naked ear of Love For Sale. Were you to start the recording at this point, in fact, you wouldn’t have the slightest clue what he was playing. Even the following few bars, in which the original tune is suggested, he is so involved with creating a complex fantasy on it that it still doesn’t “really” sound like Love for Sale. Then at 1:47 the (fast) swing chorus begins, and now one can identify the song despite his extraordinarily complex way of playing it, again with his functional rather than his decorative runs—and of course, continuous little harmonic shifts that nudge the chords up and down at will. Between 2:38 and 2:42 the harmonic shifting again approaches atonality though, as usual, he reins it back in and pulls it back. Changes of note values again occur in the next section, and between 3:12 and 3:16 he shifts the meter from 4 to 3 (or probably to a 6/4). It suddenly dawned on me, as I was listening to this track, how so many of these moments could be isolated from the overall performance and played for modern pianists and they would still be in awe of what he did. No matter how you listen to it, however, this is clearly one of his great masterpieces of musical invention. Franz Liszt couldn’t have written something this good if you put a gun to his head.
  2. Judy (Hoagy Carmichael). Judy is one of Hoagy Carmichael’s lesser-known songs. Like Porter, he was a Hoosier from Indiana who originally studied law but was bitten by the music bug. The difference was that Carmichael was far more attracted to jazz than to classical music; his initial inspiration was the playing of legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, for who he wrote several tunes (including one of his first, Free Wheeling, which Bix and his band decided to rename Riverboat Shuffle). Here Tatum uses passing tones as a harmonic device more often that his normal far-out key shifts, but still makes the song attractive with these and his functional runs. He also forsakes his fantasia style in the beginning, pretty much sticking to a straight rhythm albeit with his normal ornate modifications. No matter how ornate he gets, however, he manages to make the piece swing and even sound a bit bluesy at times—an object-lesson to the many Tatum critics who say that he couldn’t and didn’t swing. No matter how ornate he gets at times in this performance, if you simply count the beats from beginning to end he is, inevitably, dead on in tempo. Some readers may feel that I’m shortchanging this performance by not breaking it down in more detail, but there’s no need to. With its fairly straight tempo and less harmonic daring than usual, it’s a beautifully-conceived improvisation from start to finish that simply needs to be heard and absorbed in toto, not broken up into little pieces for analysis.
  3. I’m Comin’, Virginia (Heywood-Cook). Tatum plays the intro to this tune in a minor key, making it reminiscent of My Man’s Gone Now at a faster tempo. The melody proper is played slowly in A in his fantasia style with a great many harmonic variants, mostly pulling the harmony down rather than up. At 0:24 he throws in an augmented fifth in his chord, followed by two other very strange chords, the second being a Db with an augmented fifth. Tatumesque note compression follows along with mid-keyboard functional runs. Between 0:44 and 0:46 he suddenly takes the harmony to more remote corners of the spectrum he just can’t help himself. Some of these changes use whole tones in the upper voice rather than chromatics. Tatum evidently felt that the almost banal chord changes of this tune cried out for harmonic dissonance. At 1:23 he begins something new for him, a single-note improvisation in the middle of the keyboard, evidently something borrowed from Lennie Tristano, although he just as quickly moves back into his own style two bars later. Yet he returns to this Tristano-like improvisation at 1:34, again using underlying augmented harmonies to move the piece into remote keys. In the next few bars he slows it down in terms of glittering, fast notes, replacing them with slower but equally dissonant harmonies. Tatum evidently felt that this song needed as much color as he could possibly lavish on it, yet by the 1:51 mark he returns to playing it in a way that makes the melody recognizable once again. The chorus he begins at 2:09 is given in blues style, albeit with glittering mid-keyboard runs and a certain amount of time compression. Although his debt to the harmonies of modern French classical music, and even a bit of Bartók and Schoenberg, are clearly evident, I sometimes wonder where he got some of his harmonic ideas from as they don’t really sound like any of them. The out-of-tempo final chorus is also typical of Tatum.
  4. Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (Barris-Koehler-Moll). I don’t know of anyone else who has ever attempted to make a jazz performance out of Harry Barris’ lovely but fairly normal pop tune, written for his old musical partner Bing Crosby. If you’ve been paying attention to all of the previous song performances I’ve described, there’s not a lot in the opening chorus of this one that will surprise you. If any of these Tatum performances can be called “predictable,” this is the one, but it’s still pretty amazing that what we would consider an “average good” performance for Tatum would be extraordinary in the hands of any other pianist. Yes, a few of the substitute chords are surprising, but not as much as those in the performances already discussed.
  5. Dixieland Band (Hanighen-Mercer). This was a relatively minor pop tune written by Bernie Hanighen in 1934 and recorded twice by Benny Goodman, once for Columbia in the fall of 1934 and then again (in a slightly faster and looser performance) for Victor in the spring of 1935. Both performances were dominated by a Helen Ward vocal because there really wasn’t much to the song musically. Tatum takes it even a shade faster than Goodman’s second recording, using substitute chords right at the outset in his statement of the rather simple theme. Throwing substitute chords in as early as 0:15 and toying with the rhythm, it sounds even less like a Dixieland band in his hands than in Goodman’s. The break between choruses is played at a slower tempo and with a 3 rather than a 4 feeling. Again, a fine performance which transforms the trite melody into something quite interesting, but not really one of Tatum’s greatest creations although I do like the way he repeatedly goes back to the feeling of 3 in the middle of choruses.
  6. Embraceable You (G. & I. Gershwin). George Gershwin was one of several people who were crazy about Tatum’s playing in the mid-1930s, and had him over to his Hollywood abode as often as he could. (I would presume that Gershwin’s close friend Oscar Levant also heard Tatum there and was suitably awed as well.) Tatum does Embraceable You up pink, as they used to say, giving it his fair share of chord substitutions and embellishments. The most extraordinary part of this performance is the section between 1:58 and 2:30 which is played in a almost continuous string of mid-keyboard runs, some (of course) with substitute chording. If you just took this portion of the performance out of the rest of it and sent it around to friends, they may very well not even recognize the piece although Tatum really doesn’t stray all that far away from the original as an underlying “tune suggestion.” The next chorus includes several compressions of the rhythm and notes. Between 2:47 and 2:52 is an incredible passage in which Tatum plays in an almost stiff ostinato rhythm while at the same time “walking” the top line downwards, sometimes chromatically, while the harmony is changed underneath every few beats. This is then followed by another fascinating passage between 3:11 and 3:16 in which he almost “walks” the music upwards chromatically while playing crushed chords underneath.

I’m sure that some readers are thinking that such moments smack of gimmickry, but how else would a genius improviser play? Just play a fairly routine sort of improvisation like Teddy Wilson? And believe me when I tell you this, but dozens of jazz pianists or would-be jazz pianists were insanely jealous of Tatum’s ability to improvise in this manner, because they couldn’t do it…if they tried, it didn’t come out half as well as this. Those who know music well, which includes professional pianists (even classical ones) and composers, understand and appreciate Tatum’s abilities.

  1. Come Rain or Come Shine (Arlen-Mercer). Hyman Arluck, a.k.a. Harold Arlen, was one of the most jazz-oriented of the pop songwriters of his day, having begun his career as a jazz singer and leader of a 1920s jazz band, The Buffalodians. (They didn’t have any significant jazz musicians in the band, but they certainly played in a jazzy style.) Come Rain or Come Shine is one of his many ballads, but it has an inherent jazz feel to it in the rhythm of the song. The initial chord in this performance contains an augmented chord, which Tatum modifies upon its appearance in each succeeding bar, throwing in a G augmented chord at the 12-second mark. And of course, successive descending chromatic chords also pop in. I should point out that one of the interesting things about Tatum’s harmonic changes is that although he frequently shifts th underlying harmonies on each successive beat in the bar, which when slowed down sounds almost alien to the tune, they somehow come across as organic when you listen to the whole performance in real time without slowing any of it down, as I sometimes did, or freezing the chord to try to hear what exactly he is doing. This was a form of recomposition that was almost the opposite of what the beboppers did when they created contrafacts in the mid-to-late 1940s. Sometimes the boppers would modify the harmony as well, but not to the extent that Tatum did because at the same time they superimposed an entirely new melodic line over the chords of an older tune (for instance, turning Whispering into Groovin’ High). As usual, especially in ballads, Tatum plays the opening chorus in a somewhat free tempo as a fantasia. One of the more interesting moments in Arlen’s song comes in the last four bars of the theme statement, where he introduces a blues chord (flatted third).

At 1:24, Tatum morphs naturally into a very relaxed but regular ballad tempo using his middle-keyboard runs to embellish things. Although he plays the song in F major (with Arlen’s harmony shifts into the minor), at the 2:07 mark he plays an extraordinary series of single notes in the right hand with underlying chords which threatens to undermine the entire harmonic base of the sing, yet again he manages to land back in the right key as if nothing different had happened. At the 2:22 mark he introduces his tempo-shifting devices as well. After all of this, what he plays in the next chorus almost sounds pretty plain and ordinary except for rising chromatics between 3:18 and 3:20, followed a bit later by a stepwise descent. There’s a little bit of doubling the tempo in the next section, but aside from those occasional fast runs this performance is pretty much kept at a ballad pace, returning to a freer fantasia style for the ride-out. A great but very subtle reading.

  1. Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’ (Ellington-Strayhorn-Gaines). As mentioned earlier, Duke Ellington was a favorite source of material for Tatum because he recognized that Ellington had learned proper musical form from Will Vodery, an African-American composer, conductor and orchestrator who hit the big time working for the Ziegfeld Follies, in addition to having real jazz sensibilities. The fact that Ellington was a pianist of relatively limited technical skills didn’t bother Tatum because he recognized that, even in his improvised solos, Ellington exhibited a composer’s mind. Yet Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’ was certainly a strange choice, one of Duke’s popular hit tunes and not one of his more musically interesting pieces. But Tatum really has fun with it, once again proving that he certainly could swing when he wanted to in a lively performance which clocks in at about quarter note =127, certainly a moderate tempo for Tatum in a fairly quick piece. Although he throws several of his patented chord changes and runs into it, he keeps it moderately simple and also imparts a nice blues feeling to it. By keeping most of his modifications simple, he is able to maintain this swinging pace from start to finish. For those who complain that Tatum is always overly-ornate, this is the recording they should listen to and learn from.
  2. There Will Never Be Another You (Gordon-Warren). Mack Gordon was a well-known song composer in his day who was hired by 20th Century-Fox to provide scores for many of their films of the 1940s, including both of Glenn Miller’s. He is often heavily criticized for writing songs with memorable melodies and other “hooks” in them, the most famous (or notorious) being Chattanooga Choo Choo. In his pre-movie days of the 1930s he worked with lyricist Harry Revel, but at the film studio he was paired with Harry Warren, already an employee of the film company. Tatum again takes the free-rhythmed fantasia approach to the introduction and opening chorus, which is actually the verse of the song (remember when American popular songs had verses and choruses?), adding lush substitute chords to the more familiar melody and breaking up the rhythmic pattern with extra bars of florid runs. He almost makes it sound like a classical piece, albeit one with tongue planted firmly in cheek. By the middle of the performance, the transformation becomes even more ornate, transforming Gordon’s quite simple melodic line into something of Rachmainov-like proportions. At 3:17 he seamlessly moves from his free-fantasia approach to a steady 4 with his usual mix of unusual chord positions and a few moments of note compression. Taken all in all, however, this is a masterpiece because of the play of his fertile musical mind on a piece that one would scarcely believe could yield such a complex interpretation.
  3. Tenderly (Lawrence-Gross). I was really curious to hear this one because, after all, Tenderly is a pop waltz-ballad, not a jazz piece, although of course its built-in descending chord sequence would clearly be something that would appeal to Tatum. He sets up a gentle rocking motion in the introduction, but what surprised me was that, in his fantasia section, he maintained the original 3/4 tempo rather than changing it to 4. At the 48-second mark he introduces a series of rising whole tones using open fourths—not terribly sophisticated, but dramatically effective—but at 1:05 he throws in two very exotic, out-of-tonality chords just to let you know that he has more surprises in store. Finally, at around 1:38, he moves into a gently rocking, medium-slow 4 (which didn’t surprise me) to play the rest of the tune. Modulations abound in this one, so many of them and so quickly that it would honestly be a waste of space to list them all. Just listen and you’ll hear them. Of course, there are the usual Tatum devices, but also as usual he rearranges them and sometimes plays these expected things at unexpected moments. the double-time chorus beginning at 3:52 includes what you might describe as “cascading” figures, modified mid-keyboard runs that sound like a waterfall in slow motion (chromatic at the 4:12 mark). One drawback in listening to so much Tatum is that, once you pick up on the devices he uses, you tend to think of them as set patterns that he used in his playing, and this is undoubtedly true, which makes you think that some of this was simply routine for him. But every great jazz pianist I’ve ever heard, even Hines, Tristano, Evans and Byard, had their own stylistic devices which they recycled in performance after performance. This is only natural; they played the way they did because that’s how their minds worked.
  4. What Does It Take? (Burke-Van Heusen). This is a song I’d never even heard of before. Apparently it was a record—but not a hit record—for Nat “King” Cole (another one of Tatum’s favorite pianists because he played a very clever alteration of the Earl Hines style) in 1952 with Billy May’s orchestral arrangement. Tatum was obviously attracted by its original chord changes, which already uses a descending chromatic line in the bass. But what a transformation! Tatum changes the medium ballad tempo of the original into a wild, uptempo romp, moving the metronome marking up to a blistering quarter=213—one of his favorite fast tempos. By his standards, this one is kept relatively uncluttered with runs and substitute chords. He just romps through it in his super-stride style, yet in doing so improves the song 100%. (I wonder what Nat thought…he surely must have heard it at some point.)
  5. You Took Advantage of Me (Rodgers-Hart). Another Rodgers and Hart tune, one of their most famous from the late 1920s. Tatum eases up on the tempo here, playing it quite similarly to the way it was written. Once again, the focus is on swing, although here he throws in more tempo shifts, runs, harmonic substitutions and, yes, stride swing. By and large, however, it’s to too far removed from the way Fats Waller might have played it if he could have thought of these things…in other words, he could have copied this performance and not have too much trouble with it, but probably wouldn’t have thought of these substitute chords himself.
  6. I’ve Got the World on a String (Arlen-Koehler). One of Harold Arlen’s most famous and swinging tunes, and again Tatum is rather respectful of the original (he liked Arlen’s songs). Hear the way he almost “falls onto” the chord substitutions in this performance, as if they were an original part of the score (they weren’t). Fast, doubling runs in the second chorus add interest, but as I say, by his standards this is somewhat straightforward—except for the remarkable passage running from 1:47 to 2:02 (just before a glistening run) where the harmonies rise upwards using extended chords, three times in fact and each time differently. At the 2:31 mark, he reverses this, using an extended chord sequence that moves downward. There is generally, but not always, some sort of musical balance in Tatum’s performances. He was a very “complete” recomposer of others’ songs.
  7. Yesterdays (Kern-Harbach). I first heard Tatum’s recomposition of Jerome Kern’s Yesterdays on the Columbia Piano Starts Here LP, taken from a live 1949 concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Of all the pieces on that album, it was the one that grabbed me the most because it was so utterly brilliant, yet was played in a remarkably loose style with flawless timing and great energy. This interpretation became such a famous one for Tatum that he continued to play it the same way thereafter, not only here but also on his 1954 television appearance (one of only two, the other being on Steve Allen’s “Tonight” Show) on the Spike Jones Show, but each time he played it, it seemed to be just a little stiffer and less relaxed than the original 1949 performance. Yet it is so utterly brilliant that it remains, for me, one of his greatest interpretations.

But…which score of Yesterdays did Tatum base it on? The song was written in 1933 for the musical Roberta, and ostensibly published at that time, but in checking online for a score of the song, I found no less than four ENTIRELY DIFFERENT versions of the first page alone! One is incredibly basic, using single notes (quarters and halves) and whole-tone chords in the accompaniment, obviously designed for a beginner at musicnotes,com. But also at musicnotes is a different score in a “Bright Swing” tempo that opens with the verse rather than the chorus. At musescore.com is yet another version, more complex, the first page of which is entirely different from the other two, and at sheetmusicdirect.com is an even more different version which is almost as rhythmically complex as the way Tatum plays the first chorus:

Tatum Yesterdays 1

Tatum Yesterdays 2

So, what the heck. Let’s just break down what Tatum plays and analyze just how brilliant his version really is.

Like so many performances already discussed, Yesterdays opens with a slow section in free fantasia form. Here, it it played at a tempo of half note=80, which is quite moderate. Played in D minor, Tatum uses a little grace note of G# to lead into the initial note of A. The two chords he plays underneath consist of C# (top note), G below and the Bb below that, then C natural-F below-A below. In the second bar, he forsakes every note after the initial A, here played as a half note rather than a quarter. The following chords below are now C top-F below-G# below that, then a half-note chord of B natural-F below-C# below and the G natural below that. (I have a good ear for notes within chords, but freely admit that I have trouble “naming” extended chords like this. Call it whatever you like.) In the third bar, he uses one of his tempo-acceleration tricks, playing a series of open sixths, then “rushing” the melody with embellishments in bar 4. He continues this until the middle of bar 13, where he suddenly plays a series of upward-rising flourishes, indicating that something dramatic is to come.

He then repeats most of this—with slight variants—before accelerates to half=118, playing a variation on the verse. As in several of the performances already described, his fast runs here are functional rather than decorative…in fact, they become quite structural within his musical conception of the work. At the 1:32 mark he moves into his “fast stride” style, with each chorus building on the previous one with a different form of improvisation, including one that is all fluttering left-handed notes. At 2:34 he plays his shortened-time chorus, but again, it’s a variant on the original theme like the ones preceding it. At 2:38 the figures he plays sound as if the rhythm were running backwards, and here he really indulges in some unusual chord positions as well. (This later, fast section is the one that sounded much more fluid in the 1949 performance and stiffer yet in the 1954 one, where he rushed the tempo too much.) In the last chorus, which begins at 2:48, a miracle occurs: he actually sounds like a bop pianist, playing not only in the continuously extended chord positions they used but also emulating bop rhythm (something he almost never did). Then he slows down the tempo again for his slower, fantasia-like coda, which is musically apt, even perfect, ending on an unresolved chord using E as the top note. This definitely ranks among his greatest creations, in terms of its continuously developing musical structure the best of the all.

  1. I Hadn’t Anyone Till You (Ray Noble). British songwriter and bandleader Ray Noble, nowadays remembered almost exclusively for having written Cherokee which became both a swing and a bop anthem (for Charlie Barnet and Charlie Parker, respectively), was actually one of the very finest songwriters and arrangers of his day. He was also a great lover of jazz although his only really outstanding jazz band was the one he led at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Plaza in New York from 1935 to 1937. (Its members included Sterling Bose and Pee Wee Erwin on trumpets, Will Bradley and Glenn Miller on trombones, Johnny Mince on clarinet and Bud Freeman on tenor sax.) Although he wrote other songs that jazz musicians have enjoyed playing (The Very Thought of You, Easy to Love and Baby, You’ve Got the Right Idea), I Hadn’t Anyone Till You isn’t one of them. Written in 1938, after the demise of his jazz band and before he wrote Cherokee, it’s really a nice song, quite similar to The Very Thought of You but not as memorable. (It was originally sung by Tony Martin and not the legendary Al Bowlly, who after the collapse of the ’37 band tried to make it as part of a singing duo before going back to England, where he tragically died during an air raid attack.) Tatum moves the harmonies around in the opening statement, but not too far “outside” their normal realm; he, too, obviously like the song and respected its structure, although in the second chorus he does push the envelope. In the medium-swing chorus, there are, of course, several Tatum-isms, including some nice chord clusters around the two-minute mark, followed later by his patented falling chromatic chords (and a few runs, including some downward ones that are purely decorative and not functional). It’s certainly a good performance and enriches a basically good song.
  2. Night and Day (Cole Porter). Here we return to Cole Porter, one of his most popular tunes and one with some nifty “falling” chord changes in the middle four bars of the melody. Tatum is modifying the chord changes from the outset as well as using a great deal of tempo-doubling in order to inject his glistening runs, but as in the case of Yesterdays (but not on such an exalted scale) the interest comes from the way he recomposed the entire song and yet made all of those changes and modifications sound organic structurally. Even the most glistening runs in this one sound like a necessary part of his development. At the 2:04-2:07 mark, he uses some remarkable falling triplet figures using whole tones, and between 2:13 and 2:15 throws in some unusual double tempo figures that sound entirely classical in both form and rhythm. Again, for any other pianist this would be a masterpiece, but for Tatum it just sounds like he’s in a playful mood for three minutes and 18 seconds.
  3. Jitterbug Waltz (Thomas Waller). Another Waller tune, this one famous because it was in 3/4 time, yet infamous because almost no one besides Fats could improvise on it. Using both note-value compression and occasional accelerando, Tatum manages to present its baby-simple theme in an entirely new light. Here, the fantasia-like opening even blurs the time signature. Is it or isn’t it a waltz? Well, the way Tatum plays it, it’s both or neither. Don’t’ ask me how he did it, but he did. You can hear for yourself. The second time he plays the theme, he uses a walking bass line that gradually rises note by note as if it were trying to encroach on the right hand. In the middle eight, he plays the melody in a choppy fashion, as if he were lampooning it. Rubato is used to slightly slow and elongate the four bars at the end of this section, leading back to the A theme. But even Tatum can’t make too much out of it other than injecting these devices; there just isn’t much there to work with. He uses Frankie Carle-like “trickling” runs in the right hand in the next chorus, switches over to a bit of a bluesy feel for a while, uses some substitute harmonies etc., but generally this is just a musical giant fooling around and having fun. What he does clearly enhances what was there to start with, but I can’t say that he did as much with it as Beethoven did with the rather puerile little waltz by Diabelli.
  4. Someone to Watch Over Me (G. & I. Gershwin). Back to the Gershwin brothers with one of there most famous and popular songs. The fantasia-like opening uses his patented substitute chords, descending chromatics and time-compressing devices. At 0:57 he begins swinging it in a nice, moderate tempo, adding little right-hand trills and modifying the melody in a surprisingly relaxed manner, although at 1:40 he suddenly turns it briefly into a blues. Several of the runs he throws in this performance, however, seem primarily designed to add gingerbread to its simple structure, not really develop it in the strict sense of the term. My verdict is that it’s flashy and has come cute moments, such as the one at 3:07 where he seems to be lampooning Paderewski’s Minuet in G a bit, but by Tatum standards it’s just a nice little escapade.
  5. The Very Thought of You (Ray Noble). Here Tatum tackles the real version of The Very Thought of You instead of its knock-off (#28). The approach is similar, but with a somewhat richer structure to work with (even the original harmonies are more interesting) he can recompose the piece in a more beguiling fashion. Some of the runs here are more decorative than functional, but he’s still thinking ahead to those sections of the song where he can embroider like an expert in needlework. Note the passage beginning at 2:32 where he suddenly transposes upward a half-tone for a few beats. Unusually for him, he keeps the song within the free-fantasia style, the most ornate changes occurring from 2:38 onward. In the second half of this last chorus, he completely rewrites the song in his own way. A lovely performance.
  6. You’re Driving Me Crazy (Walter Donaldson). This uptempo song was a favorite with jazz musicians in the pre-bop era, but although Tatum keeps it fast (quarter=220) it doesn’t sound too rushed. Once again, he plays with it “around the edges” so to speak, except for some nifty modulations around the 1:25-1:30 mark. His last chorus is the most changed rhythmically and harmonically, although in the rideout he again returns to some semblance of normalcy.
  7. (I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance (Young-Washington-Crosby). Victor Young’s big hit song for Bing Crosby is, again, a lovely tune with some nice built-in changes, exactly the kind of song that attracted Tatum. The first chorus is another fantasia with lots of gingerbread around the edges and some substitute chords, although he also includes the original ones as well because they were so good. Then a medium-slow swing chorus using a plethora of mid-keyboard runs, time compression and other by-now-familiar Tatum devices. The interesting thing about this performance is that, again, everything sounds organic, as if it were meant to be played this way. Despite sounding just a bit too ornate to me at times, it works well. This was the end of his first session for Granz.

 

Session 2: 35 solos, December 29, 1953 https://archive.org/details/TatumSolos2

  1. Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael). Interestingly, Tatum does not begin his performance of this oft-recorded piece with either its famous chorus or its only-occasionally-heard opening verse, but with a simple little riff introduction of his own devising. But he does give us a soft, double-time improve on the verse using substitute chords in his fantasia style. When he does begin the famous primary melody at 0:48, it is with considerable harmonic freedom, and again out of tempo, sometimes compressing the note values. Though played in Db, one of his favorite keys, he suddenly jumps up into D just before the 1:02 mark for a few beats, but via some legerdemain he simply “arrives” back in Db via an internal harmonic pivot-point shortly thereafter. In the following chorus, the familiar melody is not only compressed in note values and improvised upon, but actually doubled in tempo. Around the 1:37-38 mark, he suddenly moves down chromatically using the top notes of F-E-Eb-Db in what sounds to me like open fourths (but I could be wrong, it all goes by so quickly). The steady-tempoed swing chorus, taken at a very moderate pace, begins at 1:45, but it’s not completely taken at a steady tempo. Tatum again makes considerable changes within beats in a bar, moving both his improvised and the few written notes he plays around like dominos. If this wasn’t Stardust he was playing, the listener would probably have very little idea of what the song was supposed to sound like. Only his occasional use of snippets from the main tune act as signposts within this wholesale rewriting of the song, although the last half of the chorus suddenly reverts back to the familiar theme. The next chorus goes back to the verse, now taken at a blistering tempo with runs, octave-doubling, and a crushed chord at about 3:33 that simply sounds like an atonal chord cluster. Tatum has led you from the prettiness of Stardust to some dark alleys in the Alpha Centauri galaxy. The next chorus, though very much in a steady swing tempo, is again so far from the original melody that itit isn’t until after some dizzying mid-keyboard runs that he suddenly realizes that he should give you a bit more of it before he rides it out. Though not as flashy, this is almost as stunning a recomposition as Yesterdays.

    *                                *                                *                                *

    Sorry…that’s all. folks!

    —© 2023 Lynn Rene Bayley

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Sutermeister’s Orchestral Songs

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SUTERMEISTER: Consolatio philosophiae, Dramatic Scene for High Voice & Orch. Romeo und Julia: Ich reise weit. 7 Liebesbriefe for Tenor & Orch.* 6 Liebesfriefe for Soprano & Orch. / Juliane Banse, sop except *Benjamin Bruns, ten; Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Rainer Held, cond / Toccata Classics TOCC0608

Heinrich Sutermeister (1910-1995) occupies a somewhat uneasy position in musical history. Although his music clearly used some modern devices borrowed from the modern French school, Stravinsky and even (at times) Carl Orff, he is often considered to have been too tonal and therefore too “retro” to be considered a “great” composer, but when his opera Romeo und Julia was premiered in 1940, conductor Karl Böhm hailed him as a genius.

But there are plenty of things to be said in C major or any other tonal key you wish to name, and Sutermeister was clearly an original and imaginative composer. Here we have several extended works for voice and orchestra, the only problem of which are that Juliane Banse, once one of the finest sopranos of our modern era, seems to have had some significant vocal deterioration. Her once-luscious tone is now hard and shrill, particularly in the upper register, and she has an almost continuous flutter in the voice that bespeaks poor breath support. To her credit, however, she is still an intense interpreter, though you’ll surely be wincing at the actual sound of her voice. And since these are first recordings of these works, we don’t have anyone else to plug in to replace her.

And the music is clearly interesting, particularly in such late works as the Consolatio philosophiae (1977) and the Sechs Liebesbriefe (1979) where Sutermeister updated his musical style somewhat though not subscribing to the atonal school that had pretty much taken over classical music by that time. The text for the former comes from the poetry of Jean-Claude Piguet (1924-2000) which is fairly stern stuff. One example:

  1. The Path of Truth

If any man makes search for truth with all his penetration, and would be led astray by no deceiving paths, let him turn upon himself the light of an inward gaze, let him bend by force the long-drawn wanderings of his thoughts into one circle; let him tell surely to his soul, that he has, thrust away within the treasures of his mind, all that he labours to acquire without. Then shall that truth, which now was hid in error’s darkening cloud, shine forth more clear than Phoebus’ self. The seed of truth does surely cling within, and can be roused as a spark by the fanning of philosophy.

This certainly doesn’t look like the kind of text that could be set to music, but Sutermeister did indeed succeed in doing so, using a combination of strophic lines and lyric ones, creating a sung narrative that lies somewhere between Schoenberg’s Erwärtung and Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. The orchestration has an equally stern sound, almost metallic in the way he used the winds and basses, at times pulling against each other to create a sonic landscape of polar opposites. Despite the relatively light scoring, however, the sung text clearly calls for a powerful and not a lyric soprano voice. Perhaps Banse, whose earlier singing leaned much more towards lyricism, simply pushed the voice too hard, creating the shrill sounds one hears in this performance.

I’m not sure why Banse and conductor Rainer Held felt the need to include the aria from Romeo und Julia on this disc. It is not different from the version used in the opera and adds nothing to one’s perception of Sutermeister. I guess that Banse just liked it and wanted to record it.

We get a break from Banse’s overdriven soprano in the 7 Liebesbriefe for Tenor and Orchestra from 1935. At age 25, the young Sutermeister was clearly on his way to being able to create interesting music that skirted tonality without abandoning it, and tenor Benjamin Bruns has a high, light voice which he uses to great effect. The second half of the first song in particular clearly shows Sutermeister’s Orff influence while the second (“Der Naturphilosoph”) channels the very personal lyrical style he used to such great effect in Romeo und Julia. But every song in this set has a different musical style; Sutermeister was clearly not a composer who was locked into just one “voice,” but knew how to vary his approach. Both of these song “collections” for tenor and soprano are based on poems by a number of writers, including Goethe, von Humboldt, Burger, Lessing, Margaretha Kuffner and Maria Theresia. The fourth tenor song, “Der Bürger als Brautigam,” sounds the most conventionally melodic and tuneful, but it suits the text, and even so, Sutermeister uses unorthodox rhythmic displacement to break up the meter in certain bars. In the following song, Sutermeister creates an orchestral texture that sounds like an organ, playing two clashing chords at the same time in the lower register. Everything he did was unusual and varied; he was completely unpredictable.

Listening to this recording of the tenor songs, however, I think I have a clue as to why Banse’s voice sounds so hard and shrill. Both she and Bruns are recorded with very close miking. I think that if they had placed them back a foot or so from the microphone, the results wouldn’t sound so abrasive. Just a thought on my part, nothing else.

Wonder of wonders, the 6 Liebesbriefe for Soprano are in not only a different style from the early set for tenor but also quite different from the Consolatio philosophiae of two years earlier. There’s a certain Middle Eastern sound to the harmonies, and the orchestration is much lighter and quite different. It occurred to me while listening to this CD that perhaps the reason music critics, performers and academics abandoned Sutermeister in the mid-1950s was because his early fame had overshadowed another Swiss musical genius, Frank Martin, whose music was somewhat edgier and more modern and thus in line with the times.

Except for the extreme shrillness and “spread” in Banse’s voice, which I sincerely hope is only a temporary thing, this disc is clearly recommended. Except for the familiar Romeo und Julia aria, the music is fresh, surprising and arresting. There’s not much more you could ask for.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Barshai’s Hair-Raising Mahler 10th

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MAHLER: Symphony No. 10 (ed. Barshai) / Junge Deutsche Philharmonie; Rudolf Barshai, cond / Brilliant Classics 94040 (live: 9/12/2001; also available for free streaming on YouTube)

Someone on Twitter posted the cover of this recording yesterday, and it caught my eye because I had never seen it or heard of it before. This is a live 2001 performance of Rudolf Barshai’s re-orchestration of the Mahler Tenth Symphony, played by (as the name indicates) an orchestra of young German musicians. It was originally issued in 2003 as part of a 2-CD set with his recording of the Mahler Fifth, then in 2010, the year of Barshai’s death, as a stand-alone disc.

The good news is that it is a very intense and powerful reading of the score, in fact one of the very best I’ve ever heard—I can only compare it with the even lesser-known performance conducted by Mark Wigglesworth with the BBC Symphony. More controversial, however, is Barshai’s decision to score the symphony for a much fuller orchestra than Mahler himself did in the “Adagio” and everyone else has done in the rest of the symphony.

David Hurwitz, a critic I generally agree with 90% of the time (very good odds!), wrote an excellent review of this performance on his website, Classics Today, from which I quote the following:

Barshai’s own orchestration of the unfinished Tenth Symphony, heavily scored for a huge orchestra that doesn’t sound especially Mahlerian (at this stage in his career Mahler’s own scoring would have been much leaner and more economical), but nevertheless played to the hilt by Barshai and his remarkable youth ensemble.

The first movement in particular has the most hair-raisingly terrifying climax that anyone has ever achieved from this music. Part of the effect may derive from Barshai’s fuller instrumentation and bolder dynamics, and you can’t help but notice the date of this live performance: September 12, 2001. Whatever the reason, the entire reading has tremendous intensity and conviction, though as with all arrangers of this work Barshai hasn’t quite solved the problem of the finale’s quick middle section and the return of the first-movement climax–nor perhaps (at this stage of composition) had Mahler.[1]

But I, personally, would point out that the Tenth Symphony was his emotional reaction to learning of his wife Alma’s licentious infidelity, a discovery which wracked Mahler to the core of his being. (He even wrote a note in the score wondering why she had betrayed him.) Of course, this goes against Alma’s assertion that the Tenth was a “love letter” to her, but then again, she refused to let anyone see the entire score as long as she was alive. This was only discovered after her death.

Thus there is at least this to justify Barshai’s use of an orchestra equal to the size of that used in the Fifth through the Seventh symphonies, although I think I heard the addition of an organ in the second large climax of the opening “Adagio” (and also in the last movement), but since no one else has brought this up it just might be the unusual way be combines low winds and strings. He does, however, have the strings use much longer bowing than usual, and I think this is something that Mahler would have agreed with. (He also adds mandolins to the orchestra.) Alma’s betrayal, as I said, shook Mahler to the core, and let’s face it, his symphonies are all personal diaries in sound of his deepest fears, loves, longings and reactions to natural stimuli. Even moreso than Beethoven, who ranks second in this respect, or Weinberg, who ranks third, the powerful emotions of Mahler’s music are what repelled most conductors before the late 1950s. The music was not only neurotic at times, but didn’t follow the set “rules” of composition and thus were considered to be no more than hysterical rants.

Barshai’s reading of the Scherzo is also more emotionally powerful than anyone else’s, again due in large part to the new orchestration but also to the way he drove his orchestra. In fact, they play each and every movement as if their very lives depended on it. The transition into the last movement suddenly shifts the mood from neurotic to an incredible depth of sadness, almost too much for one person to bear, and this, too is caught perfectly by the orchestra,

Whatever your take on the orchestration may be, there’s no question that this is one of the most emotional Maher Tenths ever recorded. Absolutely a hell of a performance; I guarantee that, once heard, you’ll never forget it.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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[1] https://www.classicstoday.com/review/review-10257/

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Eric Goletz Plays Standards

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PARKER: Now’s the Time. STYNE-COMDEN: Just in Time. TIZOL-ELLINGTON-MILLS: Caravan. SILVER: Nutville. Jungle Juice. Mayreh. AHBEZ: Nature Boy. HARRELL: Train Shuffle. LEGRAND: The Summer Knows. Windmills of Your Mind. GERSHWIN-HEYWARD: Summertime. TURRENTINE: Sugar. WONDER: Overjoyed. PARKER: Now’s the Time: Outro / Eric Goletz, tb/pno; Don Braden, s-sax; Jim Ridl, pno; Henry Heinitsh, el-gtr; Brian Glassman, bs/el-bs/contrabass; Steve Johns, dm; Joe Mowatt, perc; Lajuan Carter, voc; Robin Zeh, Paul Woodiel, vln; Michael Roth, David Gold, vla; Sarah Hewitt-Roth, cel / Consolidated Artists Publications CAP-1073

Eric Goletz, a noted West Coast trombonist-composer, presents his take on a number of pop and jazz standards on this disc scheduled for release on February 23. Goletz explained that the origin of this CD was a casual, cocktail-hour gig where he was “told to play whatever we wanted, so we decided to just have fun and pick tunes that he wanted to blow on.” The result was so successful that Goletz arranged four of them and had them recorded. The rest of the album just sort of followed.

While I really enjoyed this album, I have a major complaint. It would be nice if either Goletz or CAP Records would have been considerate enough to list the COMPOSERS OF THE SONGS. Personally, I thought this was not only industry standard but a legal requirement. In my case it was quite annoying since I didn’t know six of the tunes on this disc, and thus had to chase all over the Internet to try to find out who wrote what…and, as it turns out, there are more than one songs named “Sugar” and “Overjoyed,” so if I got the wrong accreditation it’s Goletz’ fault, not mine.

But there is no complaint about the high quality of these arrangements or, particularly, of Goletz’ solo playing. He is, undisputedly, the best modern jazz trombonist I’ve ever heard. Between his phenomenal chops and his highly inventive improvisations, he even leaves such legendary names as J.J. Johnson or Jimmy Knepper—both superb players, I’m not demeaning them—in the dust. And just because these pieces are not originals by Goletz doesn’t mean that his composer’s mind is not at work. Just listen to the way he re-writes Charlie Parker’s Now’s the Time, changing the harmonies to make them shift upwards and downwards using both whole and half-tone changes upwards and downwards. Goletz’ solo on this one is simply astounding, incorporating “outside” changes within the basic framework of the tune’s changes. Soprano saxist Don Braden, though quite good, plays in a much simpler, funk-inspired style even his chase chorus with Goletz. Pianist Jim Ridl plays in a nice single-note style drawing a bit on Tristano, and guitarist Henry Heinitsch also has a nice style. But one has to be honest, and the truth is that Goletz is head and shoulders above his bandmates in musical invention. His tone is not as full as those of Johnson or Knepper, in part because in order to play with this kind of fleetness he has to keep the breath pressure light so that he can use both lips and slide to get all those complex figures in, but what he plays is just stunning.

It’s also nice, for a change, to hear the bass and drums really swing and not try to play such rhythmically complex figures that one is constantly trying to figure out exactly what rhythm they’re playing in in relation to the rest of the band. Ridl makes a more challenging partner for Goletz in his chase chorus here, and bassist Brian Glassman is no slouch on his instrument, playing a nice solo with some bent notes.

Goletz completely rewrites Juan Tizol’s Caravan in a way I’v never heard from anyone else before, creating a single-note piano line in the bass and shifting the rhythm around, even adding an extra couple of bars here and there. This is the first track on which he uses the strings, and although they don’t play very complex figures, he again has them scored in an interesting way, using shifting chords. When Ridl begins his solo chorus, we suddenly switch to a straight 4 to accompany his single-note playing, followed by Heinitsch (whose guitar, I swear to you, almost sounds like those wonderful hollow-body electrics of the Eddie Durham-Charlie Christian era).  There’s a brief but nice three-way passage including Goletz, Ridl and Heinitsch before a return to the funky beat of the opening.

As noted earlier, I’m not all that familiar with these Horace Silver tunes (I like his playing but don’t own all that many of his records), but once again Goletz gets them to swing and adds some interesting changes. Heinitsch platys a really excellent solo on this one. Although I’ve always liked Eden Ahbez’ Nature Boy, I could have lived without the pathetic “singing” of one Lajuan Carter (sorry, I don’t care how many R&B artists she has backed) or the soporific whole-tone string writing. Goletz’ solo, a good but not a great one, is the only attraction on this tune. Despite a good arrangement and some very fine solos, I didn’t think much of Jungle Juice as a piece, even in Goletz’ fine arrangement. Mayreh, on the other hand, is a nice swinging tune played with just the right light touch (and more fine solos), but The Summer Knows is a real drippy piece that sounds like elevator music. And so the album goes.

Bottom line: This is a nice album with some truly outstanding tracks and a few weak ones, though consistently interesting for Goletz’ playing.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Vol. 1 of Bacewicz Symphonies Released

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WAP 2022BACEWICZ: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 / WDR Sinfonieorchester; Łukasz Borowicz, cond / CPO 555 556-2

It seems almost incredible that, although there were sporadic recordings of Grazyna Bacewicz’ music in the past, most of the recordings and attention she has received have come in the past decade. Prior to that, she was a respected but somewhat shadowy figure in the world of music. Today, I would say that, at least on records, she is a major force to be reckoned with.

The good news about this release is that it is listed as Vol. 1 of her complete symphonic works, which means that we will surely be graced by more CDs in the future. The bad news, so to speak, is that the series starts with Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4, which were already recorded 28 years ago by Roland Bader with the Krakow Philharmonic for Koch International and are available for free streaming on You Tube.

Nonetheless, these works are so good that having alternate recordings of them is a plus and not a minus, and if anything the sharpness and clarity of these new recordings supersede those of Bader. In addition, Borowicz’ tempi are generally quicker than Bader’s except for the slow movements, which he takes at a pace closer to “Largo” than “Andante,” but as it turns out, he’s right and Bader is wrong. The second movement, written in 6/4 time, is marked in her score as quarter note=56, and this is exactly how Borowicz plays it.

Interestingly, Borowicz’ phrasing within the fast movements is broader than Bader’s…but as it turns out, this too is correct. In many places in the score, Bacewicz marked her music as “poco meno mosso,” which literally means “a little less motion.” So for all intents and purposes, tempi as well as phrasing, Borowicz gives you what Bacewicz wrote.

And he certainly conducts this music with energy. The winds and brass practically leap out of your speakers, creating a sound world in which an almost manic energy is fused with elegance and, at times, mystery. As it turns out, the (correct) slower pace of the third symphony’s “Andante” gives the soft string pizzicato passages a feeling that I like to refer to as “sneakin’ around music,” a feeling which Bader, at his much faster tempo, cannot bring out of the orchestra.

Thus I give this recording an A+ in every respect: following the score directions, getting under the skin of the music emotionally, and generally presenting a dynamic, exciting performance. To cite Toscanini’s old saying, “Is like reading the score!” And as I mentioned earlier, the sound quality is utterly fantastic.

Interestingly, although the Third and Fourth Symphonies were written very close together in time, Bacewicz found entirely new things to say in the fourth. The general outlines are similar, but the end result is an even more dynamic work than the third. There are less rubato passages in the Fourth, and even the slow movement has more rhythmic impulse to it. The mood here is also different from the slow movement of the third, not to mention her orchestration choices. This is less of a mysterious movement and more of a menacing one. And, as pointed out in the liner notes, her theme for the third-movement “Scherzo” is even more like folk music than its predecessor while its instrumentation, leaning heavily on high winds (piccolo, flute and clarinet) add a wryly humorous quality to the music. Even the finale has more bite and drive than in the Third Symphony, good as it is.

For those unfortunates who haven’t heard any of Bacewicz’ symphonies, their style lay somewhere in between Bartók (who she clearly admired) and Shostakovich, yet with a personal “voice” and style all her own. She was clearly one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, and the fact that her music is not played frequently in symphonic concerts while Mozart and Beethoven are done to death speaks volumes for the artistic inadequacies of the classical music world and its attitudes towards its audiences. “Yeah, just keep playing the old-timey stuff and we’ll keep selling tickets.” But why?? There are SO many excellent recordings of the old stuff, many of them in excellent stereo or digital versions, that going to so-and-so’s concert to hear yet another rendition of them is the musical equivalent of hitting yourself over the head with a mallet because it feels good when you stop.

I give the very highest recommendation to this one.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Kalnits & Csányi-Wills Play Weinberg

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WEINBERG: Concertino in A min. 2 Songs Without Words. 3 Pieces for Violin & Piano. Sonata Movement (1944). Sonata for 2 Violins* / Yuri Kalnits *& Igor Yuzefovich, vln; Michael Csányi-Wills, pno / Toccata Classics TOCC 0188

This is Vol. 4 in a series of albums presenting Weinberg’s complete works for violin and piano. Although I reviewed the first disc in this series, Toccata Classics 0026 which contained the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, the solo violin sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 and the Violin-Piano Sonata No. 2, I passed on the other discs containing the other violin-piano sonatas because I already had excellent recordings of them by violinist Grigory Kalinovsky and pianist Tatiana Goncharova on Naxos and, to be honest, I much preferred their more rhythmic and dynamic performances to the slower, more legato readings of Kalnits and Csányi-Wills.

I did opt to review this CD, however, because it includes pieces I do not have: the Concertino in A minor, 2 Songs Without Words, the very early 3 Pieces for Violin & Piano from 1934-35 and the stand-alone Sonata Movement from 1944. (I have the two-violin sonata in an excellent recording by Gidon Kremer, one of Weinberg’s very few champions in the world, and Madara Petersone on Accentus Music.)

In reviewing this recording, then, the reader should assume that there may be future recordings of these pieces not currently available elsewhere that, like the Kalinovsky and Kremer recordings, may present the music in a more emotional and dramatic light. The 1948 Concertino is just one instance. Although Weinberg did indeed write music that was “lyrical,” it was in his own unusual, intense style. Here, Kalnits and Csányi-Wills play it as if it were a sonata by Rachmaninov, which is not really the right approach, but since it is the only one we have at present, at least we can appreciate the score played by musicians at least somewhat engaged in the presentation of the music.

This Concertino could easily have its piano part transcribed for orchestra, as it is relatively simple, consisting of a rocking motion in the first movement and not terribly challenging for the accompanist. At this stage of his career, Weinberg was more regularly rhythmic and somewhat more conventionally melodic in his writing. In 1948 in particular, he was influenced by his close friend Shostakovich. Of course, this somewhat more conventional form may also have been dictated by the demands of the Soviet Culture Bureau, which came down hard not only on Weinberg (Stalin even had his father-in-law murdered to bring him in line!) but also on Shostakovich and Prokofiev, all of whom wrote alternate forms of certain movements of their works, entrusting them to close allies among performers (young Rostropovich and Richter were two such) to play their original concepts once Stalin was dead (which they did). Thus I can’t altogether blame Kalnits for the Romantic profile of the music, though I do believe that his over-sugary approach to playing, with its occasionally throbbing vibrato and constant feeling of bathos, makes it even more Romantic than it needs to be. Only in the last movement did I feel that he came close to the proper Weinbergian style.

The early pieces for violin & piano are interesting in that they have an almost Middle Eastern sound to the harmony, or at least, one might say, Middle Eastern harmony tempered by the modern French school of that time. The central “Scherzo” is particularly interesting in this respect, with a harmonic base that always sounds as if it is heading towards resolution but never quite arrives there. This piece is played quite well by Kalnits and Csányi-Wills. The third piece, “Dream About a Doll,” does resolve its harmony at times but somehow manages to maintain a strange sort of hallucinatory feeling about it. The doll being dreamed about must surely have had a demon hidden in it! In this piece, the piano part is especially important as it helps convey this mood as well with writing that includes independent themes of its own, sometimes overcoming the violin to impose its will for a few moments. Both instruments rise to an almost frightening and very intense climax in the middle. In its own way, this is the one piece on this album that I felt pointed more clearly towards Weinberg’s mature style, which had its differences in form but not in the strangeness of its emotional projection. This is clearly the highlight of the entire album.

Although the stand-alone sonata movement of 1944 is also somewhat Romantic in feeling, it, too has an uncomfortable emotional undercurrent that is hard to define. Unease? A premonition of something bad that will happen? Anxiety waiting for someone to arrive who is part due? Pick your own and apply it to this music, because whatever it is, it’s in there.  The sonata for two violins is played pretty well, and here both Kalnits and his partner, Igor Yuzefovich, give the music a proper Russian edge.

If you like your classical music consistently sweet and pleasant-sounding, not only this disc but also the complete violin sonatas played by Kalnits and Csányi-Wills are for you. Otherwise, this one is currently indispensable for Weinberg collectors, but keep your eyes out for versions by Kalinovsky or Kremer.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Tafreshipour’s Remarkable Opera

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TAFRESHIPOUR: The Doll Behind the Curtain / Jonathan von Schwanenflügl, tenor (Mehrdad); Signe Sneh Durholm, soprano (Bita); Elenor Wiman, mezzo-soprano (Mother); Jakob Bloch Jespersen, bass-baritone (Father); Thomas Storm, baritone (Maître); Per Bach Nissen, bass (Tombeau); Marie Dreisig, soprano (Giselle); Athelas Sinfonietta; Eirik Haukaas Ødegaard, conductor / Bis 2596 (Live: Copenhagen, December 14, 2020. Video performance available for free streaming on Vimeo)

Amir Mahta Tafreshipour (b. 1974) is an Iranian composer who first graduated from Teheran University before moving to Denmark, where he is now a citizen, and pursuing further studies at the Esbjerg Academy of Music, from which he graduated in 2001, as well as at the Guildhall School of Music and Trinity College. The latter two established his connection with the musical establishment in Great Britain. Among his many works, he is perhaps best known for his harp concerto Persian Echoes, premiered in 2005 on the BBC. The Doll Behind the Curtain premiered in 2015, also in Great Britain, at the Tête a Tête Opera Festival in London.

Scheduled for release in January, this CD presents his chamber opera of less than 70 minutes, The Doll Behind the Curtain. It touches on the topic of societal alienation as well as a universal subject found in many stories from different cultures of the idée fixe. Based on a short story from the 1930s by Iranian writer Sadegh Hedayat, who cited as his influences Poe, Chekhov and especially Franz Kafka, it tells of Mehrdad, a shy, introverted Iranian studying at Le Havre in France. He discovers a beautiful female mannequin in a junk shop, and buys it shortly before returning to Iran. Mehrdad believes he has found a beauty that is flawless and unchanging—as the booklet for the recording put it, “a passive object of adoration with which to share his secret life.” Yet by the second act in this short opera, Mehrdad finds himself isolated from both his parents and his adoring fiancé, Bita. She is his cousin; the engagement was pre-arranged by his father who tries to nudge Mahrdad into marrying her. By this time, however, the mannequin has morphed from a passive object of adoration into “a demanding mistress.” Sneaking into Mehrdad’s room while he is gone, Bita discovers the mannequin. Mehrdad returns to his room, now afraid of the power the mannequin has over him, and decides to “kill” it. But just as he takes out a pistol and moves to shoot the mannequin, a “figure” identical to it with its green dress and blond wig appears. Mehrdad goes to shoot the mannequin and pulls the trigger, as it turns out, on an empty chamber in the pistol. The figure shrieks and runs towards Mehrdad with its arms outstretched. Frightened, Mehrdad shoots at the moving figure; both fall to the floor. The figure’s blond wig falls off, and underneath it is the image of Bita—who also suddenly goes limp. After Mehrdad manages to stand up again, he goes into the alcove where both he and the mannequin give out despairing cries. Curtain.

In some ways, this story shares a theme similar to that of Montemezzi’s L’Incantesimo, where the main character is shocked to discover a deer in the woods that has the face of his wife, Giselda. That story was written by Sem Benelli, also in the 1930s. Apparently, there were writers back then who used symbolism to define, each in his or her own way, the essence of women who were loved but apparently misunderstood in terms of their essential being. One is also reminded of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s famous story, later used in Offenbach’s opera, of a man’s infatuation with a mechanical doll which he not only believes to be human but falls in love with based purely on her “perfect” good looks. Only the destruction of the doll before his own eyes brings him to his senses. The introduction of the Doppelgänger by Hedayat created a fantasy figure which combines the qualities of both the artificial object of beauty (the doll) and the real-life woman.

In this opera Tafreshipour created light, transparent orchestral textures, modal harmonies and often slow-moving melodic lines. The goal of such music is to create, as much as possible, an hypnotic spell on the listener, enveloping him or her in a sound-world quite different from even that of advanced European harmonies—this despite the fact that the very opening music of this opera is loud and dissonant, with what sounds like a wordless choral interjection—yet since there is no chorus, this passage is actually sung by the septet of soloists. The music, you might say, hovers around B major—at least, B natural is the prominent tonality around which Tafreshipour assembles his tonal dissonances, at one point in the orchestral opening actually sounding a B major chord—and in fact, the music constantly suggests tonality more often than not. Mehrdad’s opening monologue does indeed have a melody line (it is not really strophic) although it is not conventionally tuneful. “What is it she wants to tell me?” he asks himself as he gazes at the mannequin in the window. “I could believe those eyes, opaque, made of alabaster, see into my soul and she knows me as I am.” And already at this early stage, the mannequin “sings” wordless tones, much like Roxana in Szymanowski’s equally exotic King Roger, and set to a similar modal melisma. Here, at the very outset of the opera, Tafreshipour is already pulling the listener into Hedayat’s shadowy fantasy world.

Within its brief duration, Tafreshipour sometimes makes quick scene changes. After addressing the doll, there is a blackout. When the lights go up again, he is in the Lycée where the Maître addresses him, telling him that he is sorry to see him go back to Iran because he has seen “your mind and conscience grow.” British librettist Dominic Power should also be given a great deal of credit for not only compressing Hedayat’s story into a libretto but also for his good sense in not making the text over-wordy, always a temptation for many English writers who somehow think of themselves as being equivalent to Shakespeare.

Power’s decision was a wise one, using the device of having figures written to or talked about appear and sing onstage. Thus as Mehrdad writes to his family back home, his mother and Bita appear onstage and sing. Interestingly, the proprietor of the shop from which Mehrdad buys the mannequin is named Tombeau, the French word for “tomb.” Also of note are his words to Mehrdad after he buys the doll: “With such a model, so compliant and so subtle [italics mine], you would create the ideal woman…Hide her from covetous eyes.” This, too, recalls Coppelius’ words to Spalanzani when he sells him the lifelike eyes to plant in the doll Olympia’s face. And for some reason not explained, Tombeau’s granddaughter Giselle also follows Mehrdad back to Iran, and in fact has a (sung) conversation with his parents and later with Bita. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s certainly interesting.

Back home, Mehrdad has applied lipstick to the doll’s mouth to make it look more realistic, but is already packing a gun in the opening scene of the second act, long before the final denouement occurs. Part of the dialogue between Bita, Giselle and the mother is indeed surreal. Out of nowhere, Bita sings, “Now it is winter, snow covers our city, and you are here,” to which Giselle sings one word—“Different”—and the mother also sings just one—“Indifferent,” to which Bita responds, “Cold as snow.” Immediately after, Mehrdad, pistol in hand, sings one line, “May God forgive me,” then sinks to his knees in front of the mannequin, puts the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger…but the chamber is empty. Yet even with the three women present, not one makes a comment or tries to stop him from what is clearly a suicide attempt. Strange indeed! Although Bita sings on two occasions that she is devoted to Mehrdad, when moments of crisis like this arrive she doesn’t lift a finger to help him. One begins to think that the reason he’s so attached to the doll is that she is no more emotionally responsive or giving than his fiancé.

I have written quite a bit about the libretto for this opera because it is clearly on an extraordinarily high level, not only in literary but also in symbolic terms. This is surely one of the most complex and fascinating of psychological dramas ever set to music, and it is to Tafreshipour’s credit that he kept it relatively spars with clear, transparent instrumental textures so as not to overload or pump up what is a very complex and often tense drama of the mind.

There are also hints, not too subtle but underplayed, of Hedayat’s criticism of the harshness of Iranian and Musim culture. Before leaving France, the Maître offers Mehrdad a glass of wine, which he turns down. He then offers him a dinner with his fellow-students, which he also turns down. After Maître leaves, Mehrdad sings, “’Enjoyment and duty co-exist in the harmonious soul.’ How facile is the conversation of pompous petit-maître.” Somewhere deep in the recesses of his subconscious, we come to think, the doll represents not only a love-ideal to Mehrdad but also a touch of freedom that he is not allowed to pursue.

Listening to Tafreshipour’s orchestral score is a treat in itself. The delicacy of the chamber orchestra is made all the more effective by his pointillistic writing with its alternation of counterpoint and the little spot solos given to various instruments (oboe and bassoon in addition to various string instruments. As soon as Mehrmad buys the mannequin, the music becomes edgy and confused, reflecting his mixed-up state of mind. A strange disquiet also underlines the music behind Bita and Mehrdad’s parents upon his return home. “Outwardly dutiful, respectful, quietm but a stranger,” the Father sings. “Cold as the snow that shrouds Tehran.” As Mehrdad, ignoring them, sings to the mannequin “I cannot leave you, and you will not free me,” Bita and his mother sing a strange chord, A above an Eb, underlining his alienation from reality. Middle Eastern melismas constantly underline the music in this scene. The music sounds almost comical in a dark way, like a drunken song sung in a bar, when Mehrdad asks then, “What do you see when you see me? A drunkard? A fool?” Little touches like this continue throughout the opera. Much of the music passes by the listener’s ear as if emerging from a dream…sometimes a pleasant dream, but just as often an edgy, uncomfortable one, particularly in the scene where Bita confronts the doll, singing, “If I could, I would destroy you, kill you, to bring him back.”

And there is a surprise. Immediately after Bita starts to take the blond wig from the mannequin’s head, there is a blackout, and in the very next scene both Giselle, Tombeau and the Maître suddenly reappear out of nowhere, repeating lines that they used in Act I as Mehrdad is sprawled on the couch in a drunken stupor…evidently an alcohol-induced hallucination.

It’s difficult for me to say, given my limited exposure to Tafreshiour’s music, whether or not the “voice” he uses in this score is his usual or normal style of writing, but every scene of The Doll Behind the Curtain works in context as well as in relation to each other scene. It may not be a masterpiece, but it’s a highly effective psychological, almost hallucinatory opera. My sole complaint is that the music ends abruptly, not sounding like an ending at all.

As for the singing, it is somewhat uneven. Tenor Jonathan von Schwanenflügel (Mehrdad) has a pleasant tone and somewhat good diction, but his voice is somewhat nasal and every sustained note flutters unevenly. Bass Per Bach Nissen (Maître) and mezzo-soprano Elenor Widman (Mother) have consistently fluttery voices (and Widman’s also has a whiny quality about it that grated on my ears), but both sopranos, Maria Dreisig (Giselle) and Signe Sneh Durholm (Bita) have good ones (though some of Durholm’s high notes sound a bit shrill), as does baritone Thomas Storm as Tombeau. The singers’ diction varies, but the men are generally intelligible though singing in British English which has its own sound while the sopranos lose their consonants in notes above the staff. They generally make do, and all act their parts with their voices fairly well, but a more consistently good cast would clearly have enhanced the quality of the performance. Nonetheless, highly recommended because of the quality of the music and the libretto. The video available for free streaming on Vimeo appears to be incomplete (it’s only 57 minutes long, and is missing the opening scene), and the singers are almost always off-mic which makes it difficult to understand them, but at least it give you a chance to see the production, which is simple and effective.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Gulyás Plays Villa-Lobos

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VILLA-LOBOS: 5 Preludes. Suite Populaire Brésilienne. Choros No. 1, “Choro tipico.” 12 Études / Georg Gulyás, guitarist / Proprius PRCD 2094, also available for free streaming in individual bits on YouTube

Heitor Villa-Lobos was an excellent but rather strange composer whose music was influenced by 1) his native Brazilian music, 2) the innovations of Bartók, and 3) the intricate structures of J.S. Bach—and all of them, you might say, in equal measure. In these, his complete works for guitar, he was more strongly influenced by Nos. 1 and 3 than by No. 2.

Many of these pieces have been recorded by other guitarists, but I’m not going to cross-reference most of them because I don’t have to. A cursory sampling of Swedish guitarist Georg Gulyás’ playing will tell you that he is a superb guitarist who combines virtuosity, a clear understanding of this material, and, perhaps most importantly of all, an energetic, emotionally involved performing style. In my view, this is what all classical guitarists should sound like, but unfortunately the majority of them are more strongly influenced by the wimpy, over-delicate style of Andrés Segovia than by the meatier playing of Julian Bream of Pepé Romero…even though several of these works were written for Segovia.

Like the Rautavaara CD I also recently reviewed, this CD “slipped out” onto the market. In fact, since it is produced by a really small label, it has had virtually zero promotion, and I couldn’t find a single review of it online, thus in practical terms, it doesn’t exist. Had I not tripped across it by accident on the Naxos Music Library, I wouldn’t have a clue of its existence.

But as I said, Gulyán is a superb—not just a run-of-the-mill—guitarist, and he clearly understands these pieces. This is particularly apparent in the slow pieces, even more so than the fast ones. This is where too many guitarists indulge themselves in over-Romantic goop whereas Gulyás plays then with backbone, combining elegance of phrasing with well-judged changes in dynamics and sometimes strong, sometimes subtle rhythmic stresses, as in the very first Prelude (“Andantino expressivo”). Indeed, his balance of elegance and energy keeps the listener fully engaged. You never feel your attention wandering as he plays, and that is very important. He even imparts a touch of flamenco style in the midst of the second “Andantino” Prelude, which is wholly appropriate.

The music itself is, for the most part, fairly straightforward for Villa-Lobos despite channeling his Brazilian roots. Interestingly, it was the 12 Études, with their strong Bach influence, which he wrote for Segovia in 1929, whereas the five Préludes, which sound much more like Segovia-style music, were in fact written for his wife, Arminda Neves de Almeida in 1940. The one outlier on this recording, the stand-alone Choros No. 1, along with the Suite Populaire Brésilienne, was composed between 1908 and 1912, using the then-popular urban music of Rio de Janeiro as its basis.

In the end, however, I really only found the Études to be really meaty music, meaning music that would stand up to repeated listening. Here, I did make a comparison between Gulyán and one of my idols, Julian Bream. To be honest, I preferred Gulyás. On his recording, Bream rushed the music too much, blurring notes that were clearly intended to be heard separately whereas Gulyás gave them their proper duration and clarity. Recommended primarily for these pieces.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Rare Music by Rautavaara

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RAUTAVAARA: Fantasia. In the Beginning. Deux Sérénades. Lost Landscapes / Simone Lamsma, vln; Malmö Symphony Orch., Robert Trevino, cond / Ondine ODE 1405-2

Here’s a recording that :slipped out” earlier this year. When I say “slipped out,” I mean exactly that. It was probably listed in the Naxos New Release Catalog, but I have given up going through those because 80% of the recordings I want to review—normally out-of-central-repertoire music—are never available for download on the music reviewers’ website, and also nowadays, more than half of them also do not become available on the Naxos Music Library streaming site, but lo and behold , this one was listed on both, so here is my review.

These works were all written between 2005 (Lost Landscapes, which was revised in 2015) and 2016 (Deux Sérénades, one of his very last works, completed in 2018 by Kalevi Aho) but are not generally known or performed. In fact, both In the Beginning and Lost Landscapes are first recordings. Violinist Simone Lamsma is featured on all but In the Beginning which does not include a solo violin part.

The Fantasia is one of those Rautavaara works that fit most comfortably into standard concert programs, combining lush lyricism with his usual adventurous harmonies. Yet one never feels that the composer was “cheapening” his art or condescending in his approach to the piece. American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, who commissioned the work, played it for the composer who said, “Wow, did I write some beautiful music!” But I’m sure that, had it been a less emotional performance, he might have been a bit more reserved in his praise.

Fortunately for us, Simone Lamsma pours her whole heart into the score. Harmonically speaking, it harks back to, say, early Carl Nielsen rather than the Alban Berg concerto, but the incredibly sustained lyric line of the piece runs like a golden thread through the sensitive yet colorful orchestration, which is very much in Rautavaara’s own personal idiom. The music rises to an ecstatic climax at the mid-point, with throbbing viola section tremolos behind the soloist. In a sense, the continuous evolution of this piece from start to finish is similar to the kind of writing that Wagner did in his own manner. This should definitely be programmed in concerts more often; I can’t imagine anyone who could say that it is too “advanced” or “confusing” for them to grasp.

In the Beginning, described in the liner notes as “an impactful and potentially ambiguous title,” conforming to conductor Pietari Inkinen’s request for an overture-like concert opener, but here the composer poured the full breadth of his imagination into the score. Although also in his neo-Romantic style, there is an undercurrent of unease, possibly even a bit of menace, from the (quiet) opening bars, in which low clarinets play an ominous figure against low strings and, later, brass. The harmonic language here is also more complex, tonal to a point but constantly shifting the inner harmonies so that the tonality itself shifts in and out of neighboring keys. Yet there is that lyrical line played by the violins, not nearly as pretty as the Fantasia, however. It, too, keeps falling through harmonic “traps” into adjacent harmonic fields, and this, plus the constantly nudged-forward yet subtle rhythm, maintains the edginess of the opening bars throughout the work. This is truly Rautavaara at his best. There are even intimations of Ligeti in some of the more complex writing for the string passages in the last third of the piece. Since it only lasts five minutes, Rautavaara was able to create a much denser structure here than in the Fantasia.

With the Deux Sérénades, we return to a more Romanticized musical environment. Written for violinist Hilary Hahn, it is even longer than the Fantasia but in the same basic mold. The biggest difference, to my ears, is the constantly moving inner voices and subtly shifting harmonies, again with that slight nudge forward to give the music movement. The lead violin line is somewhat more complex than in the Fantasia if not as memorable, but this work, too, is not too far removed from the kind of Romantic stuff that most violinists wallow in, so I guess it makes them happy.

Lost Landscapes is yet another neo-Romantic piece. To be honest, however, I found it to be a very weak piece, so much like the first Sérénade that it sounded like an early draft of it, and not a particularly successful one. This was really quite a let-down for me since most of the music up to this point was quite good. But as I said, most classical violinists just wallow in this kind of overly-sentimental claptrap, and so do their audiences, so I’d expect that this, too would become a concert favorite. I did, however, like the second half of Lost Landscapes much more than the first.

Well, at least most of the album is good, and the first two pieces particularly so.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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