CD+DVD Reviews

Dick Hyman – Century of Jazz Piano, Transcribed! (2009/2012) – Arbors Records (5 CDs + 1 DVD)

Thoroughly fascinating for anyone who has even attempted to play some jazz piano.

Published on February 18, 2013

Dick Hyman – Century of Jazz Piano, Transcribed! (2009/2012) – 5 CDs + 1 DVD album – Arbors Records HL00312074 (DVD only) Vol. 20 ARCD 19348 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

Dick Hyman remains an important figure in the world of jazz piano. His uncle was a concert pianist and his brother introduced him to the music of Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong and others. After returning from WWII he won an on-air piano competition which earned him 12 free lessons with Teddy Wilson (from the Benny Goodman Trio). A few years later Hyman became Goodman’s pianist. He has researched ragtime and the earliest periods of jazz, and often includes these piano pieces in his recitals.

Hyman has had an extensive career as a studio musician in New York and continues to be a guest performer. He was a pioneer in Moog synth pop albums, has been composer/arranger/conductor/pianist for many Woody Allen films, and composed a number of classical works for orchestra, including a cantata on Mark Twain. He is jazz advisor to the Shedd Institute’s annual Oregon Festival of American Music in Eugene.

A Century of Jazz Piano was first a CD-ROM series, and then was reissued in 2009 as a set of five audio CDs plus a standard DVD. It has altogether 121 performances in its huge survey of jazz piano. Now Hal Leonard Music has published a book of sheet music from the DVD, containing complete transcriptions of Dick’s performances of these historical pieces, and the same DVD is supplied along with the book of music. (I don’t believe the DVD is available separately.)

On the five CDs Hyman has grouped the composer/pianists according to both historical and stylistic categories. Disc 1 starts with ragtime, the precursor of jazz piano. It includes selections by Jelly Roll Morton and early Mary Lou Williams. Disc 2 brings up Gershwin, novelty piano, boogie-woogie, Fats Waller, Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. The Duke, The Count, Errol Garner, Dave Brubeck and funk are covered in Disc 3. Disc 4 gets into Thelonious Monk, “Lenny to Bill” and some improvisations. On Disc 5 Hyman does some unstructured free improvisations, and plays four explorations—each in the style of well-known improv-oriented pianists: Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea and Cecil Taylor: his “Etudes for Jazz Piano in the styles of the Great Pianists.” It also features Hyman’s four-handed arrangement of his 1968 Moog synth hit, “The Minotaur.”

Most of the recordings were made in 1996 and ’97 at Hyman’s studio in Venice, FL. on a Yamaha Disklavier piano. But the real interest here for many will be the DVD which comes with both the set of CDs and the printed music. It should rivet anyone who has tried to play and jazz piano, explaining step by step exactly what notes the various classic jazz piano legends chose to play and how you can emulate them youself. The video is a bit dated-looking, but it concentrates closeup on the keyboard and Hyman’s hands, showing you exactly what Hines, or Garner or Brubeck did on the keys. You learn all about the various techniques of these great jazz virtuosos, and you get to hear the results of their technical mastery of the keyboard. It’s really exciting to see exactly how, for example, Errol Garner got his unusual sound and be able to emulate it yourself on the keyboard. There are 13 lessons here, as detailed on the tracklist below. At the conclusion are four Bonus Performances by Hyman.

And if you read music, you will also want to have the complete book of music based on the DVD.  Some of the selections are amazingly difficult to play but others are quite straightforward, and even a beginner could have great fun with it.

TrackList for DVD:

Hands-On Lesson #1 [Ragtime, From Louis Moreau Gottschalk to Scott Joplin]
Hands-On Lesson #2 [Jelly Roll Morton]
Hands-On Lesson #3
Hands-On Lesson #4 [Stride Piano]
Hands-On Lesson #5 [Earl Hines/Teddy Wilson]
Hands-On Lesson #6 [The Rhythm Section]
Hands-On Lesson #7 [Art Tatum]
Hands-On Lesson #8 [Erroll Garner]
Hands-On Lesson #9 [Bud Powell and Bebop]
Hands-On Lesson #10 [George Shearing, Block Chords, and Orchestration]
Hands-On Lesson #11 [Another Look at Block Chords]
Hands-On Lesson #12
Hands-On Lesson #13 [Nicholas Slonimsky to McCoy Tyner]
Bonus Performance #1
George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin
Bonus Performance #2 [Variations on Heliotrope Bouquet]
Louis Chauvin / Scott Joplin
Bonus Performance #3 [Variations on Elite Syncopations]
Scott Joplin
Bonus Performance #4 [Carolina Shout]

—John Henry

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