Ordinarily, I have a distrust of people who can do too many things too well. There’s a part of me that thinks that Renaissance people are basically pulling a scam on the rest of us. Most people I know have a hard enough time being accomplished in any one thing, much less several. How is it possible that somebody can create significant bodies of work in several unrelated media? I really don’t get it.
Then, every once in a while, someone comes along to interfere with my worldview – people like Dick Hyman and Randy Sandke, and their recording Now & Again. Both of these gentlemen are highly accomplished in both classical and jazz music, something which is very hard to do. Classical music performance depends on the subtle recreation of the artistic inventions of another creative person; it is more “recreative” in nature. Jazz performance relies on the inventive interpretation and expression of the performer; in essence, it is more “creative.” I’m sure these definitions will bother some people, but at least on one level, that’s how I see these two kinds of music. And within jazz, there are several styles of music, just like in classical. Just because a person is an expert in Dixieland jazz doesn’t mean they can do justice to bebop or free jazz. However, Hyman and Sandke are omnivorous music stylists. They are just as comfortable playing early jazz as they are performing 21st Century varieties.
In Now & Again, this duo plays a variety of tunes from the early years of jazz, like “Weatherbird” by King Oliver and “Wild Man Blues” by Jelly Roll Morton. Later standards are represented by songs like Cole Porter’s “You‚d Be So Nice To Come To” and George and Ira Gershwin’s “Bronco Buster.” They even manage to squeeze in a few of their own compositions (yeah, not only can they play music, but they can write it as well), like Hyman’s “Thinking of Bix” and Sandke’s “The Wizard” and “Two as One.” Drawing from such a wide range of material, you’d expect the recording to sound disjointed and clumsy, but it’s not. Quite the opposite, Now & Again functions in a coordinated way that emphasizes the connections they either found or created in the music. They own enthusiasm infuses the mix with a glorious unified sound.
And what about the performances? Hyman’s piano technique goes from playful to seductive to powerful with barely a pause and never a stumble. He’s facile and confident, bringing a highly-developed sense of musicality to every tune. Sandke’s trumpet is amazing. His tone is rich and centered. His range is breathtaking, from low sonorous notes to screaming highs. The fast passages seem effortless and virtuosic. Together, their performances reach the limits of their instruments, full of energy and surprising turns. And these aren’t young men, despite the vigorous and athletic execution of the music. This year Dick Hyman will turn 79 and Randy Sandke will turn 57. They’re both experts in classical and jazz, along with being comfortable with most of the styles of jazz, and they’ve been at it a long time.
Okay, I have to concede that after listening to Now & Again, Hyman and Sandke prove that some people can be good at a number of things. They don’t have to specialize in just one thing. But maybe it just takes a while to be good at everything. At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself when I listen to this CD. And I will listen to it frequently because it’s that good. It really is.
– Hermon Joyner