Dick Hyman Solo At The Sacramento Jazz Festivals 1983-1988 – Arbor Records

by | Oct 16, 2017 | Jazz CD Reviews

Dick Hyman Solo At The Sacramento Jazz Festivals 1983-1988 – Arbor Records ARCD 19451, 70:45 ****:

Vintage performances by a jazz master gets a digital conversion.

(Dick Hyman – piano)

Like many jazz pianists, Dick Hyman was destined to be a classical prodigy. His early repertoire included Beethoven, but he found symmetry with Chopin. The expansive melodies (especially waltzes) lent themselves to jazz improvisation. After an Army stint, Hyman won an on-air competition, and more importantly 12 free lessons with Teddy Wilson. Hyman would one day be pianist for Benny Goodman as well. In addition to traditional jazz, Hyman developed an interest in ragtime  and stride piano, researching the catalog of Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake and Fats Waller. These composers have become a staple of Hyman’s live performances. He has created scores for many Woody Allen films, written for dance companies and explored electronic music (with an emphasis on the Lowrey organ). Throughout this illustrious career, Hyman has continued to perform and record live concerts.

Arbor Records has released a collection of rare solo performances recorded thirty years ago. Dick Hyman Solo At The Sacramento Jazz Festivals 1983-1988 is a brilliant assortment of piano virtuosity. Amazingly, these tracks were captured by a Sony Walkman Cassette Player that was placed inside the piano by Siegfried H. Mohr. Now with digital conversion, this music can be heard again. The CD begins with1983. And what better way to get the festivities underway than Gershwin. “S’ Wonderful” (from the beloved play Funny Face) has been Hyman’s trademark opening song. He begins with a whimsical intro that sails through a variety of chord changes before adopting a jaunty rhythm at the 1:00 mark. The melodic structure remains intact, but the improvisational flourishes are rousing. Taking on the rollicking tempos of James P. Johnson, “Jingles” percolates with intensity and vibrancy. It perfectly illustrates stride techniques that bridge ragtime to jazz. “Stella by Starlight” (written by Victor Young for the film, The Uninvited) has been recorded by a cadre of jazz legends including Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Joe Pass and Dexter Gordon. This 4:43 gem starts with an expressive melancholy that morphs into hard-driving accelerated melody and base lines. The pace is relentless and the improvisational prowess makes this cover among the best.

Hyman’s eclectic composition selection is diverse and exciting and brings new enjoyment to classic music. “Jazz Me Blues” was a brief light in the shortened legacy of Bix Beiderbecke (And His Gang). Hyman delivers the syncopated and counter-rhythms in a near tango. His solos (as admitted in his liner notes) were meant to approximate the Beiderbecke choruses. The heavy context of Richard Wagner’s “Pilgrim’s Chorus” was converted by stride pianist Donald Lambert in 1945, making it a rollicking, upbeat arrangement. Hyman plays with record-setting speed as the left hand keeps a jaunty beat, while the right hand pushes chords, notation and speed to a big finish. In an inspired choice, “Virtuoso Rag” draws from stride and ragtime fingering with equal tenacity. Hyman’s phrasing and energetic commitment to the piece is exemplary. Each selection is fresh and new. As described in the liner notes, the brief “Eccentricity” (James P. Johnson) is a crafted, stylized piano roll. Hyman is as comfortable with classic jazz stride or ragtime. His cover of Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” has an underpinning of sophistication with sparkling runs and hushed emphasis. Then with equal adeptness, Hyman attacks Jelly roll Morton’s “Pep” with stride ferocity and New Orleans soul.

Wyman’s creativity shines on Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” He renders the composition as a master-class appearance with numerous accents, descending chords and spirited 3/4 time. The bebop standard (although originally a show tune), “How High The Moon” swirls with tempo shits and scintillating right hand notation. Hyman compares his interpretation (with great respect) to the immortal Art Tatum. Slowing down a bit and delving into stride-blues, “Gulf Coast Blues” (written by Clarence Williams and popularized by Bessie Smith) is soulful with impeccable timing. Hyman finishes with deft versions of “Ain’t Misbehaving” and a second Clarence Williams piece (“Let Every Day Be Sweetheart’s Day”). The choice of “All The Things You Are” is perfect to wrap up this album. Starting out as an obscure 1939 broadway ditty, jazz musicians (Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and several others) have adopted it as a standard. Hyman keeps the bar high in his cover.

Dick Hyman Solo At The Sacramento Jazz Festivals is a wonderful preservation of stellar piano performances. The incisive liner notes by Hyman are a virtual history lesson in early jazz, stride and ragtime. The audio quality is more than acceptable, considering the low-tech recording source.  

Stella By Starlight
Jazz Me Blues
Pilgrim’s Chorus
Virtuoso Rag
Carolina Balmoral
Sophisticated Lady
Jitterbug Waltz
How High The Moon
Gulf Coast Blues
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Let Every Day Be Sweetheart’s Day
All The Things You Are

—Robbie Gerson


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