Lennie Tristano (1955) Atlantic (includes “best jazz pianists” poll)

The “best pianists” poll and all of this year’s LJC reader polls are to be found here on one new page. If you haven’t already had your say, voting is still open on all polls.


Selection 1: Line Up

Lennie Tristano (piano) Peter Ind (bass) Jeff Morton (drums) recorded in Lennie Tristano’s home studio, NYC, 1955

Selection 2: All The Things You Are

Lee Konitz (alto saxophone) Lennie Tristano (piano) Gene Ramey (bass) Art Taylor (drums) recorded at “The Sing-Song Room, Confucius Restaurant”, NYC,  June 11, 1955


LJC-Confucious-fastshow02Somewhere in the distant past I recall a comment at LJC, I forget the exact context, recommending a track or album  recorded at “The Sing Song Room of the Confucius Restaurant”. Excuse my ignorance. I rather suspect it was this Tristano. I thought at the time – Confucius Restaurant?  I’ll never see that.  In record collecting, anything can happen, and in fact, probably already has.

Tristano is a cult pianist in a world with no shortage of cult pianists, classed among the three giants of modern jazz piano, alongside Monk and Powell. I kept coming across musicians whose playing was of the School of Tristano, played with Tristano, or were influenced by Tristano but for a combination of reasons had never sat down and listened to Tristano himself.

Reviewer/writer Ted Gioia, in his excellent History of Jazz, offers the full s.p. on Tristano’s most important tracks:

When this track (Line Up) was first released, it attracted enormous attention . . . but not for the music.  Tristano had “tampered” with the tapes…manipulating the music in the process.

“Line Up” is one of the great linear improvisations in the modern jazz heritage.  Students could profitably study this solo, learning from its crystalline structure, unlocking the artistry of its phrasing, the rhythmic relationship of melody to the ground beat, and the harmonic implications of Tristano’s lines.

The chord changes are borrowed from “All of Me,” but instead of the romantic sensibility of that standard, Tristano offers a diamond-hard coolness purged of all emotional excesses.  This is as pure and abstract as music can get.  At any speed, “Line Up” is a masterpiece.

Gioia’s assessment of the music is on the money. When I sat and first mounted this record on the turntable I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t done any homework, hadn’t fact-checked Ted Gioia while in the shop, I bought it blind. (in passing Tristano was blind from early childhood) What was I in for? Some pleasant early Fifties lounge bar tinkling – people ordering a meal in a Chinese restaurant, Karaoke sing song?  Bill Evans at The Village Vanguard with chopsticks rattling on the plates? Wow.  I was transfixed, pinned to the sofa until the track had run its course. It is so powerful.

The striking originality of Tristano, observes Gioia, is his phrasing across the bar lines,

“the underlying 4:4 pulse is almost totally obliterated in this linear improvisation, hidden under the arcane super-structure of melody and rhythm”.  

Precisely what I thought, only he wrote it better.

Hot on the heels of Monk Alone in SF, Herbie Nichols and Misha Mengelberg, and some Cecil Taylor I look forward to posting shortly, it seems piano is flavour of the month, for now.

Opinion Poll, Vote Now for you ten favourite modern jazz pianists

We have not done a favourite pianists poll before, mainly because there are so many of them it takes an age to type the candidate list.

I have made a list of forty modern jazz pianists. The selection may betray my own preferences but I have tried to list all the majors, alphabetically so you can find your favourites more easily. If I’ve missed out any major, the LJC Complaints Department is open and waiting for your call. . I’ve thrown a few living modernists to appease the usual suspects, and some Europeans so it is not to US-centric, even a Canadian. On past form I’m sure to have left out some of your favourites, so you can write in “Others”.

The first few choices should be easy, but it gets a little harder as you approach ten. Just don’t use up all your votes before you get to Mal Waldron at the end. Be sure you have allocated all ten votes before pressing “Vote” as WordPress/ PollDaddy won’t allow you back for a second voting session.

What will be interesting is who the less obvious choices are once the bulk of votes are cast. It is not about who are generally considered  the best pianists, but those from whom you personally get the most enjoyment, perhaps some you consider under-rated. Which ones  are most often on your turntable (or CD caddy, or playlist)?

Vinyl: Atlantic 1224 US original black label

Gioia throws in this bad news grenade:   “Even today, a substantial portion of Tristano’s legacy is available only on hard-to-find CDs. The audio quality of his recordings is almost uniformly poor”. Now he tells us.

True, his recorded output predates the major step up in recording technology in the mid Fifties with the new generation of condenser microphones. Some people consider piano a difficult instrument to mic, and the ivory-strike attack and decay and resonance is a challenge to fast-response hi-fi reproduction, but this Atlantic original is not at all bad. It is nowhere as good as I would like it to be, but I have heard a lot worse with no excuse.

The Lee Konitz side is a little scuffed – it looks perfect but plays with a little surface noise. Apologies. I’ll take it back to the shop and ask them to change it for a nice one that isn’t scuffed.

The cover construction is a variation of the infamous early Blue Note Kakabuchi frame cover. There are shadow-lines under the margins where the front cover art has been pasted onto the fold-over paper from the back. I may be didn’t explain that good, but check the photo.


Original Atlantic corporate inner sleeve.



Collectors Corner

Heading for the Jazz new arrivals bin in a West End store, I was rather put out to find another jazz fan there already. I expect celebrity treatment – “Your usual table LJC, Sir? Can I recommend the special? A Carpaccio di Fassona Piemontese with seasonal white truffle”. It is agony watching another collector leafing through a pile. I  glanced over his shoulder to see what sort of records caught his attention. When he paused to scrutinise the foot of the liner notes – collectables, I knew we were deadly rivals. There was  a distinct possibility anything good in that bin would  disappear before my eyes. It happened to me once before, where a collection of great Bill Evans originals had just come in, and someone walked off with most of them just in front of me.  They don’t understand: these records are “mine!”

After what seemed a lifetime, the collector moved on, nothing having caught his eye that day. I dived in and quickly stumbled on three records, including this somewhat pricey but rare Atlantic black label original. Jumping the final hurdle, the condition turned out quite good, considering.  It was something of a shot in the dark as I don’t know Tristano, but I took my own advice: if you see it, buy it – you never know if you will see it again. It is better to regret what you did, than regret what you didn’t do.  This philosophy has withstood the test of time, with just a few casualties.  The collector in front of me made a mistake in passing on it. Should have followed LJC.

The more I found out about the record, the more I think velly good fortune emanated from the Sing Song Room of The Confucius Restaurant. The condition is not perfect, but then such is life. Some day a better copy may come along, or it won’t. Both are distinct possibilities.

Until then, I’m enjoying tapping a previously unexplored seam. Any Tristano recommendations out there?

31 thoughts on “Lennie Tristano (1955) Atlantic (includes “best jazz pianists” poll)

  1. Your record store anecdote was amusing. I had a similar experience at a record convention in Manchester, England. It concerns 78s, not LPs. I had just entered the record room and was standing near a particular table when I noticed a fantastic looking copy of the six-record 1933 album set Blackbirds of 1928. This is a VERY RARE album and the first ever of a Broadway show. Most collectors of that era of music have never seen a copy and probably never will. Turns out this was a British set, not the American set. The cover art was clean and beautiful. Just as I was about to reach for it, a guy in front of me picked it up. After looking at it a bit, he inquired about the price. I think he was quoted 25 pounds. He didn’t know what to do. Clearly seller and the prospective buyer knew nothing about the music in this set! I would have offered 100 pounds if I hadn’t thought it rude to do so. The guy bought the set. I asked if I might look at a record or two. They were pristine; they were beautiful! Lucky man! I doubt I shall ever see such a beautiful copy again!

    • Commiserations, we have all been there. However sometimes you will have been the guy in front, and someone else will have seen their prize snatched before their eyes, by you. I subscribe to the swings and roundabouts school of philosophy. Sometimes you pay too much, other times you pay too little. Life can often be a zero sum game. But with a little inside LJC knowhow, the odds can be in your favour.

  2. Managed to get a dirty London copy. Great record indeed. Will look for a black label atlantic. My Jazz piano fave’s: Monk, Nichols, Hancock, Waldron, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington

    • Merde – just went through the list…. Yes Mehldau (as a living pianist), yes Mengelberg, yes Tatum, yes Cecil Taylor. So many great Jazz pianists and probably my favourite instrument in Jazz

  3. No Eddie Costa , more’s the pity as his take on Tristano was pretty unique, check out House of Blue Lights, I suspect a Dot original may well be beyond LJC house limits,

  4. Poor Jimmy Smith. Still no respect for the organ. Based on the volume of BNs out there is our collections, he should have at least received an honorable mention as one of the poll choices.

  5. I don’t know a lot about Tristano, so these two gems are an absolute joy and once again I have to admit that the crackle of the record adds so much more atmosphere to the listening experience. Oh, and I voted as well, but you’re right: there are so many pianists that maybe a personal top 30 would have been a better idea 😛

  6. I’ve been looking for Tristano/Konitz Atlantic mono LPs for the same reason, just to hear their music! I’ve seen some nice copies on ebay but there always seems to be something else and more interesting to buy…
    So it’s very nice to hear these tracks! The piano on Line Up sounds like it’s been speeded up a bit with added tape(?) delay (echo!). Maybe it’s recorded with slower tempo (easier to play) and speeded for the LP. Reminds me of what Les Paul was doing with his guitar those days.

    I love Monk, Evans and many others on the list…but one record I like a lot when thinking of piano playing is Nina Simone/Little Girl Blue on Bethlehem. Her singing is great but I really enjoy her playing in this trio session. I hear jazz, blues, classical styles all melting naturally together.

  7. What — no Marilyn Crispell, Paul Bley, Cedar Walton? And what about ‘part-time pianists’ like Sam Rivers (excellent) and Mingus? Hmm, a jazz blogger’s work is never done, is it? Anyway, I’m not suggesting they should be added — I’m just the hundredth monkey with a typewriter, inadvertently coming up with Shakespeare…or whatever the analogy might be…

    • Correction, Alun. A jazz bloggers work is ..never … good enough.
      In future every poll will have six pages of legally watertight disclaimers, in very very small print.

      Definitely some omission, hands up. Artists are classified according to their lead instrument…blog owners decision is final… complainants will receive no redress.

  8. funny, I’ve just listened to all my Tristanos!
    ATLANTIC 1224 AND SD-7006 (double)
    no doubt for the must: Atl 1224, 1357, Capitol, still in need of 10″, but it’s not complete, Dutch reissue is.
    not to forget: Lee Konitz Prestige 7004, 4 tracks from 1949. in this same record the other pianist is Sal Mosca, one of the many Tristano’s alumni.

  9. In 1981 Atlantic issued the remaining tracks of the Sing Song recordings. A double album in original stereo, 13 long tracks, all previously unissued. Atlantic SD2-7006.

    • Agreed! Kenny is an excellent pianist, and someone who has perhaps been slighted because he emerged on the scene at a time when jazz appreciation went into rapid decline (the late sixties, early seventies). And he has played electrical instruments (very well, I might add).

      His appearance on Booker Ervin’s “Tex Book Tenor” is quite wonderful.

  10. I had a lot of fun reading this post! Beautiful jacket, and awesome that it has the same vintage black mono Atlantic labels as Giant Steps. I loved your story about being next to the guy at the record store…so funny, I can totally relate. And I like how old and lo-fi sounding the Konitz side is…it has a charming warmth =)

  11. Not sure whether it was I who put you onto this one LJC, but a while ago when you had a favourite live recording poll, I recommended this album. Anyway, welcome to the Lennie Appreciation Club.

  12. It is a great record that should be in anybody’s collection.If you go for sound quality I can recommend the London pressing.To my ears it sounds far better than the original black label Atlantic.I recently found one here in Holland for 20 euro’s and it sounds,as most London’s,terrific!

  13. A nice find. I admire Tristano a lot, although for some reason I rarely decide to listen to him. He had a unique voice, that’s for certain. First and foremost, I’d recommend his 1949 recordings with Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz (“Intuition”, “Digression” et al.). “The New Tristano” and “Descent Into The Maelstrom” also contain a lot of advanced music.

    Picking just ten favourite pianists is an nigh impossible task, but this is my list for today: Sonny Clark, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Andrew Hill, Hank Jones, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Freddie Redd, Art Tatum and Cecil Taylor.

    (Runners up too numerous to mention, Duke and Horace foremost among them.)

    Including Freddie Redd might seem a bit perverse from a pianistic point of view, but I think he’s got a lot to offer: great compositions, a creative take on the Powell-Monk tradition, consistency, and, above all, that elusive quality called taste.

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