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
Somewhere 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.
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?