Richard Twardzik: The Last Set (1954-5) Pacific Jazz


Selection 1: The Girl From Greenland (Twardzik) with Chet Baker, recorded in Paris 5:19

Selection 2: Yellow Tango (Twardzik) 5:28

Selection 3: ‘Round about Midnight (Monk) 3:52

Selection 4: I’ll remember April (Raye – de Paul – Johnston) 4:09

Selection 5: A Crutch For The Crab (Twardzik) 3:21


Richard Twardzik (piano) Carson Smith  (bass) Peter Littman (drums)
recorded Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, N.J. October 27, 1954. The Girl From Greenland, add Chet Baker (trumpet) substitute Jimmy Bond (bass) recorded at Studio Pathé-Magellan, Paris, October 11,1955.


Fairly short tracks as was the practice in the mid Fifties world before microgroove LPs, so I have thrown in a few more selections than usual to compensate Slightly Monk-like, slightly Herbie Nichols-like, slightly Powell-ish, probably a few other influences, but an individual voice is there, though never given the opportunity to develop. His take on ‘Round About Midnight is poignant and tender, and I’ll Remember April is a joyous mischievous helter-skelter.

Allmusic artist overview for Twardzik:

Pianist Richard Twardzik remains one of the most tragic cautionary tales in the annals of jazz — a gifted and original bop pianist on the precipice of international renown, he died of a heroin overdose at the age of just 24.  Twardzik was a classically trained child prodigy who studied under Madame Chaloff, the mother of the famed baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff; he began his professional career at 14 playing the Boston nightclub circuit, and later attended the New England Conservatory. While still in his teens, he also acquired the heroin addiction that would ultimately end his life.

According to his biographer Jack Chambers (day job, Toronto U Professor of Linguistics), Twardzik’s first recording was one track with Charlie Mariano in 1951, and he was soon accompanying Charlie Parker during Parker’s Hi-Hat Club Boston sessions 1951-2: bop super-group line up: Charlie Parker (as) Joe Gordon (tp) Bill Wellington (ts) Dick Twardzik (p) Charles Mingus (b) Roy Haynes (d).  He also played extensively  with Serge Chaloff in the early 50’s, recording on the Chaloff album Fable of Mabel ( LJC post December 6, 2011 – seems a long time ago!)

The young Twardzik was brought to the attention of Richard Bock, of Pacific Jazz Records, by pianist Russ Freeman. According to Chambers, Freeman recounts: “I told him (Bock) about this fantastic piano player I had heard.  And Dick said ‘Why don’t you do a recording?’ So we went up to New Jersey to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio and did the album.  I’m glad we did it, because it’s one of the few things Dick ever recorded.” The recording location and engineer is not credited on the liner notes, merely that the recording was “Produced by Russ Freeman”. Why so shy? It seems to have been Van Gelder, at Hackensack. A strange omission from the credits, but it explains the high quality recording by 1954 standards. Those cymbals, outstanding!

Twardzik never got to hear this record. Baker took Twardzik on his 1955 European tour, which was recorded extensively in Holland, Germany and France, the last to be Twardzik’s final set. He died of a heroin overdose in his Paris hotel on October 21, 1955. According to Chambers:

He (Twardzik) was expected at a recording session with Baker, and when he didn’t show, someone was sent to his hotel room.  No one answered at the locked door, and when it was finally broken,  Twardzik was found, already dead, with the spike still in his arm.

The Pacific Jazz liner notes describe Twardzik’s departure more tactfully – “died suddenly and unexpectedly”. Add: and too soon. Perhaps heroin in Paris was less adulterated than that supplied in Boston. Some have pointed out that, as ruinous as heroin is, its lethal property is usually a consequence of its degree of purity, unregulated other than by criminals. Moral issues aside, I prefer certain modern jazz players in their junkie phase, less so after they cleaned up. Just sayin’ .

Vinyl: Pacific Jazz  PJ37 1962 mono – 146gm vinyl.

170850579721[1]Hackensack recordings first issued on Pacific Jazz 1212  – Russ Freeman/Richard Twardzik Trio (right) one side of Twardzik, topped up with Freeman tracks. Subsequently the session was issued as PJ37 The Final Set,  with additional Twardzik tracks, including one with Chet Baker which was recorded two weeks before Twardzik’s death.

Audiophile tasting notes: After a recent slew of records with missing or rolled-off top end, it’s a delight to hear early Van Gelder engineering in fine form pressed I assume on the West Coast by Pacific Jazz –  those cymbals! If he could do it in 1954…why not other engineers? (It’s just hearsay but I have read that it was efforts to reduce tape hiss that resulted in cut high frequencies)



Collectors Corner

Central London record store, where in conversation with the jazz buyer about this record the word “rare” cropped up several times. This record is apparently quite rare, and for once, being rare does not equate with being expensive: Twardzik is relatively unknown.

Full Twardzik Discography is found here. It is quite short, but offers an interesting insight into the Boston jazz scene of the very early Fifties.


Can labelling jazz as West Coast or East Coast help understand or anticipate anything better?  Taking my lead from some of the comments below, I have had a go at a classic two-dimension XY venn diagram.


My conclusion after trying to do it is “no” . Where the hell do you put Thelonious Monk, let alone Sun Ra? Neither geography not “coolness” captures what is going on in jazz.


15 thoughts on “Richard Twardzik: The Last Set (1954-5) Pacific Jazz

  1. Four tracks from Pacific Jazz were issued on (Swedish) Artist 7-inch EP AEP 1017 “Richard Twardzik Trio”: Bess, You is My Woman; Albuquerque Social Swim, I’ll Remember April, and ‘Round About Midnight. The EP opens at the top rather than the right side and has the same cover art as the Pacific Jazz 12-inch LP 1212 that pairs Twardzik with Russ Freeman. The Swedish EP is not listed in the Twardzik discography published on the Internet, nor is the 1982 12-inch LP “The Great Lars Gullin ’55/’56 Vol. 1 with Chet Baker & Dick Twardzik,” Dragon DRLP 36, Side A tracks 4 and 5, Cool Blues, and Brash; and Side B tracks 1 and 2, Lover Man, and I’ll Remember April. Growing up in the Boston area as I did, I saw Twardzik, bassist Jimmy Bond, and drummer Peter Littman play.


  2. The difference between Zoo York and Lost Angeles? This is deep water, to mix metaphors.
    Somewhere I have a John Handy album called “No Coast” which could be a useful starting point. Any thoughts out there to shape a discussion on West Coast and East Coast Jazz, please chip in.


  3. Dick Twardzik was a more than worthy successor to Russ Freeman in the Chet Baker quartet. He came in the open in Europe on a Barclay album. He was a Genius and the recently available Dutch Chet Baker concerts attest to that. But THE monument to Dick is, in fact, the aforementioned Barclay album recorded at the end of the European tour which marries his Genius to the extraordinary compositions of Bob Zieff. A vinyl re-issue of this album seems to be available and I can only wish that more people get acquainted with this beautiful music.


    • P.S. More Zieff compositions (eight) on Dick Wetmore’s album on Bethlehem BCP – 1035.
      The Boston school is full of surprises: Richard Twardzik, Jaki Byard, Cecil Taylor for piano only, not to speak about Serge.


    • Completely agreed. Genius. Such a tremendous waste of young talent. He’s the pianist in my They Tragically Died So Young Memorial All-Star Band (with Bird on alto, Wardell on tenor, Clifford on trumpet, Serge on baritone, LaFaro on bass, Lem on vibes, and Chick Webb on drums). It’s a shame Dick is not better known.


  4. LJC,

    Am I to understand that you don’t much care for RVG’s engineering for labels such as Blue Note and Impulse?



    • How so? Au contraire, there is little if anything finer than RVG recording and mastering for Blue Note, Prestige and Impulse. (This record is unusual as it appears RVG was responsible for the recording, but not the mastering, presumably done at Bock’s behest on the West Coast)

      If I have any issue with Rudy it is his approach to early stereo. Here I think Contemporary’s Roy DuNann wears the crown, shared with Columbia’s unsung hero Fred Plaut and the acoustics of Columbia’s 30th St studios.

      It is with some trepidation I put on an RVG Stereo. He was fine on live recordings, it was the studio sessions where he made choices I would not have. From which speaker will each of the artists appear? I am told it was due to the first Ampex mixers having only a three position switch left, right or centre. Rudy’s inclination was to put lead instrument on left, second lead instrument if any on right, bass and drums right, piano centre, or some other balance-disturbing combo. There is a well-worn path from my sofa to the right speaker just to check it is still working.


      • ah i reread the writing and i misread the whole thing. my apologies. and i rather do not mind his mixing choices, although i do wish they had faders back then!


  5. Wow, this is quite a find! I had not even heard of Twardzik and had no idea that RVG ever did any sessions for Richard Bock. Fascinating!

    As for the impossible to ignore relationship of heroin use with Jazz music: Setting aside the merits of music produced under the influence, the human wreckage is hard to ignore: Just glancing at the musicians mentioned in this post (beyond the obvious examples of Charlie Parker and Chet Baker). Serge Chaloff’s career was significantly curtailed by his drug use (although he was ultimately able to kick). Joe Gordon is another tragic story: Early in his career he was favorable compared to Miles Davis, but after years of heroin use he died in a house fire most likely caused when he nodded off in bed with a lit cigarette.

    I can’t deny that I too prefer the output of some musicians when they were “on” (the Miles Davis Quintet springs to mind), but it’s sometimes hard to read down the causality list and not wonder how much great music was silenced as a result.

    The other aspect of this record which interests me is the “West Coast” dimension. Too often, West Coast players (with the possible exception of Chet Baker) are dismissed whole cloth as less creative, less accomplished and more commercial. While it’s not hard to understand how this perception arose, there are many important exceptions, as your find demonstrates. And as for “commercial”, let’s not forget that both Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor’s first records were released on Lester Koenig’s Contemporary label.

    Russ Freeman, I think, is a another pianist who is underrated due to the West Coast stigma. After his great work on Pacific Jazz both solo and with Chet Baker, like so many others, he ultimately ended up going into session work and commercial music. I think in the end, there just wasn’t enough work on the West Coast for innovative jazz musicians.


    • West Coast: are these two geographical OR musical words/worlds?
      I’d like a post ’bout this: while Bird was playing Bop on 52nd street, what was he playing in LA?
      take any musician, one for all, Art Pepper: what was he playing on the Coast?
      was it different from the East?
      or Hampton Hawes: different from other East Powellians?
      I think that West Coast, as a genre, doesn’t exist at all but the term has been used for stupid convenience only.


      • The difference between Zoo York and Lost Angeles? This is deep water, to mix metaphors.
        Somewhere I have a John Handy album called “No Coast” which could be a useful starting point. Any thoughts out there to shape a discussion on West Coast and East Coast Jazz, please chip in


        • I think it’s all nonsense, and some of the musicians did too. I have a nice Stan Getz Verve album (orig. on Norgran) called “West Coast Jazz,” which they named to have a laugh at the idea that the entire band was from the East Coast, but because the album was recorded in L.A., they knew it would be labeled “cool.”


        • Who gives me definitions of West and East Coast. Jazz? The easiest approach would be purely geographical. This, of course, does not make any sense, music-wise: some music recorded on the Coast (West, I mean) could have been made anywhere in the East, as the dottore says. Some East Coast jazz, as recorded for Brunswick, Coral, Dot and Bethlehem (I mean the Al Cohn/Manny Albam oriented groups),has more similarities with music normally associated with the West.
          West Coast Jazz has been considered by East Coasters (I mean N.Y./Detroit) as a surrogate of the real thing. So after a long process of indoctrination,the epitheton West Coast has become something pejorative. A decent bloke cannot dig effiminate West Coast.
          John Handy has his No Coast: album; a label from Minnesota (Zephyr) introduced North Coast Jazz. These novelties don’t add anything new to answer the question.
          The question can only be answered by forgetting about coasts and introducing a set of criteria in which to pigeonhole any music form we encounter. Thereafter we can choose names.


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