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  The Piano Thing  
  by Dustin Garlitz  

January 2005:

More than any other instrument, I am enthralled with the piano.  During the 1950s and 1960s there were a number of key players that appeared on the New York jazz scene.  Tommy Flanagan and Kenny Drew were both working with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane in the late 1950s.  Drew (whose son works with Eric Alexander today) was featured on the 1957 Blue Train album recorded for Blue Note Records.  This album is the number one seller in the Blue Note catalog.  Flanagan was featured on 1959s Giant Steps album recorded for Atlantic Records.  He didn’t realize that Coltrane was going to play the melody of the title track so fast, so on his own solo Flanagan just plays chord progressions (he didn’t have the time to craft a true solo statement).  Philadelphia-born Kenny Barron was quite active starting in 1959 as well.  Jaki Byard was working with Charles Mingus at the time.  When my Grandfather went for a lesson with Jaki in the 1950s (while a student at Schillinger House of Music in Boston), Byard was so surprised that he arrived on time.  He said, “no one ever shows up on time”.

The 1960s gave rise to Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.  When my Uncle knew Corea as a youngster in Chelsea, Massachusetts, he lent him some money (a nominal amount) and never was paid back.  Chick, who went by Armen back them, would have no problem paying my Uncle back today (with interest) because he has had so much commercial success.  Tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon is featured on Herbie’s first album as a leader.  His playing on the track Watermelon Man is classic.  Three other well known pianists from this era are Randy Weston (composer of Little Niles), Bill Evans, and Alice Coltrane.  My favorite piece by Alice is Something About John Coltrane

Today’s new generation of piano superstars include James Hurt, Eric Reed, and the young Jason Moran.  For a more avant-garde perspective, check out Marilyn Crispell and Myra Melford.  Bill Charlap and Geri Allen cover many different styles and should be included on this short list.  The New School University Jazz and Contemporary Music Program in New York City has a number of talented pianists teaching courses and private lessons.  The faculty includes Richie Beirach, Gary Dial, Fred Hirsch, Armen Donelian, Gerard D’Angelo, Peter Zak, Lee Ann Ledgerwood, Francesca Tanksley, Joann Brackeen, and Haim Cotton.  I would look out for all of these pianists if you are ever in the big apple and hope to hear live jazz at a top notch club in the city.