Chapter 7 Pianists

Chapter 7

Seven Pianists

When I asked Lyle Mays, in 2014, which albums he’s played on that he particularly had a fondness for, he initially said, “I kind of like all the albums I’ve played on.”  We discussed a fair number of those, and he expressed some different feelings about different records.  He appreciates the opportunity he had to make his own albums, as well as the many albums he made with Pat Metheny:  “Because that’s what gave me my career.”  “And I’ve always felt that I had a hand in shaping that sound and that sensibility.  So, it’s very near and dear to my heart, and I’m so grateful that so many people liked that music.” As for specific albums with the Pat Metheny Group, “I would also say that the last record that we did with the PMG, The Way Up, is very important to me.  I feel like that album, really let me flex my compositional muscles . . . It was the best combination yet of the ideas and influences I wanted to get in the group’s music.  I felt that we had these horses [besides Metheny and Mays, bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Antonio Sanchez] that were playing, thoroughbreds, that could play anything.”  When pressed about his own albums, he said, “[F]or me, my first record [Lyle Mays, Geffen, 1986] is my favorite. . . . But that’s often the case, because a person can build up ideas, and really shape a sensibility so that when it first comes out, there’s a lot there. . . . I think it nailed a bunch of things, I think it had elements of rock . . . of soundscapes, and kind of everything I wanted to touch on.  And it all flowed; and I love what [guitarist Bill] Frisell did on it.”

As for other albums: “But beyond that, I was very flattered when [bassist] Steve Swallow asked me to play on his album Home [ECM, 1979].”  The author mentioned an album Lyle made with German bassist Eberhard Weber [Later That Evening, ECM, 1982], and Lyle responded, “Well, I’m very happy with that experience just because I was such a fan of Eberhard. And I just felt privileged to get to play with him.”  (Lyle was not completely satisfied with the musical results, however.)  “I felt the same way later when I played on, [oboist and soprano saxophonist] Paul McCandless’s Premonition album [Windham Hill, 1992].  Because I admired him so much; I was just happy to be there.”

I would add that in 2015 a “new” Lyle Mays album appeared, a wonderful live quartet performance from 1993 [The Ludwigsburg Concert, SWR Jazz Haus], with Marc Johnson, Mark Walker and Bob Sheppard.


I first talked with Lynne Arriale in 2014 also.  When we got to records, I offered the caveat that some artists respond with a comment something along the lines of, “Oh, these are all my children; I can’t say I love one child more than another.”  She said that for her it is “kind of” like that.  However, she added that, “I let go of them very quickly.”  Once the albums are finished, “The only listening back I do is when I have to; when I’m doing radio interviews. . . . And, I do have opinions about [my] records, but . . . I’d like people to have their own experiences, not colored by anything I might say.  I don’t know what painter it was who said, ‘I tend not to say much about my art work . . . because everyone who looks at it will see something different.’”  That being said, the author can recommend the following trio records (both with Jay Anderson and Steve Davis):  Arise [2002], Come Together [2004]; the quartet recordings:  Nuance [2008, with Anthony Pinciotti, Randy Brecker and George Mraz], Convergence [2010, with Pinciotti, Omer Avital and Bill McHenry]; and Solo [2011], which is just what it says it is.  All of these releases are on Motema Music.


David Hazeltine and I visited in 2012.  When asked to name records that he considered important to him, his career, or that were just favorites, he, like quite a few others I spoke with, at first, demurred.  When pressed, he first mentioned the first record he made as leader, 1995’s 4 Flights Up, on Sharp Nine Records, which featured trombone legend Slide Hampton.  Why?  “Because it was Slide; it was the first, and it was at the time he asked me to join his band, and I was in love with Slide, you know.”  (Killer Ray Appleton, who lived and worked for some time in Milwaukee, is the drummer on the album.)  When David asked his daughter Lizzie, who was present, to help him out, she said, “We never listen to [Hazeltine’s records].”  David laughed and agreed.  But he admitted to a considerable investment in the albums of the collective One For All, which includes, besides Hazeltine, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, saxophonist Eric Alexander, trombonist Steve Davis, and drummer Joe Farnsworth.  Peter Washington was the band’s original bassist; he was later replaced by John Webber.  “I spend a lot of time . . . creating that music, you know, writing, arranging that music. . . . So all of those; I don’t know if I can pick out one.”  David likes the album he made in 2006 for the Japanese label Venus of the music of Burt Bacharach (Alfie:  Burt Bacharach Song Book).  “I like the writing I did and the way I played.”  (His trio mates are Joe Farnsworth and bassist David Williams.)  He also likes the Venus album he did of Bill Evans compositions (Waltz for Debby, 1998; with George Mraz and Billy Drummond).  Of his albums with singers, one that he likes from his long association with Marlena Shaw is 2003’s Lookin’ for Love (441 Records).   “That’s on a Japanese label . . . while we were on tour over there, they said, ‘Let’s do a record.’  And they put us in a room, me and Marlena, with a piano, and [we] sat there, they gave us pencils and paper, and said, ‘Come up with some stuff.’”  A wild card that he likes is the record he made in 2000 with British singer Georgie Fame, Poet in New York, for Wisconsinite Ben Sidran’s label, Go Jazz Records.  David describes Fame as “the British white James Brown.”  But Fame also “sings like, along the lines of Chet Baker,” and “he sings his butt off; he can really sing great.”


When I asked Geoffrey Keezer about his recordings, in 2010, here were his responses:  “There’s one that’s kind of rare called Other Spheres, that I did in 1993.  And that was, at the time, the record that I always wanted to make.  It was for a Japanese label (DIW), and they really wanted me to do like a straight-ahead trio, and play ‘Autumn Leaves’ and all that stuff.  And I said, ‘No, I want to do something completely different.’  And I did kind of a larger ensemble and all original music.  And you know it was really cool; it was what I really wanted to do.  There’s a record with Ray Brown called Live at Starbucks (Telarc, 2000), and that did pretty well, and I think that captured some really good just piano playing. And Wildcrafted (MAXJAZZ, 2005) is a live trio CD from 2005. And the new one, I mean I like Aurea (ArtistShare, 2009); I think it’s kind of where I’m at, somewhat, right now.”  When Geoffrey returned to the state in 2014, he wanted to add his latest solo album, Heart of the Piano (Motema, 2013), which he said contains “my best piano playing on record so far, I think.”


In our 2014 conversation, when the record question came up, Rick Germanson began by mentioning albums on which he is a sideman.  “I like the record I did with Gerald Cannon [Gerald Cannon, Woodneck Records, 2003].  His label.  And that’s with Sherman Irby and Montez Coleman.  I thought that was just a great, great record, all the way from top to bottom.  And I was proud of that one.  Also Jeremy Pelt’s record on Criss Cross [Insight, 2002]. That was [an] important record at the time, and there are still young musicians who are influenced by that record, and the cats who were on it at that time.  And, some more recent things, like the recording I did with [Latin jazz trombonist] Papo Vazquez [Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours, Oasis, Picaro Records, 2012]. I’m really proud of that project.”

When he finally got around to addressing his own records, Rick said, “And also, I’m really proud of my last record; it came out a couple years ago, Live at Smalls [2011], because that . . . you know, my other records, you always record, and then they get released later, and you just kind of feel [pregnant pause] . . . But I really feel that that record captures my playing best out of all of mine.”

When I saw Rick in the summer of 2015, he wanted to add three more to this list.  Here’s what he said in an email.  “Russell Malone, Love Looks Good on You, HighNote 2014, Louis Hayes Live at [Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club], Cellar Live, 2014.  Both of these recordings reached #1 for multiple weeks on the Jazz Radio Play Charts this year.  I am proud to be in Russell’s group as we just performed at The Village Vanguard last week (July 2015).  And this was the best documentation of the Cannonball Legacy Band thus far.  Third is Papo Vazquez’s Spirit Warrior [Picaro, 2015], [a] great album that really captures what the Mighty Pirate Troubadours are all about.”  The author attests to the musical excitement of the Hayes and Vazquez albums, and the relaxed good spirits of Malone’s.


Ethan Iverson (when we talked in 2013) did not directly respond to my usual question about favorite or most important albums; he referred me to his fascinating blog, Do the M@th, which is at:  On the page labeled “Ethan Iverson” he lists:  “A work in progress! Just for fun, here are twenty recorded piano performances that are the best I could do at the time. In chronological order, beginning in 1998”.  I would recommend this as a set of very interesting reflections from an intriguing artist.

Here are a few of those entries, directly from the blog, based on my own (the author’s) listening, and, perhaps, preferences. (1) “Iron Man” and “Layin’ a Strip for the Higher-Self State Line” (Give, The Bad Plus; Columbia, 2004).  Give me credit for serious outlandishness.  The boogie on Dave’s tune [“Layin’ a Strip . . .] is pretty solid piano playing: I don’t think I ever played it as good live.  (2) “Prehensile Dream” and “Lost of Love” (Suspicious Activity, The Bad Plus; Columbia, 2005).  Two of Reid’s greatest songs came out perfectly on this album.  I seem to be in the right space here, and haven’t always found my way back.  (3) “Good Bait” (Live at Smalls Ethan Iverson, Albert Tootie Heath, Ben Street; Smalls Live, 2009).  Still getting this style together, but it is on its way.  [Drummer] Tootie [Heath] is awesome.  More to come.  (4) “Ohnedaruth” and “Nostalgia For the Impossible” (All Our Reasons, Billy Hart, Ethan Iverson, Mark Turner, Ben Street; ECM, 2012).  A thrill to work with an A-class piano and Manfred Eicher.  (4)  My performance on The Rite of Spring (The Bad Plus; Masterworks, 2014) is not perfect; no one knows this more than me.  (Reid and Dave do play rather perfectly, dammit.)  However, the job of integrating modernist classical music into jazz is one of my main concerns, and naturally this is exhibit A.


I spoke with Dan Nimmer in 2012.  He responded to the recordings question with a variety of projects.  “I’d say some of the stuff I’ve done with Wynton.  We did this album with Richard Galliano, who’s an accordion player.  It’s a live album, but I have a couple of features where I play, like, trio stuff.”  That album is The Wynton Marsalis Quintet & Richard Galliano:  From Billie Holiday to Edith Piaf, Live in Marciac (Rampart Street, 2010).  Other personal favorites: “My trio albums . . . Yours is My Heart Alone (Venus, 2009), and the new one, Modern Day Blues (Venus, 2010).  And my first album for this label, Tea for Two (Venus, 2007), I’d say are good choices.  And then I did an album I’m proud of with a baritone player, Joe Temperley, who used to play in Ellington’s band. It’s a tribute to Sinatra; he does all the Sinatra songbook (Joe Temperley:  The Sinatra Songbook; Hep Jazz, 2008).  It’s a great album; it has Ryan Kisor on trumpet, John Webber on bass, and Leroy Williams [on drums].”