Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes A Jazz Duo

To an overwhelming degree, musicians are “defined” – personally, even spiritually – by the instruments they play and the music they play on those instruments. Put a flute player, a trumpet player, and a pianist in a room, and they might talk about the weather, or where they went to school, or were they are presently gigging; or cars, or their kids, or whatever; maybe they’ll talk about music and maybe they won’t. (The only thing you can be certain of is that the flute player and trumpet player will arrange to see each other again, because that’s what flute players and trumpet players do: they go out with each other.)

But. Put three flute players in a room together and the conversation will focus like a diamond cutting laser on their flutes (“You’ve got a Drelinger head joint? OMG; I wish I could afford a Drelinger head joint!”), their teachers (“Loved Tim Day, but Robin McKee was a better fit for me”); auditions (“You guys gonna do Tampa?”), the repertoire, upcoming recitals, and a thousand-and-one other things, all having to do with the flute. 

The point: for professional and high-end amateur musicians who have been playing a particular musical instrument for pretty much all of their lives, their lives have been conditioned by and their world view shaped by that musical instrument.

I’m no different: I have spent more time sitting at a piano keyboard than doing anything else except sleeping. What this means is that my particular musical world is piano-centric: great pianists are my favorite musicians and the piano my favorite musical instrument. At this point of my life, it is well-nigh impossible for me to write a piece of chamber music (or orchestral music, for that matter) that does notinclude a piano. 

My piano-centrism is perhaps most pronounced when it comes to jazz piano and pianists. (Once upon a time I made my living as a jazz pianist, and I am a Steinway Artist as a jazz pianist, so I can back up my jazz piano prejudices with a modicum of professional experience.) Readers of this post are aware that I do not ghettoize jazz pianists; rather, a great jazz pianist is, by every measure, a great pianist; period/exclamation mark. Dr. Bob Prescribes posts on Oscar Peterson (June 25, 2019), Erroll Garner (March 12, 2019), and Dave McKenna (December 25, 2018) have celebrated such great pianists, and there will be many more in the future. 

What makes Peterson, Garner, and McKenna pianistically great – along with such wizards as Bill Evans, Armando “Chick” Corea, Phineas Newborn Jr., Roger Kellaway, Lennie Tristano, and Sal Mosca – is that they play with both hands and as such, they are at their very best (in my opinion) when playing solo. I like a good piano trio (piano, bass, and drums) as much as the next guy, but I’d be happy to go the rest of my life without having to sit through another bass solo or drum solo. Okay; I probably just lied about liking a good piano trio as much as the next guy, because in fact I’d probably also be happy to go the rest of my life without hearing bass and drums getting in the way of a good jazz pianist. The presence of a bass precludes a pianist from playing anything much below the “C” an octave below middle “C”, a chunk of keyboard spanning the bottom 28 keys, fully 32% of the keyboard! The presence of a drummer precludes a jazz pianist from indulging in any nuance of tempo or from spontaneously changing styles. So, given my druthers, if I am going to listen to jazz piano, I’d rather listen to solo jazz piano.

There is an exception to this.

I’m crazy about jazz duos, in which a piano is joined by another instrument (excepting drums!). Such a duo allows a pianist to use the full range and resources of the keyboard while conversing with and supporting another instrument. Dr. Bob Prescribes celebrated just such a recording on February 12, 2019: The Enchantment, featuring Chick Corea on piano and Béla Fleck on banjo, an album of such dazzling amazingnocity as to be awesomelicious. 

Other such jazz duo albums I intend to bring forward in the not-too-distant future include Spirits, featuring pianist Sal Mosca and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz; Crystal Silence with Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton; You Must Believe in Spring with Dave McKenna and clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, and the two life-changing albums Bill Evans made with Tony Bennett (be still our hearts!). 

Today’s prescription is for just such a jazz duo album… find out which, only on Patreon!

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