Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Greenberg recommends

Greenberg Recommends — Lennie Tristano

It was as a result of my lessons with Lee Konitz that I was first exposed to the music of Lennie Tristano (as well as Tristano’s teaching method, which Konitz employed pretty much verbatim). Along with my discovery of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”, Tristano’s compositions and style of playing was the great musical revelation of my late teens. To repeat an assertion made in my previous post, along with J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Béla Bartók, Lennie Tristano is my single greatest influence as a pianist and composer. Leonard Joseph Tristano was born in Chicago on March 19, 1919 and died on November 18, 1978. Mention his name to most jazz fans (to say nothing for most concert musicians) and you will draw a blank. Part of that is Tristano’s fault; though he complained endlessly about his lack of recognition, he hardly ever played in public and did next-to-nothing to create a rapport with a fan base. Blind since childhood and rather thorny of temperament, he instead devoted himself to his teaching, to practicing, and, later in his life, making recordings in his home studio. We are told that “unfortunately, Tristano’s esoteric style of playing and improving […]

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Greenberg Recommends: Oscar Peterson

I was sixteen years old when I bought two record albums that changed my life. One was called “Oscar Peterson at the JATP” and the other “Oscar Peterson on Prestige”. “Oscar Peterson at the JATP” [‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’], the producer Norman Granz’ touring jazz mega-show] is available on a just-released, four-CD set called “Oscar Peterson, Live Recordings 1952-1958”, issued by the UK-based “Coda” label. Sadly, the set is not available in the United States for reasons inexplicable. However, it can be found on iTunes, and I would single out in particular a cut called “Come to the Mardi Gras” that cooks like a roomful of industrial ranges set on “broil”. With Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar it is – in my opinion – a must have despite the fact that it can only be acquired from the evil audio empire, the Starbucks of recorded sound (iTunes). In the name of great music we do what we must. The other album named above – “Oscar Peterson on Prestige” – is indeed available, albeit under a different title. The circumstances behind its creation are fascinating, and it’s a story I’ll tell in a moment. But first, a […]

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Greenberg Recommends: Tony Williams

It was sometime in the spring of 1980. I was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, living in a studio apartment in a dilapidated old brown shingle house south of campus, across from a package store. I made my dollars as a teaching assistant in the music department and by giving private lessons. When folks called the music department looking for a theory or composition teacher, I was the person to whom they were referred. As a result, I received a lot of calls from prospective students, a few of whom actually took a lesson or two. So I didn’t pay all that much attention when I received just such a call of inquiry from a guy who identified himself as “Anthony”. Anthony told me that he wanted not just theory, analysis, and composition lessons, but that he wanted the equivalent of an undergraduate music education, from start to finish. I told him that that would take years. He told me that he was prepared to do whatever it took, including taking lessons twice a week, no small thing considering that he lived about an hour away, in the chi-chi village of San Anselmo in Marin County. […]

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Robert Greenberg Recommends: Erroll Garner

The jazz-inspired revelation that changed my life at the age of fourteen was foisted on me by none-other-than the Elf himself: Erroll Garner. My dad had a number of Garner LP’s among the various stacks in the record cabinet, most notably the albums “Concert by the Sea” and “Soliloquy”. These records literally drove me wild, and if you had lined ‘em up side-by-side with a scantily clad Gina Lollobrigida and asked my testosterone-ravaged 14 year-old self to choose between the records and the sex kitten, I would have (eventually) chosen La Lollobrigida, but grudgingly and only after a few minutes thought. That’s how crazy these records made me. “Concert by the Sea” was recorded on an open reel tape deck by a serviceman named Will Thornbury when Garner and his trio performed in a church outside of Carmel, California in September, 1955. Garner’s manager Martha Glaser took the tape and played it for George Avakian at Columbia Records. Boom: the LP was made and just like that it climbed to the top of the charts, becoming gone of the most successful jazz records of all time. All these years later, this record still has the power to drive me absolutely […]

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Robert Greenberg Recommends — Chick Corea

It’s a standard question in a literary interview to ask an author “what books are on your bedside table.” We humans are, by our nature, voyeurs, and we can’t resist knowing what authors are themselves reading. (What we’ d REALLY like to know is what’s in their medicine cabinets and sock drawers, but that’s a question that – sadly – rarely comes up in interviews). The equivalent question for a musician would be “what music is in your car CD player/MP3player/iPod/iPhone/iPad/8-track cartridge/turntable (vinyl phreaks unite!)/gramophone (78 r.p.m. crazies unite!), or Edison cylinder Dictaphone (crazies!)”? Let’s make this personal. “Bob, dude, what’s is in your car CD player?” The answer: over the last year, way more often than not, it is the music of Chick Corea. Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on June 12, 1941, making him – today – a sprightly 72 years-old. As is so often the case with jazz musicians, Corea – unlike a concert pianist – did not hone his skills under the watchful eyes and ears of a particular set of mentors/teachers. Jazz is an oral tradition, and the only way to “learn it” is to live it: by listening to jazz […]

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