The New York pianist George Ziskind observed the changing of the guard at a venerable New York jazz institution and sent us this report.
Monday night I attended the opening shot of this year’s “Jazz in July” event at the 92nd Street Y. Dick Hyman, who had long been artistic director of this annual jazz concert series, recently passed that baton to Bill Charlap – and Bill has already made some significant innovations in programming. (Like, how about “The Front Line: Small Group Jazz of Horace Silver and Kenny Dorham”)
I attended a master class co-helmed by Charlap and Ted Rosenthal. That alone is reason enough to have been there – two wizard players, both of whom know how to defeat the dreaded “muddy gene” that so often destroys the music when two pianists, no matter how good, play simultaneously.
But this was way more than two good players on two Steinway B’s: four students from Manhattan School of Music played two tunes each (a ballad, and something other than a ballad). Following each tune, Charlap and Rosenthal offered cogent commentary. There were a few instances when the playing was on such a super-high level that Bill and Ted were hard pressed to offer any comment.
If the talent shown by Michael Cabe, Gordon Webster, Miro Sprague and Fabian Almazon is an indicator of who’s going to handle jazz piano playing after you and I depart this orb, things will be in good hands. Cabe looked to be thirty-something; he could have been a bit younger. The youngest was Miro Sprague, 16. As I wrote Bill and Ted this morning, these two gave me the biggest thrills (not that the others were chopped liver by any means!) Cabe opened with a version of “Be My Love” that simply dripped with inner voices and passing tones. It would have been hard to improve this performance – but possibly taking it into tempo after a chorus or two of rubato might have done the trick, and both Bill and Ted pointed this out in their comments.
Miro Sprague – remember that name! – opened his pair with “All Blues.” The best way to describe what he did on the tune would be to paraphrase Charlap’s comments: “You took a tune that had been owned by Miles Davis ever since the Kind of Blue LP, and made it your own – and that is a very hard things to do.”
I was seated 4-5 feet from the top end of Miro’s keyboard and I kept staring at his hands. I had never seen such long, slender, elegant fingers. They just seemed to go on and on . . .
I hope the master class format continues to be a part of the annual Jazz in July event. Oh – one final note about the material played: a significant item on the c.v. of both Charlap and Rosenthal is the fact that they each were a part of Gerry Mulligan’s band. Fittingly, they bookended last evening’s proceedings with two Mulligan compositions: they opened with “Curtains” and closed with “Rocker.” “Rocker” is the better known of the two. I won’t even try to describe “Curtains”; it is so loaded with deep and melodic subtlety, I don’t think I could do it justice.
“Rocker” was at first called “Rock Salt” when Mulligan wrote it for a Charlie Parker date with strings in the early 1950s. There are two classic recordings of it, in Mulligan’s arrangement for the last Miles Davis Birth of the Cool session and with Mulligan’s own Tentet. “Curtains” is on the Midas Touch CD by Mulligan’s quartet with Rosenthal on piano. It is from a concert in Berlin in 1995, eight months before Mulligan died.
The only information I could find on the web about Michael Cabe, aside from scattered references, was this paragraph from a 2002 Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Obviously, he has moved on since then.
Michael Cabe is a 23-year-old jazz pianist/composer who has been active on the Seattle scene for several years. Cabe is a member of the Glynn Brothers Quartet, performs with the Seattle repertory Jazz Orchestra, appears as a solo pianist in many venues, and leads his own Michael Cabe Trio. He has worked with many of Seattle’s top jazz musicians including bebop saxophonist Don Lanphere, multi-instrumentalist Jay Thomas, and one of Seattle’s favorite vocalists Becca Duran. A winner of many musical awards and scholarships in the greater-Northwest region, including the 1997 Bellevue Jazz Festival Award for Outstanding Soloist, and runner-up at the 2002 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, Cabe continues to forge a successful musical career. Cabe grew up in Monroe, Washington, attended Mt. Hood Community College in Portland Oregon, and will complete his jazz studies degree in 2002 at the University of Washington, where he studies with Marc Seales.