Aaron Diehl

In a section of a Hank Jones master class DVD that was a 2008 Doug’s Pick, Jones critiqued budding jazz pianists. One of them was a 21-year-old Julliard graduate named Aaron Diehl. For Jones, Diehl played “I Cover The Waterfront” and Art Tatum’s arrangement of Massenet’s “Elegy.” Apart from a slight reservation about Diehl’s use of dynamics in the first piece, Jones had nothing but praise, especially for the way the young man scaled the heights of “Elegy.” “If you should decide to stay in the music profession,” he told the young man, “I see nothing for you but a bright future.”

Diehl decided to stay. Good idea. Last Saturday, the American Pianists Association announced that he had won the 2011 Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz competition. The fellowship carries a $50,000 cash prize. In addition, according to the association’s announcement, over the course of two years Diehl will receive in-kind career development with the value of an additional $50,000. The jury members included pianists Geri Allen, John Taylor and Danilo Pérez, New York Times music critic Nate Chinen and Al Pryor, an executive of Mack Avenue Records. For details about the competition, see Becca Pulliam’s account on the NPR website.

Diehl lives in New York, where he is music director of St. Joseph of the Holy Family Church in Harlem. For further biographical details, visit his website. His duties at St. Joseph’s leave him time for performances, some of which have made their way to the internet. Here are two, a solo interpretation of Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag” that opens and closes in a mood of rumination appropriate to the church setting—I wish Fats could have heard it—and a quartet presentation at Dizzy’s club in New York of John Lewis’s “Django.” At the end of “Django,” Dizzy’s impresario Tadd Barkan introduces the sidemen.

Diehl wrote a fascinating account for Ethan Iverson’s Do The Math blog of how Mirjana Lewis, John’s widow, educated him about Lewis’s music and the Modern Jazz Quartet. To read it, go here.

“I see nothing for you but a bright future.”—Hank Jones, 2004

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  1. Jim Brown says

    I really enjoyed Diehl’s piece about what he has been learning studying John Lewis’s work. With a younger generation of musicians like Benny Green, Regina Carter, Anat Cohen, and Aaron Diehl who study, appreciate, carry on, and expand upon the work of those who came before them, I continue to feel that future of the music we call jazz is in great hands.

  2. Rob D says

    What I love about this blog is that I realize I need to buy more current jazz recordings.

    So much talent out there..and so little time. I just have to MAKE more time to listen and that’s THAT.

    Thanks to Doug for this forum and all the wonderful posters.

    (listening to Fats Navarro complete on Blue Note..heaven)

  3. Charlton Price says

    The Diehl “Viper’s Drag,” especially the stride portion, was for me a thrilling reincarnation of Johnny Guarnieri, another masterfully creative Fats interpreter. Clearly Aaron Diehl is already joining the company of the “formalists” in jazz who also swing — for me, those include Guarnieri, Waller, John Lewis, Dick Wellstood, and of course Hank Jones. No wonder Hank recognized Aaron’s elegance and promise, as Doug notes.

  4. says

    I have heard Mr. Diehl perform twice at the Church-in-the-Gardens in Forest Hills, Queens, through the auspices of Musica Reginae.

    I sat with Mona Heath at a Gala at Flushing Town Hall last night. She was the one who told me Mr. Diehl had won the prestigious Cole Porter Prize. Congratulations Mr. Diehl. I thought you were a wonderful jass pianist when I heard you. I know Mona was thrilled to hear the news and so am I. I hope you will perform for us again sometime at Church-in-the-Gardens.