Tommy Flanagan

Tommy FlanagaThanks to Lester Perkins of Jazz On The Tube for reminding us that today Tommy Flanagan would have celebrated his 84th birthday. The great pianist died in 2001. From the time he made his debut as a teenager in his native Detroit, Flanagan was one of the busiest sidemen in music. These are just a few of the musicians with whom he toured and recorded: Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, Lucky Thompson, J.J. Johnson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jim Hall, Thad and Elvin Jones, Tony Bennett. From the late 1970s, Flanagan functioned almost exclusively at the head of a trio that employed superb bassists and drummers. In this video made in Cologne, Germany, in 1991, Flanagan had George Mraz, who played with him for many years, and Bobby Durham. Flanagan was a knowing and subtle interpreter of Billy Strayhorn’s compositions, in this case, “Raincheck.”

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  1. says

    Sir Roland Hanna asked me to fill in for Dee Dee Bridgewater on a gig in New York City in 1977. I was happy to accept because I wanted to sing with Roland, George Mraz, Joe LaBarbera and Frank Wess, the group known as The New York Jazz Quartet. A few days before the start date, Roland called to say he and Mraz would not be playing on opening night, but not to worry: I would not find fault with the subs. No rehearsal time was scheduled, so when I walked in with a list of tunes and keys, I was astonished to find Roland’s sub was Tommy Flanagan. Percy Heath was filling in for George. Tommy became a true and trusted friend, and we recorded a Gershwin cd together. He insisted I sing the verses of each song, and took the time to teach them to me on the eve of the record date.

    There’s a PS here: When Tommy died, his wife asked me to sing at his Memorial Service at St. Peter’s in Manhattan. At her request, I sang “their” song, “Isn’t It A Pity”, and Roland Hanna was there to play elegant piano for me, and for Tommy and Diana.