As I wrote the day Paul Motian died, Rifftides was not conceived as an obituary blog, but when an important musician leaves, I feel an obligation to observe the passing. I failed to do that when Gordon Beck died at 75, also in November. To many, Beck was best known as a pianist who frequently collaborated with singer Helen Merrill, and as a member of Phil Woods’ European Rhythm Machine in the 1970s, but his contributions to jazz were much more extensive. The Irish flutist Colm “Red” Sullivan, a frequent Rifftides correspondent who has lived in Brazil for the past year or so, is a great admirer of Beck. This week he contributed an appreciation to Ethan Iverson’s Do The Math blog. Here is some of what he wrote:
He is most usually compared, or considered in relation to, Bill Evans – but I feel that’s less than half the story. As a soloist he was less narrative driven than a Tommy Flanagan (along with Russ Freeman, always one of his personal favourites, though) or a Barry Harris: not so much text in solo (as with, say, Sonny Rollins or Dexter): his music is all about colour and light, shards of amazing brilliance – and he did have that glorious and singing keyboard sound.
To read all of Red’s detailed and thoroughly informed essay about Gordon Beck, go here.
In this 1991 video, Beck supplies the lyrical opening and closing choruses of a vigorous and adventurous version of Bill Evans’ “Waltz For Debby.” It’s the Gordon Beck-Kenny Wheeler Quintet with Wheeler, trumpet; San Sulzman, tenor saxophone; Dieter Ilg, bass; and Tony Oxley, drums.
For more about Beck, including his discography of more than 100 recordings, visit his website.