Cy Coleman, A Jazzman’s Broadway (Harbinger Records)
Cy Coleman’s success as a popular songwriter and a composer for musical theater overshadowed his effectiveness and influence as a jazz pianist. Nonetheless, as this album reminds us, he could be a spirited improviser whose background as a classical prodigy equipped him with impressive technique and a feeling for the harmonies inspired by classical music that underlay much jazz improvisation in the late 1950s. The album has no music written by Coleman. It consists of his interpretations of 22 Broadway showpieces by Harold Arlen and Richard Rodgers. The songs are from Arlen and Yip Harburg’s Jamaica, with others from Flower Drum Song, and South Pacific by Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. His singing on several tracks is infectious, on others show-bizzy and over the top.
He comes closest to piano in the modern mainstream tradition in Arlen’s “Savanna” and “What Good Does It Do?” Bassist Aaron Bell, guitarist Skeeter Best and drummer Osie Johnson are among his accompanists on several of the Arlen and Rodgers tracks, giving them firm rhythmic boosts. Coleman plays four songs from South Pacific with considerable verve, all as solo piano performances. He leaps into “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” with near abandon before winding it down and out with a subdued low E-flat that ends the piece and the album.
It’s an entertaining collection.