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DICK HYMAN : MAN FOR ALL REASONS

MAN ABOUT TOWN

The ubiquitous pianist/arranger DICK HYMAN popped into the Apple within the last few months.  He lives in Naples, Fla.

In May 2014 in Symphony Space the Sidney Bechet Society presented an All Star Tribute to the late founder of Arbors Records, Mat Domber.  Domber, who lived in Clearwater, Fla., planted his company’s output solidly in the mainstream of jazz, i.e., Swingtime and its forebears rarely venturing beyond.

In June Hyman was honored by being given his space on the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame.  Read on.

And in July he was featured at Jazz In July at the 92nd St. Y for which he is Musical Director Emeritus under the aegis of his hand picked successor Bill Charlap.

Hyman, whose output includes dedications to as many pianists as you can name, from Jelly Roll Morton to Cecil Taylor

# has played pianos of every shape from full uprights and consoles to nine foot grands.

# He has duetted with trumpeters, saxophonist, other pianists.

# He has arranged for singers.

# He has arranged and performed concerts dedicated to composers.

# He was musical director for CBS television.

# He is on the famous video of Bird’n'Diz.

This from a statement made to me about him: “Will the real Dick Hyman please stand up.”

He has often buried his style, if he indeed has one, and melded it into the subject matter such as Jelly, Thad Jones, Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller.

He plays organ and harpsichord as well.  He played the last concert on the giant Brooklyn Paramount organ before its Long Island University home shut it down.  I passed on a speaking engagement that afternoon to hear –and record– it.  The concert was dedicated to Waller and an lp Hyman had recorded called “Cincinnati Fats.”

He once slammed a piano keyboard cover shut to express a point of what Taylor’s music sounded like to him.  On a record!

I don’t mean any of this as a pejorative; Hyman’s ability to adapt to any musical situation is unique in the annals of jazz.

He has done repertory bands, electronics, major labels, indies.  Hyman was the music director for Enoch Licht’s labels including those supermarket distributed flimsy vinyl things.  He was a pioneer arranging those “doctored” for hyper stereo recordings.  You remember, the ones which jumped from channel to channel to test or demonstrate your new stereo system to amazed friends.

The liner notes of the Licht’s Command and Grand Award Records show Hyman’s hand-picked personnel and read like a Who’s Who.  How do I know?  I bought ‘em with an allowance which often left me lunch less.

Hyman was a guest in my New School course called “Jazz Insights” a few times and once gave me a list of as many ragtime pianists’ nom-de-vinyl under which he recorded during the rag craze of the ’50s.  The list ran to a full page single spaced.

The Domber/Arbors/Bechet Society celebration at the 92nd St. Y was a “hot ticket.”  Not a free seat in the house to hear the likes of Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Anat Cohen, Wycliffe Gordon, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bob Wilber, Warren Vaché, John Allred, Chuck Redd, and Dick Hyman, among others.  The listeners were similarly star-laden.

No new fare presented there; just solid swinging jazz in the grand tradition.

Speaking of tradition: The ASCAP Jazz Wall has always been great fun since 1997.   In addition to the living inductees there are honorees of those who have left us.  This year the Wall was blessed by Kenny Burrell, Helen Merrill and Hyman plus Bessie Smith and Juan Tizol.  Vocalist Gregory Porter was honored with the ASCAP Jazz Vanguard Award.  The ceremony has gotten too big for their own digs so this year it was moved to nearby NYIT Auditorium.

Boasting 99 inductees the names are superimposed upon a mural of Joe “King” Oliver’s Band with Armstrong, Baby Dodds, Kid Ory and Lil Hardin, soon to be the next Mrs. Armstrong.

In addition, the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Awards Recipients were presented.  It’s a great sight to see all those young people up on that stage.  It’s our future, folks.

Performers and presenters included Alf Clausen (*), composer for “The Simpsons,” Jay Leonhart, ASCAP President Paul Williams, Steve Turrré, Russell Malone, Tim Horner, Steve LaSpina, David Wong, composer Alan Bergman, Ted Rosenthal as well as Hyman & Merrill.

Hyman played a selection from one of his electronic albums, “Minotaur,” a definite break from tradition.

The only prerequisite it appears is that the awardees all must be published by ASCAP, the musical mechanicals leader in the industry.  Their exclusivity –snobbery?– took them a while to accept rock and jazz writers which led to the establishment of BMI.

[(*) A couple of asides about Clausen, who has just recorded a big band jazz collection.  Why did they kill off "Bleeding Gums" Murphy, a jazz saxist, some years ago after only two episodes?  Why did they have Lisa, herself a precocious, accomplished and very hip reed player, sing "Jazz Man" on that show a composition by rocker Billy Joel?  As a devotee of the Simpsons show I am still bothered by those facts and they are stuck in my craw.  Or am I taking the whole damn thing too seriously?]

© arnold jay smith July 2014.

 

 

 


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