Chances are if you are a fan of jazz piano you are already aware of the unique project of the Maybeck Hall piano recitals which were recorded by Concord Records. This outstanding record label issued 42 solo piano performances by some of the most original and compelling jazz pianists of the twentieth century. The series originated in 1989 and continued until the Maybeck Recital Hall was sold in 1995. The project was the brainchild of jazz pianist Dick Whittington, Marilyn Ross and Carl Jefferson the owner and founder of Concord Records. The concert hall was renown for its intimate setting and acoustical warmth. The hall was designed by the famous Arts & Crafts architect Bernard Maybeck and it allowed for an intimate audience of only 50 patrons. The concert room was notable for its unfinished redwood paneled walls. The acoustics were near perfect for the grand piano used by the visiting jazz soloists.
Personal favorites from this series would be Dick Hyman’s version of the Hoagy Carmichael classic Bob White (Dick Hyman Live at Maybeck Hall, Vol. 3) rendered in impeccable stride-style piano with an amazing set of variations. As is characteristic of any Dick Hyman solo performance the listener receives an historical tour-de-force of jazz piano style which is melodic as it is memorable. Another favorite is Marian McPartland’s gorgeous treatment of This Time’s the Dream’s On Me. The version is both swinging and enriched by stunningly beautiful chords. (Marian McPartland, Live at Maybeck Hall, Vol. 9) Pianist, Gene Harris, stuns the listener with his soulful and bluesy treatment of My Funny Valentine – it is both rhapsodic and tender. A memorable and unique interpretation of the Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart classic. (Gene Harris, Live at Maybeck Hall, Vol. 23) Fred Hersh gets gorgeous resonances out of the Yamaha grand piano on his renditions of Gershwin’s classic Embraceable You and Rodgers & Hart’s If I Loved You on Volume 31 in the series.
The late John Hicks is legendary in the jazz world as being a pianist of unique sensibility and creative imagination. His performances at Maybeck Hall (Vol. 7) allow the listener to finally hear what all jazz musicians from Betty Carter to Pharoah Sanders already knew – that he was one of the most gifted improvisers on the scene. His phrasing, his use of chordal color, his timing draws the listener into a very special world. Highlights from his Maybeck recital have to be Coltrane’s heraldic After the Rain, Kurt Weill’s Speak Low, the Miles Davis/Bill Evans’ classic Blue in Green. However, everything on this recording is memorable and he performs compositions rarely played as solo piano works such as Wayne Shorter’s Contemplation and Charles Mingus’s Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love. Maybeck Recital Series, Volume 7, is one of the rare gems in this important series.
Live at Maybeck Recital Hall Stanley Cowell (Vol. 5) is one of the most perfect sets in the series. It is truly a case where the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ While this listener could mention certain favorites from this recital, it would be a disservice to the concert and to the performer whose depth of virtuosity and imagination gives this particular recital an almost magical quality. In the very first track Stanley Cowell explores Softly As In A Morning Sunrise (Hammerstein II, Romberg) in all twelve chromatic keys in just over two minutes. He then proceeds to a stride piano version of Stompin’ At The Savoy (A. Razaf, B. Goodman, E. Sampson, C. Webb), and then onto an original composition of his called I Am Waiting. The entire recital is a potpourri of harmonic and melodic richness, rhythmic subtleties, and creative explorations of tempo. Many well-known jazz standards (I’ll Remember April, Out of this World, Django) are presented in fresh, new arrangements. Virtuosity of piano technique abounds but is always in the service of musical integrity. A gentle ballad, Lament, by J.J. Johnson, (sadly, too little heard) is spell-binding. This recording deserves to be listened to in its entirety. The listener will find it infinitely rewarding. Pianists will find it inspirational. The Concord Records CD is a generous length of an hour and five minutes. Thoughts of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Lennie Tristano and Cecil Taylor would not be inappropriate. At no time does the listener ever think of adding a bass or drums to the performance. Stanley Cowell provides it all – sound, propulsion, impetus, harmonic complexity, and rhythmic variety. It is an amazing recital performance!
Another fine pianist who can stun and amaze the listener with his awesome command of the grand piano is Kenny Barron (Kenny Barron Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 10). The pianist brings power, range and sensitivity to his performance. One of the best solo piano versions in the entire Concord Maybeck Hall series is his electrifying eight minute version of Witchcraft (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh). His improvisation on this wonderful song is inspired and the melodic ideas keep flowing at an amazing pace. Just as with the Stanley Cowell recital, there is absolutely no need for bass and drums. Mr. Barron also brings some ‘Monkish’ ideas to bear on several of his interpretations of standards and then bestows us the favor of playing the great Thelonious Monk composition Well, You Needn’t. With such songs as I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, Spring Is Here, and Skylark the great standards of the jazz repertoire are well represented – but those of us who yearn to hear newer material are treated to three Kenny Barron originals which sound wonderful on the concert grand piano.
Now, how about you. Do you have a favorite Maybeck Recital Hall performance?
I’m surprised that Dave McKenna was not mentioned in these paragraphs. Dave was Vol. 2. His Knowledge medley of 10 songs is worth the price of admission. His controlled and thundering left hand sounds like a bass section. I would not be without this CD.
Awesome recommendation! A Master! It broke my heart to leave so many favorite pianists off this short article, but my intent was to encourage discussion and to hear about other people’s personal favorites.
Dave McKenna worked with some of the very best (Ventura, Herman, Krupa, Hackett) as he was starting out, and he proved over the years that he could add levels of excellence in any situation: solo, duo, quartet, small ensemble, and big band.
A lot of personal favorites are from other Concord, Chiaroscuro, and Fresh Sounds albums of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Especially, “My Shinning Hour” Fresh Sounds (1980), “I Cover the Waterfront” Chiaroscuro (1973), “Have You Met Miss Jones” with stride and walking bass (a difficult song to play well much less as well as McKenna on Solo Piano Chiaroscuro (1973). He has so many wonderful albums on the Concord Label that it is hard to choose one. The musicians who appear with him (Buddy Defranco, Warren Vache, Scott Hamilton, Zoot Sims) are melodic masters.
Thanks again for your comment. All I can say is that it broke my heart to leave so many personal favorites off. I wanted to generate a list not made up entirely by me, so it means a lot to hear about other favorites that other fans of jazz piano have.
Robert at music6cafe
I will give you one more Dave McKenna CD as one of his very best out of a long list. But I am confident that anyone that buys this CD will not be disappointed. Dancing in the Dark is just incredible!
Nice recommendation! As a sidebar to the topic of Maybeck Recital Series, we should mention that many of the artists featured went on to record piano solo albums on their own as a result of first attempting solo at Maybeck Hall. Dave McKenna was an exception as he had already released several wonderful solo albums, and he was comfortable performing as a solo artist. As a rule, many of Dave’s recordings as well as those by the other pianists are just as good, and sometimes even better than their recitals at Maybeck Hall. Dave’s albums present many of the great (and, alas, often neglected) gems of the great American Songbook by composers and lyrists such as Arthur Schwartz, Dorothy Fields, Gus Kahn, and even Cole Porter.
A friend of mine was asking me about the Maybeck Hall series and I told him I could not whittle my favorites down to about 20 let alone a single one. What was really nice was that MH let them record favorites the way they wanted or try out new material with a small dedicated crowd and no stress. The MH series will go down as one of the monumental sampling of 42 pianists that were both young and old. And I am glad that I was around to hear these performances (at least on CD).
Over two decades ago, my best friend gave me Dave McKenna (2), Hal Galper (6), and Marian McPartland (9) as a birthday gift. Over time, I managed to collect all 42 CDs, completing the collection only last year. My advice for collectors is: Be patient. The “rare” CDs will appear one-by-one over the years at reasonable prices. Don’t be tempted to pay big money (say, over $15 or $20). The CDs you want will eventually appear, mostly at a sub-$10 price.
Choosing favorites from the Maybeck Recital Series is absurd, because each one sets the bar so high for musicianship and pianism, let alone the exceptional recording quality of the entire series. If I were forced to choose, I might recommend Marian McPartland, Fred Hersch, and Dick Hyman’s amazing performance of music from 1937. The truth is that no matter which album you buy from the Maybeck Recital Hall series, you won’t be disappointed.
Someone put up a website at http://www.maybeckpiano.com, but they appear to be a domain squatter. The domain was created on 31 October 2016. (It was active for a while, but then the original owners let the domain go, and someone else bought it and is squatting it.)
On the now-squatted maybeckpiano.com website, they say: “Hear the complete story through exclusive interviews with the producer of the concerts, Dick Whittington and from the participants, who are …. some of the greatest jazz pianists of all time.”
I found those interviews on the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) at the old maybeckpiano.com website here:
I hope this helps someone else who might be looking for them.
Searching for individual editions of the Maybeck Piano Series can be very rewarding. I agree that one has to be patient since the series is out of print and only a few artists among the original forty-two are readily available on the internet at any given time. Fortunately for me, there are two local used record shops where I live which have a decent collection of jazz CDs. I usually carry my list of pianists who performed at the Maybeck Concert Hall whenever I visit one of these stores so that I can see if a CD or two has shown up. These stores, like many others, however, are pretty knowledgeable about the rarity of the Maybeck Series and tend to price the CDs around ten dollars. (I am sure that they also sell them online, so the walk-in visitor is still competing with internet shoppers as well so this tends to keep the prices up.) Visiting jazz record stores in cities like Chicago, New York, and Seattle also helps the collector to find what they are looking for. It’s also a good idea not to put off a purchase if you happen upon a Maybeck Hall Series CD, if you wait…chances are it won’t be there when you come back! This has happened to me more than once. So a word to the wise!