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?