“Blues Walk”: From Lou Donaldson to Lincoln Center

Blues Walk is the title track from a celebrated 1958 album by jazz alto saxophonist, Lou Donaldson. Known for a “soulful, bluesy approach,” Donaldson’s style of playing was heavily influenced by the bebop of Charlie Parker. The addition of conga drums, performed on the Blues Walk album by Ray Barretto, gave Lou Donaldson’s band a distinct sound. Later albums used an electric organ as a substitute for the piano. Here is a performance of Blues Walk featuring Wynton …

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Chick Corea’s “Children’s Songs”: Simplicity as Beauty

The late jazz pianist Chick Corea began writing the solo piano collection, Children’s Songs, in 1971. The set of twenty short songs follows the model of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos. In the preface, Corea wrote that the music was intended “to convey simplicity as beauty, as represented in the Spirit of a child.”  Each of the twenty songs opens up a magical new vignette, each with its distinct atmosphere. At the same time, a sense of motivic …

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Remembering Chick Corea

Chick Corea, the American jazz composer, keyboardist, bandleader and occasional percussionist, passed away on Tuesday following a brief battle with a rare form of cancer. He was 79. In the 1960s, Corea was a member of Miles Davis’ band. Following a brief collaboration with the avant-garde jazz ensemble, Circle, Corea founded the band Return to Forever in 1971. The group went on to pioneer the jazz fusion movement in the 1970s, opening the door to …

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Keith Jarrett: “My Song,” 1978

Keith Jarrett’s My Song is infused with a sublime simplicity and directness. It first appeared as the title track on a 1978 studio album featuring Jarrett with his “European Quartet.” (The collaboration involved the Scandinavian jazz musicians, Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen). Over the years, My Song returned in Jarrett’s improvisatory solo piano concerts. It has become a standard with other jazz artists such as guitarist Pat Metheny. Here is a performance from Keith Jarrett’s December 12, …

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Dave Brubeck at 100

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the American jazz pianist and composer, Dave Brubeck (1920-2012). Born in Concord, California, Brubeck grew up on his father’s cattle ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. He served in Patton’s Army during the Second World War, forming and leading one of the armed forces’ first racially integrated bands. Following the war, Brubeck studied composition at Mills College with the French composer, Darius …

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Brahms’ Three Intermezzi, Op. 117: Autumnal Lullabies

Composed in 1892, the three Intermezzi for solo piano, Op. 117 are among the final works of Johannes Brahms. Filled with wistful nostalgia, they were written two years after Brahms’ formal retirement at the age of 57. The critic Eduard Hanslick described these brief autumnal works as “monologues” of a “thoroughly personal and subjective character…pensive, graceful, dreamy, resigned, and elegiac.” Brahms once described them as “three lullabies to my sorrow.” Along with …

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Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Art Tatum in 1949

Holding hands at midnight ‘Neath a starry sky Nice work if you can get it And you can get it if you try Ira Gershwin’s famous lyric is not about work in the occupational sense. The song’s verse rejects “the man who only lives for making money” and who “works for fame.” Instead, it is the more spiritually informed work of building a loving relationship. The song’s narrator seems to have all of …

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