Bob James Trio
Recording Date: Feb 10,12, 2003
Bob James, who for many years has gained fame and fortune for his commercial pop/jazz crossover sets, on this set returns to his roots in straight-ahead jazz. James is showcased in a trio with bassist James Genus and drummer Billy Kilson, paying tribute to some of his favorite pianists. James' interpretations of nine standards are not necessarily in the style of the pianists, but there are moments when he consciously quotes one of their phrases, including putting a phrase from "Mona Lisa" in "Straighten Up and Fly Right" for Nat King Cole. Along the way he also pays homage to Red Garland, Glenn Gould (the classical pianist liked "Downtown"), Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Erroll Garner (his version of "Caravan"), Mal Waldron, and John Lewis. It is to Bob James' credit that he still sounds so natural playing this bop-oriented music; this is one of the most rewarding playing dates of his recording career.
-Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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When it came time to choose the repertoire for this return to performing in the trio format,! decided that it would be fun to make the project a tribute to some great pianists that have influenced me during my career.
It was not my intention to play in the styles of these great artists, although in several cases the influences are so strong that they show up in a way that's beyond my conscious control.
Rather it's my homage by way of choosing tunes that I associated with these special artists in one way or another and giving them my own interpretations.
The set opens with my variation of a "Billy Boy" arrangement that I first heard in the classic version on Miles Davis album Milestones. Miles had loved Ahmad Jamal's original trio arrangement of this tune so much that he just let Red Garland do a trio performance without even playing it. So this is my tribute to Red Garland, but I'd better also give a nod to Ahmad for the great concept It was a good opportunity for me to showcase Billy Kilson, and a chance for him to reinterpret Philly Joe Jones's great solo sequence.
Because of Nat King Cole's genius as a singer, we sometimes forget that he was also an equally talented pianist. His influence on me during my formative years was tremendous, and it was a pleasure to include "Straighten Up And Fly Right," one of the few songs he composed. James Genus's funky bass solo sets up the memorable chorus hook.
I consider Glenn Gould to be not only my favorite classical pianist, but one of the truly original creative minds of the 20th century. It would be foolhardy for me to attempt an homage to him by performing any of the Bach keyboard works which were redefined by his interpretations. I was about to give up on figuring out how to include him, but then I recalled his fondness for Petula Clark's music. Hence, the inclusion of "Downtown." A few short classical quotes is about as close as I'd better go in hinting at Mr. Gould's powerful pianistic impact.
The jazz pianist who influenced me the most during my college days was Oscar Peterson. My favorite LP of his was Tenderly, thus the reason for choosing this tune to symbolize my appreciation of his total mastery of the keyboard I've listened to and studied exhaustively, every tune from that album and have continued to reap dividends from his powerful sense of swing and gorgeous voicings. And yes, in addition to being a rock solid rhythmic dynamo, he's equally impressive to his tender moments.
Bill Evans music was never far from my turntable either in my early years. One song that seemed to particularly represent his style and approach was "Nardis," a composition credited to Miles Davis but certainly made into a jazz standard by Bill's always inventive reworkings of this piece. I recorded it on my first album, Bold Conceptions could never have imagined then that I'd have the opportunity to explore once again this haunting composition 40 years later as a tribute to Bill's influence on my piano playing.
Many artists are, in a sense, defined by one" special song that becomes their signature piece. "Poinciana" will always conjure up Ahmad Jamal to me. Having always, loved his placing, this seemed the perfect choice for me to honor his position in the upper echelon of jazz piano artists.
"Caravan" has been interpreted by so many different performers that I could easily make this a tribute to any number of jazz pianists. Certainly Duke Ellington would qualify as someone whose music has left a strong impression on me. But for this project it was Erroll Garner's amazing version that inspired me to Include this song as a tribute. It always leaves me speechless every time I hear him so effortlessly tossing off those impossible parallel chord melodic phrases, while never losing the left-hand groove. His influence on jazz piano playing in the swing era cannot be overstated.
I really enjoyed exploring the gifted pianist/composer Mal Waldron's beautiful composition "Soul Eyes," best known for its inclusion in the romantic repertoire of John Coltrane. Not as well known as a pianist perhaps, but still a great example of someone who was great at the sometimes tougher task of being a tasteful and supportive accompanist How I envy John Lewis his long tenure as pianist in the Modern Jazz Quartet! In my opinion their unique blend of classical influences with irresistible swing and blues overtones has never been equaled. "Django" is only one out of a long list of my favorites of his compositions, any one of which would have been fun and challenging to include.
I think most performers if they were being really candid would have to admit to learning by emulating, and on occasion even trying to copy, the work of those they admire the most For me, it's an honor to show my respect for those who inspired me. And as far as I'm concerned, If you're going to take something you might as well "Take It From the Top!