Recording Date: Nov 26, 1958
The multi-talented Andre Previn is heard on this recording as the leader of a trio with bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Frankie Capp. Previn always had his own swing/bop piano style, and he is in top form on two of his originals (including the bluish "Much Too Late") and four superior standards. This fine release gives one an excellent example of Previn's skills as a jazz pianist.
All Music Guide
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A considerable amount has been written about the multiple careers of Andre Previn, but since this is an all-jazz Previn program, it's more in context to focus in detail for the first time on Previn's evolution as a jazz pianist. It's been a project in self-discovery paralleled in certain key respects by no other jazz musician.
Previn was born in Berlin, April 6, 1929, and spent his first ten years in Europe where he studied at the Berlin Royal Conservatory and the Paris Conservatory. He had no exposure to jazz in Europe, and when he came to America in 1939, he was still completely unaware of jazz and unenthusiastic about popular music of any kind.
Hearing Art Tatum's record of Sweet Lorraine on the radio intrigued him, not so much from a jazz viewpoint, but in wonder that "someone could use that much imagination and technique within a thirty-two bar framework." Previn bought Tatum records, transcribed some on paper ("it's like copying out a Mahler score") and for some time-he was about fourteen - his ambition was "to play even longer runs than Tatum."
Nat Cole was his next influence. "I started imitating him as I had tried to copy Tatum. Cole's influence was a good one because it got me away from that much floridity." As is the case with most young pianists, Previn was attracted to new heroes who kept changing position.
Previn, who is highly self-critical, not from psychological problems but from his extraordinary knowledge of many kinds of music, recalls that he "made the same kind of bad records for five years." In the Army, from 1950-52, he came in contact for the first time with many young, thoroughly jazz-oriented musicians. He began to absorb Parker, Gillespie, Davis, Tris-tano, Bud Powell, etc. "It was very good for me that I was physically unable to get to a piano and play in public or I would have sounded really confused."
Out of the Army, Previn came in contact with Shelly Manne and then with Shorty Rogers for whom he began to work. Previn traded arranging lessons with Manne for instructions "in how to keep time" and began subbing and sitting in around town. It wasn't until his first album with Shelly (who has become his closest friend) in February 1956, that Previn could listen to playbacks of his playing "without shuddering." Even at that, "I never like older records. I always think maybe the Shelly Manne & His Friends, Vol. 1, Contemporary C3525. Previn has also recorded a series of jazz versions of show scores with Manne for Contemporary: My Fair Lady M3527 & stereo S7527; Li'l Abner M3533 & stereo S7019; Pal Joey M3543 & stereo S7543; Gigi M3548 & stereo S7020; Bells Are Ringing M3559 & stereo S7559. His solo piano is heard on Andre Previn Plays Songs By Vernon Duke M3558 & stereo S7558, and Andre Previn Plays Songs By Jerome Kern M3567 & stereo S7567. Previn also recorded the first two-piano modern jazz album with Russ Freeman, Double Play! C3537 & stereo S7011. In addition to his own albums, Previn is featured on Lyle Murphy's Gone With The Wood-Winds C3506; Barney Kessel's Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By C3521 & stereo S7001, and Carmen M3563 & stereo S7563; Benny Carter: Jazz Giant C3555 & stereo S7028.
next one will be better. In any case, before 1956, I disclaim any credit for having played jazz although I was always trying."
Previn didn't go out on the road and play concerts and festivals until 1956. It took him a long time, he feels, to grow out of the erroneous idea so many classical musicians nurture - "that jazz has its place and it's fun to play but it should always be relegated to the category of a hobby to relax by. I realized that this could not and should not be done, and now when people ask me which of the two I prefer playing, I can say in all truthfulness that I could not make a choice and I would never give one up in favor of the other."
Previn's background as a European classically-trained musician was evident in the way he researched jazz history when he first became interested in the music on hearing Art Tatum. He began with the Buddy Bolden period ("the equivalent of the pre-Bach era") and industriously went through all the books and records, not allowing himself to get interested in a later period of jazz until he had learned all he could about what had preceded it. "In a way I'm glad I went at it that way. I still get a kick out of Jelly Roll Morton records." Previn is astonished at "the appalling narrowness of many younger musicians who believe nothing happened before Min-ton's. It's their loss and they miss a great deal of enjoyment."
Today Previn devotes a good half of his time to jazz. His contract with the MGM studios as composer-arranger-conductor is up in February, I960, and he'll have a great deal more playing time then. For next season, he has nearly thirty classical concerts scheduled, plus an extended tour of jazz clubs and a possible European tour.
Previn retains his "fanatic worship " of Tatum, but feels it's pointless to try to play like him, "because as in any kind of art, someone puts the button on an era, and after that, it becomes futile to try to play, write or paint like that." Among his current favorites are Russ Freeman, Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver, Bill Evans, Jimmie Rowles, and Dave McKenna. Previn is shocked to find that he himself is becoming an influence. Hearing a new Chicago pianist on record recently, Previn thought, "I must have heard him someplace and unconsciously started playing like him too, but Shelly said, 'You're out of vour mind! He's trying to play like you.' It was the first big kick compliment I've had in jazz."
THE TRIO PREVIN LEADS ON THIS ALBUM is the one he takes on tour. "We've played an awful lot together and I'm very happy with it. Frank is close to the ideal trio drummer and Red scares me off the stand almost every night." The Previn trio is unusually spontaneous in its approach since "when we do go out on the road, we've rarely had a chance to get together beforehand - because of our schedules - to work out complicated things. Accordingly, we're more free-wheeling than trios that get to work fifty-two weeks a year. It's a lot more a matter of tightrope walking, and very often in clubs, even introductions, interludes and endings are thought of on the spot. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don't; and even when they work, we can't remember them the next set."
All three are very fond of and expert at playing ballads as well as swingers, and the trio also plays a lot of blues. The most impressive example on record so far of the quality of blues the Previn trio can play is Much Too Late. It came into being one closing night at Fack's II in San Francisco. A group of musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald and Lou Levy, arrived for the last set, and since they were about the only people in the place, Previn didn't feel he had to end the set with a flagwaver. He began this blues ten minutes before the closing hour of two. "We were terribly tired, hadn't been to bed all the previous night, and started to play some terribly slow blues and we all got involved in it. When we finished, Bobby Brookmeyer looked at his watch, and said, 'You fellows have been playing that for 28 minutes.' Ever since then, we've tried to duplicate that experience because it was one of those very happy and rare circumstances where we all felt the same way."
Pervading the album as a whole is the group spirit and naturalness of interplay that came from the fact that this program was recorded right after the trio had been on the road for several months. /'// Remember April is played even faster than the recorded version, in the clubs, usually to end a set flying. Previn digs in on this interpretation and note also the remarkably full and firm rhythm foundation of Red Mitchell and the crisp, buoyant drumming of Frankie Capp. Much Too Late is the end-of-the-night blues referred to before, and in addition to some of Previn's best and most basic jazz playing yet, there's a powerful, classic bass solo by Red Mitchell. You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To came into the trio's repertory one night in Detroit when a huge table of pleasant but somewhat too down-home listeners kept sending in appalling requests. Finally, feeling somewhat conscience-heavy for not having played anything they wanted, Previn yielded to You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To, found he liked it, and the song stayed.
It Could Happen To You is one of Previn's favorite ballads and he sustains an unusually tender - but not flaccid - mood. Low and Inside is another Previn blues with a Red Mitchell bass solo that is remarkable in its horn-like conception. Previn's playing in the number is further evidence of his now being able to find his own roots in jazz. I'm Beginning To See The Light ends the session in a relaxed but vigorous groove with more superior Mitchell and added indication of Previn's assurance as a jazzman.
Previn, when asked recently whether he felt his extensive classical training had been an advantage or disadvantage to his jazz development, answered that it had been a detriment to his jazz work at one time "because I was much too concerned with flawless technique and with getting around the piano than I was with playing ideas. Now I don't think it's either a disadvantage or an addition to my playing. I think it's always going to be an aid to my writing and arranging, but when it comes to playing, I would just as soon divorce the two kinds of music, depending on what I'm doing at the time."
Certainly in Previn's work in this album there is no feeling of any admixtures of materials or influences alien to jazz. Previn has put in a long apprenticeship as a jazz musician, and he's emerging as a pianist with a story of his own to tell. He's not told it as fully or assuredly before as he does in these performances.
- Nat Hentoff (October 23, 1959)