Friday, January 27, 2012

Musicians on Musicians#4: Ekkehard Wölk on Pianists

Ekkehard Wölk is a pianist, composer, arranger, and in my opinion, a genuine expert of silent and classical cinema of Germany and Hollywood. This Berliner's list of contributions to the various fields of art can be read at Wikipedia. He has released a new jazz album named after his city of residence, The Berlin Album. Next week I'm going to write about that, till then, we have another post on Ekkehard and his profound understanding of jazz and its history. In this interview, he discuss pianists and albums that have inspired him.

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In early days I used to listen a lot to Count Basie's Kansas City Five recordings from the mid 30s with the singular Lester Young on tenor, and I was also swept away by the vigour and powerful swing of his celebrated big bands from that time.

Nevertheless, when I am being 'nailed down' to express personal preference, I would have to give the musical 'Palme D'Or' to Duke Ellington, considering his overwhelming importance as a composer, arranger, band leader and also as, in my opinion, a strongly underrated pianist in his own right.

One of my favorite piano trio recordings of all time is Piano Reflections done by Ellington in 1953 for Capitol Records. I strongly believe that an artist like Thelonious Monk could not have developed his singular way of 'dealing with' the piano if he had not inhaled and carefully studied the refined pianistic styles of Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, himself later developing a reduced, somehow 'Dadaistic' skeleton version of these masters' music! Undoubtedly, Monk is a true giant in the musical history of the 20th century. In the field of art, he seems to represent a very rare phenomenon with his career, in that sense that is one of the very few examples of a totally uncompromising artist who finally - after yearlong total neglection and disdain by the public - gains the overall and worldwide recognition and embraces by the mainstream culture without ever changing his stubborn musical path or losing his unique vision of dark sounds! Especially I love his solo piano recordings, like Monk alone In San Francisco or Thelonious Himself from the fifties, much better than his famous quartets or trios, because as a soloist, Monk is free to explore his eccentric ideas of form, sound and time relations in a totally pure and ascetically beautiful manner.

Montevideo from Piano Reflections by Ellington, 1953 - Wendell Marshall is on bass, and Dave Black on drums. Ralph Colier, congas.

My top pantheon of jazz pianists would be centered around the triptychon of Bud Powell, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner. For me, these three influential artists represent the pinnacle of what is creatively possible within the wide range of jazz piano music. But of course, I also feel great respect for the achievements of Art Tatum in the 30s and 40s which may be - in absolute pianistic terms - forever unsurpassable in brilliance by younger pianists!

I already have mentioned the much - neglected importance and the merits of Duke Ellington as a pianist. From the more contemporary generation of remarkable jazz piano- players, I would cite the works of Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Fred Hersch and some of Keith Jarrett's trio recordings. Of the old masters of stride and swing piano from the 20s and 30s, I should at least name the great Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines and Teddy Wilson, to complete the acoustic picture!

1 comment:

  1. We played one of Thelonious Monk's songs in my college jazz band. It was called straight no chaser. You should look it up if you haven't heard it. It's a way sweet song, and way cool when arranged for a big band. Thanks for posting, and I'm glad you attributed his inspiration to Duke Ellington.