Before there was Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett....there was Don Friedman.
Friedman was perhaps the first pianist to fuse the modern styles of Bud Powell and Bill Evans, creating a unique and individual sound of his own. Evidence of this can be heard on his early and critically acclaimed trio recordings for Riverside Records (“A Day In The City” 1961, “Circle Waltz” 1962 and “Flashback” 1963).
Don Friedman was born May 4th, 1935 in San Francisco. He studied classical music beginning at age five and became interested in jazz as a teenager after hearing live performances of the Stan Kenton and Billy May big bands. Friedman studied music at Los Angeles City College and during this time (1954-55) immersed himself in the L.A. jazz scene. Don attended jam sessions which featured some of his favorite soloists Lee Konitz, Frank Rosolino and Conte Candoli. He also listened closely to and played along with recordings of his other jazz heroes Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Miles Davis. Don himself soon participated in local jam sessions and began his professional career playing with Herb Geller,Dexter Gordon,Shorty Rogers,Buddy Collette,Joe Maini,Don Payne and Jack Sheldon.
Friedman's earliest recording was in 1955 with trumpeter Jack Millman, and he holds the honorable distinction of being the first pianist to work with the Ornette Coleman-Don Cherry group, which was then known as the "Jazz Messiahs". In 1956, he joined the Buddy DeFranco group which toured the east coast for nearly a year and gave Don his first opportunity to visit and perform at New York City jazz clubs(Basin Street East, Birdland, Café Bohemia and Smalls Paradise). During this time Friedman met and developed friendships with many musicians from the thriving NYC jazz community, which led to his decision to leave California for good in 1958.
Upon arriving in New York that same year, Don found immediate work with the Donald Byrd-Pepper Adams Quintet, Harry Edison’s combo which included Elvin Jones, and a regular engagement as leader of a house trio which featured weekly guest artists including John Coltrane, Phil Woods, Gene Quill, Donald Byrd and Chuck Wayne. In 1959, a close friend from his California days,legendary bassist Scott LaFaro,also ventured east and shared an apartment with Friedman in NYC during this time. Friedman and LaFaro worked together in a rhythm section (Elvin Jones and Al Levitt shared the drum chair) that backed popular vocalist Dick Haymes from 1959-60. In 1960, Don played solo piano opposite the controversial Ornette Coleman group at the Five Spot, and was also a member of the John Handy Quartet (that included drummer Joe Hunt) which played extended engagements at Birdland, Jazz Gallery and The Showplace.
The early 1960’s was perhaps the most fertile period of Don Friedman’s musical career which now spans seven decades. During this period, he recorded the above mentioned classic trio recordings for Riverside Records, as well as two significant albums as a sideman with the innovative trumpeter Booker Little.
Friedman also won the prestigious Downbeat Magazine New Star Award and began an association with guitarist and his closest musical comrade Attila Zoller.
Friedman and Zoller formed what was likely the earliest piano-guitar combo to explore free jazz. They recorded three adventurous albums, toured Europe, and performed to a standing ovation at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival.
The turbulence and harsh financial times that affected the jazz community in the middle 1960’s did not impede Friedman’s development pianistically as he continued to work regularly and record with many jazz greats including Herbie Mann, Charles Lloyd, Elvin Jones,Jimmy Giuffre,Zoot Sims, Dave Pike,Joe Henderson and Tal Farlow. He also began a musical relationship that continues to the present day as first call pianist for one of jazz’s all-time greats Clark Terry. The 1970’s introduced Friedman to the world of jazz education as he became a music instructor at New York University where he continues to teach at the time of this writing. Don took a hiatus from jazz performing and became involved in a more lucrative commercial gig for much of the 1970’s. He returned to the jazz fold toward the end of the decade and recorded a string of LP’s as a leader for the Progressive Record label.
The 1980’s brought Don Friedman back full circle to his jazz roots. He returned to the New York City club circuit performing in duo and trio settings with many of the finest jazz bassists including Ron Carter, Cecil McBee, Ron McClure, Harvie Swartz and Reggie Workman. He performed regularly in a rehearsal band led by composer/saxophonist John Shaw, and toured Europe and played concerts with an avant-garde collective band called Reflexionen. Don also toured and recorded in Japan with bassist Eiji Nakayama, while continuing to perform regularly in New York as a sideman with jazz greats Lee Konitz, Clark Terry, Don Lanphere, Cecil Payne and Hal McKusick. The 1990’s were equally successful as Friedman continued on a very active performing schedule in the United States and tours abroad with Lee Konitz,Clark Terry, Attila Zoller, Art Farmer and Bruno DeFilippi. He also made a guest appearance on Marian McPartland's award winning "Piano Jazz" radio program.
The new millennium has brought about a genuine interest in Friedman's music among younger fans, and also a renewed appreciation from jazz critics and writers alike. In 2001, Don performed in Japan with Helen Merrill, Charles McPherson and also participated at the “100 Gold Fingers Piano Playhouse” with many fellow jazz piano greats. During the period of 2002-2005, he recorded several CD's for the Japanese Eighty Eights label which feature bassists Ron Carter, John Patitucci, George Mraz and drummers Lewis Nash and Omar Hakim. Friedman attends the annual Jazz Baltica Festival in Salzau,Germany where he has thus far performed with Benny Golson, Bobby Hutcherson, Jim Hall, Joe Lovano, Joe LaBarbera and Brian Blade. The year 2007 will be remembered as a very special one in the history of modern jazz, as the summer of 2007 brought forth a reunion of the original Don Friedman “A Day In The City” Trio featuring bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Joe Hunt. The legendary trio performed to a standing room only audience at the Kitano jazz club in NYC, and also went into the recording studio to make a brand new CD entitled "Straight Ahead". The trio of Friedman, Israels and Hunt were once again reunited in February 2010, as they performed for the first time on International soil at the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival.
Today, Don Friedman continues his busy performance, teaching and recording schedule. He especially enjoys working with his regular trio of bassist Martin Wind and drummer Tony Jefferson, as well as with the many talented young players on the jazz scene. Don also looks forward to having more opportunities to work with veteran, master musician friends like Chuck Israels and Joe Hunt....undoubtedly something many Don Friedman fans are looking forward to as well.