Out of the blue comes Hal Schaefer. And like it says on the cover, he's "Just Too Much." Call me a square becaue I never heard of the guy before. Where does anybody hide such a piano player and why?
Anyway, here he is and there will be a lot of him from now on, I'm told, and there will be a lof of you out there feeling as delighted and refreshed as I am by what I've just heard, once you've heard it too.
Just when you get to feeling that jazz has trapped itself in schools and cliches, and that you can't find the beat for the performers' neuroses - along comes this fellow who makes it a whole big experience all over again - uninhibited and fiercely swingin' - serious and introspective. Interesting, absorbing, original. Unpredictable. Entertaining.
Hal says point-blank he likes Tatum, Chopin, Debussy and Mozart and you don't have to look hard to pin that down. It's all here, but wrapped up in as personal expressionist a style as you'll find. There's nothing self-conscious either in his application of thse influences. He has taken what fits and digested it, and anything he plays is an extension of himself, and he'll probably grow and grow. I'd be referring to the Debussian pedal work in the subtle I'm Glad There Is You, or the crisp, almost pre-classical flavor that opens I'll Remember April - only to burst into modernist chord extensions and eccentric jazz rhythm.
In truest expressionist fashion, each tune is a vehicle, and don't expect reverence where you've always found it, but don't expect your taste to be offended either. You Are Too Beautiful is unabashed love-making, but All the Things You Are is explosive, tongue-in-cheek. In St. Louis Blues, on which almost everything has been said, Hal seems to parallel Ravel's treatment of the Viennese waltz in La Valse. Here the superannuated jazz tune is built up rhapsodically by the solo piano, then torn asunder and dispelled in dissonance.
More facets of this huge talent are unveiled in the original Schaefer compositions, Yes and Montevideo. The former is a jazz tune with lightning chord changes that Hal dispatches in a romp, employing some pretty dazzling finger work en route. Montevideo too is a breakneck affair, with the dash of Latin flavor thrown in. This one is a descriptive piece that sets out to capture the color, verve and excitement of the thriving tropical town. It succeeds in a jazz-wise, non-precious way.
The late "Fats" Waller would be the last one to mind the way Hal lampoons the Waller idiom in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Hal goes Waller on the pianola, then ultra-modern on the piano - back and forth, for laughs and edification, too.
So, what about this guy? . . . He's still in his twenties and he has been around, but he has always managed to disappear just before anyone could identify him with music he had no use for. He's from New York and a graduate of The High School of Music and Art. At thirteen he started playing with small bands in the Borscht Circuit and spent all of his summers that way until he finished school. When Lee Castaldo, the trumpet player, left Tommy Dorsey and became Lee Castle and His Orchestra, Hal joined him for his first big band job. Later he went with Clyde Lucas who wanted him to stand up in front and play marimba. He quit.
Then Hal joined up with Ina Ray Hutton who had an all-male band at the time ("Unfortunately," says Hal) and stayed for almost two years. When this unit reached The Coast, Hal was invited to join Benny Carter's big band, and he enjoyed this thoroughly musical association for several months. But one night Harry James fell by the Swing Club on Hollywood Boulevard, where Carter held forth, and offered Hal triple his then salary if he'd join his band. Hal was anxious to bring his folks out to California, so the money was tempting, but he refused to leave Carter. When Carter - a wonderful person as well as a wonderful musician - heard about the offer, he simply fired Hal!
So Hal was forced to join James, brought his folks out, and played dance music for six months. Then Boyd Raeburn came through with that pioneering progressive band, with George Handy, Johnnie Bothwell and Company. Hal signed on, recorded and traveled with the outfit, and finally came back to The Coast where he decided to stay. He put in a few years as accompanist to singers such as Billy Eckstine and Peggy Lee, and spent five more years in the film colony, playing and writing. Recently, he gave up what had developed into a highly lucrative practice as vocal coach to some top Hollywood stars, and today he is concerned only with studying and recording. He is studying composition and orchestration with the noted Italian composer, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
Hal expects to continue working with the present trio, and he's quite understandably enthused about the skill and empathy of his cohorts. That would be Joe Mongradon on bass and Alvin Stoller on drums. Undoubtedly, they dig him too.
Radio Corporation of America