Hal Schaefer had written the words, "Solo, Duo, Trio" on the advance cassette of this CD. Their most obvious reference was in the three instrumental formats used: solo piano, piano and bass duo, and piano, bass and drums trio. But the pattern takes on greater signifance as you listen. The opening track, There Will Never Be Another You, covers the entire one-two-three process: starting with an introduction, with no clues to the melody, then an inference of the written tune, announced by the entrance of the bass, then the melody, with variations, by the trio at full swing.
But the one-two-three idea could also represent Schaefer's tri-leveled career as jazz pianist, arranger/conductor, and educator. The three often overlap, much of his work as one of Hollywood's leading vocal orchestrators in the 50's, for instance, resulted in his conducting the stars involved - Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland - in their execution of his jazz oriented, highly innovative charts.
A mood mix pervades the feeling of the record for, while Schaefer began the project on a purerly upbeat note, it acquired a darker tone when the album's executive producer, Albert Marx - one of the most important record industry figures in the history of American music - died of a stroke before it was completed.
Says Schaefer, "This album evolved because I wanted to document myself and my playing, where I am today. I do a variety of things and have been extremely diversified. So, while playing is my first love, I haven't stayed in the public eye.
"I'd sent a copy of a solo piano tape I had recorded to Albert, it ran about 30 minutes. One day the phone rang and he said 'I liked what I heard. Why don't you go head and finish it?' I told him about the solo, duo, trio idea and asked him how he wanted me to approach the album, since he was now involved. I'll never forget his reply: 'Don't worry about me,' he said. 'or the public; don't worry about who's going to buy it. You go in and you record and satisfy yourself, and I'll be happy. When you're finished and you have what you like, send it to me.'
"Since he'd given me this wonderful artistic carte blanche, I decided to start from scratch. I picked a fantastic bass player, Jay Anderson, and that fine drummer, Ray Mosca, who's been with Oscar Peterson.
"As far as Albert was concerned, tragically, the conversation about my album was the last I ever had with him. I called a while later to tell him what stage I'd reached and I got Patricia, his wife. She told me Albert had a stroke and was in the hospital. A few weeks later, after several long talks with each other, she told me, 'I don't think Albert's going to make it.' I kept trying to encourage her, but she knew the inevitable was going to happen. Patricia asked me what I'd discussed with Albert, and when I told her our conversation, she broke down and cried."
The finished disc, however, is more for laughing than crying; even Blues for Albert, which Schaefer wrote especially for the album and in Marx' memory, is upbeat. "Some of the songs I chose, some my wife suggested," says Schaefer. "Of the originals, there's a jazz waltz I'd written called Waltzin' 'M' Brenda, a play on Waltzin' Matilda. Strange as it Seems has a wonderful lyric by my wife."
As for standards, Schaefer's treatment of Georgia on My Mind leads you slowly away from the basic melody, and deeper into the sentiment of the song. Sentimental Mood starts with a spare introduction, the opening notes twinkle like stars at twilight, gradually spelling out the melody like a constellation. His haunting interpretation of Laura captures all of the varied aspects of the song.
The uptempos reflect Schaefer's agenda of remaining at once true to the periods that produced these songs, and to his own stylistic idiosyncracies. The solo Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea moves towards a Fats Waller stride - but never imitates it. "I'm Old-Fashioned," he says, "seems to work perfectly with the bass, but didn't need drums; while some others I had a yen to do in an old time two-beat style." Embraceable You recalls Nat Cole's classic 1944 recording in texture and tempo, but in actual lines it's strictly-from-Schaefer. All the Things You Are has been a Schaefer favorite "since I was a young man," as has Jimmy Dorsey's I'm Glad There is You.
"I've always tried to acquire scope," Schaefer says. "I worked for many years with great choreographers - Jack Cole, Michael Kidd, Ron Field; and I've worked with wonderful singers - Peggy Lee and Anita Ellis; Billy Eckstine, Vic Damone - and, of course, the aspiring young talents I've encountered as a teacher. This includes the then-unknown Barbra Streisand, among others. All of the things I do that relate to music, hopefully come out in my improvisations.
"Maybe I've finally caught up," Schaefer concludes. "My early recordings never took off. Everyone said they were too far out. I played a solo with polyrhythmic figures on a Boyd Raeburn record that nobody noticed. Twenty years later, they were telling me, 'that's some solo.' However, I feel that this album is the best thing I've ever put to tape."
What he has also done is to make sure that his career as a jazz pianist remains on a par with his ever-expanding reputation as a teacher (which can't grow too much - Lord, one hears so many screechers on Star Search, not to mention, The Tonight Show, who could benefit from his genius tutelary). Hal Schaefer's jazz represents a crystallization of his involvement in dance, song, cinema, and life, bursting with melodies both noble and mellow.
Will Friedwald, Jazz Singing (Scribner's)