St. Louis has a rich jazz tradition, dating back to the river boats, which were a conduit for jazz styles and legendary performers before the first world war. Since those storied days, the city has produced a number of world-class musicians - Miles Davis and Clark Terry are two who come immediately to mind.
Jay Hungerford, a prominent St. Louis bassist, composer, producer, and teacher, has come up with a great way to show "what an abundance of musical talent there is in St. Louis," to quote him. Using a piano/ bass duo format, with his fine playing on every track, Jay has rounded up fourteen of St. Louis best pianists and recorded them , each playing one tune.
The collection starts appropriately with a Jay Hungerford composition, Ode To Pettiford, which is based on Oscar Pettiford's "Tricrotism", a renowned showcase for jazz bass players. Jay has fashioned a new line just as challenging as the original, and Carolbeth True is up to the challenge, attacking the unison line with precision and then crafting a thoughtful and sprightly solo.
Ptah Williams is next, giving the standard Gone With The Wind an ebullient, bravura treatment which demonstrates his formidable technique.
Eddie Fritz's arrangement of Gershwin's Fascinating Rhythm is just that: fascinating and rhythmic, applying off-beat accents to an already syncopated melody. I've heard him doing this 'live' and I'm glad to have a recorded version in my collection.
The Heather On The Hill is a lovely ballad from "Brigadoon", which gets a moving and sensitive performance from the talented Dave Venn.
In the mood for a little baroque? Then check out Pat Joyce's Bach-like interpretation of Pick Yourself Up, replete with some crisp jazz playing reminiscent of Marian McPartland.
Next is the widely admired traditional jazz pianist Jean Kittrell. whom I've heard playing at numerous jazz festivals around the midwest. She delves into the Scott Joplin songbook and comes up with a rag in 3/4 time called Pleasant Moments, in which Jay's bass doubles the melody to good effect.
Jimmy Williams is a St. Louis stalwart, and his version Of Get Out Of Town is in the bop tradition. Cole Porter would have liked it.
I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good is an Ellington classic, played here with feeling and restraint by Jan Ammerman.
Russ David plays a tour de force on Opus One, his own composition. It's full of varied tempos and virtuoso playing, and I would like to use a baseball analogy to describe this track: a home run with the bases loaded.
Next is another composition by Jay Hungerford, Why Ask Why. Kim Portnoy gives it a delicate interpretation with beautiful touch, and the intriguing harmonics are voiced perfectly.
Johnny Mandel's Emily has been a favorite vehicle for jazz improvisation for years, and Reggie Thomas takes full advantage of the song's melody and structure.
Another Cole Porter evergreen, What Is This Thing Called Love, gets a hard-charging bop-influenced treatment by one of my long-standing St. Louis friends, Herb Drury, still playing consistently great after years in the vanguard of the city's jazz scene.
Polka Dots And Moonbeams is designed to feature Jay's bass playing "up front," although his solos throughout the album are marvels of clarity, construction and taste. He is backed unobtrusively (the supreme compliment for accompanists) by Rick Zelle, who also steps "out front" on a couple of occasions.
The final tune is Amazing Grace, a durable melody which has been interpreted by everything from bagpipes to jazz saxophone to symphony orchestra. Here it undergoes some ingenious reharmonization by Gary Fiorino in a fitting conclusion to a most interesting and varied program.
St. Louis is a proud city with a proud history, and here is a convincing demonstration that its civic pride should also embrace a talented and thriving community.
- Eddie Higgins - Cape Cod, Mass