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Handful of Keys

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Jazz pianists occupy a unique place in the story of jazz, and the development of the solo piano tradition can be traced independently from that of instrumental ensemble jazz. Above all, piano jazz is about the individuals who have made their own individual contributions to the style, and in this collection, Alyn Shipton draws together conversations with many of the key practitioners. Spanning the period from the birth of bebop to the present, their collective experience is a major part of jazz piano history.

Sir Charles Thompson and Gerald Wiggins recall the days of Harlem clubs when bebop was being forged there. Their personal memories of bebop giants such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie bring the era vividly to life as do the 52nd Street experiences of Dr. Billy Taylor. Horace Silver and Junior Mance were both part of the hard bop and soul jazz revolution, recalling such colleagues as Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley and Lou Donaldson, while Dave Brubeck was more identified with the cooler West Coast School.

British-born Marian McPartland has become synonymous with piano jazz in the United States through her long, running radio show, but here she tells her own story. As she was establishing herself in the United States, Mal Waldron was Billie Holiday’s accompanist, and in one of the last interviews he gave before his death, he reflects on his time with Lady Day was well as his subsequent move to Europe, before looking back on his hectic early career as house pianist for Prestige records.

There are memories of Art Blakey from JoAnne Brackeen, tales of Coltrane from Tommy Flanagan, and many memories from Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Meanwhile more recent trends are reflected by Diana Krall, Uri Caine and iconoclastic bandleader Carla Bley.

Published: Oct 1, 2004


Section Chapter Authors
Introduction and acknowledgements Alyn Shipton
Carla Bley Alyn Shipton
JoAnne Brackeen Alyn Shipton
Dave Brubeck Alyn Shipton
Uri Caine Alyn Shipton
Alice Coltrane Alyn Shipton
Chick Corea Alyn Shipton
Sylvie Courvoisier Alyn Shipton
Tommy Flanagan Alyn Shipton
Michael Garrick Alyn Shipton
Benny Green Alyn Shipton
Herbie Hancock Alyn Shipton
Andrew Hill Alyn Shipton
Abdullah Ibrahim Alyn Shipton
Keith Jarrett Alyn Shipton
Brian Kellock Alyn Shipton
Diana Krall Alyn Shipton
John Lewis Alyn Shipton
Jacques Loussier Alyn Shipton
Junior Mance Alyn Shipton
Marian McPartland Alyn Shipton
Oscar Peterson Alyn Shipton
Michel Petrucciani Alyn Shipton
Horace Silver Alyn Shipton
Esbjörn Svensson Alyn Shipton
Billy Taylor Alyn Shipton
John Taylor Alyn Shipton
Butch Thompson Alyn Shipton
Sir Charles Thompson Alyn Shipton
Mal Waldron Alyn Shipton
Gerald Wiggins Alyn Shipton
End Matter
Selected recordings Alyn Shipton
Index Alyn Shipton

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‘Expertly put together with the skill, care, application and fund of knowledge we associate with his name. I can firmly recommend this volume as not only a most valuable work of reference, but also a darn good read.’

Pat Hawes, Jazz Journal

’Shipton’s interviews have special value for the insights they provide into the motivations of more contemporary players like Uri Caine and Esbjorn Svensson, or the always radical Herbie Hancock. Andrew Hill talks of his desire that people should enter into the music and ‘share the experience.’ This book should certainly more than help with that objective.’

Peter Vacher, Jazz UK

'Alyn Shipton is that all too rare phenomenon, a scholar who wears his great learning so lightly, who writes with such apparently effortless grace and naturalness, that it would be easy for the casual reader to underestimate the authority that informs his every chapter. He is not one of those ivory tower pundits whose pleasure in jazz is largely passive, and whose knowledge is acquired through secondary sources, but a double-bassist who has played and toured with some of the biggest names in jazz. None of the musicians profiled here has mistaken him for a ‘mere’ journalist. They recognise that he is one of them, and talk to him accordingly. Without being either intrusive or self-consciously provocative, he engages their full attention, eliciting from each an inadvertent study in self-portraiture in which their own core values, their own sense of priorities and development, set the agenda. This is the very essence of the truly artistic interview (a relative rarity in music journalism), yet there is no sense of subterfuge. Elegance is not generally the word that first springs to mind where writing and talking jazz are concerned, but it perfectly fits both Shipton’s prose and his approach. He never condescends, he never plays the ‘regular guy’ card. He has nothing of the groupie in him. His authority comes from his experience, and both have their origin in love - a fact which nourishes the whole of this fascinating, illuminating celebration of diversity, originality and zest.'

Jeremy Siepmann, Professor of Musical Aesthetics, International Piano Academy, Lake Como, Italy, and editor of Piano magazine