© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
In many respects Jazz is one of the more difficult art forms to teach and to learn. The most effective method to learn about the music has been to listen to it. The rich history of Jazz thus becomes a stream of consciousness that is imparted from one generation to the next as a continuum as opposed to disconnected and analyzed fragments.
The same can be said of this process of transference from one musician to another: listening to how one musician plays Jazz can inform and inspire another musician’s efforts to play the music.
The most obvious example of this dynamic is when a strong player such as a Louis Armstrong or a Lester Young or an Oscar Peterson influences the style and approach of other trumpet players, tenor sax players or piano players, respectively.
But influences do not always follow a straight line in terms of the same instrument: brass players can influence reed players; reed players can influence keyboard players, and percussion instruments can shape the rhythmic approach of all instruments.
And an even less obvious and less common relationship is formed when a Jazz musician uses the compositions of another player as a platform of expression.
Such is the case with pianist Denny Zeitlin’s new CD Early Wayne [Sunnyside Records SSC 1456] on which the compositions of iconic tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter form the basis for Denny’s “explorations.”
Jazz is not about expressing information; it has more to do with what pianist Keith Jarrett has described as an "internal burning. Jazz started with someone needing to express himself... .You can't want to mean it. You have to need it. Is there something in you that absolutely needs to get out?”
Sometimes the vehicle for this inner expression [“something that needs to get out”] is facilitated by the compositions that you feel comfortable improvising on.
This context becomes one way to listen to Denny’s solo piano explorations on Early Wayne for as he explains in the insert notes:
“I was in college in 1959 when Wayne Shorter made his recording debut as a leader and I was captivated by the originality of his sound and concept, both as a performer and as a composer. He has continued to inspire me over the ensuing decades and I’ve recorded his compositions on a number of occasions.”
In another excerpt from the insert notes to his Complete Blue Note Recordings [ECM 1575-80], pianist Keith Jarrett remarks that: “A master Jazz musician goes onto the stage hoping to have a rendezvous with music. He/she knows the music is there (it always is), but this meeting depends not only on knowledge but openness …. It is like an attempt over and over again to reveal the heart of things.”
In line with this “rendezvous” we have Denny explaining that “the idea of an entire concert of Wayne’s tunes as launching pads into improvisation occurred to me as I was preparing for an annual performance at the Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, CA. The venue is perfect - a stable of marvelous pianos; an intimate concert space that attracts an attentive and adventurous audience; flawless acoustics; a staff that really cares about music. I believe that Wayne is Jazz’s greatest living composer and improviser, and for this concert I focused on his timeless early compositions.”
The ten tracks that comprise Early Wayne were recorded in performance on December 5, 2014 and each is a magnificent example of an artist displaying the ability to create Jazz at the highest level of personal expression.
Denny’s achievements with the music are a testimony to his love of what he is doing, his honesty, and of his artistic devotion to master the discipline necessary to perform what the author Ted Gioia has referred to as “The Imperfect Art.”
As the novelist Willa Cather once wrote: “Artistic growth is more than anything a refining of a sense of truthfulness. Only the stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist knows how difficult it is.”
I’ve been listening to Denny’s music in performance and on recordings for over 50 years and I view each new opportunity to do as another episode to hear his quest for truth.
In this regard, you won’t want to miss his latest efforts as reflected in the ten stunning improvisations that make up Early Wayne: Explorations of Classic Wayne Shorter Compositions.
For order information, please visit Sunnyside Records via this link.
You can listen to Miyako the closing track to the concert on the following audio-only Soundcloud digital file: