Monday, August 2, 2010

Hank Jones: A Distinguished Legend

Hank Jones (piano; b. 1918 - d. 2010)
The Complete Original Trio Recordings (Lone Hill Jazz)

It's always a big deal when someone tells, "Yea, he never made a bad record." Well in the case of Hank Jones that statement pretty much holds true. This past weekend would have be Hank Jones' 92nd birthday. He passed away in May of this year at the young age of 91. He was an incredibly versatile and beloved pianist. He had just finished recording what is intended to be the follow up to one of my favourite albums by Jones, a gospel inspired collaboration with Charlie Haden entitled Steal Away (Verve; 1995). It was said that Hank was in fine form and was might have recorded two additional albums during this session. That is a real treat for us all in the future.

Hank Jones was the eldest of three legendary jazz musicians (Thad Jones (trumpet) and Elvin Jones (drums)). The brothers did recorded together occasionally throughout their careers. Hank was performed with such greats as Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Williams, Jimmy Cobb, Lester Young and more. His style was beautiful and gentle. He could swing with the best and pour on the hard bop beat with the rest. Jones was unique in that he added a distinct voice to any setting he was as a session member. But as leader he was a real beacon of brilliance.

Probably the best way for anyone to experience Hank Jones is through a trio recording. One of my favourites is actually a compilation of trio material spans 1953 - 1955 entitled The Complete Original Trio Recordings (Lone Hill Jazz). It features a lovely upbeat rendition of "Have You Met Miss Jones?" The Complete Original Trio Recordings features various lineups including; Charles Mingus (bass), Max Roach (drums), Ray Brown (bass), Johnny Smith (guitar), Wendell Marshall (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums), Elvin Jones, Art Davis (bass) Aaron Bell (bass), Oscar Pettiford (bass), Charlie Smith (drums) and Ed Thigpin (drums). An impressive and exhaustive lineup but they are all important in mentioning.

The playing is superb. Hank stretches out and you really get a feel for his depth of talent and the musicians in each session also have an opportunity to shine. One of my favourite tracks doesn't happen until the end and its a lovely upbeat rendition of "Have You Met Miss ones?" which is actually a session led by drummer Charlie Smith but you get a great sense of friendship among the musicians and how much fun the recordings must have been.

The album actually starts "You Go To My Head" a wonderful mid-tempo ballad with legends Max Roach and Charles Mingus. "Odd Number" and "We're All Together" (two Jones penned originals) are sizzling pieces with some exceptional drumming from Kenny Clarke. Another beauty is "There's A Small Hotel" written by Richard Rogers gains a new identity under Jones leadership. Powerful and emotional stuff. Definitely the Marshall, Clarke and Jones session on this disc are worth the price of admission.

Hank Jones has left a legacy that is undeniable and incredible. Hank Jones is a musician that if you haven't heard him before, now is a great time to start your collection.

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