John Lewis On Piano Jazz

Originally published on November 11, 2011 12:28 pm

Pianist John Lewis is a founding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, whose original members also included vibraphone player Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Kenny Clarke.

Lewis kicks off this session with a laid-back and economical solo blues improvisation, at which point host Marian McPartland says, "I've learned so much from listening to you play the blues over the years. It's so spare and yet so right." After joining Lewis for a duet on the same blues tune, McPartland adds, "It becomes something altogether different with two pianos."

The session continues with a duet on bebop pioneer Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," a tune based on the chord progression for "Indiana." Lewis began his career as the arranger for Dizzy Gillespie's bop-style big band (Thelonious Monk was the pianist), and he points out that many bebop tunes, such as "Donna Lee," were based on blues and popular tunes: "Most of the new tunes after WWII were based on earlier chord progressions. It was a necessary step, and easier for musicians to manage."

Next, Lewis performs a few of his original tunes. His composition "Django," a tribute to the great Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, has a classical yet passionate feel. And McPartland joins Lewis for a duet in the playful "Delaunay's Dilemma," written in tribute to Reinhardt's Hot Club de France bandmate, Charles Delaunay. Another duet follows on Lewis' "Afternoon in Paris."

"That tune really stands up," McPartland says. "I've enjoyed playing it for years."

The pianists close this Piano Jazz session with a couple of classic duets. They get together in an easygoing tempo for the Duke Ellington favorite "Prelude to a Kiss" before closing with the final tune, a swinging rendition of "Stompin' at the Savoy."

Originally recorded in 1979.

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