Dick Katz (1924-2009), a low-key, high-impact jazz pianist with a Teddy Wilson touch who recorded with Tony Scott, J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Al Cohn, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and many other gunslinger improvisers, died November 10th of lung cancer in Manhattan. He was 85.
Over his six-decade career, Dick wound up recording on some of the most breathtaking jazz albums of the 1950s and 1960s. Jazz giants favored Dick as an accompanist because his keyboard style was both a throwback to the pre-bop era of strict time-keeping and a modern practitioner of provocative chord voicings. Notoriously blunt, Dick's salty side was thin, and it didn't take long for his edge to give way to a tender, caring personality.
In 1966, he and Orrin Keepnews co-founded Milestone Records, with Orrin handling the marketing and Dick taking on the producing. When I interviewed Dick back in July, we spoke about his career, his recordings and his collaboration with Orrin. When I asked how the two met, here's what Dick said:
In re-listening to my interview with Dick, what stands out was the warmth of his voice, the pragmatism of his thinking and eagerness to instruct. Dick had a light Southern accent that he picked up as a youth in Baltimore, and he didn't work hard to finesse the things he wanted to say. In my re-listen, it was almost as if there were two thinkers inside Dick's head operating at once. As ideas formed, you could almost hear one ask, "How should I put this?" and the other one answering, "Just say it—we don't have time for this." Fortunately the latter thinker always won out. [Pictured, from left, Ron Carter, Jim Hall, Dick Katz, Helen Merrill and Thad Jones in 1966]
Here are a handful of must-own Dick Katz tracks chosen because you can hear his taste and touch distinctly:
Exactly Like You—Al Cohn: I'm Still Swinging (1955) with Joe Newman (trumpet), Urbie Green (trombone), Gene Quill (alto sax), Al Cohn (tenor sax), Dick Katz (piano), Freddie Green (guitar), Eddie Jones (bass) and Shadow Wilson (drums). This is part of the Mosaic Select series.
Aw! C'mon—Oscar Pettiford Orchestra in Hi-Fi, Vol. 2 (1957). This magnificent big band featured Ray Copeland and Art Farmer (trumpets), Al Grey (trombone), Julius Watkins and David Amram (French horns), Gigi Gryce (alto sax), Benny Golson and Jerome Richardson (tenor saxes), Sahib Shihab (baritone sax), Dick Katz (piano), Betty Glamann (harp) Oscar Pettiford (bass and cello) and Gus Johnson (drums). It's on CD as the Complete 1959 & 1963 United Artists Complete Big Band Studio Recordings and available on CD at Amazon and other e-retailers.
Afternoon in Paris—Dick Katz Quartet: Piano & Pen (1959) with Dick Katz (piano), Chuck Wayne (guitar), Joe Benjamin (bass) and Connie Kay (drums). This is at iTunes and e-retailers.
Blue Star—Benny Carter: Further Definitions (1961) features Benny Carter and Phil Woods (alto saxes), Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Rouse (tenor saxes), Dick Katz (piano), John Collins (guitar), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Jo Jones (drums). This is at iTunes and at e-retailers.
For more, catch Doug Ramsey's tribute here, which includes a fine video clip.
Stacy Rowles (1955-2009), daughter of pianist Jimmy Rowles who was both a jazz instrumentalist and vocalist, died on October 27 in Burbank, CA, following injuries sustained in an auto accident about a week earlier. She was 54.
Stacy is perhaps best known on disc for her haunting and definitive vocal of her father's composition Looking Back. After I wrote about the song's history here in June, Stacy's sister Stephanie sent along the following e-mail:
Wolfgang's Vault. Much media fuss was made last week about free audio at Wolfgang's Vault of jazz concerts by Count Basie, Dakota Staton and Art Blakey. Much of it seemed pretty dull to me. Nice to know it's there, but I'd never reach for the recordings, free or otherwise. But upon combing through the hundreds of other free concerts listed, I did find some gems—in the rock and soul categories. Dig Tower of Power, Tavares, David Bowie, Roberta Flack and Paul McCartney. All of these concerts are rather rushed and uneven (amazing how sloppy all artists get in concert), but at least these had a certain cutting-edge energy.
Johnny Mercer. Today (Sunday), disc jockey Symphony Sid Gribetz will host a five-hour radio retrospective of the singer-songwriter from 2 to 7 p.m. (EST). Go here anywhere in the world to listen.
Jazz Loft scene on the radio. Sara Fishko will host a 10-episode series on New York's WNYC-FM starting tomorrow (Monday). Sara and partners at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University created the series from the tapes of loft life discovered in photographer W. Eugene Smith’s vast archive. For more information, go here. The show's airing is in conjunction with the release of the book The Jazz Loft Project (Knopf) by Sam Stephenson. It will be published on Nov. 24.
Mystery song solved! Wall Street Journal jazz writer Will Friedwald has been trying for decades to identify a particular song. It turns up on Nat King Cole's 1943 recording of Embraceable You and behind Peggy Lee on her 1963 recording of Mack The Knife. To hear the song in question (the clip features both the Cole and Lee songs), go here.
Now the mystery has been solved by David Lennick. Go here for the riddle's solution.
CD discoveries of the week. Two rather interesting jazz CDs this week, both by Filipino jazz singers:
The first is by Mon David (pronounced MOAN da-VEED), whose vocal approach sounds remarkably like Mark Murphy's. On his album, Coming True, David takes on Wayne Shorter's Footprints, Invitation, Some Other Time, No More Blues, Never Let Me Go and a deep version of Abbey Lincoln's Throw It Away, among others. David brings a warmth and fluent knowledge of the songs he has chosen. David is joined by pianist Tateng Katindig, whose father Eddie is one of the Philippines' leading jazz saxophonists. And dig Only Once, an original co-written by David on which he and singer Charmaine Clamor scat in Filipino. Sample it at iTunes or here at Amazon.
The second is My Harana: A Filipino Serenade by Charmaine Clamor. It's a collection of Filipino love songs. But is not one of those tasteless albums of faux passion and synthesized strings, which are all too common in countries outside the U.S. Instead, there's a warm, Brazilian ballad feel to Clamor's vocal passion and interpretation. Her voice is genuine, and her timbre shimmers with fragrant beauty. I do not speak Filipino, so the lyrics are lost on me. But you sense instantly what Clamor is singing about, and you realize she is a gorgeous singer. She's that good. Clamor is backed by Richard Ickard on acoustic guitar and a range of stringed instruments. Sample it at iTunes or at Amazon here.
Oddball album cover of the week. Trumpeter and flugelhornist Shorty Rogers made a lot of great albums. He also made some clunkers. I've never heard this one, but the cover gives us a good indication of its contents. I'm not quite sure who convinced Shorty that jazz fans wanted him to meet Tarzan let alone wind up in his arms. I guess both could swing—one in Hollywood and the other on vine. The album was recorded in 1959 for MGM. Clearly a shameless tie-in to MGM's Tarzan, the Ape Man of the same year.