Jazz has its share of brilliant blind pianists. The list includes Art Tatum, Lennie Tristano, George Shearing, Joe Mooney, Reinhold Svensson, Ray Charles and Marcus Roberts. Here's another pianist you've probably never heard—Herbie Brock. He recorded only six known albums between 1955 and 1965, including the sterling Brock's Tops for Savoy in February 1956.
Brock attended the State School for the Blind in Batavia, N.Y., where he heard Art Tatum on the radio in the 1930s. He majored in piano and organ and learned to play the tenor sax. After school, he gigged around neraby Rochester, particularly at Otmens on Front St. He also toured with his brother-in-law, known locally as "Buddy Satan," as part of a two-piano team. Brock moved to Coral Gables, Fla., in 1952, married, had two children and worked steadily in Miami. His first album, Solo, was recorded live at Miami's Onyx Club in 1955. His second album was Brock's Tops, with Brooks Caperton on bass and Rick Hanson on drums.
As you'll hear, Brock was a swinging Bud Powell-influenced player with clock-like time and densely packed chord changes. The last news clips I could find on Brock was in a 1965 Down Beat, which said he was playing at Miami's Basin Street South, alternating nights with trumpeter Ira Sullivan. I also found a small ad in November 1955 for a venue called the Auditorium on Miami's Flagler St. Brock was listed as an added attraction to the headliner Preacher and the Five Saints. In 1971, an ad for the 700 Club in The Palm Beach Post noted that the Coral Gables club was featuring "groovy music" by Brock, and in 1984, The Miami News's "What's Happening" column reported that Brock had recently retired after 18 years at the 700 Club. From there, the trail goes cold. Another superb jazz ship passing in the night.
- Solo (Savoy/1955)
- Brock's Top (Savoy/1956)
- Herbie's Room (Criteria/1957)
- The Night and Herbie Brock at the 700 Club (Art/1961)
- Featuring Laurie Lee (Brock/1963)
- Blue Miami (ABCJ/1965)
JazzWax tracks: Herbie Brock's Brock's Tops is out of print but available on CD from independent sellers from time to time at Amazon and eBay. Herbie's Room is available here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Brock on Brock's Tops playing Four Brothers...
And here's Brock playing There Will Never Be Another You...
A special thanks to readers John Cooper, John Helgesen and James Harrod.