KCRW DJ Tom Schnabel invited renowned pianist Alan Pasqua to cover the history of jazz piano in 55 minutes for his inaugural Rhythm Planet event, starting the evening by joking about the impossibility of that task. Despite the daunting challenge, the duo did a tremendous job of covering the greats in both conversation and performance.
Pasqua, a Steinway artist and professor in the Jazz Studies Department at USC Thornton School of Music and has played with Quincy Jones and Elton John among others, started the evening in New Orleans with Jelly Roll Morton.
Playing us a bit of rag time, he talked about how Jelly Roll was the first to “swing the beat” and claimed to have invented jazz. This is back in the 1920’s when players were executing their craft in saloons and he told a story about Fats Waller playing for three days and nights with a gun to his head at the behest of Al Capone. Jazz was a tough business back in the day!
Tom commented that most musical forms – jazz, fado and tango included – start at the “bottom rungs of society” and that’s “where it gets a lot of it’s juice”.
They moved on to Duke Ellington – who played piano like his big band sounded – and Thelonius Monk, who was responsible for the bebop movement in jazz. Alan compared his work to a symphony.
Alan had a very personal story about Jaki Byard, who took him under his wing when he was in college. He got choked up talking about Byard as the “single most personal influence in his musical life” and demonstrated the jazz piano style he was known for, called stride.
They continued through Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and more, finishing with the work of Keith Garrett. Overall, Pasqua honed in on 13 artists on this night of jazz piano history.
Stay tuned for more Up Close events hosted by Tom in the future!