[78-L] OT(?): Big Band leaders as pianists

Julian Vein julianvein at blueyonder.co.uk.invalid
Mon Dec 7 16:11:05 PST 2015

On 07/12/15 21:51, Kristjan Saag wrote:
> Was listening to the Duke Ellington 1961 album "Piano In The Foreground"
> (with Aaron Bell/ Jimmy Woode, Sam Woodyard) and noticed the unusually
> uneven mix between piano and bass/drums. The piano was really in the
> foreground, the percussion was hardly heard.
> Thought:; well, Duke was a nice pianist, but this was a situation where
> he was part of a trio and didn't excel in nifty soloing - why give him
> prominence in this way?
> Next thought: how high in regard as pianist was he? And what about other
> Big Band leader pianists: Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Stan Kenton, Earl
> Hines?
> Well, I know Hines was probably more valued as pianist than band leader,
> and Kenton, certainly the opposite - I'm a big fan of Kenton's big band
> sound but find him mediocre as pianist.
> Other names I should have mentioned? Carla Bley, Mike Westbrook?
> Eager to hear your opinions about these guys.
> Kristjan
I don't care for Duke too much as a soloist, apart from the odd chorus 
with the band. Didn't care for "Money Jungle" which, apart from being 
inadequately recorded, was just repetitive, thumpy and dull. And, of 
course, there were those, innumerable, feared "Ellington medleys"...

There was Claude Hopkins, who I like as a pianist, and his band too, 
which isn't held in much regard these days, and whose approach 
anticipated Basie's to some extent. I think it's a question of 
overstaying their welcome--if they just stick to intros and an 
occasional chorus that's fine, including Eddy Duchin!

Basie's playing was a beacon of light on the band's Decca recordings, 
many of which were pretty mediocre despite the adulation they have received.

Then, of course, there was Sun Ra.

I suppose pianists can hide their limitations to some extent, unlike 
horn players.

      Julian Vein

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