The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway
The brilliant, versatile pianist Roger Kellaway may often be dismissed as “too mainstream” or generally an accompanist for vocalists singing standards or orchestrated pop material. Yet, the pianist who turns 80 this month, has a love for straight-ahead jazz from bebop to hard bop. On this album, a piano trio without a drummer (like Nat King Cole, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson), Kellaway is anything but predictable. The music from the trio of bassist Dan Lutz and guitarist Bruce Forman swings hard through tunes from Monk, Rollins, Ellington, and Strayhorn as well as Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter and Paul Desmond. It’s much better and imaginative than this writer expected, given the swath of Kellaway’s usual engagements.
As a composer, arranger and instrumentalist he’s worked with jazz greats Ellington, Rollins, Moody, and Golson to name just a few. Then there’s Elvis, Carmen McRae, Quincy Jones, Yo-Yo Ma, Barbara Streisand, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell. He even wrote the theme song for the TV show that made Archie Bunker famous, All in the Family. He’s composed and commissioned works for the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony, New American Orchestra, New York City Ballet, and numerous chamber works at Carnegie Hall. Few, if any American musicians can boast such a resume.
The album was recorded live at L.A.’s Jazz Bakery to a very enthusiastic audience. They begin with Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” which starts in mellow form before Kellaway takes his piano solo to another level. “Have You Met Miss Jones” begins with a glowing piano introduction but moves into a medium-tempo romp with heated piano-guitar interplay. Kellaway tears into Rollins’ “Doxy,” especially in his second solo. “Take Five” taken at a faster tempo than usual and does the opposite with Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train,” before it goes into double-time in an interpretation like no other with stunning runs from Kellaway. Porter’s “Night and Day” is right in the pocket while Ellington’s “Caravan” appropriately ends the set in high tempo fashion.
Kellaway has appeared on over 250 jazz recordings, let alone all the others he’s contributed to. Considering that he’s about to turn 80, his technical skills and enthusiastic approach become even more impressive. So, do like Kellaway does – approach this with an open mind. You’ll be rewarded.
Note: Kellaway will celebrate his 80th birthday in the middle of this month at New York’s Birdland. This marks the return of one the few remaining players from ‘the golden age of jazz” to the iconic jazz club where he first performed 60 years ago.
- Jim Hynes