Dick Hyman has lent his talents as a pianist, arranger and composer to radio, the recording studio and movies, including more than a dozen Woody Allen films. He’s recorded so many albums that he’s been honored as one of New York’s all-time ‘Most Valued Players’ by the Musicians' Union.
The music’s loose and the conversation casual, as we catch Dick Hyman–after hours. It’s tunes and talk with a Legend, as The Jim Cullum Jazz Band welcomes pianist Dick Hyman for an informal jam session.
Hyman's busy musical career began in the early 1950s and he has since recorded over 100 albums under his own name, and is a prolific composer of orchestral and chamber works, including choral cantatas, ballet scores, string quartets and sonatas for various instruments. At the age of 83 he still gives many live concerts as a solo recitalist and in collaboration with other pianists, jazz instrumentalists, and symphony orchestras worldwide.
Dick Hyman's knowledge of the Great American Songbook is encyclopedic. In an interview with Ken Dryden on allaboutjazz.com, he recalls that he learned most of the songs as a young pianist jobbing around New York, playing at country clubs and hotel ballrooms.
"There was a core of musicians who knew all the tunes. That meant you had to be familiar with every well-known musical, starting back in the 20s. It would typically start with "Night and Day" and include other Cole Porter songs, Richard Rodgers' "The Lady is a Tramp" and all the peppy songs of the 20s like "Ain't We Got Fun?," and the torch songs of the 30s. You were expected to know everything, the pianist especially."
Dick credits his work as a studio musician on radio and television in the 1950s, when he had to shift from one style to another throughout the day for the various shows, as his best musical education. He notes, "Exceptional sight-reading and impromptu composition were essential survival skills."
Musicians love it when Hyman drops in to play with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band, not only because Dick brings his vast experience and knowledge to bear on every tune, but also because of his seemingly endless invention and imagination, his impeccable, swinging rhythmic feel and his spectacular "pianistic pyrotechnics."
As a contrast to other Dick Hyman specials on Riverwalk Jazz featuring carefully arranged and written-out scores, our show captures Dick completely ad-lib and "off the cuff." Only the tune titles were determined beforehand. You can even hear Dick and Jim Cullum deciding the shape of the performances right on the spot.
Our tune lineup includes a trio of Fats Waller compositions: "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling," "Minor Drag" and "My Fate is In Your Hands," a variety of solos and duos with band pianist John Sheridan: "Little Rock Getaway," "I'm Sorry I Made You Cry" and "Try a Little Tenderness" and impromptu jam tunes with Jim and the Band: "Dinah" and "Oh Daddy Blues."
Dick displays his comedic skills playing and singing his own witty composition featured in Woody Allen's film Zelig, "Doin' the Chameleon." It's all part of a sequence where Dick and John challenge each other to a mock duel singing favorite ditties and silly song lyrics.
Dick Hyman and the band close things out with a salute to Mary Lou Williams with a romp through her classic composition, "Roll 'Em."
For more piano magic with pianist Dick Hyman, his recent recordings include Dick Hyman's Century of Jazz Piano, an encyclopedic series of solo performances released on Arbors Records, Thinking About Bix and E Pluribus Duo with Ken Peplowski.
Photo credit for Home Page: Dick Hyman's Century of Jazz Piano. Image courtesy dickhyman.com.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2012