Pianist John Colianni talks about some of his favorite songs. To listen to the full playlist visit our YouTube page.
Lou Rawls – What Did I Do (To Be So Black And Blue)
Diana Ross – Billie Holiday Medley
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Jazz singers doing “tribute” sets. I tend to think they should do their own thing and shine in their own presence. But I really like Diana Ross’s versions of all 3 of these pieces. This is from the soundtrack of the bio film “Lady Sings The Blues”, and Diana of course portrays Billie Holiday (known as “Lady Day”). Her singing is first rate. She gets the Billie Holiday vibe of world weary sophistication, mixed with street smarts and jive. But she also memorably inserts her own identity and unique brand of phrasing. These backup arrangements are just great, too, swinging and soulfully accompanying Ms Ross. If any fans know who wrote these charts, feel free to let me know! Meanwhile, I also have a personal connection to this clip. One of my main mentor-teachers was Carlton Drinkard, a pianist who was Billie Holiday’s accompanist on and off for ten years or so. In these clips, he is loosely and wonderfully portrayed as the character “Piano Man”, by Richard Pryor, who you see at the piano throughout.
Louis Jordan – I Know What You’re Putting Down
Louis Jordan was a masterful alto (and tenor) sax player, a smooth ballad player as well as a stomping, swinging blues player. And he was a beautiful singer, half blues shouter/ half balladeer. He had a great band, who you see here “The Tympani Five”. They are all tight, agile, driving players. What I particularly like on this track is the piano accompaniment. I don’t think you can see the piano player, but he’s surging away behind Louie’s vocal with really soulful blues licks, delicately played, but right “in your face”. Knowing how to play with that “sanctified” sound and touch is a special asset. I believe the pianist here is Wild Bill Davis, who went on to greater fame as a Hammond B-3 organist who had a string of hit records with his own band.
Count Basie – Michelle
This is the Count Basie cover of the Beatles tune Michelle. Their band has the same lineup as our big band – 17 pieces. Me and my bassist, Boots Maleson, were figuring out the interesting chord substitutions they used in this arrangement – tricky. The band plays with a lot of feeling on this recording from 1966. This is a good song that works as a Pop/Rock ballad or a Jazz piece. Basie is in great form himself on the piano, doing his spare kind of playing on here. (don’t let him fool you, though – he could also be a ferocious player with a lot of technique). Also notice the smooth rhythm section.
Larry Coryell – “ATM Girl”
This is a live trio recording by Larry Coryell. He’s about the best there is at playing the guitar at this kind of tempo. He does it with ease! I like the excitement he builds in his solo. Larry was also an accomplished Flamenco guitar virtuoso. And he led a world famous Jazz fusion band called “The Eleventh House”. He toured and recorded several top-selling albums in the 60s and 70s, to great acclaim and critical reception. And his career never slowed down. Larry toured the world, playing all the top Jazz venues year in and out, to fans of all ages. His collaborators are a “who’s who” of Jazz heroes. Too many highlights to mention, for sure. But this performance, featuring Larry live in NYC, is a standout. He’s on fire, and the energy and creativity are unrelenting throughout this piece. And I’m not biased, just because I wrote this song, or because I’m playing piano here….(I’m on his 2011 release, “Montgomery”, by the way)
Bobby Hackett – “Emily”
Bobby Hackett plays cornet, an instrument I’ve never been wild about. I like trumpet. But players like Bobby Hackett, Ed Polcer, Bix Beiderbecke, Ray Nance, and Nat Adderley (all cornetists) all make me go back on that judgement every time I hear them (and don’t forget my FB friend Dan Tobias). So great. Anyway, Bobby Hackett (who I hear was Clifford Brown’s favorite cornetist) is tremendous. He plays in a way that (to me) resembles singing. And that quality is on display here, for sure. Very eloquent at interpreting melody, especially on ballads. This number, “Emily” was written by the arranger-composer Johnny Mandel, for a film he scored. It’s said that “Emily” wasn’t nominated for an Oscar because the piece was not SUNG in the movie, which is a requirement (or was). Too bad… Anyhow, I am drawn to this orchestration written to back up Bobby’s soloing. Whoever wrote it sure knew how to write for a string section! I’m envious.
Sue Raney with Stan Kenton and his Orchestra – “Let There Be Love” and “I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)”
Stan Kenton was leading his super-size band at this time – over twenty pieces! He had just added a four man section of mellophones (a brass instrument) to his band, which was already a full-sized big band. Sue Raney was his singer back then, She was fabulous! Tremendous pitch and time feel, and she subtly “acts out” the songs with her conversational phrasing. Talented lady, for sure. And these arrangements are really effective behind her. It’s really interesting to hear Kenton play an Ellington piece like “I Got It Bad”. Kenton revered Ellington (who wouldn’t?). I think these charts are by Bill Holman, a West Coast sax player and arranger. Superb, if you ask me.