Hal Schaefer

June 1st: A Date to Remember

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When jazz artists cut a tribute album, it's generally to honor a member of the jazz fraternity or sorority, depending on the sex of the honoree. Hal Schaefer's first album as a soloist honors a member of the sorority, and quite a member she was. The object of Schaefer's CD is Marilyn Monroe, with the title June 1st: A Date to Remember commemorating Monroe's 75th birthday. This is not the action of a dedicated fan, but one who was the actress' singing coach, preparing her for roles in such movies as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. This album is also in memory of his late wife, whose birth date coincidentally is June 1. Schaefer had been in the jazz business for a while at that point, having worked with Benny Carter and with Dave Barbour's Four of a Kind, which backed Peggy Lee. While the title of the album refers to a Marilyn Monroe event, the play list, with the exception of two originals, is a strong nod to Schaefer's major pianistic influence, Art Tatum. While the playing here is not as embellished as Tatum's, the light, lilting touch that marked the Tatum improvisions are found in such tunes as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Tenderly," and "Gone With the Wind." Schaefer also remembers another major influence and patron, Duke Ellington, with a passionate version of "Solitude." Schaefer is from a particular school of piano players, respecting the melody of the song he is playing while at the same time giving it a personal imprimatur. This is a solid solo piano CD and a worthy addition to the recorded piano literature. Recommended.

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