Back in the 1920s and 1930s, it wasn't uncommon for jazz pianists to record unaccompanied. James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Fats Waller, and other stride heavyweights knew how to become a one-man band when they needed to. The same thing can be said about John Eaton. The acoustic pianist isn't a stride player -- his main influences are swing pianists -- but like the classic stride virtuosos, he can get along quite nicely without a bassist or a drummer. Eaton has usually preferred to record unaccompanied (something he has in common with Dave McKenna), and that approach serves him well on Made in America. The absence of other musicians is no problem for the veteran jazzman, who brings a lot of warmth to familiar standards like "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" and "The Very Thought of You." By calling this CD Made in America, Eaton was being ironic -- he was saluting composers who became famous after immigrating to the U.S. And as comedian Mark Russell points out in the liner notes, those immigrants came from Russia (Irving Berlin, Vernon Duke) and Poland (Bronislaw Kaper) as well as Germany (Kurt Weill), Ireland (Victor Herbert), and England (Ray Noble, Jule Styne). Eaton is a very melody-minded pianist; when he interprets Weill's "September Song" or Kaper's haunting "Invitation," he doesn't treat the melodies like a mere afterthought. One of Kaper's most famous pieces, "Invitation" is from the 1950 film A Life of Her Own (an excellent but underrated classic that stars Lana Turner as a model who sets herself up for heartbreak when she becomes romantically involved with a married man). Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's famous New Jersey studio and released on the New York-based Chiaroscuro label, this CD really was made in America. But as Russell's humorous yet informative liner notes tell us, a composer doesn't have to be American-born to make great contributions to American culture.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson