Jaki Byard

The Late Show: An Evening with Jaki Byard: Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 3

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A multi-instrumentalist who also played trumpet and tenor saxophone, Jaki Byard was best known as a jazz pianist, and there may not have been a more versatile one in the whole history of the genre. Byard blended musical forms effortlessly on the piano, gliding from bop to classical, stride, ragtime, blues, funk, swing, honky tonk, and anything else he felt like tossing into the mix, sometimes all within the same tune, and all of it done with an easy and elegant grace. He was a regular performer at San Francisco's famed Keystone Korner in the 1970s, and this intimate set is the third release from HighNote Records to document some of those appearances. Byard was brilliant in a group or ensemble setting, but the full feel for his piano playing is best displayed solo, and here, that is what we get -- Jaki Byard relaxed and comfortable in front of a respectful and appreciative audience. It's difficult to pull highlights from this set, since it all flows together as one evening's performance in the best sense, but his three selections from his "Family Suite" and a fun, lively, and ever-shifting turn through "Sweet Georgia Brown" are particularly enjoyable, as are Byard's low-key, warm, and often amusing introductions to some of the pieces. Byard was a jazz player by trade, but his real allegiance was to the piano itself, and few players have brought so much variety out of the instrument and still made it seem like it was all cut from the same elegant and comfortable cloth. All of that is on display here.

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