Kenny Werner

The Piano Music of Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, James P. Johnson

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This is Kenny Werner's debut recording under his own name (though he was listed as Ken Werner on his first two albums), a fascinating solo piano outing where he explores music by several different composers. Cornetist Bix Beiderbecke's five compositions for piano are rarely played as a group; Werner has fun interpreting them though not adding an excessive amount of improvisation. The three pieces by George Gershwin also aren't played by jazz pianists. "Rialto Ripples" (co-written with Walter Donaldson) has a stride flavor that would make it appeal to stride piano specialists, though few others, aside from Dick Hyman, have explored it. The three brief piano preludes are usually played by classical pianists, though Werner takes the tempo a bit faster. Werner dives headfirst into a rollicking treatment of Harlem stride master James P. Johnson's "Caprice Rag" and the unjustly obscure gems "Poem of Love" and "Daintiness Rag." Werner is at his best playing three infrequently heard works by Duke Ellington. "Soda Fountain Rag," his first composition, was played by Ellington just a few times over his career, but rarely recorded, while "Bird of Paradise" was a one-off number; Werner offers delightful interpretations of these two miniatures. Werner also captures the perfect mix of playfulness and drama in "New World A-Comin'." Originally issued in 1978 and reissued on CD in 1995, this solo piano session is long out of print and should be considered somewhat hard to find.

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