Ross Tompkins

Younger Than Springtime

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Ross Tompkins is best known for his 25-year tenure as the band pianist on The Tonight Show but, since leaving that gig when Johnny Carson retired from television in 1992, he has recorded some excellent jazz dates, including this CD of solo piano. Tompkins not only gets a chance to stretch out but he is the one calling the tunes, which consist of a wide range of material from Broadway and gems of the Great American Songbook to landmarks written by jazz icons and even an occasional surprise or two. Some songs, like the lyrical "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" and "Blame It on My Youth," never seem to fall out of fashion in the jazz world, yet Tompkins' interpretations bring out something new from within them. He playfully hints at "Holiday for Strings" as he introduces "Violets for Your Furs," a once-popular ballad that has been little explored since the 1950s. His stop-and-go waltzing arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" and the tension that he builds within Artie Shaw's "Moonray" are additional examples of his inventiveness. But perhaps the biggest surprise is the inclusion of a Rod McKuen work in the midst of compositions by far greater composers. Although the mere mention of McKuen's name is likely to provoke glazed expressions of complete boredom among most jazz fans, Tompkins turns "Jean" into a softly swinging ballad that seems like it could be a folk tune from the 19th century. Highly recommended.

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