May 2011

Jaki Byard
A Matter of Black and White: Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 2
HighNote Records

There should at least be a plaque in the sidewalk to mark the spot where a great jazz club once stood. But jazz clubs like Keystone Korner in San Francisco don’t get markers. Even the Blackhawk, at the once famous corner of Turk and Hyde, is now just a parking lot.

The true memorials to clubs like Keystone Korner and artists like Jaki Byard are records like this one. As an archival document, it is imperfect. “Korner” is misspelled on the cover, the sound is cloudy and the CD booklet omits important information. Apparently these nine solo piano performances were culled from Byard’s trio gigs at Keystone Korner between 1978 and 1979. The precise history of this material is not clarified, including whether or not any of it has been released before.

But Doug Ramsey’s liner notes illuminate the music, and any set of solo Byard is invaluable. His language, at once modern and archaic, blended stride and ragtime and abstraction and impish wit. When he played unaccompanied his imagination was set free. He could fragment and decorate a song almost beyond recognition, like “Hello Young Lovers.” He could play any harmony that came into his head, like the dark discords of “Sunday,” and shift between bouncing stride and floating tempos at will, as on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

“’Round Midnight” and two tribute medleys, one for Billie Holiday and one for Ellington/Strayhorn, provide the complete Byard experience. The Monk is a slow, halting clamber upon the irregular blocks that Byard makes of the song. “God Bless the Child,” sad without self-pity, is chiseled from rock. “Lover Man” is constantly interrupted by tangents and flourishes. “Lush Life” incorporates many incremental ornaments but is still rapt, even as it teeters and pounces and spills into “Day Dream.”

Jaki Byard: We shall not see his like again.

Originally published in May 2011

1 Comment

  • Apr 25, 2011 at 01:10PM James Voto

    I feel very fortunate to have met Jaki Byard in the early 80's at the Hartt School of Music, West Hartford, CT. Jaki led an afternoon jam session and anyone from the school could sit in. I was invited to play one afternoon and read charts for a few hours. Jaki was without a doubt one of the nicest, unassuming people I had ever met. I did not know how big of a legend he was at the time. He treated everyone the same and had no ego. That is one afternoon I will never forget.
    (At the same time Jackie McLean was also on the faculty at Hartt. Little did I know the greatness.)

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