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Dick Hyman: Plays Variations on Richard Rodgers

There are two CDs of solo-piano interpretations here; one devoted to songs by Rodgers and Hart, one to songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Jazz listeners born after World War II will know these pieces from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s only in their modern versions: Miles Davis’ or Chet Baker’s “My Funny Valentine,” Bill Evans’ “Spring Is Here,” John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.” These “variations” by Dick Hyman (who turned 80 in March), which occur in a style contemporaneous with the dates when these songs were composed, will sound quaint to modern ears. The challenge is to not be thrown off-stride by the distancing conventions and elaborate formalities of Hyman’s approach. It contains so many stylistic elements (Harlem stride, Teddy Wilson, Erroll Garner, even ragtime) from a world now out of reach.

Hyman is an encyclopedic virtuoso of jazz-piano history. Many of these 35 pieces have been in his repertoire for 60 years, and he has not stopped thinking about them. You can spend hours in this set and keep finding further details: the quote from “Giant Steps” in “Have You Met Miss Jones”; the variety of modulations and counter-lines and accompaniments through which he filters “My Funny Valentine” for over seven minutes; the fresh harmonic context and interpretive embellishments for “If I Loved You,” which give it a bright new energy and yet retain what Hyman correctly calls its “gravity.”

Given the source material, the odds are good that you will find your favorite song here, addressed with vast pianistic comprehensiveness and erudite “variation” and unimpeachable patrician taste and a dignity now forgotten.

These are presumably new recordings (no dates are given). While the music is timeless, unfortunately the pallid, airless sound is dated.

Originally Published