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Jeffrey Chappell: Pick It Up

Jeffrey Chappell is a respected classical concert pianist and composer who, around 20 years ago, decided to take up jazz for fun. He says that he discovered in himself “an untapped musical voice…that was raw and recreational.”

Whatever adjectives come to mind when hearing Chappell’s fussy, academic, preening treatments of tunes like “Cherokee” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” raw is not one of them.

But the above statement is not his most extraordinary. That distinction belongs to his claim in the liner notes that he “inherited strong jazz sensibilities.” Chappell’s variations include clever paraphrases, keyboard-length glissandos, huge dynamic swings and intricate quick strings of decoration. Not to mention-as Chappell proudly points out-“finger snapping, hand clapping and knee slapping.”

Chappell is enormously proficient. He is capable of a nine-minute comprehensive engagement with “I Got Rhythm,” using only his left hand. Piano players might find some of his demonstrations instructive. But a performance like “‘Round Midnight,” which achieves the impossible in making Monk sound prissy, offers another, unintended use: a definition (by reduction) of the famously elusive term “jazz.” In its utterly unredeemable squareness, it may at last approach a crystallization of the music’s essence: Jazz is what is not present in the music of Jeffrey Chappell.

Originally Published