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Roland Hanna Dies

Roland Hanna, a pianist with a deep knowledge of jazz that allowed him to play in many contexts died Nov. 13 in Hackensack, N.J. of a viral infection of the heart. He was 70.

Born Roland Pembroke Hanna in Detroit on Feb. 10, 1932, Hanna began playing classical piano at 11. He was introduced to jazz in high school by his friend Tommy Flanagan. Hanna soon became one of the city’s leading jazz pianists, along with Flanagan, Hank Jones and Barry Harris, and helped forged a Detroit piano style that combined the technicality and harmonic advancements of bebop with the charm of early blues, stride and ragtime playing.

Hanna left Detroit for New York in 1955 to study at Juilliard. It took Hanna five years to graduate from Juilliard, mostly due to his popularity as a sideman-he worked frequently in the mid- and late-’50s with Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, Coleman Hawkins and others.

In the ’60s Hanna played leader gigs at the Five Spot in New York, usually in a trio setting. He also worked steadily with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra from 1966 into the ’70s and in 1974 he formed the New York Jazz Quartet, which featured saxophonist and flutist Frank Wess.

Hanna was also an active jazz educator, teaching at the Eastman School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, the New School and Queens College.

The pianist has been billed as Sir Roland Hanna since 1970, when the government of Liberia knighted him in recognition of benefit concerts he had given there. He hadn’t stopped touring the festival and club circuit until three weeks before his death when he became ill while playing in Japan.

Hanna is survived by his wife of 48 years, the former

Ramona Woodard, two sons, two daughters, six grandchildren, two

sisters, and three brothers.

Originally Published