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Cadenza: Call Him Lucky

A mental bank shot put me in mind of a musician I had not listened to in several years: Charles Luckeyth Roberts. Not that there’s much of him you can listen to. Despite a long and successful career (he died in 1968 at 80), he left no more than 12 dazzling tracks and 11 misguided toss-offs. It’s something of a miracle that we have anything, because his first records were made in 1946, six years after a car wreck smashed his hands. The last ones followed a stroke. Perhaps those who saw him in the flesh can detect the effects of either infirmity. I can’t.

The bank shot worked like this: In February, I heard the Cecil Taylor Trio play a magnificent set at the Blue Note, vibrant with dynamics, variety and suspense. I had (not for the first time) a distinct impression that Taylor had devised a few new keyboard acrobatics. This cue ball of illumination rebounded off the cushion of blurred recollection and found Luckey Roberts hiding in the shadows. A luxurious immersion in the latter’s few recordings disclosed at least three points of contact.

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Originally Published

Gary Giddins

Gary Giddins is the author of 12 books, including Rhythm-a-Ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation (1985), Visions of Jazz: The First Century (1998), Weather Bird (2004), and the three-volume biography Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star, of which two volumes have been published to date. Between 1974 and 2003, he wrote a regular jazz column for The Village Voice, winning six ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music criticism. From 2002 to 2008, he wrote JazzTimes‘ Cadenza column.