JazzTimes 10: Essential Lennie Tristano Recordings

To honor the influential—and controversial—pianist’s centennial, here are 10 of his greatest moments

  1. Earl Hines/Teddy Wilson/John Lewis/Lennie Tristano/Bill Evans/Jaki Byard: “Blues in D” (Bill Evans Trio, Live in Europe 1965, Lonehill Jazz, 2006 [originally recorded October 30, 1965])

It was the end of 1965, the year before Tristano would forsake recordings entirely and American bandstands mostly, opting instead to concentrate on his primary revenue source, teaching. But this October ’65 piano summit at the Berliner Philharmonie demonstrates that it wasn’t because he’d lost a step. The lineup of pianists taking turns on blues choruses would be remarkable under any circumstances; the presence of Tristano, who famously disdained the blues, makes it impossibly rare. Also rare: any hint, when Tristano takes his turn, that he’s playing the blues anyway. He goes immediately out of time, playing a rolling series of two-handed, diminished block chords that acknowledge neither bar lines nor basic pulse for his first chorus. The second adds in a skeletal notion of the form—and then it’s over, and the announcer brings in Bill Evans. If that wasn’t weird enough, the track is titled “Blues in D” but is very clearly a blues in C. Surely Tristano didn’t name it, but defiance of convention followed him everywhere.

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Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the songs in this JazzTimes 10:

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.