JazzTimes 10: Essential Lennie Tristano Recordings

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

  1. Lennie Tristano Trio: “I’ll Remember April” (Manhattan Studio, Jazz, 1996 [originally recorded ca. 1956])

It must have gotten boring to play bass or drums with Lennie Tristano. He kept his rhythm-section counterparts on a tight leash, playing only the simplest of accompaniment—quarter notes or bust—which led some of his detractors to conclude that he couldn’t swing. For this session from Tristano’s New York private studio, he gives drummer Tom Weyburn a tad more liberty, and in doing so he swings just fine, thank you (although bassist Peter Ind is still hemmed in). Notably, this doesn’t cramp Tristano’s “pure improvisation” style, either. His long solo is as labyrinthine and devoid of cliché or easy licks as ever (unless you count a handful of Lester Young and Charlie Parker paraphrases), and he roams well outside the changes in several places. Impressive and innovative as his own rhythmic concept was, it’s disappointing that Tristano didn’t relax his grip on his drummers more often.

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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.