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Pete Malinverni: Before & After

The pianist and educator weighs in on Lenny (Bernstein) and legacies

Pete Malinverni
Pete Malinverni (photo: Matt Baker)

6. Tony Bennett and Bill Evans
“Lucky to Be Me” (Together Again, DRG, reissued on The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings, Concord/Fantasy). Bennett, vocals; Evans, piano. Recorded in 1975-76.

BEFORE: [When Bennett enters after Evans’ brief intro, Malinverni exclaims, “Ahh” in immediate recognition, throwing up his hands] Keep playing it!   

This is a gimme.

AFTER: Of course, it could only be Bill. The first thing I recognized was Tony … It wasn’t until Bill did a couple of things, [moving around] fourths,  that hipped me to it being Bill. They were great together. Beautiful. [He describes Bernstein’s unusual modulation that leads to the song’s B section, then] … and the lyric [by Comden and Green] is hilarious. My late wife, Jody Sandhaus, was a wonderful singer and she did this song, and it was such a kick to hear her sing the lyric. I think Bernstein was a little bit like this, even though he didn’t write the lyric. Sometimes you’ve just got to look around and say, “Wow, I’m so lucky,” you know? It’s a tune about gratitude.

7. Barry Harris Trio
“Allen’s Alley” (Breakin’ It Up, Argo). Harris, piano; William Austin, bass; Frank Gant, drums. Recorded in 1958.

BEFORE:
[After about 15 seconds, he whoops] Oh yeah! Barry! Let me hear more. [Smiles, nods head, occasionally shouts]

You knew that right away, but do you know the record?
No.

It’s from his debut album.
I’ll get it.

AFTER: Obviously, it’s “I Got Rhythm.” Barry’s playing always dances. There’s not a heavy thing about it, except the depth of his artistry and his humanity.

I met Barry when I first moved to New York City, and I started to go to his classes at the Jazz Forum when it was down on Astor Place. The first night I went I recognized a friend, who [told me] Barry was going bowling after class, and [he] said, “Do you want to come bowling?” So I went bowling with Barry Harris … I’m a lefty, and Barry saw that and continued his night of teaching by telling me about the natural draw that a lefty has, and showing me how to use it. And I never bowled better.

That’s just how he is. He’s a sharer. I’m really blessed to call him a friend. Some of his harmonic concepts remain with me and inform my playing and my writing.

We also shared a piano teacher, the wonderful Sophia Rosoff. My dear friend Mike Kanan connected me with Sophia, then I found out Barry was studying with her too. His piano technique is so good, and I’m pretty sure he would credit it to Sophia, but as this record you just played for me shows, he’s always been great.

“McCoy [Tyner] didn’t say, ‘Hank [Jones]—such a good guy!’ He didn’t say, ‘Hank—such a great piano player!’ What he said was, ‘You should’ve seen the suit Hank had on!’”

8. Dave Frishberg
“Zoot Walks In” (Retromania: At the Jazz Bakery, Arbors). Frishberg, piano. Recorded in 2005.

BEFORE: At first I thought he sounded a little like Bob Dorough. Then a little like Mose Alison. But when I heard the lyric …

AFTER: … I knew it could only be Dave Frishberg because, my, his lyrics were so inside. I mean, “a double Dewar’s straight up.” Come on! Of course that was a great loss. My late wife Jody did a recording of [Frishberg’s] “You Are There,” which a lot of singers tell me is still their favorite version.

I did want to get your thoughts about his piano playing too.
I have to admit I’m not real familiar with his playing. [Listens to piano solo] So, I would like to hear him play with bass and drums. Because he was walking that bass line; I don’t know how much of that he did. He was playing really cool lines in his right hand, but I didn’t hear a lot of dynamic variation. Sometimes it’s a real battle to still play like yourself when you’re accompanying yourself. At times he reminded me of one of the greats, Dave McKenna. Maybe he’s playing a little harder in his right hand because he’s playing his bass lines legato in his left hand. [He illustrates legato vs. bouncing left-hand bass lines at the piano.]

Also, this is a live recording, and he played a little bit differently in the studio. On his album Dave Frishberg Classics, he plays with a trio.
I liked this, don’t get me wrong. But I always tell young piano players, if you’re playing a bass line, you gotta bounce it.

9. Sullivan Fortner and Kyle Athayde
“Tea for Two” (Tea for Two, Independent, available on CD Baby). Fortner, piano; Athayde, vibraphone. Recorded in 2020.

BEFORE: [After about 30 seconds] Got it. I think it’s Sullivan.

AFTER: First of all, I knew it had to be modern, because of the recording quality. So that made me think it has to be someone sorta young who appreciates what came before us but who is very definitely himself. And that’s what I always think when I hear him play. And, to be honest, I knew he had done a thing with a vibes player.

What I like about Sullivan Fortner is he’s got a really honest and respectful approach … to everything, to humans … He’s a mensch, you know? If you’re gonna play “Tea for Two,” you’re probably going to be a little bit in the mind of Art Tatum. What I like is that he respects the earmarks of stride piano, but it doesn’t sound like he’s trying to play stride piano. It sounds like he’s trying to play music.

There’s something very modern about his approach to … every tune he plays, really. It’s a bit impressionistic.
Yes, that’s right. And the only way you can pull that off is to have a really great piano sound. You not only have to play each chord differently, you have to play each note in the chord differently—to give it that shimmer.

10. Samara Joy with Emmet Cohen
“Too Close for Comfort” (from Live at Emmet’s Place, YouTube video). Joy, vocals; Cohen, piano; Russell Hall, bass; Kyle Poole, drums. Livestreamed in 2021.

BEFORE: I think it’s Samara.

AFTER: You know why I knew? Of course I know her voice. I worked with her quite a bit; she was a student at Purchase. The first time she came to audition, Alexis Cole, our voice teacher, called me into the room and said, “I think you want to hear this girl.” I went in and said, “What would you like to sing?” And she didn’t know any songs. So, she’s a church girl, I’m a church boy, I said, “Let’s play a hymn.” I forgot which one she picked, but as soon as I heard it, I said, “Okay, you’re in.”

[Emmet] is doing very well for himself these days. I’m always happy when a fellow musician is doing well. It’s a hard nut to crack, to play music and to make a living at it. And I think he has figured it out. I give him a lot of credit for that. And the drummer, Kyle, is married to a wonderful gal who I know as one of the managers at Mezzrow. So I know he has good taste in humans ’cause she’s a lovely person. It’s all about relationships in life and in music. And if you always come in open to good things, I think it works out.

You know, one of the other things I do besides playing in church, I also play in a Reform Jewish temple in Scarsdale. And the thing I get from all of that playing in spiritual circumstances is that people come with open hearts for the music. So what you have to do is open yours as well. You’ve prepared, you’ve practiced, you’ve done everything right that you could do up till today, right? Tomorrow we’ll practice more, but in this moment, this is what you have. So you have to share it, and then it’s received in that spirit.

I try to do that on the bandstand as well. I really think that spirit can save the world. You know, it’s not about us. We’re just vessels for this music. It’s up to us to be good stewards of it.

Allen Morrison

Allen Morrison is a music journalist, musician, jazz critic, lecturer, and a regular contributor to JazzTimes and 
DownBeat. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, Jazziz, American Songwriter, and Departures. He lectures frequently on jazz history aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. Before becoming a full-time journalist, Allen worked as a music publicist and a pianist. He is working on a book on how musicians and non-musicians hear music. He maintains a blog at AllenMorrison.com.