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Peter Bernstein Remembers Richard Wyands

The guitarist pays tribute to the undersung pianist (7/2/28 – 9/25/19)

Richard Wyands
Richard Wyands (photo: Alan Nahigian)

Richard Wyands was a true jazz piano master, of a sort not often heard in these times of virtuosity and density. His virtuosity was in his incredibly beautiful touch and total control of sound. Besides being a sublime soloist, he was one of the greatest accompanists ever. To play with him was a unique experience in the way he made you hear yourself and everything around you with greater clarity. He was truly an unsung hero, almost unknown except among musicians, despite being on many important records with Gene Ammons, Roy Haynes, Oliver Nelson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Etta Jones, Illinois Jacquet, and so many others.

His playing was all about subtlety and completely unique in the way he was able to find so many slick and ingenious variations that you could miss if you weren’t paying close attention. To hear him behind a singer was a lesson in harmony and orchestration. He played with an aesthetic that is heard less and less, and with a sound and feeling that was all his own. He was a quiet and unassuming man who did his thing without calling attention to himself (another outdated trait).

Once I heard him at the Village Vanguard with Illinois Jacquet’s Big Band, where he accompanied Jacquet on “Ghost of a Chance” with his masterful touch and played a chorus of jaw-dropping beauty and hipness. Illinois said the next tune would again feature Richard, but he asked him to take it easy on this one because he was making Illinois cry.

Read the JazzTimes obituary for Richard Wyands.