Roger Kellaway was Bobby Darin’s music director in the 1960s. Kevin Spacey directed and starred in a recent biopic of Darin. Kellaway toured with Spacey to promote the film. Those are the hooks for Kellaway’s first solo album since 1991’s Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 11 (Concord). They comprise as good a reason as any for this overdue recital by this wizard of the piano. If legions of Darin fans buy the CD, so much the better, but Darin is present only in the sense that he sang the wonderful songs Kellaway plays.
The quality of playing here is so high that it’s difficult to designate one track as an apogee among the performances. I lean toward Berlin’s “All By Myself,” with its headlong swing, orchestral depth and a shout chorus worthy of the Count Basie brass section in the Harry Edison-Buck Clayton days. But, then, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” has Kellaway’s flawless runs and arpeggios complementing and commenting on the melody, putting that timeless ballad in a new light. His technique and feeling blend in an equally affecting “My Funny Valentine.” “Just in Time” has jump-band touches, a little boogie-woogie in the left hand and an astringent polytonal ending. He refracts “I’m Beginning to See the Light” into a counterpoint fiesta. The CD has many other surprises, including Kellaway’s polished singing on “Something in Your Smile.” He wrote the jaunty title tune, which deserves a good set of lyrics. Throughout the 14 pieces, his power, reserve, mastery of dynamics, touch and sense of form remind us that Kellaway is a modern jazz piano master.