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Sal Mosca: The Talk of the Town

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When he died at age 80 in 2007, pianist Sal Mosca had never really received the accolades he deserved-despite having played with the likes of Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. A pianist of great skill and grace, coming up as a protégé of Lennie Tristano and harboring an affection for Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, Mosca kept a low profile, recording sparsely and preferring teaching to performing.

So this two-CD solo piano set from 1992, recorded live in Amsterdam at the Bimhuis, is more than a find; it will likely go down as one of the essential statements by this unjustly under-the-radar artist.

Mosca liked standards, and this set is full of them: “I Got Rhythm,” “I’ll Remember April,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Tea for Two.” He also liked medleys, so there’s one on the first disc and four on the second. Had a listener at the venue been unaware of Mosca’s pedigree, it would have been easy to mistake him for a particularly adept lounge pianist who had a thing for the oldies.

But he was so much more than that. On one of those medleys, which bridges “All the Things You Are” and “A Night in Tunisia,” Mosca swings and trills, takes brave runs across the keyboard and slides convincingly from boogie to bop to introspection within a few bars. The longest of his medleys, eight standards touched upon in nearly 20 minutes, from “Stardust” to “Lullaby in Rhythm,” serves as a virtual survey of historic jazz piano styles. Mosca’s touch is deft, his rhythm and harmony impeccable.

Sure, maybe Sal Mosca could’ve been one of the greats, but he chose a different path. How wonderful to be able to reconsider him now.

Originally Published