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ClassicsOnline Home » CUNLIFFE, Bill: Bill Plays Bud
It is not an exaggeration to say that Bud Powell (1924-66) changed the way that the piano is played in jazz. Prior to Powell and the bop revolution, the typical jazz pianist was a stride player whose left hand (alternating between bass notes and chords) stated the beat while the right played melodic variations. Powell instead comped chords as irregular accents with his left hand and used his right to play speedy horn-like improvisations. This method was adopted by the jazz mainstream in the 1950's and still remains the basis for the style of most jazz pianists.
At this point, Bill Cunliffe is best-known for his work with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the Clayton Brothers, as a duo partner with flautist Holly Hofmann (they recorded Just Duet for Azica) and for his own freelance projects (including several recordings as a leader for Discovery). Once while playing some Bud Powell tunes at a party, he impressed Claude Nobs (the head of the Montreux Jazz Festival) so much that he was inspired to record this set of Powell's music.
Bill Plays Bud came together very fast. "We actually knocked out the recording in seven hours" says Cunliffe. "It was live to two track and each song was completed in one or two takes." For the colorful project, the pianist gathered together a few of his favorite sidemen. "I've worked with Dave Carpenter in a variety of settings for 17 years and I think he's probably the most versatile and capable bass player that I know. He is a passionate player, which is a quality I also attribute to drummer Joe La Barbera. Although Joe reads music and is very flexible, he does everything very naturally. I had heard Papo Rodriguez with Poncho Sanchez and, since I needed a great conga player on a few selections, he was perfect. I hired Ralph Moore to give a different lift to Polka Dots and Moonbeams and 52nd Street Theme. He has always been one of my favorite tenor players because he is very economical and quite soulful, a post-bop stylist (rather than a post-Coltrane player) who was ideal for this setting."
For the date, Bill Cunliffe performed eight Bud Powell compositions, three other songs that Powell enjoyed playing plus his own original Melancholia which opens the set. Some of the arrangements are similar to the ones Powell used on his recordings (such as the memorable Un Poco Loco) while others (such as an eccentric 52nd Street Theme and Hallucinations) were given new treatments. Throughout the date, Cunliffe consistently captures the spirit of Powell (check out his playing on the lesser-known Comin' Up) while also infusing the music with his own winning musical personality.
Among the other highlights are the classic Tempus Fugit, the bits of stride piano on Borderick, the obscure Dusk At Saudi (a dark rearrangement of Midnight Sun), the jubilant bop blues Willowgrove and the sombre Glass Enclosure. A particular oddity is Sure Thing. "When I first heard Bud Powell's arrangement of Jerome Kern's song, it intrigued me. Then I heard a pop version of the same tune and I did not recognize a single note of it! It is not even the same song, which I thought was pretty bizarre. So I combined the two pieces as one, starting out with a straightforward ballad reading of Kern's song and then going into the Bud Powell arrangement."
Bill Cunliffe is an active part of both the New York and Los Angeles jazz scenes. "I am currently writing a piano concerto and in the future I'd like to write a lot more orchestral music and record another Brazilian album. I'm very happy with how the Bud Powell set came out and I'm quite proud of all of the musicians."
Editor, All Music Guide To Jazz
Bill Cunliffe is one of America’s best and busiest jazz pianists. He regularly shuttles between his homes ion New York and Los Angeles, performing in a variety of contexts: solo; in duos with pianist Gerrty Wiggins and flautist Holly Hofmann; with his own piano and organ trios; and with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Among others.
A winner of the $10,000 Thelonious Monk International Piano Award, he has received several stipends from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Internationally, Bill Cunliffe did two tours of Europe with Frank Sinatra and the Buddy Rich Big Band. He then played and toured with Joshua Redman, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer, James Moody, Woody Shaw and Art Blakey.
Bill Cunliffe studied piano under Mary Lou Williams at Duke University and received his masters in music from the Eastman School of Music. He recorded three CDs for Discovery Records, all of which charted on nationwide jazz polls. His compositions are published by Kendor Music and he was Marian McPartland’s featured guest on her National Public Radio "Piano Jazz" in June of 1998.
In the media . . .
Bill Cunliffe is one of the great players of the day * The BBC Review
His performance brought the crowd to its feet * Los Angeles Times
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CUNLIFFE, Bill: Bill Plays Bud