On Sunday March 10th,at 7PM, I will be performing a tribute to my former teacher, the late, great pianist/composer Jaki Byard at the Luna Stage Theater Company in West Orange,NJ. Along side me will be my trusted cohorts and rhythm section from my big band, bassist Andy Eulau and drummer Scott Neumann.
I studied with Jaki in 1989/90 while pursuing my Masters of Music in Jazz Piano at the Manhattan School of Music in NYC. It was a brief period to study and get to know him, but my experience with him was very enlightening. Every time I walked through the practice room door, I would find Jaki sitting at the piano, practicing or just experimenting with some ideas. One day, after asking him what he was working on, he replied with some numbers.(as in the root movement of chords)…then he showed me a parking ticket and told me he was playing his summons number on the ticket! On another day, it was the room number above the door. Another day, he played a series of sus-chord (chords that do not contain the third of the chord, but instead the note that is a fourth above the root) over and over. Then he looked at me and said, “know what this is?” (of course I didn’t know) “This composition is for Nelson Mandala…it’s 27 measures (also known as bars) long, and each measure contains a sus-chord…because Nelson Mandala has been suspended behind bars for 27 years.” Nelson Mandela was released from prison a few months after that on Feb 11th, 1990. Jaki was very literal about his composing ideas, and would find inspiration from just about anywhere. Take for example his tune “Aluminum Baby .” I found out the story behind this tune from my good friend Howard Johnson (and you know, Howard Johnson is always right!). Howard explained that Jaki was trying to compose a tune that would become a staple in the Jazz repertoire like Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll”…hence…”Aluminum Baby.”
Jaki and I discovered that both us had composed a tune inspired by a street in Brooklyn..”Myrtle Ave.” He couldn’t remember the name of his tune, it may have just been the name of the street. My tune is entitled “Myrtle Ave A.M. Shuffle,” and it’s on my quintet cd released in 2002 “Looking Forward, Looking Back” with saxophonist Bob Hanlon, trombonist Ben Williams, bassist Andy Eulau and drummer Barbara Allen. I’ll be writing more about my experiences with Jaki over the next several weeks, but in the meantime, you can check out this story on my blog “Flipped Kitty in the City” from June of 2012…“Diane Moser’s Composers Big Band plays the music of Jaki Byard!”