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MP3 Jesse Gelber - How Long Blues

Stride Pianist Jesse Gelber Plays and Sings Traditional Jazz

13 MP3 Songs
JAZZ: Traditional Jazz Combo, BLUES: Piano Blues

Jesse Gelber was born too late for 78s, twenty-five cent pizza slices, beer cans without pop-tops. But he is a solid sender, to use the old phrase – a swinging jazz pianist who will remind you of a time when improvising musicians were proud of their instantly recognizable selves. In four bars, you knew it was Tatum, Waller, Wilson, Stacy, or Monk – no need to wonder, "Which clone is mongering those familiar bebop licks tonight?" Jesse''s no repertory robot, in thrall to the old records, although he can read the proverbial flyspecks off the paper and whip through a rag or a Jelly Roll Morton etude with great panache if you ask him nicely. He knows the tradition all the way from deeply felt down-home blues to infinite variations on the theme of hot piano, but he has melded them into his own style. His lively "Maple Leaf Rag," his mournfully seductive "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" are all the evidence anyone will need. His playing is free and inventive, two-handed and mobile, and he never overwhelms with flurries of notes, whirlpools of technical displays. In his kind of classical simplicity, every note counts, reminiscent of Basie (without the clichés some pianists offer, as if to say, "I know all about Kansas City: I learned it all from Ken Burns!"), Monk without his self-conscious angularities, Jimmy Rowles, Nat Cole, Pete Johnson. Yet the ghosts of the past never dominate Jesse''s fresh, witty playing. Many jazz musicians confuse volume with emotional intensity, speed with heat, but he knows better. Since man does not live by recorded music alone, these comments are based on what the anthropologists might call field observation. In an assortment of New York clubs, each its own novella, I have enjoyed hearing Jesse play alongside Kevin Dorn, Barbara Rosene, Michael Hashim, Pete Martinez, J. Walter Hawkes, Doug Largent, Charlie Caranicas, Dan Levinson, Dan Tobias, Jon-Erik Kellso, Craig Ventresco, Peter Ecklund, Simon Wettenhall, Eddy Davis, Scott Robinson, Orange Kellin, and many others. Their faces light up when they see that Jesse is coming to play. In these loose, informal contexts, his crisply articulated piano cuts through exuberant jam sessions, and his solos are fascinating interludes. But this is the first time I''ve heard him at length as solo pianist and singer, and it''s truly rewarding. His spare, apparently unadorned treble lines are pungent examples of the right notes, struck with clarity and conviction, mingled with rhythmic, always varied left hand. Listen to his playful verse to "Stardust," which suggests Mondrian, who loved jazz. His stripped-down Ellington classics restore those now over-familiar melodies, the layers of paint removed so that their beauties shine through. Savor the harmonic densities of his "Prelude to a Kiss." When jazz musicians produce their own CDs, they are tempted to fill the discs with their originals. In all but a few cases, mind and ears go reeling, for many players expend their compositional impulses in their solos. But Jesse is a thoughtful composer, and that''s no stage joke. Consider his weirdly lovely "Halloween Waltz," a vignette that turns "Danse Macabre" into something tender. From its title, I thought "Boston in the Rain" would be a mood piece or a grim minor blues, but it''s that rarity, a genuine Thirties rhythm ballad, earnest yet lighthearted. I am only sorry that it was written too late for Fred (Astaire) or Connee (Boswell) to have had the pleasure, but Jesse''s comfortable, sleeves-rolled-up approach is a treat. He is a first-rate singer, offhanded but convincing, whether he''s promising to write himself a letter (not an email?) or musing about Matters of the Heart. He never oversells a song, vocally or instrumentally, and his understatement woos us more than the usual histrionics. Jesse Gelber has more talent than any three men! His bucket, I am happy to say, has no hole in it. Listen and admire. Michael Steinman (All About Jazz, The Mississippi Rag, Cadence, Jazz Improv)

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