Thursday, January 27, 2011

Great Virtuosi - But Not in the Classical Aspect...

Traditionally, one may consider the term 'virtuoso' when a Vladimir Horowitz, or a Jascha Heifetz, or a Pablo Casals is heard or brought into conversation.
But how about another aspect within the world of music, such as Pop?
When I was a kid, I heard a recording of a tune called "Well, Get it," and I was captivated by the clean, biting sounds and the cascading runs of a trumpet. The total assurance and panoramic view that this trumpeter exhibited struck me the same way that would occur when I would hear, say, Sergei Rachmaninoff toss off his daunting view of "Flight of the Bumblebee."
So I looked into the player behind the playing - his name; "Ziggy" Elman, who had played with the likes of Benny Goodman, and found that this trumpeter played like no other pop trumpeter, and had iron clad control of the instrument.
Another pop virtuoso was a drummer named Gene Krupa, who in his playing of "Drum Boogie" demonstrated the limitless capacities he possessed, in his passionate and absorbing connectivity with the percussion instruments he overwhelmingly attacked. Sadly, problems with drugs seriously complicated an otherwise iconic career.
When Art Tatum, Lionel Hampton, and Buddy Rich collaborated in mid-century, the pianist, vibes player and drummer were unparalleled in their pyrotechnical playing, with the driving force, undoubtedly, housed in the indescribable powers that Tatum exhibited, seemingly forcing the virtuosity of both Hampton and Rich to a level of improvisation rarely experienced. "How High the Moon" is an example; or, "Hallelujah."
Dame Cleo Laine, as a 'scat' singer and just plain vocal virtuoso, remains today as arguably the most brilliant performer in vocal extemporization, along with her wonderfully gifted husband Sir John Dankworth, as both an arranger and sax/clarinet player. Her arrangement of Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" is a paradigm in the art of building incessant patterns without, seemingly, taking a breath.
One should be able to find some of the above on the Internet - I have such little time for the computer, I have not yet searched. But do not hesitate - I think that you will be captivated by the prowess exhibited, all under the aegis we call "the Virtuoso."
And, above all, Art Tatum, for me, stands as the supreme virtuoso in the pop field. As you know, I have written much about him; therefore, I will not assault your day with additional words about this man. Do keep in mind that Vladimir Horowitz exhibited unconditional admiration for Tatum, and made a point of befriending him.
Do search, and enjoy!!

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