Monday, November 5, 2012

Concert Review - Tri State Jazz Society - 10-7-12

in the November edition of the Tri-State Jazz Society Strutter, this review was published  on last month's concert in Wallingford, PA.  

Jazzman Bunk Johnson once said, “Jazz is playin'
from the heart; you don't lie.” Or maybe it was
Louis Armstrong.
At any rate, one interpretation of the above
statement would be to say that a jazz musician's
improvised performances are a reflection and/or
extension of his or her unique personality.
Which brings us to the appearance of Chestertown,
Maryland jazz pianist Joe Holt at the Wallingford
Community Arts Center, sponsored by Tri-State
Jazz Society, on Sunday, October 7.
I have known Joe for several years now, having
performed and even been on the road with him as
members of the Midiri brothers' unit. We have had
many conversations about the art and craft of
performing jazz. I can tell you, he's a quirky guy.
And his eclectic approach to music, to jazz, and to
the piano are a reflection of that quirkiness. He is
the genuine article, an artiste, whose work is a
reflection and an extension of who he is. He plays
from the heart, mind and soul; he does not lie. And
he is at his very best when playing his unique brand
of solo piano for an appreciative audience.
October 7 was an overcast, rainy day. Those who
stayed away that day missed an interesting and
eclectic program of improvisational piano artistry. A
bonus to his performance was the presence of a
camera, trained on the piano's keyboard, its images
displayed in real-time on a large television screen
next to the piano, enabling the audience to watch
Joe's hands work the keyboard, a fascinating
enhancement to the aural experience.
Joe began his concert with a nicely arranged
version of George Gershwin's classic “Nice Work if
You Can Get It.” In the key of F major, Joe played
the first three sections of the first chorus rubato
(expressively and without a defined tempo). In the
fourth section of the first chorus, he swung into a
nice, swinging medium tempo.
The second chorus found Joe paying homage to one
of his main musical influences, the late, great New
England jazz pianist Dave McKenna, by playing a
walking bass line with his left hand, and a deft,
single-note improvisation with his right.
Stride piano was the next style, into which Joe
effortlessly transitioned for chorus number three. (I
always like to think of and refer to the stride piano
style as “industrial-strength ragtime.”)
Chorus number four was a neat trick: a bass
register single line jazz solo with the left hand (no
mean feat), accompanied by quarter-note chords in
the right. Imagine a bass solo by Ray Brown,
accompanied by Bass guitarist Freddie Green. But
on piano. There were hints of ¾ time in the bridge,
but very subtle. At the end of the last section after
the bridge, Holt skillfully wrapped things up with a
clever tag and ending. Nice work, indeed.
After the Gershwin opus, the audience was treated
to Joe's musical musings on Lerner and Loew's “I'm
Getting Married in the Morning,” Hoagy
Carmichael's eternally-beautiful “Stardust,” Maceo
Pinkard's “Sweet Georgia Brown” and even
modernist Miles Davis' “Solar,” among many other
Holt told the audience that he does not consider
himself a stride pianist “because there are so many
who do it better,” naming Fats Waller as well as
present-day practitioners Neville Dickie and Jeff
Barnhart. After this modest self-assessment, he
launched into a perfectly acceptable and swinging
stride performance of the Waller chestnut “Ain't
Misbehavin,'” his left hand clean and accurate, his
right hand dancingly creative.
Holt does like to talk between songs and his
comments are as quirky and rambling as his
playing, but his verbal, stream-of-consciousness
insights into music are worth considering. For
example, he expressed his opinion that Oscar
Peterson's style was not an extension of Art
Tatum's, but rather, of Nat King Cole's. I had never
considered this, but as I thought about it during his
performance of “Sweet Lorraine” (recorded by both
Peterson and Cole, who had a big hit with it), Joe's
comments made perfect sense to me.
A couple of surprises were Joe's eclectic choices of
the famous Pachelbel Canon (a classical
composition) and Scott Joplin's “Maple Leaf Rag,”
both of which were performed with improvised
sections that, while remaining true to their
respective genres, were simultaneously extensions
of Joe Holt's unique personhood and statements of
his own musical vision.
By the end of the afternoon's proceedings, Joe had
run the full gamut of jazz piano styles, from Fats
Waller to Keith Jarrett, with echoes of Erroll
Garner, Nat King Cole, Bill Evans, and especially
the late Dave McKenna. (Indeed, Holt's latest solo
piano CD is a tribute to McKenna, entitled “The
Spirit of Dave McKenna.”) And, yet, through the
virtuosic display of such a wide variety of piano
stylings, and, perhaps, in spite of them, Joe's own
unique musical vision remained clearly present.
Beyond the actual playing of the piano, Joe's
quirkiness is further evidenced when he sings along
with his lines and when he utters spontaneous
verbal expressions in support of the music he is
making while he is making it. To illustrate, at one
point, during “Sweet Georgia Brown,” his left hand,
as though it had a mind of its own, began a
rambling musical ascent up the keyboard, even as
his right hand shot up in the air and stayed there,
as Joe uttered some inaudible comment, seemingly
a complete sentence, probably to no one in
particular or to everyone or to himself alone.
These idiosyncrasies come from the heart, mind
and soul of Joe Holt and are a part of his musical
statement. He has found the elusive balance sought
by all jazz musicians: the balance between the craft
of performing music that is recognizable as being in
the traditions of jazz, and the artistry of creating a
very personal expression within those same
I acquired a copy of Joe's latest CD, “In the Spirit of
Dave McKenna.” It is a wonderful recording which
I recommend. But Joe's artistry is best enjoyed live
in concert where he is comfortably spontaneous
and plays with a controlled abandon (which I did
not hear in the recording).
By Ed Wise


  1. as a fellow quirky jazz pianist I appreciated the review and comments about "our Joe"....What's not to love?