Saturday, September 26, 2009


Celebrating the Birth of Bud Powell

Today (September 27, 2009) I want to celebrate the birth of a towering figure in BeBop (Jazz) who I would venture to say is scarcely known in the United States outside a small coterie of musicians (and not necessarily US musicians). This is a very sad fact when one realizes that the music often referred to as "Jazz" is considered America's true Classical music.

Earl Rudolph "Bud" Powell was a formidable pianist and a composer, having contributed not an insignificant number of pieces to the Classical American repertoire [Listen to his "Dance of the Infidels"]. Literary critic Harold Bloom included Powell's 1951 recording of his composition Un Poco Loco for Blue Note Records among the greatest works of twentieth-century American art. The following extract from Powell's official web-site gives us an idea of this man's true stature:

Bud Powell is generally considered to be the most important pianist in the history of jazz. Noted jazz writer and critic Gary Giddins, in Visions of Jazz, goes even further, saying that "Powell will be recognized as one of the most formidable creators of piano music in any time or idiom."

It should be noted that Bud Powell's life was a tragic one as well; a tragedy all too well known to people of African American descent during the post-war years. This nevertheless did not detract one bit from the man's enormous talents:

From 1940 Bud Powell took part in informal jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse, New York, where he came under the tutelage and protection of Thelonious Monk and contributed to the emerging bop style. By 1942--44, when he played in the band of his guardian Cootie Williams, he had already developed his individual style in most of its essentials. After sustaining a head injury during a racial incident in 1945, he suffered the first of many nervous collapses, which were to confine him to sanatoriums for much of his adult life.

Precious little is known about the enigmatic figure of Bud Powell. Some of what we do know is thanks to a French man that befriended Powell in his waning years. However, there can be no doubt that his music constitutes a towering legacy, testimony to which can be found in such recordings as Jazz Giant, and The Amazing Bud Powell.

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