January 2008

Denny Zeitlin
at the 35th Annual IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) Conference
January 11, 2008 Royal York Hotel Toronto
by David Fujino
Pianist Denny Zeitlin clearly announced that he'd start with a "free improv working its way through to "What Is This Thing Called Love?", but we had no idea what to expect. Not really.

Believe me, his control at breakneck tempos proved impressive and uplifting, and as high notes cascaded over an implied beat, his speeding inventions suddenly stopped, to reveal the lone sounds of a steady bass line and a right foot pumping away in rhythm.

This was creative mood-setting music — and solo piano — that, technically speaking, uses vamps, scales, intelligent note choices, keyboard sprints and clusters, and clearly defined yet roving pedal points, to get Zeitlin's complete and composite message across. Speaking artistically and tonally, it was like listening to McCoy Tyner or Joanne Brackeen and feeling their inner chant-like states.

The dizzying tempo Zeitlin took on Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" was something new; and the tune's blues tonality inspired Zeitlin to lay down an interesting, abstracted, slow boogie woogie pattern within the general fast rush of his improvisation.

But things moved on.

Wayne Shorter's "Deluge" functioned as a strong rhythmic springboard for Zeitlin's call-and-response chording and the smooth unzip of his right hand. Later, he swept his fingers across the piano's inner strings and in "Pulsar" his soft mallet blows turned the piano into a dulcimer that gets struck.

Denny Zeitlin
Zeitlin demonstrated that good craftsmanship and dedicated work are inspired by one's considerable talent.

He always had total control over the mindscapes he pulled out of his piano.

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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