Is Solo Piano The Most Challenging Form of Improvisation

Pianist Denny Zeitlin plays his original composition, Cascade recorded at the 1983 Berlin Jazz Festival. Denny has been performing and recording as a solo pianist artist for decades. The New York Times reviewed one of his solo performances and wrote: «THOUGH the San Francisco jazz pianist Denny Zeitlin’s fans in the New York area might fault him for infrequent appearances here, they were amply rewarded Monday in Carnegie Recital Hall, where, under the auspices of the Kool Jazz Festival, Mr. Zeitlin delivered a riveting solo performance.

A seasoned artist with solid classical training, Mr. Zeitlin does not show off his formidable technical strengths, though once in his hands, a song usually receives exhaustive analysis.

Whether it be a Cole Porter standard such as »What Is This Thing Called Love,» which the pianist deftly embellished with strains of John Coltrane’s mysterious »Fifth House,» or one of his own multilayered creations, such as a song titled, with tongue in cheek, »Country Fair,» it is not technique but a vast knowledge of the styles and repertory of modern jazz masters such as Miles Davis and Bill Evans, among others, that give Mr. Zeitlin authority.

But there are times when such intense scrutiny of a song overlooks the basic requirement in all jazz, that it swing. Mr. Zeitlin does this best in a trio or duo setting with an artist of comparable stature, such as the bassist Charlie Haden, with whom he frequently appears. Free to pare down and streamline, the pianist can render the rich chordal coloring and complex single-line figures that make his innovations unique.»

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