All About Jazz
C. Michael Bailey
Jon Mayer: The Art Of The Ballad (2014)
Jon Mayer not John Mayer. This particular Mayer is a jazz pianist currently living on the West Coast who has been plying his Jazz trade in one form or another since the mid-1950s. Early on, Mayer played on two notable sessions: alto saxophonist Jackie McLean's Strange Blues (Prestige, 1957) and on the John Coltrane sessions recorded between 1958 and 1960 that eventually became Like Sonny (Roulette, 1990). Mayer did a stretch in Paris in the late '50s where he periodically supported Chet Baker during his expatriate period.
Mayer previously recorded seven CDs as a leader, including Nightscape (Reservoir, 2010), So Many Stars (Reservoir, 2007), The Classics (Reservoir, 2003) and Full Circle (Reservoir, 2002). Mayer has a light, breezy piano style more durable than Bill Evans without being as industrial as Horace Silver.
Mayer's present recording is an intimate affair, The Art of the Ballad (Self Produced). The pianist includeds a dozen well-considered classics, performed in a live setting (as it always appropriate) at Portland, Oregon's Classic Pianos. Mayer has never been a wordy pianist. He is measured in his use of the more technical elements of playing, paying special attention to the melody, but never at the expense of improvisation. He serves a completely enjoyable "'Round Midnight," playing it with all its curves and edges, but effectively taking the piece from its composer and making it his own.
Mayer turns "Willow Weep for Me" into a languid blues stroll that recalls the playing of the late Gene Harris and Oscar Peterson sans the fireworks. "My Romance" is proof of the perfection of the ballad in the Great American Songbook. Mayer approaches the Rodgers and Hart melody with stealth, sneaking up and capturing it before the listener detects it. "Young and Foolish," "When I Fall in Love" and "For All We know" are dispatched with a quiet confidence and internal beauty that have become Mayer's calling card.
The International Review of Music
Live Jazz: The Jon Mayer Trio at H.O.M.E.
Beverly Hills, CA. Saw Jon Mayer Tuesday in Beverly Hills at a club called H.O.M.E. A trio gig, with rock solid down the middle Chris Conner on bass, always good, and Roy McCurdy on drums. They don't make drummers like Roy anymore. All that power. Not Elvin Jones power, but metrical power, swinging like he swung everybody, Cannonball Adderley and everybody. Jon was playing a huge piano that was last tuned in 1967 or thereabouts but he didn't seem to have much trouble with it.
I was at Charlie O's one night - might have been this very same trio - and I was sitting with John Heard back at the bar. Heard was digging Mayer's playing, totally digging it, and said Mayer was the real thing. "That's the way they used to play" he told me, "trying stuff on the fly, taking big risks like that. Just pure creativity. They don't do that anymore." He said something like that, anyway, back at the bar downing a brandy, me a whiskey. We listened to Mayer working through whatever it was he was aiming at, and I got it. Heard what John Heard was hearing. Saw in Jon Mayer's face that creative process Heard was marveling at.
Sometimes an idea wouldn't pan out and Jon would curse to himself and strain a second to rebuild it into something that would work. Fearless improvisations, falling back on nothing but the centrifugal force of pure jazz improvisation to carry it along. It's like Mayer doesn't see a beautiful lattice of possible patterns, nothing he learned in school, nothing somebody else did before. That doesn't even seem to exist to him. He's not making art, like pianists tend to do anymore, he's making jazz. Pure jazz.
At H.O.M.E., it was jazz the way it was played in NYC in the 1950's, when Jon was first gigging. You can imagine the heavy cats he had to play with, play for - hell, there was a session with Trane, even - back when jazz was at its absolute apogee. Those were the days that all jazz musicians look back at now as Olympian, as something jazz players now would give anything to be part of, and Jon Mayer was there, really was. You can hear it in those crazy clustered chords of his, these sensitive yet almost dissonant things he drops in where almost everyone would lay out a straight melodic line. I mean not dropping any huge Monk clomps, not even dropping one handed bombs like McCoy Tyner, but instead turning the melody into pieces, oddly shaped pieces he lays out with spaces between them that distill into single notes that splash on the keys like drops of rain water. He does this even in the most gorgeous tunes, a magnificent "Green Dolphin Street" or something by Tadd Dameron, or something he's drawn up himself.
I dunno, I find writing about jazz piano impossible, absolutely impossible, and I flail around looking for ways to explain something that I don't even understand. I wrote about jazz in the LA Weekly for seven years and never did learn how to write about jazz piano. I failed again with this. But Jon Mayer's piano playing affects me like no other, I just listen in disbelief wondering how his musical thought process works. And I wonder if anyone else in town realizes what a treasure this jazz player is, and why they aren't lining up to see him. He's that good.
Jon Mayer again
Went to the Desert Rose tonite to see saxophonist John Altman with the Mark Z Stevens Trio (Mark on drums, Chris Conner on bass and Jon Mayer on piano.) Alto Kim Richmond sat in for a stretch, always a joy, and the suberb Mike Lang sat in for a pair of tunes on pinao at the beginning of the second set, playing beautifully as always. While Lang played, Jon paced the room like a mountain lion smelling blood. He wanted to be back up there. After his second tune Mike Lang returned to the bar as the crowd applauded warmly. Jon sat down at the bench, an evil gleam in his eye, like it's the 1930's and it's a cutting contest and it's his turn now. Altman counts down and Jon went instantly mad. He went mad on the piano, crazy comping, big fat angry chords with all kinds of Monkish space in between, and when it was his turn to solo he did so with a vengeance, grabbing the melody with both hands and whirling it into submission... building and building, each run more intense and impressive than the one before, beautiful figures and shards of melody and turning the old chestnut-damn I can't remember the tune right now, but you've heard it before-turning it into something stunning, muscular, and intensely creative, just absolutely fearless improvisation. When he resolved it and dropped back into the head the crowd burst into loud, sustained applause, the kid behind me whooping like it was a rock concert. What an absolute treasure this cat is. Learned his art in NYC in the crucible of the fifties, brilliance and self destruction going hand in hand. He dropped out of for a couple decades, wound up in L.A. No one here plays like Jon Mayer, and yet somehow he remains in the shadows. No one said jazz was fair.
John Altman is back at the Desert Rose (on Hillhurst at Prospect) with the same stellar trio (the house trio in fact) next Satruday. And if the crowd is lucky someone will sit in on the piano for a couple tunes, and the Jon will explode with pure creativity again. The purest.
New York-born, Los Angeles-based pianist Jon Mayer began his musical career in the New York jazz scene of the 1950s and 1960s. He has a long and distinguished pedigree, including work with Jackie McLean and John Coltrane, but his first recording as leader came as late as 1996, with Round Up The Usual Suspects (Pullen Music). Nightscape is Mayer's eighth album as leader and it's an engaging, beautifully performed, collection of tunes.
Trio Connects Rhythmically
"Nightscape" (Reservoir) is the kind of piano trio set, were you hearing it live in a club, you could hang with all night. It conjures up echoes of Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Red Garland and Wynton Kelly, to name a few of jazz's most spellbinding keyboard players.
As an ensemble, Jon Mayer, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Roy McCurdy connect rhythmically and emotionally, which translates into a seductive time feeling (often riding on Reid's walking lines) and mood throughout.
So Many Stars
Jon Mayer mixes introspective lyricism and a hard-bop drive. He's a strong rhythmic player with a lot of piano vocabulary: forceful block chords on a brisk "Jeannine," Bud Powell-like chinoiserie that surface delightfully, dancing right-hand single notes on his "Rip Van Winkle," and a funk motive that nods to Horace Silver. Grounding in classical music also informs his introductions and voicings. He can play quite beautiful ballads, with single notes that quietly float on the top of the chords. "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" is a sublime trio piece: and object lesson in calibrating a range of subtle dynamics, phrasing behind the beat and letting the notes breathe. "Never Never Land" offers a simple, tender solo statement.
Yet Mayer is intent on swinging. With the strong rhythmic team of bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Roy McCurdy, he scarcely do otherwise. Reid plays such a solid foundation that McCurdy can play mostly on the cymbals, accenting on the snare and tom-tom. When McCurdy cuts int "Mica's Dream" for a full-kit solo, it's like cold water in the face. Mayer reacts quickly to McCurdy's beat adjustments in the middle of the medium blues "Bopzilla."
C. Michael Bailey
So Many Stars
The craft of the jazz piano trio is a challenging one; and in a sea of fine trio recordings, it is hard to come by a performance that is just not merely good, as most are, but sublime. When one comes along; it is time to be excited, and So Many Stars is the one to be excited about.
What are the ingredients of the perfect jazz piano trio recording? One is competent leadership, in this case pianist Jon Mayer, whose previous recordings—My Romance (Reservoir Music, 2005), The Classics (Reservoir Music, 2004), Full Circle (Reservoir Music, 2002), and Rip Van Winkle (Blue Moon, 2000)—have all been well-received. Mayer possesses a sensitive East-West balance in his music, having started in New York City and presently finding himself in sunny Southern California. While his playing is all bebop, he does combine the best of both coasts' elements to make that bebop.
So Many Stars
The excellent but undersung Mayer always delivers a swinging, thoughtful performance, yet somehow he's rarely mentioned in the company of fine modern pianists. In the company of the estimable Reid and the nimble McCurdy, he whips up music that's enourmously pleasing in this idiom (courtesy, not least, of the excellent choices in tunes - like the opener! - and pacing). A very exuberant "You're My Everything" is one the disc's highlights, with some really emotional playing from the leader. This stuff is more passionate and impressive than other Mayer sessions I've heard, and there's an opportunity to dig deep into the pensive solo reading "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and a flying unaccompanied "Never Never Land." Reid and McCurdy are great throughout, fluid and agile on the quasi-Latin reimaging of "Nica's dream" and gracefully swinging on Mayer's own "Rip Van Winkle," which is filled with the intersting harmonic details that don't club you about the ears. Rather, like this trio as a whole, the music is confident in its own virtues and simply invites
The Star Ledger
Pianist Jon Mayer performs at The Kitano New York's lounge in New York.
The timeless qualities of the bebop style and its evolutions were again demonstrated when pianist Jon Mayer led a vital quartet Thursday at the Kitano.
Mayer is a native New Yorker who has played with jazz greats like saxophonist Jackie McLean and the vocal group Manhattan Transfer. He has lived in Southern California since 1991, and appears infrequently in the East, making this one-night performance decidedly welcome.
The music was enhanced by the presence of three local stalwarts: tenor saxophone dynamo Grant Stewart and two of his quintet mates: his brother, drummer Phil Stewart, and bassist Joel Forbes. The pianist first worked with saxophonist Stewart in Europe last year. The reunion proved most rewarding.
Crisp, clean piano work marks this disc, which consists not variations on classical themes but performances of modern jazz classics.
Such tunes a Miles Davis' "Solar," Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty," and Tadd Dameron's "Ladybird" have become as much a part of the repertoire as show tunes and standards from the Great American Songbook.
Mayer's choices are tunes that, as he points out, are more often played by larger groups with horns; hearing them in a trio setting brings out their character in a way that blowing session often does not.
After at least 13 years away from music entirely, and another 13 years rebuilding his life - and his chops - Jon Mayer is ready to take on the challenges of his hometown. "My life has taken a few twists and turns. This is my first legitimate jazz appearance [in New York] in more years than I care to remember," the veteran bebop pianist says from his southern California home. "There are a few people who remember what I may have done back in the day, and many who don't. But because of my Rip Van Winkle phase - where I didn't play anything for 13 or 14 years - they've forgotten." The chance for New York to get reacquainted with Mayer will come on June 26th when he brings his sparkling way with a melody to the Jazz Gallery, where he will perform with bassist Paul Gill and drummer Steve Johns.
Rip Van Winkle
Life has rebounded quite nicely for pianist Jon Mayer, thank you, now that he has relocated to the West Coast and slowly but surely built up his performing and recording activity to the delight of his listeners there. Not quite falling into the "what ever happened to?" category, Mayer nonetheless dropped from public consciousness for, oh, a couple of decades. And now he's back, Rip Van Winkle-like.
Having been infused with the spirit and style of jazz in the 1950's when New York City was abuzz with young legends-in-the-making like John Coltrane or Jackie McLean, Jon Mayer was there. And recording. And touring. And learning. And inspiring. And making a living. And surviving. In the 1960's and 1970's, Mayer worked with the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Les McCann, Nancy Wilson and Barry White.
Do It Like This
From the first note of this fine CD it's clear that as a pianist Jon Mayer's technique and sensibilities were forged within the great tradition of his acknowledged influences - chiefly, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, and Kenny Barron. At the same time Mayer cannot be pigeonholed easily. He can show the drive of Kelly and the gloss of Garland, yes, but after all, Mayer himself was recording in the Fifties with John Coltrane and Jackie McLean, so he is more of a colleague than a disciple of those two great pianists; and his own unique voice is clear throughout this disc.
To fully appreciate the sonic quality of Reservoir recordings, you need to spend an afternoon with a stack of Cds (as jazz journalists have been known to do). When you get to the Reservoir album, the sound jumps at you. That new deep energy all around you is called bass. Those people suddenly in the room with you are the musicians. Reservoir uses Jim Anderson, the most skilled American engineer now recording jazz.
The combination of Anderson's sound and Jon Mayer's musicianship makes My Romance thoroughly rewarding. The concept is for Mayer's trio (with Rufus Reid and Dick Berk) to revisit "underperformed" standards, like "Everything I Love" by Cole Porter and "I Have Dreamed" by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Mayer chose thee songs based on their "irresistible melodic magnetism." But since Mayer's native language is hard bop, he does not treat this material gently. Every performance generates heat, including ballads like "But Beautiful." Mayer is a thoroughly mainstream pianist, yet his way of embedding a song's melody within his own elaborations and displacements creates continuous subtle surprises.
The most memorable piece is the title track, taken solo. "My Romance" is slower and perhaps sadder than most versions, and the recorded sound renders every pensive nuance.
One might wonder why Jon Mayer is recording on Reservoir’s “New York Piano Series,” Mayer having been a Southern California resident for the past 20-plus years. But the title of the CD explains all of that. With thin red circles containing the word “Circle”, the name “Jon” and then the musician himself on the front of the liner notes, it turns out that Mayer has returned to the city where he started his career in jazz. A career that was unfortunately insufficiently documented at the time, but that included recordings with John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Kenny Dorham and Chet Baker, among many others.
Well, now, Mayer is back to reclaim the recognition that eluded him. And on Full Circle, we find a pianist whose years of experience and boundless talent have reached the matured expression that is identifiable as a fully rounded professional. One who has performed countless gigs, endured the inevitable frustrations of a jazz career, and prevailed with optimism and his supreme technique intact.