Thursday, June 4, 2009

Don Friedman

"Why is one player enormously famous and another obscure, when to the naked ear they sound equally as compelling?" So begins the ITunes review of pianist Don Friedman's 1996 album, "The Days of Wine and Roses."
Friedman, despite being an in-demand and well-respected fixture on the New York jazz scene since the early 1960s, has somehow remained relatively obscure. While he is known as a "musician's musician" and a "pianist's pianist," it is surprising that more are not in the know, especially since he has done so much this last half-century.
Born in San Francisco in 1935, Friedman had already established himself as part of the West Coast jazz scene by the mid-1950's gigging around town (Los Angeles) with musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Ornette Coleman, Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers, and Scott LaFaro. A turning point in his career was 1956, when a tour with Buddy DeFranco inspired him to move to New York. The diverse group of artists with whom he played reflects his serious chops as both a hard-bopper, be-bopper, and avant-garde. His ability to thrive as himself in all sorts of musical environments is only one of the things that helped Friedman make a name for himself in New York.
Once in New York, Friedman thrived. He played with nearly every important artist of the era including Elvin Jones, Clark Terry, Booker Little, Eric Dolphy, Pepper Adams, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Giuffre, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Charles Lloyd, Herbie Mann, Oliver Nelson, Zoot Sims, and Phil Woods, among many others. Friedman was also an important solo piano act. His solo piano was often featured at clubs such as Birdland, The Five Spot, and the Half-Note. In fact, during Ornette Coleman's first gig in New York - his famed gig at the Five Spot - Friedman was actually the other act, performing as the second featured performer in between Ornette's sets.
While Friedman is often categorized into the Bill Evans school of piano playing, he certainly has a fresh voice of his own. One review of Friedman's "Circle Waltz" album says, "If Evans is Matisse, Don Friedman is Kandinsky."
Over the years, Friedman has gone from being one of the most in-demand avant-garde pianists to one of the most lyrical of pianists. His playing today is often cited as very emotional, displaying the full range of the emotional spectrum; it seems to be an honest and perfect blend of feeling and intellect.
While Friedman has had a successful career and has even enjoyed considerable stardom - especially in Japan - he is certainly a pianist deserving of wider recognition. He truly is one of the greats, and an "Overdue Ovation" is long overdue.
Jazz critic Gene Lees says of Friedman, "if you're not familiar with the artistry of Don Friedman, you have some catching up to do."
Don is featured here on a composition of his own, "Memory for Scotty," a tribute to his friend, Scott Lafaro. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great article. JK is absolutely right on about Friedman.
Keep them coming.