In my twenties I used to stroll through the Museum of Modern Art's top floor, stop by the edition of Breuer's Wassily chair
on display, and think, "Marcel B. designed this when he was 23. What have I done?"
I should probably add Richard Twardzik
(known as "Dick Twardzik" on the album cover) to my list of folks who accomplished a great deal before they turned 24 (Alexander the Great? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
?). Twardzik was a pianist who died an untimely death at 24, in 1955, and his 74th birthday comes up this Sunday.
All this comes to mind because I auditioned the Pacific Jazz LP "Trio" at the library this morning. This record, which is available on CD as a costly Japanese reissue
has one side of Twardzik with bass and drums and one side of fellow pianist Russ Freeman
with bass and drums (his drummer is Shelly Manne
Twardzik does three originals: "Crutch for the Crab," "Albuquerque Social Swim," and "Yellow Tango," as well as Thelonious Monk
's "'Round About Midnight," "Bess, You Is My Woman Now," from Porgy & Bess, and the standard "I'll Remember April."
What's really astonishing about his playing is the depth of his harmonic invention. He's taken all the lessons of bebop piano playing as exemplified by Bud Powell
but he adds an incredible sense of harmony; it sounds on the record as if he has a third hand that snakes around his back and pokes at the left-hand side of the keyboard. "Albuquerque Social Swim" uses stops and starts and little trills and exercises to poke fun (as Freeman, who wrote the liner notes, says) at intellectuals he met in Albuquerque, NM. To me, fifty years on, listening to the original vinyl release, it sounds like fearless, breathtaking playing, the kind of piano that puts me on the edge of my seat waiting for the next astounding harmonic invention.
Considering the record is contemporary with Jazz Giants '56
, the classic Lester Young
small-group record, it's pretty astonishing what kinds of ideas Twardzik brought to his playing that were complete novelties at the time. The harmonies he uses remind me more of Igor Stravinsky
(who I believe was living in California at the time) than Monk, especially on "'Round About Midnight," where Twardzik turns what in Monk's hands sounds stately and gorgeous but static in the harmonic sense into an elaborate shifting tone poem. Breathtaking.