Valentine’s Day with Bud Powell

Bud Powell
Broadcast Performances 1953, vol. 1
1973, ESP-Disk

Even at my advanced age, I still feel that someday I will be into jazz. Someday I’ll be a guy who references Miles Davis and knows what the fuck he’s talking about. Someday I’ll have strong opinions on alto saxophone players. Someday I’ll put on a jazz record and follow the notes like each one is a hundred dollar bill blowing away in the wind. Someday I’ll hear the pain and beauty and love in these sounds that dart through the air faster than summer wasps. Someday it’s all gonna hit me.

Until then, I just “like” jazz. I like it when it twinkles in the background. I’m your regular dilletante, a total bird-brain and a complete fuckface. I enjoy jazz, but I’m not conversant in it. I’m like a guy who has a picture of the Eiffel Tower hanging in his living room, but hasn’t spent more than a day or two to Paris.

Someday, though…

While I’m waiting for the Big Epiphany to happen, I DO like to throw little parties. No more than ten people. I have decent wine, good liquor, candles, plenty of conversation pieces around. I also love to joke, carry on, find new thoughts at the bottom of my rocks glass and generally mouth-off.

And what’s the best music for these occasions?

It’s not rock music. Too aggressive. Too dependent on vocals most of the time. At my kinda party, people shouldn’t be listening to music with words. They should be speaking their own words.

It’s also not electronic music. Electronic music makes me feel like I should be on drugs that I don’t have.

Classical music would be creepy, for some reason. You can’t talk shit about your co-workers over a Brahms concerto.

What’s left? JAZZ. Jazz is the perfect party music. Jazz is both classy and rebellious. It moves to the rhythm of a human body and nervous system. When it swings, you want to swing along with it. When it’s cool, it convinces you that cool is the only thing that you should ever be.

At the very least, there’s nothing at all grating about a silky piano-bass-drums trio, particularly when recorded live in 1953 with plenty of warm air around the microphones and a few smartly selected standards to dismantle and that’s why THIS little record is one of my go-to party albums. There’s no other music over which I’d prefer to make a new friend over one too many Bombay Sapphire martinis. I don’t have all of the references and language at my disposal to describe the luscious sounds of Bud Powell’s piano work here except to say that its beauty is matched only by its agility. Powell’s whirling piano sounds exactly like the movements of my brain, back-and-forth, up-and-down, frantic, except that Powell always hits the right notes (while I fuck up most of the time). Meanwhile, bassist Roy Haynes and drummer Oscar Pettiford provide the sturdy legs that keep it all moving.

You don’t see this record everyday. How does a dumbo like me end up with it? I found it way back in my vinyl-scrounging days. It’s on the legendarily eccentric ESP-Disk label (complete with Esperanto-language catalog ordering information on the back cover), it’s on pretty red vinyl and it was only $10, according to the price sticker that’s at least a decade old.

Both sides are excerpts from performances at the Royal Roost club in New York City on February 7, 1953 (side 1) and February 14, 1953 (side 2). Sixty-five years later, here I am still listening to Bud Powell hammering out a gig for a club audience and a radio audience. Beautiful. I got the Valentine’s Day fuzzies, let me tell ya.

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