Exquisite, swinging piano jazz
Stephen A. Smith | 11/17/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The performances range from hard and swinging to serene and beautiful. This is classic jazz piano, one of the best Christmas piano performances ever."
An Absolute Gem
Stephen A. Smith | Boston, MA | 10/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I won't argue with conventional wisdom: The all-time greatest Christmas album is Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Having said that, a pair of solo piano albums are tied for the red ribbon: Cyrus Chestnut's "Blessed Quietness," and this gem from Dave McKenna.
Dave McKenna is the pianist's pianist. He's a legend among jazz pianists, a musician who never saw fame equal to his talent. Every musician knows his name. "Christmas Ivory" was recorded in February 1997, when McKenna was 66. Sadly, it was among his last recordings. In 2002, Nat Hentoff wrote a moving article about McKenna where he revealed that McKenna could no longer play piano. He suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, due to severe diabetes.
McKenna lives a private life nowadays; but thanks to Concord, we have a few of his albums to enjoy. This is among the best. It's replete with classic carols, and even includes three original tunes by McKenna. It's an intimate hour with one of jazz's finest pianists, and the perfect setting for a snowy December night.
When I think of Dave McKenna, I'm reminded of Jaki Byard. Both are relatively unknown to most audiences. But if you ask musicians, they'll tell you these men were blessed with talent and inspiration. Each man's influence on his peers, and the way fellow musicians approach their instruments, is incalculable.
If you're looking for a wonderful Christmas disc, buy this one. If you want to discover a remarkable jazz musician, try Dave McKenna. I'd recommend "An Intimate Evening with Dave McKenna" (2002) and a duo recording with guitarist Gray Sargent from 1992. But start here. This is a beautiful album, an absolute gem -- and I guarantee you'll find yourself playing it for friends.
NOTE: Concord's first print of this CD contained an error that caused the disc to skip a few seconds into Track 1. (I worked in a Boston record store at the time, and examined many copies myself.) If you buy a used copy, you might run into a first-edition. I'd recommend buying a new copy to be safe. The disc was reissued by Concord in 2000 under a new title, "Christmas Party.""