Tommy Flanagan | Picture
American pianist, composer, and combo leader. Born Detroit, March
16 1930. Died November 16 2001 in New York City.
"There are few greater pleasures in life than spending time in the
company of Tommy Flanagan. Long a master of his demanding art and craft,
he has reached a level that only a chosen few can attain. The beautiful
stories this poet of jazz has told us (...) should be cherished, but they
are just a prelude to what's in store when hearing him in the flesh"
(Dan Morgenstern, member of The International JAZZPAR Committee, in liner
notes for the album Jazz Poet).
Flanagan grew up in Detroit in an environment and musical
atmosphere, which fostered many gifted players. To him like all the others
New York was the magnet. In 1956 he arrived there with a good part of
the jazz tradition as his ballast. In The Big Apple Flanagan's first gig
was substituting Bud Powell at Birdland. Right away he started to build
up his reputation as the neo-bop piano player par excellence. Soon he
made timeless contributions to a long list of now classic jazz albums
including Miles Davis' Collectors' Items (1956), Sonny Rollins'
Saxophone Colossus (the same year), and John Coltrane's Giant
Steps (1959). For example Coleman Hawkins and J. J. Johnson also took
advantage of Flanagan's talents.
Now Tommy Flanagan was firmly established as one of
the most convincing, comprehensive, and authoritative jazz piano players
of that time, both as soloist and as accompanist. The second part of his
career was marked by his long-term cooperation with Ella Fitzgerald (1963-65
and 1968-78), being her pianist and musical director. During that period
Flanagan to some extent withdrew from public attention and concentrated
on the demanding role of an accompanist.
The third part of Tommy Flanagan's career wais that
of the independent soloist and combo leader, finally emancipating himself
from the limitations of just being a musicians' musician. Especially the
Flanagan trios including piano, bass, and drums established a standard
by which other such trios are measured, cf. his many LPs/CDs, which are
admired of ardent fans all over the world. During JAZZPAR 1993 still one
more album was added to his extensive discography.
Flanagan's style is originally rooted in an attempt
to combine Teddy Wilson's delicacy and logic, Art Tatum's touch and technique,
and Nat King Cole's bright attack and energy. Later Flanagan experienced
Bud Powell's inventiveness and feverish pace. Of course Charlie Parker's
music too had a breathtaking and lasting impact.
Through the years Flanagan's playing was further elaborated
and refined. He contributed an almost endless series of extremely well-formed
and logical, both beautifully poetic and spell-binding expressive statements.
During a single selection he was able to conjure up an astonishing variety
of moods. His music is characterized by a light touch and sparse lines,
by elegant single-note melodic runs in the right hand varying with unexpected
percussive accents and two or three note chords in the left.
Tommy Flanagan received a number of international awards.
He was elected as the number one jazz pianist 1992 by Down Beat International
Critics Poll. Four of his albums have been nominated for a Grammy. Flanagan
manifested himself as a true all time giant of modern jazz piano. Universally
respected, he played quite his own sort of timeless, charming, and cool
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