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Jimmy Amadie - In A Trio Setting: A Tribute To Frank Sinatra

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Those who know the story of pianist Jimmy Amadie should recognize that In A Trio Setting represents not only an artistic triumph but a veritable miracle of will. Amadie, whose career in the 1950s and '60s involved work with such jazz luminaries as Red Rodney and Mel Torm, has spent the years since virtually incapable of touching his instrument. He suffers from acute tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendons that marks every note he plays with searing pain. As a result, Amadie, who often keeps his hands in braces, has rarely been heard at the keys. Although a prominent presence in jazz education (his harmonic concepts have gained faithful adherents worldwide), the man has barely played in public at all over the past 40 years.

Amadie's previous albums -- the fine solo piano outings Always With Me and Savoring Every Note, in 1996 and '98 -- were assembled piecemeal, painstakingly, track by track. His newest release involved an even more rigorous process, taking a full five years to complete. The crucial difference between this and his previous efforts is apparent in the title. In A Trio Setting documents Amadie's first-ever record leading an ensemble. How that ensemble came to be is a story in itself.

It begins roughly six years ago, with a phone call from the late baritone saxophonist Nick Brignola. “Nick called me after I finished my second CD," Amadie explains, “and he said: 'I don't know why you don't record with a trio. Your time is good enough that you could record by yourself and then have the guys put their tracks down.'" Heeding this advice, Amadie was forced to think two steps ahead of himself -- leaving spaces for rhythmic accompaniment, ensemble interaction, even bass and drum solos.

This resourceful solution has rarely, if ever, been attempted in jazz. Its resounding success here is not only an endorsement of bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin, but also a testament to Amadie's depth of imagination, invention and technique -- and the virtues of persistence. “I said to the musicians: 'Look fellas, I don't know when I'm going to be able to do this, but when I get all the tunes finished I'll give you a call.' Every six months I called them. I had further surgery -- two more operations from the time I started. I recorded one tune every six months. And I kept calling these guys two or three times every year, for five years. These guys probably thought I was crazy."

Amadie finally met with his rhythm section at a recording studio, bearing eight finished tracks. Partly by chance, they were nearly all standards associated to some degree with Frank Sinatra. “They just happened to be the tunes I wanted to play," Amadie says, adding: “You always want to be able to play standard tunes, because if you do the standard tunes they can compare you to somebody." One striking thing about the resulting album is the fact that Amadie resists such comparison; his style is unique.

Gilmore and Goodwin laid tracks from 10 in the morning until nearly midnight, carefully heeding the nuances of Amadie's distinctive approach. In this way, the musicians reached back in time, just as Amadie had reached forward. Somehow they all met in the same swinging place. Then the pianist, who had spent the session with both hands encased in ice, surprised everyone: “I said 'Fellas, don't move. I want to try to play.'" Together the trio played one take of “Here's That Rainy Day," beginning in ballad tempo, then picking up to a gentle swing. Although this

was literally their first and only time playing together in real time, the three players found a remarkably comfortable groove. They kept it going for the next take, a jaunty rendition of “I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." Back to back, the two performances open the resulting album, immediately showcasing both Amadie's advanced musicality and his partners' seamless accord. The excruciating pain Amadie suffered during these takes is nowhere evident on the finished product, but his conviction and tenacious spirit distinguish each beat of every measure.

Yet pathos is never the point of Amadie's music. Hear his crystalline touch and buoyant swing on “Love For Sale," and you forget that the man has suffered. Listen to the tender harmonic strokes of “Gone But Not Forgotten," and pain is the last thing on your mind. Ultimately, In A Trio Setting is a document not of anguish but overwhelming joy -- the joy of playing, and of hearing music articulated so beautifully, after all these years of silence. So even as Amadie admits he'll soon be heading back to the hospital for more treatment, he enthuses about the results of his labor. “These tunes are live," Amadie says with unconcealed glee. “You can't take that back."

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