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Aaron Diehl


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In a section of a Hank Jones master class DVD that was a 2008 Doug's Pick, Jones critiqued budding jazz pianists. One of them was a 21-year-old Julliard graduate named Aaron Diehl. For Jones, Diehl played “I Cover The Waterfront" and Art Tatum's arrangement of Massenet's “Elegy." Apart from a slight reservation about Diehl's use of dynamics in the first piece, Jones had nothing but praise, especially for the way the young man scaled the heights of “Elegy." “If you should decide to stay in the music profession," he told the young man, “I see nothing for you but a bright future."

Diehl decided to stay. Good idea. Last Saturday, the American Pianists Association announced that he had won the 2011 Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz competition. The fellowship carries a $50,000 cash prize. In addition, according to the association's announcement, over the course of two years Diehl will receive in-kind career development with the value of an additional $50,000. The jury members included pianists Geri Allen, John Taylor and Danilo Pérez, New York Times music critic Nate Chinen and Al Pryor, an executive of Mack Avenue Records. For details about the competition, see Becca Pulliam's account on the NPR website.

Diehl lives in New York, where he is music director of St. Joseph of the Holy Family Church in Harlem. For further biographical details, visit his website. His duties at St. Joseph's leave him time for performances, some of which have made their way to the internet. Here are two, a solo interpretation of Fats Waller's “Viper's Drag that opens and closes in a mood of rumination appropriate to the church setting, that I wish Fats could have heard—and a quartet presentation at Dizzy's club in New York of John Lewis's “Django." At the end of “Django," Dizzy's impresario Tadd Barkan introduces the sidemen.

Diehl wrote a fascinating account for Ethan Iverson's Do The Math blog of how Mirjana Lewis, John's widow, educated him about Lewis's music and the Modern Jazz Quartet. To read it, go here.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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