Since we are talking about pianists, what is it you look for in a piano accompanist?
That's a hard question. Accompanying someone cannot be
explained by a singer to a pianist. He either knows what to do or he doesn't. An accompanist and a guy who can play the piano are two different things. You have to find someone who is completely sympathetic to the soloist as a singer, and not to a soloist as an instrumentalist. It's a completely different thing. Even if a guy can play his buns off, it does not necessarily mean he can accompany a singer. There are some guys who can accompany a singer and who can't play worth a damn as far as soloing is concerned. That is the difference, and it's a vast difference. A guy must really love to do it. He cannot do it because he has nothing else to do." [Pictured: Carmen McRae and accompanist Ronnell Bright in 1955]
--Carmen McRae in a 1970 conversation with drummer Art Taylor, from Taylor's Notes and Tones: Musician to Musician Interviews (1977).
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.