Pianist Jimmy Amadie Features Three Saxophone Giants, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, and Lew Tabackin, on "Kindred Spirits"


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Jimmy Amadie

Veteran pianist Jimmy Amadie adds another chapter to his remarkable life story with Kindred Spirits, featuring an all-star lineup on a tailor-made selection of blazing swing and tender ballads. Each track features a collaboration with one of three saxophone giants: Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, and Lew Tabackin. As always, Amadie calls on his crack rhythm team of drummer Bill Goodwin and bassists Steve Gilmore and Tony Marino, who adapt to each guest star with stunning dexterity.

As the title suggests, Kindred Spirits locates the common ground linking all of these fiercely individualistic musicians. Amadie's seventh CD, it follows in the footsteps of his last effort, The Philadelphia Story, which teamed the leader with greats Benny Golson, Randy Brecker, and, once again, Lew Tabackin.

“I've been fortunate enough to record with some of the greatest players who've ever lived," Amadie says. “It's such an unbelievable experience because you get a chance to learn from them."

As much as he may have learned from these experiences, Jimmy Amadie has plenty to teach. Not just musically, though he is renowned as an educator, both by his own students and by the many others who've worked through his two influential instructional books, Harmonic Foundation for Jazz and Popular Music and Jazz Improv: How To Play It and Teach It. He has even more to offer in the way of simple human inspiration.

Those who've followed his career since its resurgence in the mid-90s know well Amadie's struggles with the extreme tendonitis in his hands which waylaid his musical life for decades. Following early successes in the 1950s and '60s which led to stints with legends like Red Rodney, Woody Herman, and Mel Torme, the physical condition accelerated to the point where he could no longer play.

Thirty years and several surgeries (not to mention plenty of gritted teeth and superhuman tenacity), Amadie made his belated recording debut in 1995, first with a series of solo CDs recorded in a long, slow process. His first trio CD was created by the same means, after which Goodwin and Gilmore painstakingly recorded their rhythm parts to match Amadie's prerecorded tracks. Since then he's entered the studio with his band for each date, recording and then taking months off to heal.

But over the past couple of years Amadie has suffered a further setback. After the recording of The Philadelphia Story, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and entered a year-long treatment of chemotherapy and radiation.

“I can't tell you how devastated I was," Amadie says. “After all these years to feel so good about playing, I just couldn't believe that I could wind up with something else. And I went crazy. I didn't know what to do."

What he did was to spend even his hardest hours, he says, “healing and thinking about a new album." The result is the CD you hold in your hands, a joyful celebration of a music that has never come easily, even when it sounds its most relaxed.

“There isn't anything negative about the playing I did," Amadie insists. “I did not play under bad circumstances."

Minus the backstory, in fact, the circumstances of Kindred Spirits were downright ideal. Playing with three of jazz's current greats in the bucolic setting of Red Rock Studio in the Pocono mountains, Amadie arrived to each of the three sessions with a book of tunes hand-picked for the musicians involved.

“Writing for these players gives you another way of looking at things," Amadie says. “They all play differently; even though each of them could play anything, you have to write for their style of playing. It was wonderful that the players had enough confidence in me to let me write for them."

Amadie's originals include a sensuous bossa nova/swing hybrid tailor-made for the legendary Lee Konitz, who Amadie first admired as a teenager; “Blues For DV," a laid-back stroll for Lew Tabackin's lovely flute, and “What Now," in which Tabackin switches to tenor for a mid-tempo modal workout; and finally, two numbers for Lovano: the simmering “Samba For You" and the breathtakingly delicate ballad “Life Is Worth Living."

In addition to his own pieces, Amadie came armed with a number of standards in mind. To take advantage of Konitz's swinging credentials, Amadie engages the saxophonist in a buoyant jaunt through Vincent Youmans' and Irving Caesar's “I Want To Be Happy." And with Lovano, the leader rethinks two timeworn tunes in dramatically altered forms. The album-opening “Just Friends" gets streamlined into a breakneck sprint from its usually more introspective form (witness Amadie's own tender rendition on his solo disc, Savoring Every Note). And the familiar theme of Thelonious Monk's classic “Well, You Needn't" is expressed by Lovano in a husky whisper.

Although Amadie's physical condition necessitates a spontaneous, first-take method in the studio, there are no compromises evident on this or any of his albums. That comes, he says, from the sheer love of playing shared by each instrumentalist.

“The band fell in love with playing together," he says. “You have to remember, there were no rehearsals. We just all hit a groove and it was perfect."

Amadie sought to capture that mood when he christened the CD Kindred Spirits. “I think that the players I used all have love and respect for one another," he explains. “The thing they have in common is that they're all great players and warm, good human beings. That comes out in their playing."

Click Here To Listen To “Just Friends" Featuring Joe Lovano.

TP Recordings / May 11, 2010

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