Recent Listening: Dick Katz (RIP)


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Dick Katz, The Line Forms Here (Reservoir). The news of Katz's death at 85 last week sent me to the shelf for this 1996 recording. It covers the range of his talents as pianist, composer and arranger. He plays alone in a moving performance of Duke Ellington's “Lotus Blossom," in a trio supported by bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Ben Riley, and blends the tenor saxophone of the veteran Benny Golson and the trumpet of newcomer Ryan Kisor in quintet arrangements. In the CD's three blues pieces, notably on John Coltrane's “Mr. P.C.," Katz discloses himself as one of the most canny modern jazz blues players.

Admired for his harmonic knowledge and the subtlety of his touch, Katz was a favorite of the Modern Jazz Quartet's pianist and music director John Lewis, who arranged for his first recording contract. In his days as one of New York's busiest utility players, Katz worked with with Tony Scott, Roy Eldridge, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, and Carmen McRae, among many others. He came to the attention of a wide audience with the success of Benny Carter's Further Definitions, on which he was the pianist in Carter's spectacularly successful mixed marriage of swing and bop musicians. His collaborations with singer Helen Merrill, on the Milestone recordings The Feeling is Mutual and A Shade of Difference, fell out of print as vinyl albums, but Mosaic Records rescued them in a CD reissue. With Orrin Keepnews, Katz founded the short-lived but productive Milestone label.

For a comprehensive obitutary of Dick Katz, see Ben Ratliff's New York Times article. For further insights through an interview with Katz, go to this installment of Marc Myers' JazzWax. On its web site, WNYC-FM in New York has a video made last May of Katz reminiscing and playing with his contemporaries vibraharpist Teddy Charles, bassist Bill Crow and drummer Ron Free. The Rifftides staff thanks WNYC for permission to show it to you.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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