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This Week On Riverwalk Jazz: After Hours With Piano Legend Dick Hyman

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Jim Cullum Jr.
A Riverwalk Jazz frequent and favorite guest artist, piano legend Dick Hyman returns this week for an impromptu jam session with the Jim Cullum Jr. Jazz Band in San Antonio.

The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website.

Dick Hyman has lent his talents as a pianist, arranger and composer to radio, the recording studio and movies, including more than a dozen Woody Allen films. He’s recorded so many albums that he’s been honored as one of New York’s all-time “Most Valued Players" by the American Federation of Musicians.

Hyman’s busy musical career began in the early 1950s. He has since recorded over 100 albums under his own name and is a prolific composer of orchestral and chamber works including choral cantatas, ballet scores, string quartets and sonatas for various instruments. At the age of 86, he still gives many live concerts as a solo recitalist and in collaboration with other pianists, jazz instrumentalists, and symphony orchestras worldwide.

Dick Hyman’s knowledge of American popular song is encyclopedic. In an interview with Ken Dryden on allaboutjazz.com, he recalls that he learned most of the songs as a young pianist jobbing around New York, playing at country clubs and hotel ballrooms.

Dick says, “There was a core of musicians who knew all the tunes. That meant you had to be familiar with every well-known musical, starting back in the ’20s. It would typically start with “Night and Day” and include other Cole Porter songs, Richard Rodgers’ “The Lady is a Tramp” and all the peppy songs of the ’20s like “Ain’t We Got Fun?,” and the torch songs of the ’30s. You were expected to know everything, the pianist especially.”

Dick credits his work as a studio musician on radio and television in the 1950s, when he had to shift from one style to another throughout the day for the various shows, as his best musical education. He notes, “Exceptional sight-reading and impromptu composition were essential survival skills.”

Musicians love it when Hyman drops in to play with The Jim Cullum Jazz Band, not only because Dick brings his vast experience and knowledge to bear on every tune, but also because of his seemingly endless invention and imagination, his impeccable, swinging rhythmic feel, and his spectacular pianistic pyrotechnics.

As a contrast to other Dick Hyman specials on Riverwalk Jazz featuring carefully arranged and written-out scores, our show this week captures Dick completely ad-lib and “off the cuff.” Only the tune titles were determined beforehand. You can even hear Dick and Jim Cullum deciding—right on the spot—the shape of the performances.

Our tune lineup includes a trio of Fats Waller compositions: “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling,” “Minor Drag” and “My Fate is In Your Hands,” a variety of solos and duos with band pianist John Sheridan: “Little Rock Getaway,” “I’m Sorry I Made You Cry” and “Try a Little Tenderness,” and impromptu jam tunes with Jim and the Band: “Dinah” and “Oh Daddy Blues"

Dick's recent recordings include Thinking About Bix and E Pluribus Duo with Ken Peplowski.

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