Hal Schaefer's long and distinguished
career and reputation as a pianist/composer/arranger
and voice instructor surely merit fresh attention
despite his tentative retreat from the L.A./S.F./N.Y.
jazz scene during the past decade. His voluminous
credits far exceed the space parameters of these annotations,
but a backward glance forms a vital backdrop to Schaefer's
jazz solo piano performances on this notable comeback
His extensive experience profile
is dotted with rich milestones. Recognized early on
as a gifted child prodigy, he was accorded with many
awards. En route to being a classical concert pianist,
he concertized at age 10. Subsequently he was inspired
by the legendary jazz pianist Art Tatum. "I heard
a Tatum record on radio and immediately went out to
buy it. He changed my life completely!" Schaefer
recalls with precision. "I didn't know the piano
could be played that way. Tatum's bravura and rhythmic
sense altogether in one person with just two hands.
I didn't believe it! But I was hooked!" Schaefer
adopted a mirror image process in regards to emulating
a Tatumesque perspective. "I would play a Tatum
favorite -- e.g., Tea for Two and I would
stop the record after the first chorus, then sit at
the piano and do the same thing." Note that this
is a remarkable process in itself.
Under the guise of an older person,
at 14 he secured a union card and toured with various
big bands including those led by Benny Carter and
the iconoclastic Boyd Raeburn. Later, Schaefer's focus
on composition and orchestration led him into intensely
productive activity - creating music for Hollywood's
cinematic industry and for a crowd of movie stars
(notably his charts for Marilyn Monroe's famous Diamonds
Are A Girl's Best Friend and segments in Judy
Garland's A Star is Born). Tireless, Schaefer
traversed between 'Lotusland and New York engaged
in a whirlwind of eclectic, creative endeavors - for
radio, TV, and the stage and recording studios. In
relatively more recent decades, he has headed ensembles
from jazz combos to orchestras. Moreover, he has devoted
inordinate time/effort as a singer teacher and vocal
coach - a reflection of his extraordinary track record
teaching actresses and dancers literally how to sing.
Amidst this constellation of nucleic
activity, Schaefer continues to play jazz piano -
the main artery of his artistic oeuvre. Before moving
to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1992 with his late
beloved wife, Brenda, he maintained his jazz chops
playing in his evergreen-scented, fresh-air style
for ten years at Greene Street - a favored jazz piano
and trio bistro in Soho. Likewise, some ten years
ago, Schaefer made his recording entitled Solo,
Duo, Trio on Discovery Records, illustrating
his musical style in the three settings.
Clearly this new CD is the mostly
deeply personal recording he has ever recorded because
of the tightly bound associated feelings charged with
warm, tenacious memories of his wife Brenda.
Many of the tunes bear the tender
moments which prompted Schaefer to play in his elegant
fashion. His keen sensitivity and wide experience
with the songsmiths of America place him in a pivotal
perch of being vitally intimate with the essence of
lyric messages, enabling him to interpret the songs
with the liberty availed to a solo jazz improvising
As for the solo context per se, there
may be a happenstance synchronicity which occurred
in the year 2000; curiously it was a time when prominent
jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea and John Lewis
all cut piano solo recordings . . . and indeed, among
others, Schaefer also recorded in 2000 - adding perhaps
an exclamation to some propitious karma. Another pertinent
reference to Art Tartum is expressed in Schaefer's
motivational energy. "Tatum was such a powerful
inspiration, he made me stretch and he made me reach!"
Playing solo without harmonic obligations for interplay
with other musicians or sidemen affords Schaefer free
rein to make his statement in its complete florescense
and wholly personal spirit.
Cherishing this condition, Schaefer
easily played and recorded all of the ballads with
just one take. A sampling of his comments about the
tunes offer gainful insight of the music's impetus
and perceived values.
A lively Too Marvelous for Words
opens the CD with "most of what was in back of
my heart and soul. I was caught up in the tune, the
words and feeling." Schaefer's music emerged
with no intended calculation for its interpretation.
Tenderly - "It's a
gorgeous piece I wanted to play so I could use my
touch on the piano, to try to sing through my fingers."
He asserts few people play Baubles,
Bangles and Beads, and he wished to devise and
furnish a frame for it. "If I could really begin
at the bottom of the piano with a bass player and
if I could get that 'walking' at the very bottom,
I would hit target. The first note I play is B-flat
- the half tone right about the bottom note of the
piano. I like it harmonically. It's a marvelous work
Although not a huge Irving Berlin
fan, Schaefer's enthusiasm for How Deep is the
Ocean is well taken. "It's the best piece
of music Berlin ever wrote - it is special. It's been
my favorite Berlin piece for years. I feel the lyric
is part of the concept - it's simple, profound, easy
Gone With the Wind has an
attractive harmonic feel and pattern of mobility.
"The tune is a Tatum kind of thing. I can't explain
why it just lies on my fingers that way; it's just
natural. The tempo was in the right groove."
Blues for Marilyn was written
by Schaefer in memory of Marilyn Monroe and is party
to the basis for the title of this CD as she was born
on June 1st - Just as Blues for Brenda was
written in memory of Schaefer's wife who was also
born on June 1st. Could it be another synchronous
model! This pair of blues also serves as the fulcrum
for the balance of tunes on the disc. Note the first
three notes of the first blues say 'Marilyn' and the
theme does recycle itself. "In the key of D major,
Blues for Brenda create a special sound -
classy, well-dressed, modern and sophisticated --
I'm Old Fashioned was selected
because "I wanted to play it with a feeling that
I'm old fashioned. It was also a response to Brenda's
asking me to play it for her to sing, so I had the
learn the tune to comply."
"I'm crazy about I'm Gonna
Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter. It
lends itself to switching between 2 and 4. The point
was to play part of it in 2 and part in 4, and make
them compatible. I like the feeling of 2, but I am
NOT a Dixie player! It just takes me back in time."
One of Schaefer's choice tunes is
Imagination. "I wanted that imagination
- the movement of the intangibles and I tried to find
it in the harmony." And there is a nice counterpoint
in the harmony.
For a change of pace, Schaefer's
selection of Meditation fills the bill with
its Latin feel. "I've had a strong taste for
the key of C. Meditation is in C; I can almost
taste its unique true flavor. Every key has its own
Another fond memory of Brenda, All
the Things You Are recalls her wish to hear it
when she was very ill, besieged by cancer.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
is in 3/4 -- not as a ballad but as an easy swing
3/4. Schaefer gives it his own smokin' dimension.
A Duke Ellington protege for awhile,
Schaefer enjoyed playing with his trio during the
Ellington Orchestra's performance breaks. Billed as
an entree act or relief group, "Duke would introduce
my trio and he would say 'and now a REAL piano player!'"
Schaefer wanted to interpret Ellington's classic Solitude.
"I like the way it ends loudly. Part of it is
to reflect my own private solitude, and part of it
is to reflect my period of time with Duke and his
inner feelings - and the very end is brutal - like
falling off a cliff?"
This CD proves Hal Schaefer's music
eloquence is sublime, essentially documenting a unique
statement and living legacy from an irrepressible
musician and spirit.
Dr. Herb Wong
Jazz Educators Journal (IAJE)
When jazz artists cut a tribute album, it's generally
to honor a member of the jazz fraternity or sorority,
depending on the sex of the honoree. Hal Schaefer's
first album as a soloist honors a member of the sorority,
and quite a member she was. The object of Schaefer's
CD is Marilyn Monroe, with the title June 1st:
A Date to Remember commemorating Monroe's 75th
birthday. This is not the action of a dedicated fan,
but one who was the actress' singing coach, preparing
her for roles in such movies as Gentlemen Prefer
Blondes. This album is also in memory of his
late wife, whose birth date coincidentally is June
1. Schaefer had been in the jazz business for a while
at that point, having worked with Benny Carter and
with Dave Barbour's Four of a Kind, which backed Peggy
Lee. While the title of the album refers to a Marilyn
Monroe event, the play list, with the exception of
two originals, is a strong nod to Schaefer's major
pianistic influence, Art Tatum. While the playing
here is not as embellished as Tatum's, the light,
lilting touch that marked the Tatum improvisions are
found in such tunes as Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,
Tenderly, and Gone With the Wind.
Schaefer also remembers another major influence and
patron, Duke Ellington, with a passionate version
of Solitude. Schaefer is from a particular
school of piano players, respecting the melody of
the song he is playing while at the same time giving
it a personal imprimatur. This is a solid solo piano
CD and a worthy addition to the recorded piano literature.
Recommended. ~ Dave Nathan, All Music