Out of the blue comes Hal Schaefer.
And like it says on the cover, he's "Just Too Much."
Call me a square becaue I never heard of the guy before.
Where does anybody hide such a piano player and why?
Anyway, here he is and there will be
a lot of him from now on, I'm told, and there will be
a lof of you out there feeling as delighted and refreshed
as I am by what I've just heard, once you've heard it
Just when you get to feeling that jazz
has trapped itself in schools and cliches, and that
you can't find the beat for the performers' neuroses
- along comes this fellow who makes it a whole big experience
all over again - uninhibited and fiercely swingin' -
serious and introspective. Interesting, absorbing, original.
Hal says point-blank he likes Tatum,
Chopin, Debussy and Mozart and you don't have to look
hard to pin that down. It's all here, but wrapped up
in as personal expressionist a style as you'll find.
There's nothing self-conscious either in his application
of thse influences. He has taken what fits and digested
it, and anything he plays is an extension of himself,
and he'll probably grow and grow. I'd be referring to
the Debussian pedal work in the subtle I'm Glad
There Is You, or the crisp, almost pre-classical
flavor that opens I'll Remember April - only
to burst into modernist chord extensions and eccentric
In truest expressionist fashion, each
tune is a vehicle, and don't expect reverence where
you've always found it, but don't expect your taste
to be offended either. You Are Too Beautiful
is unabashed love-making, but All the Things You
Are is explosive, tongue-in-cheek. In St. Louis
Blues, on which almost everything has been said,
Hal seems to parallel Ravel's treatment of the Viennese
waltz in La Valse. Here the superannuated jazz
tune is built up rhapsodically by the solo piano, then
torn asunder and dispelled in dissonance.
More facets of this huge talent are
unveiled in the original Schaefer compositions, Yes
and Montevideo. The former is a jazz tune with
lightning chord changes that Hal dispatches in a romp,
employing some pretty dazzling finger work en route.
Montevideo too is a breakneck affair, with
the dash of Latin flavor thrown in. This one is a descriptive
piece that sets out to capture the color, verve and
excitement of the thriving tropical town. It succeeds
in a jazz-wise, non-precious way.
The late "Fats" Waller would
be the last one to mind the way Hal lampoons the Waller
idiom in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
Hal goes Waller on the pianola, then ultra-modern on
the piano - back and forth, for laughs and edification,
So, what about this guy? . . . He's
still in his twenties and he has been around, but he
has always managed to disappear just before anyone could
identify him with music he had no use for. He's from
New York and a graduate of The High School of Music
and Art. At thirteen he started playing with small bands
in the Borscht Circuit and spent all of his summers
that way until he finished school. When Lee Castaldo,
the trumpet player, left Tommy Dorsey and became Lee
Castle and His Orchestra, Hal joined him for his first
big band job. Later he went with Clyde Lucas who wanted
him to stand up in front and play marimba. He quit.
Then Hal joined up with Ina Ray Hutton
who had an all-male band at the time ("Unfortunately,"
says Hal) and stayed for almost two years. When this
unit reached The Coast, Hal was invited to join Benny
Carter's big band, and he enjoyed this thoroughly musical
association for several months. But one night Harry
James fell by the Swing Club on Hollywood Boulevard,
where Carter held forth, and offered Hal triple his
then salary if he'd join his band. Hal was anxious to
bring his folks out to California, so the money was
tempting, but he refused to leave Carter. When Carter
- a wonderful person as well as a wonderful musician
- heard about the offer, he simply fired Hal!
So Hal was forced to join James, brought
his folks out, and played dance music for six months.
Then Boyd Raeburn came through with that pioneering
progressive band, with George Handy, Johnnie Bothwell
and Company. Hal signed on, recorded and traveled with
the outfit, and finally came back to The Coast where
he decided to stay. He put in a few years as accompanist
to singers such as Billy Eckstine and Peggy Lee, and
spent five more years in the film colony, playing and
writing. Recently, he gave up what had developed into
a highly lucrative practice as vocal coach to some top
Hollywood stars, and today he is concerned only with
studying and recording. He is studying composition and
orchestration with the noted Italian composer, Mario
Hal expects to continue working with
the present trio, and he's quite understandably enthused
about the skill and empathy of his cohorts. That would
be Joe Mongradon on bass and Alvin Stoller on drums.
Undoubtedly, they dig him too.
Radio Corporation of America