Horace Parlan’s body of work remains special and he should be thought of as one of the Top-10 post-war piano greats.
Today, for the many newly minted Parlan fans, I thought I’d post a documentary of the pianist in Denmark during his later years. A special thanks to Ken Deifik for reminding me about the film.
Don McGlynn’s Horace Parlan By Horace Parlan (2002)…
it’s no secret that Bill Evans is my favorite jazz pianist. In the No. 2 slot would have to be Horace Parlan. Born in Pittsburgh, Parlan at a young age contracted polio, which left his right hand partly disabled and disfigured. Two of the fingers in his right hand were out of commission. As a result, his left hand did double duty, delivering heavy harmony and bass treatment while the three operating fingers of his right hand handled melody improvisation. Parlan relocated to Denmark in 1972. [Photo above of Horace Parlan by Francis Wolff (c) Mosaic Images]
Despite the diminished use of one hand’s digits, Parlan became a superb and much-in-demand hard-bop keyboard accompanist and a magnificent trio leader and solo player. For those little familiar with Parlan, the best place to start is his first leadership album—Movin’ and Groovin’. Recorded in February 1960 for Blue Note, Parlan’s trio consisted of Parlan on piano, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Al Harewood.
As much as I love Red Garland, I give Parlan the edge when it comes to taste and volume of superb material over the course of his career. He had a lovely sense of swing, every one of his songs expressed a joy to be able to play, and his chord voicings were sensational. All he seemed to care about was knocking out listeners. There was no idling or padding. Parlan was a sculptor who kneaded and crafted every song he played into a singular expression.
The songs on this album are C Jam Blues, On Green Dolphin Street, Up in Cynthia’s Room, Lady Bird, Bags’, Groove, Stella by Starlight, There Is No Greater Love and It Could Happen to You. All are sensationally executed. Even songs you may feel you’ve heard enough of, like C Jam Blues and Bags’ Groove, are re-invented by Parlan’s groovy bluesy attack. [Photo above of Al Harewood by Francis Wolff (c) Mosaic Images]
Parlan began his recording career in 1957 with Charles Mingus and then moved on to Lou Donaldson in 1959 before recording Movin’ and Groovin’. I came to Parlan in college after picking up Dexter Gordon’s Doin’ Allright (Blue Note) and hearing Society Red.
Parlan so knocked me out on there that I began collecting. Everything I purchased by Parlan had his ambitious playing style. Best of all are his stylistic fingerprints that pop up often. These include building tension with chords in his left hand while swinging notes with his right, releasing with cascading block chords. Or his ascending scales with three-finger modal riffs and his soul-jazz chords clustered together. [Photo above of Sam Jones]
I could spend the next 30 days writing about Parlan’s excellent albums as a sideman and as a leader, but I wouldn’t dare. There are too many others to write about. But do yourself a favor. Explore the pianist yourself. Movin’ and Groovin’ is a perfect gateway. And dig Jones and Harewood here. Jones thumps it out and Harewood is all over the snare. Perfect jazz is such a splendid thing.