It would be difficult to imagine the history of jazz without its traditions. The institutions of apprenticing with master musicians as a sideman, the daily trekking to sessions, the hustling for gigs…. When it comes to a recording or live performance debut, it has become a custom to show what you are made of by interpreting a standard and, hopefully, impressing your style on the tune.
It is precisely this nostalgic notion that guided pianist Glenn Zaleski on his debut recording as a leader, My Ideal, a tremendously varied and expertly wrought piano trio performance of compositions well-known in the genre and a couple that have the makings to be. To insure that the music was exploratory and new, Zaleski enlisted the talents of bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Craig Weinrib to assist in generating arrangements that avoid contrivance but are played both proficiently and naturally.
Zaleski has been involved in music from an early age, beginning piano studies at seven years old and becoming a member of his elementary school jazz band at ten. His older brother Mark was an early influence, as he played clarinet and saxophone and recruited his preteen sibling to form the Zaleski Brothers, a duo that played regularly around their Central Massachusetts home.
After developing a solid musical foundation as a part of the Massachusetts jazz scene, Zaleski attended the Brubeck Institute in Stockton, California where he met numerous likeminded musicians, many of whom he still plays with today. On his twentieth birthday, Zaleski moved to New York City, where he studied at the New School and soon began his career as a professional musician.
Like many New York based musicians, Zaleski became a regular on session calls. It was on a particular session to read through some new charts that he met the great saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, who later called him back for a handful of gigs.
Around the same time, Zaleski was asked to play the Side Door jazz club in Connecticut. His regular band members were not available, so he invited bassist Dezron Douglas, whom he had recently met through Coltrane. Zaleski was impressed by Douglas’s understanding of the jazz language and his ability to use it as a springboard to generate new ideas. On drums, he brought Craig Weinrib, with whom he had played on and off since studying at the New School. For the gig, the trio played standards, which went over wonderfully.
Zaleski had grown up learning to play the jazz music canon by listening to his heroes, Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans, most notably Evans’s Everybody Digs Bill Evans and Portrait In Jazz, and knew that he wanted to record his own album of standards. He appreciated their approaches to using straightforward material as vehicles to express their distinct musical language and initiate group interaction. It was their model that he wanted so much to utilize in his own debut recording, for which he had just found his perfect musical foils in Douglas and Weinrib.
For the recording, Zaleski chose nine compositions, seven well-known standards and two by his talented composer friends. He chose his friends’ pieces because they had that special something that makes a standard stand apart, the musical magic formula of singable melody and catchy form. The trio handles them expertly and spontaneously without rehearsal, making for natural music making with a focus on playing.
The program begins with a spirited take of Jerome Kern’s “Nobody Else But Me,” a piece Zaleski had recently recorded and wanted to include with some interesting harmonic adaptations. The lovely “Waltz for MD” is a piece by friend and bassist Rick Rosato, which the trio interprets as brightly wistful. Zaleski first heard Jule Styne’s “Make Someone Happy” on Bill Evans at Town Hall and was reminded how great it was on a recent gig with a vocalist, which led him to rearrange the piece with elements from an earlier composition of his for this touching performance.
Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl” is one of the leader’s favorite blues heads and proves to be an energy packed piece for the trio. Zaleski plays Johnny Green’s revered “Body and Soul” in a key lower than written (as once was requested by a singer during his formative years in high school), which opens the tune up to new translation. Vibraphonist Peter Schlamb’s “REL” is a new favorite amongst this new vanguard and, with its rock vibe, is a nice contrast on the album.
Zaleski’s arrangement of Freddie Hubbard’s underappreciated swinger “Arietis” provides a vibrant workout for the ensemble. The ruminative take of Richard A. Whiting’s “My Ideal” is a wonderful example of Zaleski’s range of expression and interpretation. Closing the disc is Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned” which features a wonderful performance by Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax on his own exquisitely expressive arrangement.
For his debut recording, Glenn Zaleski was able to make My Ideal using a process he felt was ideal to him, playing great music in a relaxed environment with talented musicians and letting the results speak for themselves.
released March 17, 2015
Glenn Zaleski - piano
Dezron Douglas - bass
Craig Weinrib - drums
Ravi Coltrane - tenor saxophone (track 9)