11:31am

Fri December 14, 2012
NPR Story

Steve Kuhn On Piano Jazz

Steve Kuhn's resume is a virtual who's-who of the jazz world. As a teenager, he sat in with Coleman Hawkins and Chet Baker; after college, he studied with Gunther Schuller and Bill Evans, and he played in John Coltrane's original quartet. (Kuhn left to work with Kenny Dorham and was replaced by McCoy Tyner.)

Kuhn kicks off the program with his shimmering rendition of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz." Kuhn brings an understated, impressionistic feel to the bravura stride piano usually associated with Waller. Kuhn began listening to jazz before he could walk, and Waller's music was among the first sounds he heard.

"I never saw Fats live, but my father had his 78s," Kuhn says. "When I was a baby, my father had a record collection including Basie, Ellington, Benny Goodman and Fats. When I was a baby, I would respond to this music."

Kuhn began studying piano at age 5, and as a teen he sat in with host Marian McPartland's Hickory House Trio in New York.

"It was fun having somebody young like you, who could come and play and amaze people," McPartland says.

Next, Kuhn performs the poignant "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," followed by a duet with McPartland on the lighthearted "Emily," from the 1964 film The Americanization of Emily.

McPartland maintains the mellow feel of the session with her original tune, "There'll Be Other Times." The composition has an element of poignancy, which nicely compliments the subsequent duet with Kuhn on the tune "Too Late Now," from the 1951 film Royal Wedding.

The session continues with another Steve Kuhn solo in "Repetition," a tune recorded by Charlie Parker during the well-known Bird With Strings sessions produced by Norman Granz.

"I think it's a great tune, and Bird is one of my all-time heroes," Kuhn says.

The two pianists get together for two more duets: the Broadway tune "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," and the up-tempo Miles Davis favorite "Walkin'," to end this Piano Jazz session.

Originally recorded Jan. 19, 2007. Originally broadcast Feb. 19, 2008.

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