Lynne ArrialeLynne Arriale

photo by Jean-Marc Lubrano


Lynne Arriale: A Refreshing New Talent On The Jazz Scene

by Mike Hennessey

In its 100-year-plus history, Jazz has been sorely afflicted by the scourge of white U.S. America's institutionalised discrimination against black people, a virulent prejudice made all the more contemptible by the fact that Jazz is quintessentially the gift of America's black citizens who have been primarily responsible for the creation and development of what has often been called the country's only original art form.

But an equally pernicious form of discrimination, which has pervaded the Jazz scene for decades, is sexual discrimination, though this form of mindless prejudice has been only minimally documented, perhaps because, like the profession of Jazz musician itself, writing about Jazz has long been a predominantly male preserve.

Back in February 1938, the U.S. American magazine Down Beat saw fit to publish a thoroughly obnoxious feature headed, "Why Women Musicians Are Inferior". Included in this fatuous, bigoted article was the comment: "Outside a few sepia females, the woman musician never was born capable of sending anyone further than the nearest exit."

It came as no surprise whatsoever that the author of this puerile, sexist diatribe did not have the courage to put his name to it.

In a response to the article, published in the April 1938 issue of the magazine, multi-instrumentalist Peggy Gilbert, who led several all-women bands in the 1930s, listed the discriminatory conditions which women players had to endure, including the psychological effects of being hired entirely for non-musical reasons. "Men," she said, "have always refused to work with girls, thus not giving them the opportunity to prove their equality."

Audrey Hall Petroff, another talented multi-instrumentalist and bandleader, used to recall that during her playing career, which extended from the 1920s to the 1950s, she was constantly told: "We'd hire you if you weren't a girl." And she told Sally Placksin, author of the excellently documented book, Jazz Women, first published in the USA by Wideview Books in 1982, that when she sought engagements for her all-women band, she found that agents "wanted a band of 16-year-old girls who had thirty years' experience."

While women Jazz and blues singers and keyboard players have had less of a struggle to gain acceptance, horn players, bassists, guitarists and drummers have always faced an uphill battle.

It was frequently the case that when men were moved to praise the talent of women Jazz instrumentalists, they committed the ritual sin of making their comment too long by three words: "Hey, she plays damn" well, for a woman."

Can you imagine how outraged a male musician would be if a woman said to him, "Hey, you play damn' well for a black/white guy"?

Happily, however, there are now signs that, after decades of discrimination, women Jazz musicians are actually beginning to be judged on their merits. And not before time!

Accomplished artists like Terri Lyne Carrington, Cindy Blackman, Jane Ira Bloom, Regina Carter and Diana Krall have had less of a struggle to win recognition that their predecessors suffered. And the superb all-female big band, DIVA, has won resounding critical acclaim. It would seem that it has finally been recognised that sexist prejudice is completely unsustainable in the light of the outstanding talents of these musicians.

What's more, the Grove Dictionary of Jazz, in its new three-volume, £360 edition, has finally acknowledged the existence of women Jazz musicians by including an essay on the subject.

Few women Jazz musicians in recent history have been accorded the level of adulation that has been shown for pianist Lynne Arriale. There has rarely been such a concerted chorus of acclaim for a new Jazz arrival, and certainly not for a female Jazz instrumentalist. Indeed, some of the paeans of praise have been toe-curlingly over the top.

It has been said of Lynne Arriale's second album, for example, that it "bears indices of an authentic artist of stature via a stirring blend of immutable confidence, uncompromising dedication, piano mastery and fiery self-assertiveness, expressed in the transect of her glowingly beautiful music as a poised performer, composer and arranger."

Another critic wrote that Ms Arriale "has the ability to meld spectacular technique with heart-tugging emotion."

Another spoke of "breathtaking beauty and transcendent power" and yet another observed that her music comes from "the synaptic intersection where brain meets heart, where body meets soul."

There has been much, much more extravagantly eulogistic comment. However, one thing is certain, Lynne Arriale is too much of a realist to be carried away by this torrent of adoration. She is her own sternest critic and sets herself the highest of standards.

American critic Bill Milkowski had it about right when, writing of Lynne's fifth CD release, Melody, he said: "...the abundantly talented Arriale should take her rightful place alongside Brad Mehldau, Bill Charlap and Jacky Terrasson as one of the vital new voices on the Jazz scene."

I asked Lynne if, when she first began playing professionally, male prejudice had affected the pace of development of her career and she replied:

"It is a difficult question to answer because it is hard to say how different my career would have been if I played exactly as I do but happened to be a man. It is possible, I suppose, that I might have had an easier time. It is important for me to maintain a really positive attitude all the time. If a playing opportunity arises and gender is an issue, then I just won't accept it.

Happily, no one has ever said to me, "Hey, you play pretty well for a woman.! "

An adopted child, Lynne Arriale grew up in Milwaukee in a non-musical family, but her natural, inherent affinity for music soon manifested itself. At the age of three she was playing melodies on an 18-inch toy piano.

At four she began taking piano lessons and immediately showed a remarkably precocious talent.

She went on to study classical music at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and obtained a master's degree. She was in her mid-twenties when she made an abrupt and momentous decision to switch to Jazz.

She says, "I had this thought as I was walking down the street, it just suddenly hit me that I should take up Jazz. Up to that time I didn't really know what Jazz was, I guess I had heard about a couple of hours of it in total while I was at college. The idea of improvising on a chord sequence was magical to me."

Lynne had the good fortune to study Jazz with David Hazeltine, a most accomplished musician and teacher who was chairman of the Jazz department at the Wisconsin Conservatory, where he, too, had studied from 1976 to l979. In 1978 he became house pianist at Milwaukee's Jazz Gallery, where he played with Chet Baker, Sonny Stitt and Eddie Harris. He later worked with Jon Hendricks, Junior Cook, Slide Hampton, Louis Hayes and Jerome Richardson.

Lynne recalls: "David had me transcribe themes and solos by musicians such as Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Cedar Walton. His taste in Jazz was very strongly orientated towards bebop, which I think provides a very good foundation."

Lynne cites Keith Jarrett as her major source of inspiration. "When I first heard him," she says, "a light went on in my brain. He doesn't play to a formula, he doesn't play licks. The level of inspiration I have received from him is beyond words." She has also drawn inspiration from the work of Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk and Monty Alexander (listen to her composition, "I Love A Calypso" for evidence of that).

In the summer of 1991, Lynne moved to New York and began sending demo tapes to the city's Jazz clubs. One evening, during a jam session, she met drummer Steve Davis, there was an immediate rapport and they decided to work together.

Two years after her move to New York, Lynne was invited to replace Marian McPartland (who was unavailable) on two-and-a-half week tour of Japan, entitled "100 Golden Fingers", which featured Monty Alexander, Kenny Barron, Ray Bryant, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Roger Kellaway, Harold Mabern, Junior Mance and Cedar Walton.

1993 was, in fact, a landmark year for Arriale. She was one of more than a hundred competitors who entered the Great American Jazz Competition in Jacksonville, Florida, and she carried off the first prize.

It was also in that year that Lynne formed her trio with Steve Davis on drums and Jay Anderson on bass and, in November, the group made its recording début with The Eyes Have It, which reached the No. 15 spot in the US Jazz chart. The second album, When You Listen, got to No. 6

Since then the Lynn Arriale Trio has produced five more albums and has performed in Canada, Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Italy.

The Arriale-Davis-Anderson collaboration is one of great cohesion and compatibility. It works as a trio and not as a pianist with rhythm accompaniment. And it benefits enormously from the fact that its repertoire is extremely wide-ranging ñ embracing compositions by Jobim, Paul McCartney, Monk, Gillespie, Leonard Bernstein, Burt Bacharach, Horace Silver, Chick Corea, Duke Ellington, William Walton and also Lynne Arriale herself, who is a most gifted composer, try the title track from her album, When You Listen.

Another key factor in the impact made by the trio is the fact that its leader is extremely adept at creating refreshingly new treatments of well-worn standards. Her bravura arrangement of "America" from West Side Story, with its infectious West Indian rhythm, is superb; and she invests "It Don't Mean A Thing" with a whole new character by performing it in a lazy reggae tempo.

She retrieves and renews great but neglected standards like Ralph Rainger and Dorothy Parker's "I Wished On The Moon" and she gives a whole new life to the My Fair Lady song, "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" by rendering it as a ballad.

Lynne Arriale is currently studying with a classical teacher once again because, she says, "I want to develop my technique so that I have something in reserve. I don't believe in technique for the sake of technique, the important thing is to have it, but to know how to control it and how to use it creatively, sensitively. When you decide to end a solo, it should not be because you are worn out but because you have nothing more to say on that particular number.

"There is so much still to do and life is too short. If I could practise 24 hours a day it still wouldnít be enough!"

Lynne Arriale Discography

The Eyes Have It. dmp CD-502. Recorded November 16, 1993.

Lynne Arriale (p); Jay Anderson (b); Steve Davis (d).

My Funny Valentine; Witchcraft; My Man's Gone Now; Heartsong;

Yesterdays; Elegy; Alone Together; The Eyes Have It; Blues For T. J.; My One And Only Love.

When You Listen. dmp CD-511. Recorded December 16, 17, 1994.

Lynne Arriale (p); Drew Gress (b); Steve Davis (d).

How Deep Is The Ocean; My Shining Hour; Waiting And Watching; Bess, You Is My Woman Now; You And The Night And The Music; Slinky; Lonely Woman; Seven Steps To Heaven; When You Listen; I Love A Calypso; In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.

With Words Unspoken. dmp CD-518. Recorded May 20, 1996

Lynne Arriale (p); Drew Gress (b); Steve Davis (d).

Think Of One; Woody 'n' You; With Words Unspoken; Windswept; The Peacocks; A Promise Broken; Zingaro; I Loves You Porgy; Where Or When.

A Long Road Home. TCB 97952. Recorded April 1997.

Lynne Arriale (p); John Patitucci (b); Steve Davis (d).

Bye-Ya; Will O' The Wisp; A Night In Tunisia; Wouldn't It Be Loverly?; Letters From Mike O'Brien; Con Alma; I Wished On The Moon; The Dove; A Long Road Home.

Melody. TCB 99552. Recorded December 1998.

Lynne Arriale (p); Scott Colley (b); Steve Davis (d).

Tuning; The Forgotten Ones; Beautiful Love; But Beautiful; Dance; Hush-A-Bye; It Ain't Necessarily So; Touch Her Soft Lips And Part; The Highlands.

Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival. TCB 20252. Recorded July 4, 1999.

Lynne Arriale (p); Jay Anderson (b); Steve Davis (d).

Alone Together; Evidence; With Words Unspoken; Seven Steps To Heaven; Think Of One; Estate; Calypso; An Affair To Remember.

Inspiration. TCB. Recorded September 2001.

Lynne Arriale (p); Jay Anderson (b); Steve Davis (d).

U.S. America; It Donít Mean A Thing; Blackbird; A House Is Not A Home; Bemsha Swing; So Tender; Tones For Joanís Bones; Feeling Good; The Nearness Of You; Mountain Of The Night.

Arise. Motema. Recorded August 2002.

Lynne Arriale (p); Jay Anderson (b); Steve Davis (d).

Frévo; American Woman; Arise; Lean On Me; Esperanza; Change The World; The Fallen; Upswing; Kum Ba Ya.

Lynne Arriale Trio's CD Arise was reviewed in the July 2003 edition of Jazz Now Interactive, click here to peruse!

by Mike Hennessey

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