Few Jazz lovers in Europe will have heard of Tom Talbert - and that is probably also true of the USA. Tom Talbert was known only to insiders, meaning of course, musicians and those closely associated with the world of Jazz. In other words Tom Talbert is the original unsung hero. The guy all of the musicians dug. The kind of background figure who was, in his own way, just as important as the Jazz giants who became internationally famous. Tom Talbert composer/arranger (he was modest concerning his own piano talents) was the man who was responsible for a very early form of Jazz fusion. But nothing to do with synthesizers and rock/Jazz - nothing down-home funky, you understand. Tom Talbert brought his instinct for classical music to bear in relation to his instinct for Jazz.
Remember the West Coast thing? All those flutes and altos, blossoming ensemble writing that was the stuff of color made over into sound? Talbert was a forerunner. One might even suggest the forerunner. Maybe before Kenton, that is - we mean as early as the 1940s.
Talbert also seems to have tamed some the frenetic drive of some of the wilder musicians playing at the time. On the other hand we read that Talbert's arrangements were not easy to play, and this may well have had a subduing effect on the people involved. Not that Talbert was concerned with subduing anyone's output (it seems that he rarely uttered a word of criticism at rehearsal), it was simply that his arrangements demanded more than just the ability to blow.
Tom Talbert's relative obscurity was, as many musicians relate in the book, due to his lack of interest in playing an instrument himself. He thought little of his own ability as a pianist and remained pretty low in profile when it came to gaining public attention. It is also suggested that he simply wasn't the pushy type. The book - containing some interesting commentary from contemporaries - also suggests that Talbert didn't need the money, which meant that he was able to concentrate on writing the kind of "art music" that knocked out other musicians and got close to rave reviews in the Jazz periodicals, but was not exactly what gained anybody universal acclaim. He also concentrated pretty closely on classical music and found some interest in literature. He was, thus, a man of wide interests - he even owned a ranch at one stage.
The book reads nicely. There is the usual stuff about running around the night spots, meeting other musicians, becoming part of the scene. Musicians will recognize the lifestyle and the experiences related. Just about all of the musicians quoted in the book seem unanimous in the opinion that Talbert was one of a kind, a man who trod his own path and never contracted his own musical philosophy.
The real bonus, however, is the CD sampler, included with the book and containing a fair selection of Talbert's work from between 1949 and 1999. It is little wonder that such later talents as Maria Schneider has such glowing praise for Talbert's arranging. The music really is amazingly modern for the time. There are also some pretty tunes, together with the glorious arrangements, with a couple of numbers sung by Patty McGovern. For the CD alone the book is worth buying
We read that Tom Talbert is currently writing new music and planning to make studio recordings of his classical compositions. We can only applaud and hope that the man reaps the rewards he so justly deserves. Yours truly would love to get a hold of some of the earlier works. Don't let the opportunity pass to learn more about the man. His is the stuff of real quality and the Jazz world, and anyone with an interest in composing and arranging should be made more aware off the fact.
by Lawrence Brazier
Jazz Now Interactive September 2004 Vol 14 No. 5 - Table of Contents
Copy right: Jazz Now, September 2004 Vol 14 No. 5
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