Happy birthday to all friends who were born on September 27! You share the date with the great genius of Jazz piano music – both as a composer and player. Earl Rudolph “Bud” Powell was born on September 27, 1924.
By the time of his premature death on July 31, 1966, Bud Powell, had firmly planted his stake among the top pianists of his generation. To my ears, and to many connoisseurs, Bud Powell was a worthy competitor of Art Tatum, Earl Fatha Hines and their Be-Bop and post-Bop successors.
His mental health challenged him greatly. Substance misuse took its toll. As with many others, harsh racism in America drove him to Europe, first Paris, then Copenhagen, where he was received with grace and treated like royalty. His few recordings in Europe were outstanding works of a man who was carrying many burdens. Every time I listen to Bud Powell, I marvel at the human spirit of resilience in spite of extreme suffering. His recordings from the 1940s and 50s are beautiful, albeit tinged with understandable sadness.
Fifty years later, Bud Powell lives through his music. Check out his recordings on Blue Note. A great one to start with is The Scene Changes. Music Matters Jazz has re-issued an outstanding vinyl pressing of this. Then listen to him play on Dexter Gordon’s Our Man in Paris (Blue Note).
My favourite Bud Powell composition is “Bouncing with Bud.” Other gems include Un Poco Loco, Tempus Fugit and Celia. The story of his first recording of Celia is a classic tale of unimaginable genius. While incarcerated in a mental hospital in 1949, Bud practiced on an old piano on the ward. Fifteen months into his incarceration, he was given a day pass, taken to the recording studio, laid down this masterpiece and was back at the hospital in time for supper.