Lennie Tristano

My collegiate piano instructor, Ed Paolantonio, learned his trade form Lennie Tristano, a great but oft-overlooked hero of jazz piano.  This I have always known; what is news to me is that Tristano was blind from birth, a trait that would go on to influence his jazz education methodology tremendously and help shape the way his students approached the keyboard.  Secondarily, I learned that my favored technique of walking a bassline in the left hand is textbook Tristano stylings.  Here's Lennie playing Tangerine:


Three cheers for Tristano!  What a distinctive touch. He was never afraid to hammer away, something that I saw Ed doing time and time again.  Lennie has also learned to swing hard between his two hands by pushing the bassline ever forward and causing the melody to appear further behind, although this results in a tendency to speed up.  Normally this type of rhythmic interplay would be between instruments.

I love watching how his hands have eyes of their own as they find their way across the keyboard--it reminds me of the endless scales and finger dexterity/flexibility exercises that are part of his method.  Now that I understand his blindness, I see how he would emphasize so strongly the fingers and their ability to walk around the keyboard.  It seems, however, that there might be room for another structured approach that is more intuitive and less rote.  Hopefully I'll be able to fill that gap.

Finally, note how harmonically complex his playing is -- his chords and scales are nearly treated the same, and melodic contour is difficult to pull out of densely stacked harmonies.  His freely improvised section has no real melodic motion; just harmonic and PAINED insistence. It's fantastic.