Piano Jazz My Way
2016 / John Paris
Review by Kathy Parsons
Piano Jazz My Way is the latest award-winning album from jazz master John Paris. Paris has spent most of his life playing and performing jazz piano and has a jaw-dropping command of the 88’s. I’ve been fortunate to have Paris become a regular in my house concert series, and the first thing I noticed about his live playing is how he truly becomes one with the instrument whether he is playing a sultry ballad or a rollicking boogie-woogie. After getting his musical start in Scranton, PA, Paris toured the country as leader, composer, and arranger of his show-band, Atlantis, which was based in Las Vegas. Paris now makes his home in Northern California and teaches music in the public school system, totally debunking the adage that “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach” - he does both amazingly well!
Piano Jazz My Way is a collection of thirteen original piano solos and one original arrangement. The styles range from elegant ballads to up-tempo swing and stride, clearly demonstrating Paris’ versatility. Some of the harmonies are complex and sophisticated yet the music always remains very accessible and expressive. On some of Paris’ earlier recordings, the piano sound wasn’t always the best, but it is excellent on this album.
Piano Jazz My Way begins with an unusual jazz arrangement of “Amazing Grace.” Keeping the melody in the forefront, Paris imbues the song with joy as well as thoughtful reflection. Some of the passages are improvised, but the melody never gets lost - a great opening! “Gone Too Soon” is a quiet tribute to someone dear - melancholy yet healing. As the title implies, “In the Olden Days” is nostalgic but tells its story with a contemporary voice - sometimes slow and reflective, sometimes lively and upbeat. The complex and infectious rhythms and sense of fun in “The Game” make it one of my favorites. Despite the rapid runs all over the piano keyboard, “Guiding Star” has an easy, relaxed feeling. “Soul’s Yearning” is another favorite and makes me think of someone alone at the piano late in the night, playing from the depths of his (or her) soul - stirring and evocative! “Sierra Spring” starts out sounding like a piece from the Baroque era, but the jazz chords give it away. With fingers lightly dancing on the keyboard, this piece expresses joy and happiness in a way that only a pianist of the highest degree can do. By far the longest piece on the album at almost 8 1/2 minutes, “Questions” goes deep within, exploring, questioning, looking for answers that may or not exist. It’s a gorgeous piece and possibly the most personal one in the collection. I’m a real sucker for pieces like “Struttin’.” Playful and joyous, it makes me smile every time I hear it - my favorite track! “Late Night,” a dark, soulful and incredibly beautiful piece, brings this wonderful album to a quiet close.
If you are not yet familiar with John Paris, be sure to check out Piano Jazz My Way. I think you’ll see why he has become one of my favorite pianist/composers! The album is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!
April 3, 2016