Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Herbie Brock's 'Herbie's Room'

I recently wrote an article in Spanish about Herbie Brock, who is possibly one of the most obscure pianists in jazz history and sadly forgotten these days. That post was about his 1956 Savoy album, Brock's Tops, one of merely six records he made between 1955 and 1965, most of which aren't even available on CD. The only full-length writing I've found about Brock is this entry in Wall Street Journal jazz critic Marc Myers's blog, JazzWax, and in it, Myers tells us that Brock learned to play the piano, the organ, and the saxophone while attending the State School for the Blind in Batavia, NY, and then appeared in clubs in Rochester and even toured as a piano duo with one Buddy Satan, who was his brother-in-law. In the early 1950s, Brock relocated to Florida, soon garnering quite a reputation at Miami's Onyx Club, which led to his mid-'50s recordings for Savoy and Criteria. As far as we know, Brock didn't make any further records after 1965, though he kept appearing live in clubs, mostly around Florida and the Miami area.

Herbie's Room is his third album, and the only one he made for Criteria (fortunately reissued in 2000 by VSOP), and it was recorded live in August 1957 at a club called Herbie's Room, apparently because, as the liner notes by Jeff Barr state, "the owner had Brock at the keyboard seven days a week." On the eight tracks—most of them standards—Brock is accompanied by Brooks Caperton on bass and Bill Ladley on drums, and his very attractive piano style mixes swing and bop in equal parts, clearly reflecting the influence of both Art Tatum and Bud Powell, two pianists that Brock admired greatly. Brock is at his most boppish on Sonny Rollins's "Doxy" and Lennie Niehaus's "Johnny Jaguaar," and although this album doesn't include any of his own compositions, he imbues every track with his highly personal style, taking "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," for instance, at a faster tempo than is customary. Ballads such as "Tenderly," "My Funny Valentine," and "Laura" are full of Tatum-esque runs and sense of drama and suggest that Brock must have been listening to piano virtuosi like Eddy Duchin and Carmen Cavallaro. I love the very poetic way in which Myers sums up Brock's contribution to jazz, calling him "another superb jazz ship passing in the night." Albums like Herbie's Room leave no doubt that it's high time we brought him back out of obscurity.

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