It may be fiber optics that make it possible to hear a pin drop over a phone line, but jazz pianist Dick Hyman accomplished the task all by himself Saturday night in a rare Los Angeles appearance at Le Cafe.
Playing before a rapt audience liberally sprinkled with local musicians curious to examine his highly touted credentials, New Yorker Hyman quickly transformed the familiar hustling and bustling ambiance of the jazz club into the hushed environs of a small and intimate recital room.
The change seemed precisely right, an appropriate setting for the concertizing virtues of technical assurance and historical veracity which were Hyman's primary attributes--an almost casual capacity to whip off long, astonishingly complex improvised lines that often recreated the entire history of jazz in a single solo.
Occasionally glancing at one of the song sheets loosely scattered across the top of the unamplified piano, more frequently staring fixedly into the heart of his music as his fingers sped their way independently across the keyboard, Hyman made few obeisances to the niceties of commercial programming.
An opening stride-drenched romp through Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin' " was followed immediately by a dramatically different, piquantly contemporary examination of the same composer's "Honeysuckle Rose."
Without even the suggestion of a tongue in cheek, he shifted into highly romantic, but never romanticized, interpretations of the appropriately titled "I'll Take Romance" and the rarely heard "I'll Never Stop Loving You," (best-known prior to now, perhaps, as a feature in a Doris Day musical film).
More revivalist material followed, with the stirring syncopations of James P. Johnson's "Keep Off the Grass," Scott Joplin's classic "Gladiolus Rag" and "Heliotrope Bouquet" and Bix Beiderbecke's moody requiem "In A Mist."
Hyman's enormous expertise in the arcane rhythmic and ornamental techniques of stride piano, ragtime and the like would make it easy, even appropriate in some respects, to praise him as a classicist--a performer who both preserves and rejuvenates the great body of American jazz and pre-jazz music.
But his memorable and intellectually provocative recital Saturday night made it clear that Hyman is far more than a keeper of the archives. He is a true jazz original, in his own right.