By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Something Special
During his youth in Philadelphia, Jimmy Amadie was a typical American kid who was interested in baseball, football and boxing ... and in learning to play the piano, which his father insisted on. Little did young Jimmy know that the former would have such a large impact on the latter. He broke fingers and hands numerous times; they always healed. As time passed, his interest in the piano — and jazz — increased, as did his skill on the instrument. He practiced and played as much as 70 to 80 hours a week, and in 1959 was hired by Woody Herman.
Amadie next accompanied Mel Torme for several years, and also played frequently with icons such as Red Rodney, Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Ventura. Then, finally, the damage that had been done to his fingers and hands during his more athletic days took its toll. Severe tendonitis, and its associated agony, kept Amadie from playing for more than 30 years.
As Amadie puts it, he could only practice and play in his head. He turned instead to writing and teaching.
After seven operations — and treatments that still continue — Amadie began to play again. He was severely restricted, however; his first album took multiple sessions and more than two months to create. This release is the seventh on his long journey back.
The trio setting includes bassist Tony Marino and drummer Bill Goodwin, with whom Jimmy has worked previously. Two of the 10 tracks (“Blues for Sweet Lizzy” and “Happy Man’s Bossa Nova”) are Amadie compositions; the rest are famous standards.
As Jimmy says, “I love the standards, because they allow me to compare my skills to others who have played these tunes.” As a reviewer, I love them for the same reason.
Amadie’s renditions are surprising at times; his introduction and initial chorus will be performed as a ballad, then he’ll shift to a swinging mid-tempo meter: “Sweet Lorraine” and “My Funny Valentine” are excellent examples. Then he’ll take a swinger like “Sweet Georgia Brown” and do it at a much slower tempo than usual. Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” originally recorded as a big-band screamer, is served as a mid-tempo, Latin-tinged toe-tapper. The beautiful “All the Things You Are” begins as a light little swinger, then moves into a more intense rocker that displays Amadie’s prowess as a true jazz pianist, and offers plenty of room for solos by his bassist and drummer.
These are the tunes, and the styles, that were a huge part of jazz’s mid-years. I loved them then, and I still do.