Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Greatest Musician You've Never Heard Of

I was General Manager of Slipped Disc, the record store at SUNY-Binghamton (now the loftier and more athletically high end Binghamton University) during my junior and senior years. The best part in holding that position, besides whiling away the hours talking music with fellow students such as Paul Lukas ( and Uni Watch -
and David Bolotsky (creator of Uncommon Goods -, was that in lieu of a cash stipend, managers received free records. My wise predecessors created an elaborate point system, different list prices having different point values, which maximized the take. So, after my junior year, my needs were pretty much satiated in the pop/rock/new wave genres.

Where to turn? Classical was, and still is, something I avoid with great determination. Why not go for some jazz? We had a cutout bin, the home for cheaper albums, so a handful of discs would give me a nice starting sampler, while not draining any of my precious points. I can still remember what I started with - a double Art Blakey set on Blue Note, a Chick Corea LP (which I hated) and Freddie Hubbard's Ready for Freddie. From this humble beginning a jazz fan was born.

Out of college, working on Wall St., a group of co-workers milled about, beers in hand, around the South Street Seaport. This must have been in the summer of '85. Talk turned to music and one person, went on about the greatest saxophone player ever. I was just a year or so out of school, so I was ready for a talk like that, having been long removed from chats at Slipped Disc. Who would he name - Sonny Rollins (my favorite), John Coltrane. Maybe he would be more of an alto guy - Charlie Parker, Art Pepper. None of the above. The greatest sax player of all time was, wait for it, Clarence Clemons of Springsteen's E Street Band. It took years for my jaw to return to its proper alignment. I tried to explain the relative suckiness of The Big Man in comparison to the aforementioned geniuses. I got nowhere.

Now to the topic at hand. The greatest player out there today is Canadian pianist John Stetch. It's not Billy Joel or Elton John. Stetch, who began playing piano at the advanced age of 18, teaching himself to play TV theme songs, has an impressive pedigree. Prix du Jazz winner at the Montreal Jazz Festival, Stetch has played at the top festivals in the world - Monterey and Paris JVC to name but two. He put out a solo piano trilogy that will blow you away. The three discs, Ukrainianism, Standards and Exponentially Monk may be the best collective jazz set of the last 20 years. After the solo project, Stetch returned to a trio format with Bruxin', a collection of originals that drew comparisons to the great Bill Evans trios of the 1960's.

Now, Stetch returns to his original primer, the TV theme. His latest disc TV Trio is an amazing tour de force of musical originality and rhythmic creation with all the comfort and familiarity of a warm blanket. His takes on Star Trek, Love Boat and Rocky and Bullwinkle are startling in their newness and will leave the listen awestruck. Each cut on the CD is a gem and well worth the listen.

John Stetch - the greatest musician you've never heard of. But don't worry, that can be corrected simply by buying his latest CD. You won't regret it and you'll end up being the hippest person in the office. Your ears and your brain will thank you.


Dodger said...

Where does Cannonball Adderly (check my spelling on that) fall on you list of great sax players? I thought he was one of the best of the '60s, and I happened to see him live in a place about the size of a postage stamp. I'll now have to listen to Stetch.

anne said...

I'd have to throw the very smooth Coleman Hawkins into the mix. Even when the planet turned cold on you he promised, and delivered, a warm breeze at your back...