Friday, November 23, 2018

Keyboard artistry on parade

You'd have to look far and wide to find anyone matching Bobby van Deusen's talents at the piano. He's a master of a wide range of jazz styles, possesses fine classical chops and astonishing technique.
Bobby van Deusen

All of that - and then some - was on display Friday, November 23 at the South County Jazz Club's matinee season concert opener in Venice FL. 

Pensacola-based van Deusen, a former member of the Barbary Coast Dixieland Band  who also paid his dues backing trumpeter Al Hirt in New Orleans, can dig into the styles of many piano greats. But even when he mines those distinctive sounds, he quickly adds a special something that makes the tune his own for the moment.

Ragtime, stride, American Songbook ballads, instrumental jazz classics, bossa nova, show tunes and movie themes are all fair game here.

Here are just a few examples of gems within his 19-tune afternoon, divided nearly equally in his two sets at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice:
  • Van Deusen's opener, Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk," began with a few bars of the Brubeck piano sound, then quickly shifted to something darker and bluesy, as if Oscar Peterson was swinging through the house. 
  • "Send in the Clowns" was an unusual treat. Van Deusen played the thickly-chorded tune with only his left hand.
  • Anthony Newley's "Can You Read My Mind (Love Theme from Superman)," alternated between moments of keyboard thunder and delicacy.
  • Midway through Fats Waller's classic "Honeysuckle Rose," ven Deusen let the song evolve into a seamless string of familiar holiday melodies, including "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells." Later in the concert, he added some Vince Guaraldi feel to a beautiful rendition of "Silver Bells."
  • Van Deusen dug deep into "Poinciana," which Ahmad Jamal turned into an instrumental jazz classic in the late 1950s. But on this occasion, he went back to the tune's original 1930s arrangements, transforming it with a darker, pensive exploration of the melody rather than Jamal's more-familiar approach.
  • A romp through "Bourbon Street Parade" let the pianist explore a bit of Professor Longhair's R&B-based sound before strutting off with his own Crescent City feel.
The afternoon also included some Scott Joplin,Earl "Fatha" Hines, Erroll Garner, George Gershwin and Johnny Guarnieri material, as well as a six-minute condensed version of van Deusen's crowd-pleasing "Phantom of the Opera" medley.

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