Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 8 March 1927, NYC) Piano, organ, arranger, composer. His mother and his uncle were accomplished pianists; his older brother was a dedicated record collector. He played piano and clarinet from an early age; went to Columbia University and had lessons from Teddy Wilson after winning a jazz piano contest on the radio. After service in the U.S. Navy '45-6 he finished college '48 and became the house pianist when Birdland opened, also playing with society band Lester Lanin. He played with Red Norvo '49-50, toured Europe with Benny Goodman '50, and recorded for MGM '54-8 (a trio record of 'Moritat' was a top ten hit '56). He was on staff at NBC, was music director for Arthur Godfrey at CBS '58-61, and had a lot of work as a composer/arranger.

For years he spent much of the time rushing from one studio to another. He was young when broadcasting was still young; he did everything and enjoyed it all, playing the organ themes on soap operas and on the game show Beat The Clock. The record business was fun too in the '50s-60s: for bandleader and label boss Enoch Light he arranged and recorded 'honky tonk' piano as Knuckles O'Toole: Billy Rowland was Knuckles before Hyman; then on Light's various labels Hyman recorded ragtime as Puddinhead Smith, Rip Chord and Willy 'The Rock' Knox. He said that Light sometimes published the same recordings under the different names; for other companies he was Slugger Ryan and Good Time Charlie. 'Crazy times!' he told Shaen Fox in an interview in 2011.

Hyman arranged strict-tempo dance music like Lanin's, even became a polka band (in fact, several polka bands) for Reader's Digest. His settings of Shakespeare were recorded by Earl Wrightson (Shakespeare's Greatest Hits '64); he scored TV programmes of Sir John Gielgud's recitations of Shakespeare '66. His many compositions and publications include Duets In Odd Meters And Far-Out Rhythms '65, a piano concerto, works for Moog, solos for organ, editions or arrangements of piano solos by Leonard Feather, Jelly Roll Morton etc. Along with his studio and commercial work he has always played jazz: at Eddie Condon's club (and with Condon at the 1972 Newport Festival), and at Dick Gibson's Colorado Jazz Parties annually from '67. He had written arrangements for Light's band; interesting himself in electronics, he recorded The Electric Eclectics Of Dick Hyman and Pieces For Moog for Command and Traditional Jazz Piano and Solo Piano Fantomfingers on Project 3, both Light's labels; Shakespeare, Sullivan And Hyman with Maxine Sullivan and Back Home Again with Lee Wiley on Monmouth-Evergreen have been reissued on Audiophile CDs, where he also accompanied Sandy Stewart in Jerome Kern; Theme And Variations On 'A Child Is Born' was on Chiaroscuro: twelve variations in the style of twelve different jazz pianists including Hyman; he also recorded with Ruby Braff on that label. Also Cleopatra with Paul Gonsalves on Impulse; Let It Happen on RCA by the Jazz Piano Quartet with Hank Jones, Marion McPartland and Roland Hanna; Jelly Roll Morton Orchestral Transcriptions on Columbia; Satchmo Remembered on Atlantic (live at Carnegie Hall); Waltz Dressed As Blue on Grapevine, and many more, mostly out of print.

Somewhere along the way there was Stridin' The Classics on Jazz Connoisseur, keyboard duets with German pianist Bernd Lhotzky; Dan Morgenstern's notes pointed out that Chopin's Etude Op. 25 No. 9 (the 'Butterfly' etude) could almost be by James P. Johnson.

After decades of being a chameleon, he was becoming better known in his own right as a master of jazz repertory: among countless gigs he was a highlight at the Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee '85, playing with Peanuts Hucko's Pied Piper Quintet (with Bob Haggart, Canadian vibraphonist Peter Appleyard (d 17 July 2013, Eden Mills Ontario, aged 84), drummer Gene Estes) as well as playing superb solo sets of the music of Willie 'The Lion' Smith, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, etc; ten years later it was a lecture-recital of the entire history of jazz piano from ragtime to the avant-garde, at Wilkes U. in Pennsylvania. About 20 more CDs listed in Schwann '97 on MusicMasters, Music and Arts, Stomp Off, Concord (including a Maybeck solo disc); Elegies, Mostly '95 on Gemini was a duo with bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen; Swing Is Here '96 on Reference was a septet with Ken Peplowski on clarinet plus vocalist Nancy Marano; Cheek To Cheek on Arbors was a trio with bass and guitar.

Still at it in the new century, Hyman's Teddy Wilson In 4 Hands on Victoria Company was a piano duo with Chris Hopkins, recorded in Switzerland in 2006. Dick Hyman's Century of Jazz Piano 2010 on Arbors reissues the project mnentioned above, about 120 pieces recorded on a Yamaha Disklavier, now a five-CD set and a DVD with 13 hands-on lessons and four video performances: the scholar and craftsman Hyman affectionately captures the styles of nearly 100 jazz pianists, plus John Coltrane. Read John McDonough's article from the Wall Street Journal about this fascinating project here.