John Salmon, piano: Salmon is a Jumpin’: 12 original compositions by John Salmon* plus music by Hugh C.C. Salmon (“Child’s Evening Prayer”) & E.Y. Harburg & Jay Gorney, arr. Salmon (“Fughetta on Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”), Albany Troy #1224, TT 53:30, ©2010, $16.99, Albany Records.

This self-produced CD was recorded on multiple dates between September 20 and November 22, 2009 in the Organ Hall, School of Music, Theatre and Dance, UNC-Greensboro.**

Normally, as a jazz pianist, I sort of cringe when I am asked to listen to a well-intentioned classical musician’s attempts at jazz, and I would imagine a classical pianist would have the same response if the situation were reversed. The truth is that it is almost impossible for a musician to excel to the same degree in both musical forms. While they are cousins emanating from the same seed (the twelve tone musical system) there are significant differences regarding their purposes and objectives.

The main issue surrounds improvisation – a staple of jazz but not of classical music. In a jazz performance, as in classical music, it is necessary to know scales and chord structures, but it also requires the additional ability to respond to those structures with a creative immediacy not required in classical performance. I have known a number of classical musicians who had a flair for jazz and thought about an occasional performance but decided to give it up fearing that one style would corrupt the other.

Without knowing anything about John Salmon, I approached this assignment with a slight bit of trepidation, trying hard to offer his work an open mind. I didn’t even want to read his liner notes (which are excellent, by the way!) so that I would only be affected by his piano artistry. After listening to Salmon is a Jumpin’ I must say that John Salmon, to my ear, has successfully bridged the difficult gap between jazz and classical performance.

Let me begin my critique by saying that I was extremely impressed with Salmon’s virtuosity and tenacious pursuit of accuracy – accuracy you would expect from a man of his background and training. I was impressed with the variety of musical styles he chose in his song selections and the fact that he chose to accompany himself, in differing degrees, on all fourteen selections. He succeeded in this rather difficult process without resorting to over-dramatized trills and arpeggios, which some musicians consider “Jazzing it up!”; instead, he created a more powerful dynamic of sound and feel and, by the way, played solos over real chord changes. I was also impressed with the quality of the sound recording achieved by sound engineer Bobby Gage.

What I was most impressed with, however, was Salmon’s sense of feel and rhythmic comprehension which allow him to move easily from Latin to a straight ahead walk. His knowledge and appreciation of America’s jazz idiom is obvious, and his ability to improvise is not limited to a single style. He has “big ears” as we say in jazz, and he moves easily through some rather difficult material. He utilizes a broad range of expression and dynamic sensitivity, moving effortlessly from a tender passage to a full-blown rage. I applaud the performance and the work, and I highly recommend it as a new addition to your listening library.

Salmon is a jumpin’. Nice meeting you!

*John Salmon: Small Diamond, Imitation Rock, Purcell’s Lament, Scatitude, Mari Pino, Mambo Madness, Des Abends, Bossa Bachiana, Blue Noon, Congo, Very Larry, & Salmon Is A Jumpin’.

**Composer/pianist Salmon writes, “There are a lot of connections between this project and North Carolina. (1) Grants given to me in 2009 by the North Carolina Arts Council ($10,000) and the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro ($1,500) helped to fund this recording. (2) The recording engineer, Bobby Gage, is from Winston-Salem; the piano technician, John Foy, is from Greensboro; & the CD cover artist, Russell Scott, is from Winston-Salem. (3) The disc was recorded … while I was on a research leave, generously supported by Dr. John Deal, dean of the UNCG School of Music, Theatre and Dance.”