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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Walter Norris born 27 December 1931

Walter Norris (December 27, 1931 – October 29, 2011) was an American pianist and composer; a virtuoso whose improvisations could be both very complex harmonically yet often remain melodic. He would have been better known in the U.S. if he had not spent so much time in Germany. 

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on December 27, 1931, Norris first studied piano at home with his mother, then with John Summers, a local church organist. His first professional performances were with the Howard Williams Band in and around Little Rock during his junior high and high school years. (1944-1950).  After graduating from high school, Norris played briefly with Mose Allison, then did a two-year tour in the US Air Force.  

After his time in the Air Force, Norris played with Jimmy Ford in Houston, Texs, (1952-1953), then moved to Los Angeles where he led his own trio in Las Vegas (1953-1954)and  became an integral part of the West Coast Jazz scene. While in Los Angeles, he played on Jack Sheldon's first album and on Ornette Coleman's first album, Something Else! (1958), for Contemporary Records. 
     Here's "Smoke Get's In Your Eyes" from above album.

In 1960, Norris relocated to New York City and formed a trio with guitarist Billy Bean and bassist Hal Gaylor, and the group made one album. Norris took a job at the New York City Playboy Club in 1963 and in time became the club's Director of Entertainment,
remaining there until 1970. Between 1970 and 1974, Norris was a free-lance performer and taught in the New York area. In 1974, he replaced Roland Hanna in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Band. After a tour of Scandinavia, he remained in Europe to record a duo album with double bass player George Mraz, titled Drifting. 

Returning to the states, Norris joined the Charles Mingus Quintet in 1976. In the dressing room prior to a performance, according to Norris, he made the mistake of calling the temperamental Mingus "Charlie" instead of "Charles," which angered Mingus. At that
moment, the stage manager entered the room and told the musicians they were needed onstage immediately, which provided a temporary escape from confrontation. Norris quit the band and accepted a job in Berlin, Germany, as pianist with the Sender Freies Berlin-Orchestra. He moved to Berlin in January 1977 and lived there from that point. He insisted that his fear of Mingus was the primary cause of the move to Europe. 

the 1990s, Walter Norris visited the U.S. several times, recording dates for Concord and displaying his impressive musical growth of the previous 20 years. The resulting recordings were all significant, but especially Sunburst (with saxophonist Joe Henderson), Hues of Blues (with George Mraz), and the Live at Maybeck Recital Hall solo piano album. In 1998, without a record contract, Norris self-financed the album From Another Star, made in New York with bassist Mike Richmond, pressing 1,000 copies. 

A documentary film directed by Chuck Dodson, was completed in 2010 and cn be seen here:
In 2005 an autobiography, "In Search of Musical Perfection" and method book "Essentials for Pianist Improvisers" were released. In July 2006, Norris recorded at his home in Berlin with Los Angeles bassist Putter Smith.

He died on October 29, 2011 at his home in Berlin, Germany, two months prior to what would have been his 80th birthday.  (Info edited from Wikipedia & All Music)

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

For “The Trio” go here:

01. Groove Yard (Perkins) 5:19
02. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Harbach-Kern) 4:57
03. The End of a Love Affair (Redding) 5:09
04. Scramble (Norris) 3:21
05. Out Front (Bean) 4:09
06. Che-Low (Gaylor) 4:08
07. For Heaven’s Sake (Meyer-Bretton) 5:28
08. D. & D. (Norris) 5:03
Bonus tracks:
09. Have You Met Miss Jones (Rodgers-Hart) 4:14
10. Safari (Silver) 4:21
11. All of You (Porter) 3:57
12. Motivation (Bean) 2:42
13. Lands’ End (Land) 7:32
14. Lush Life (Strayhorn) 3:47

Tracks #1-8, from the 12-inch LP "The Trio" (Riverside RLP 380)
Tracks #9-14, promotional recordings also issued on the CD The Trio - Rediscovered (String Jazz SJRCD1007) which contains three more tracks.

Personnel in all tracks:

Walter Norris, piano; Billy Bean, guitar; Hal Gaylor, bass.
Recorded in New York City, June 6 & 30, 1961 (#1-8), and 1962 (#9, 11, 14) and Greenwood Lake, 1961 (#10, 12, 13)
Original Riverside recordings (#1-8) produced by Orrin Keepnews and bonus tracks (#9-14) by The Trio (Gaylor-Norris-Bean)
Recording Engineer: Ray Fowler at Plaza Sound Studios, NYC. (#1-8)

In the early '60s, bassist Hal Gaylor founded a noteworthy but short-lived group that he called the Trio. With Gaylor on upright bass, Walter Norris on acoustic piano, and Billy Bean on electric guitar, the Trio favoured a drum-less format that recalled the Nat King Cole Trio of the 1940s. But anyone who listens to this bop-oriented 1961 session, which was produced by the ubiquitous Orrin Keepnews, will realize that the Trio never went out of its way to emulate Cole's group. While the Nat King Cole Trio is an influence, Norris is far from a Cole imitator -- in 1961, the pianist was well aware of what everyone from Bill Evans to Lennie Tristano to Thelonious Monk had accomplished. Norris was only 29 when this album was recorded, and while The Trio isn't as adventurous as some of the albums that he recorded as a leader in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, it is a pleasing bop date. Gaylor (who switches to cello on his lively "Che-Low") enjoys a strong rapport with Norris and Bean on original material as well as performances of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "The End of a Love Affair" and "For Heaven's Sake." Regrettably, Gaylor and Bean both ended up leaving the music world; in fact, Gaylor gave up jazz to become a certified drug counsellor. Norris, thankfully, never left jazz and was still recording when the 21st century arrived. And we can also be thankful that the Trio, although underexposed and short-lived, is documented on this enjoyable album. (AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson)