You may be in the mood on this first day of summer for something less white heat than what Bud Powell’s playing typically brings to mind, in which case be sure to take a look at this footage once the temperature drops; then again, this might be just the cool you need. Here’s the great pianist in a series of gigs filmed in Paris and Copenhagen between 1959 and ’62. By then, some of Bud’s creative fervor had subsided, but there’s plenty of beauty and proficiency in these performances filmed at the Blue Note and Club Saint-Germain in Paris and Café Montmartre in Copenhagen.
The Saint-Germain set opens with Bud’s trio featuring Kenny Clarke on drums and the Parisian bassist Pierre Michelot playing “Crossing the Channel” and “Blues in the Closet.” Then trumpeter Clark Terry and the Nice-born saxophonist Barney Wilen join them for “No Problem,” “Pie Eye,” “52nd Street Theme,” and “Miguel’s Party.”
At the Blue Note, Bud opens with a thrilling trio workout on “Get Happy,” followed by his original “John’s Abbey.” Saxophonist Lucky Thompson and guitarist Jimmy Gourley are then featured on “Anthropology,” which fades after a brilliant exchange of fours between Thompson and Clarke.
Bud sounds even more engaged with the “Anthropology” he plays in Copenhagen with the teenaged bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and drummer Jorn Elniff.
And here’s footage of Bud playing “‘Round Midnight.” Powell persuaded bandleader Cootie Williams to make the first recording of Thelonious Monk’s great composition in 1943 when he was a member of the trumpeter’s outfit, and it remained in Bud’s repertoire.
The camera work at the Blue Note and Montmartre is especially valuable for the perspective it gives of Bud’s finger work at the keyboard. Pianist Lennie Tristano, who praised Powell without reservation, said that Bud taught him the importance of expressing feelings. In Eunmi Shim’s biography Lennie Tristano: His Life and Music, she quotes from an interview that Lennie gave his student Jon Easton: “I played opposite Bud a lot. It began to get into my own feeling and my own approach to the keyboard, which is to say that you not only transmit what you hear but what you feel at the most profound level. Which means, your fingers have to reproduce not only sounds but feelings.”
Powell was one of the most influential yet tragic figures of modern jazz, the pianistic counterpart to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Mental illness, alcohol abuse, electroshock and drug (mis)treatments, all perhaps stemming from a severe beating by Philadelphia police when he was around 20, hampered his career. His life became increasingly chaotic and his playing more erratic throughout the ‘50’s, and in 1959 he moved to France. His years abroad are perhaps the best-documented of his life, particularly through the writings of his devoted admirer Francis Paudras, whose book Dance of the Infidels served as the basis for the celebrated film, ‘Round Midnight, in which Dexter Gordon played a composite of Powell and Lester Young.
Powell returned to his native New York City in 1964, and died there two years later at the age of 41. In 1979, Bill Evans said of him, “If I had to choose one single musician for his artistic integrity, for the incomparable originality of his creation and the grandeur of his work, it would be Bud Powell. He was in a class by himself.”