Tommy Flanagan

Early one evening in the mid-1980’s, jazz pianist Walter Bishop, Jr., who in 1951-52 had performed and recorded with star bebop alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, was having a bad first set at Bradley’s, New York City’s premier jazz piano bar.  Bishop’s sense of time was off, he was missing notes, and he even seemed disoriented playing his best-known composition, “Coral Keys.”  Owner Bradley Cunningham had spoken briefly with Bishop between numbers, and, when the following two tunes didn’t turn out any better, he again approached Bishop at the piano and asked him to leave.  The hulking Cunningham, a talented amateur who had played piano since his teenaged years and later studied with first-rate pianists Cedar Walton and Jimmy Rowles, finished that first set himself, playing a flawless medium-tempo version of “Out of Nowhere” and finally Thelonious Monk’s ballad, “Ruby, My Dear.”

Sensing trouble earlier, Cunningham had gone to his office in the back and to his phone book.  When the time came for the second set to begin just before midnight, Tommy Flanagan was at the piano and sailed into a medium-tempo rendition of Charlie Parker’s 1948 composition “Barbados,” recorded as a feature for Flanagan’s trio while appearing at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival with Ella Fitzgerald.  To see Flanagan there at Bradley’s...

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