Hal Schaefer has had an abundantly impressive musical career as a pianist, composer, orchestrator, accompanist and conductor. To appreciate the rarity and lofty quality of this solo piano CD calls for at least a marginal backdrop of Hal's wherewithal.
Stemming from his childhood enthusiasm for the legendary jazz -pianist Art Tatum, his journey of more than a half century has been a starbright one with numerous achievements. His dossier includes contributions to swing bands led by Benny Carter, the Dorsey Brothers, Harry James, Boyd Raeburn plus luminous vocalists such as Billy Eckstine and Peggy Lee. Moreover, he was a noted vocal coach of prominent actresses Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell and Mitzi Gaynor. Residing in the geo-triangle of Hollywood, New York City and San Francisco, Hal was immersed in a plural activity matrix. Since 1992, he has been based in Ft. Lauderdale.
Alas, the special CD at hand is the focal feature and therein lies a remarkable story of the discovery of this long forgotten recording. It began in circa 1960 when Hal decided to make a tape of his interpretation of some standard tunes with familiar melodies. Hal recalls: "I had returned to NYC and recorded on the RCA Jazz Workshop Series, and I was playing different jobs getting re-established."
Hal knew about Dick Olmstead--a great audio engineer who ran his highly reputed New York studio--Olmstead Studio. So Hal booked an evening for a solo grand piano taping session for his personal archive. About his rationale and intent Hal says: "I had saved/preserved everything I had been thinking all my life, and I just literally let it all out and let it happen."
The phenomenal and fortuitous aspects follow. "When my wife Brenda and I moved into this house some 10 years ago, we stored a lot of stuff in the backyard shed and left it all there all this time." However, about six months ago Hal's gardener alerted him about the insect infestations in the shed. As a result, the trash was removed and some tape recordings were retrieved. The surviving subject tape was in pristine condition. "It was like a lucky find, a karmic occurrence. It was lying out there just waiting for me! I took the tape to a local studio to check it out and it didn't need any adjustments. It was perfect and I wanted it as a souvenir and got a clean CD copy of it." Although Hal had virtually forgot about its existence, it was obviously ripe for this CD of his music to be released and shared. Incidentally, it's logical the title has been added to the Summit Records catalog since Hal's "A Date to Remember" has been on Summit since 2001.
"My main intent," described Hal, "is to really play my soul and I really played my heart out without any commercial subconscious thought. And it may be too sophisticated for some people to understand; e.c., on "Dancing in the Dark" where I bend the time on purpose instead of remaining on strict regulated time--similar to what Erroll Garner used to do--a little bit behind the left hand." Garner did hesitate and twist the time. Hal did likewise, not like Garner but expressed the same concept. It is truly in Hal's music as it happened several times on his program of tunes. To the uninitiative it may seem as if Hal is not keeping time. "It's the way I feel it--like weaving the time instead of always straight ahead metronomic time," explains Hal.
What impresses the senses is Hal's naked spirituality--while recognizing it is not easy to openly share hopes, fears and dreams as they are more personal plus the experience of allowing the expressions of the-less protected elements.
The tunes on the CD reflect his authentic intimacy and his symbiotic connection with an artistic painter's tonal nuances...think Van Gogh. Hal weighs in with some deep, sincerely joyful passion via his creative courage All seven standard tunes are like completely fresh essays; their interpretations are strictly Hal Schaefer's sole ownership...from the potpourri of mixed emotions of "There's No Business Like Show Businss" to the particular treatment of the inherently classical composition "All the Things You Are" -- there is Hal Schaefer's hallmark of beautiful individuality. So, how Do You Like THIS Piano Player? YEAH
--Dr. Herb Wong, October 2008
This CD is a gem. ~ Dan MacClenaghan, All About Jazz
Predates and predicts... ~ C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz