Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dick Katz R.I.P.

Dick Katz passed away on November 10th.

November 13, 2009 - NY TIMES - By Ben Ratliff
Dick Katz, 85, Jazzman of Many Gifts Over 6 Decades, Is Dead

Dick Katz, a pianist, record producer, educator and writer whose
knowledge of jazz from the stride-piano era to 1960s modernism made
him a valuable presence on New York’s jazz scene for six decades, died
on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 85.

The cause was lung cancer, said his son Jamie.

Mr. Katz’s piano idols were soloist royalty: Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum,
Fats Waller. But he was a more reserved musician, finding his place
somewhere between accompanist, arranger and subtle improviser.

One of his breakthrough moments was his role as pianist on the
saxophonist and composer Benny Carter’s 1961 album “Further
Definitions,” meshing with a first-class multigenerational crew
including swing-era veterans and younger musicians. Another was his
1965 collaboration with the singer Helen Merrill, “The Feeling Is
Mutual,” an arty, cooled-out album of jazz standards of which he was
co-leader, arranger and producer.

Richard Aaron Katz, born in Baltimore on March 13, 1924, was already
playing in local clubs there as a teenager before he left for the
University of North Carolina to study music. He joined the Navy in
1942 and fought in the battle of Saipan; in 1946 he became a
professional musician in New York.

While working for his father’s advertising agency, he studied at the
Manhattan School of Music, where John Lewis, later of the Modern Jazz
Quartet, was a fellow student. In 1950 he took private lessons with
Wilson. By the early 1950s he was performing regularly with the
clarinetist Tony Scott’s group at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem and
making a string of records with Mr. Scott, including “Music After
Midnight” and “Jazz for G.I.’s.”

For several years in the mid-’50s, Mr. Katz played in the house rhythm
section at the Cafe Bohemia in the West Village with the bassist Oscar
Pettiford and the drummer Kenny Clarke, backing Miles Davis, among
others. He also toured with the popular twin-trombone band led by J.
J. Johnson and Kai Winding and played with the trumpeter Kenny
Dorham’s Jazz Prophets.

His old friend Lewis helped Mr. Katz secure a record deal with
Atlantic in 1958, which resulted in the album “Piano and Pen.” Through
the ’50s and ‘60s he appeared frequently as a sideman, on records by
the vocalist Carmen McRae, the saxophonist Sonny Rollins and others.
Starting in the late ’60s, two of his most frequent collaborators were
the trumpeter Roy Eldridge and the saxophonist Lee Konitz — brilliant
players on opposite chronological sides of bebop, jazz’s great
stylistic divide.

In 1966 Mr. Katz and the veteran record producer Orrin Keepnews
founded the jazz label Milestone. Staying with the company until the
early ’70s, he produced records by Mr. Konitz and others, as well as
“Alone Together,” a highly regarded duet album by the guitarist Jim
Hall and the bassist Ron Carter.

Beginning in the middle ‘80s Mr. Katz worked with the American Jazz
Orchestra, a repertory ensemble directed by Lewis, and the saxophonist
Loren Schoenberg’s big band. From the ’80s onward he taught at the New
School, the Manhattan School of Music and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Mr. Katz was also among a select group of jazz musicians who wrote
well about their art. His astute essays about Davis and Tatum in The
Jazz Review, published in 1959 and 1960, led to other writings, for
books and album liner notes. He received Grammy Award nominations for
the notes he wrote for “Jazz Piano: A Smithsonian Collection” (1990)
and “The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio” (1993).

Mr. Katz’s first marriage, to the former Edith Shapiro, ended in
divorce. He is survived by his wife, the former Joan Seifer, as well
as four sons — Jamie and Frank, of Manhattan; Jeffrey, of Washington;
and Ivan, of Brooklyn — and two grandchildren.

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