Letter from Alex Hassan

alexh3Alex Hassan, a tremendously-talented Northern Virginia pianist whose forte includes novelty piano of the 20s and 30s, had a central role in the creation and release of the Shellwood “Cy Walter:  The Park Avenue Tatum” CD.  At the time of the CD’s release, Alex shared his thoughts on Cy’s artistry and on the CD with others in an e-mail forwarded to the “78-L” internet forum.

 Date: Fri, 07 Apr 2006 14:23:21 -0700
Subject: RE: [78-l] CY WALTER, the Park Avenue Tatum

From: Alex Hassan

Greetings from Alex H. in Falls Church, Virginia, USA, seven scant miles from Wash., DC. I’m ultimately responsible for the Cy Walter reissue, having gathered the fairly scarce Liberty Music Shop and Apollo 78s over the last 30 years or so. He’s been a fascination of mine ever since my father taught me piano in the 1960s. I was supposed to be playing the long-hair stuff, but dad always had a few pieces of sheet music by the likes of Mary Lou Williams, Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, Frankie Carle and YES, Cy Walter, hanging around, and I ended up sight-reading those selections more often than the “scheduled” pieces.

Walter’s arrangements of Tin Pan Alley melodies are some of the most imaginative, harmonically arresting, syncopated/rhythmic/striding, modernistic and virtuosic ever put on paper. When I finally heard the master’s actual full-blooded, two-fisted performances on 78, it was a great treat. It took a good number of years, but I finally managed to acquire most all of his solo 78s AND LPs. The 78s show a pianist in effortless, devil-may-care command of the instrument.

By the time LPs came along, Cy’s powers were diminishing, if only because he suffered the last 15 years of his life from a facial cancer, which took him at the ridiculously young age of 52.

I’m not benefiting by promoting this disc. If it does well, I’ll be delighted for Mike Lorenzini, who runs Shellwood productions, and was willing to issue the first Re-issue in 50 years, of Cy’s supernaturally brilliant playing. If it does well, there’ll be tremendous satisfaction, that a few of us had something to do with bringing a sadly neglected popular/jazz pianist’s oeuvre back into vogue.

Pianist friend Peter Mintun has written splendid, from-the-heart program notes. Cy’s son, Mark, has provided biographic and photographic materials that would have been otherwise unavailable to the general public. Excellent transfers have been provided by musical theatre record collector/scholar/author, Jack Raymond, and mastering has been brilliantly accomplished by Phil Legg. You’d never know that the original discs have a boxy, studio quality. Both Billy Taylor and George Shearing could hardly wait to get this CD. They know what to expect.

Don’t try comparing Cy to ANY other pianist. He sounds like no one else. AND, importantly, this is NOT cocktail playing. “Cocktail” pretty much connotes BACKGROUND music-making. Cy’s performances are never less than fascinating and attention-grabbing.

I thank my ethereal friend, Enrico B., for bringing this disc to your attention. Help keep it in print, and enjoy!

Extra best–Alex