Special CD Review: Live at the Maybeck Recital Hall

By Brian L. Knight

Up in the hills of Berkeley, California, sits the 1914 Maybeck Recital Hall, which was built as a studio and home for a piano teacher. The 50-seat building was designed by the architect Bernard Maybeck, who specialized in designing wooden Arts and Crafts homes. Maybeck was also responsible for the design of other noted bay area buildings such as the Palace of Fine Arts and the Christian Science Church in Berkeley. Although it has no evangelical associations, the hall immediately evokes heavenly feelings upon entering through its doors. The exterior slightly resembles a Spanish villa while the interior features beautiful redwood lining, tall cathedral ceilings and slim Gothic windows that dominate each end of the hall. In addition to the obvious aesthetic beauty, the Maybeck Recital Hall possesses amazing acoustic qualities.

Concord Records of Concord, California set out to take advantage of the building’s amazing acoustics. Concord Records was started in the early 1970s by Carl Jefferson who organized annual Summer jazz festivals in the City of Concord. Over the years, the festival grew more popular and eventually led to the creation of a record label. Since its creation, the label has produced over 650 recordings of jazz, blues and classical music. In a rare case of a historic building serving its historic use, Concord Records has ensured that Maybeck Recital Hall remains a musical venue and has sponsored over 35 concerts in the building. Even better, the company recorded the legendary intimate concerts. Once again, the acoustics of the building proved to be beneficial the recordings from these performances are truly amazing.



Marian McPartland

To the avid National Public Radio listener, pianist Marian McPartland is a familiar name. Every single day, McPartland hosts a daily show called Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz®. The program holds the distinction of being NPR’s longest running program. Each show involves conversation with a guest jazz musician, which culminates with an impromptu duet jam session.

To the avid jazz fan, Marian McPartland is no stranger either. The English born piano player began playing classical music at age three and was educated at the Guildhall School of Music. During the Second World War, McPartland was a musician’s version of Rosie the Riveter, as she contributed to the war effort by entertaining the Allied troops. It was during this time that McPartland met her future husband, cornetist Jimmy McPartland and after the war they returned to Chicago to marry.

Since McPartland’s arrival in the United States, she has recorded over forty albums. McPartland’s performance at the Maybeck Recital Hall was recorded in January of 1991 and she shows her love for Duke Ellington throughout the set as she plays beautiful renditions of Prelude to A Kiss, Love You Madly and Clothed Woman. She also plays Things Ain’t What They Used To be which was written by Ellington’s son, Mercer. In addition, McPartland does a version of Dave Brubeck’s unofficial tribute to Ellington, The Duke. McPartland’s performance is absolutely beautiful as she imaginatively changes tempos and fills the room with a robust sound.


Dave McKenna

Recorded in 1989, Dave McKenna’s performance is another fine solo piano set. The highlight of Mckenna’s swing orientated performance was the two "Knowledge Medleys". The first medley had a educational feel to it as McKenna weaved the songs Teach Me Tonight, School Days, An Apple For The Teacher and I Didn’t Know About You in and out of each other. The second medley focused more on ones lack of education with songs such as I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, I Wish I Knew, I Don’t Know Enough About You, I Don’t Know Why and I Never Knew. Besides Mckenna’s cleverness in song choices, his playing is extraordinary. Like McPartland, Dave McKenna shows his nostalgia by playing songs by Cole Porter, Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington. Dave McKenna is one of the many artists who have recorded for Marian McPartland’s personal record label – Halcyon.


Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams was one of the few musicians who did not have to travel far for her performance at the Maybeck Recital Hall. Williams was born in Baltimore but has been living in the San Francisco area since 1977. Willliams is heavily influenced by the work of Thelonious Monk and in 1997, her work was featured on the Monk tribute – It’s Monk’s Tune. Williams has been very busy in the 1990s, as she has recorded close to 20 albums for various record labels. This Maybeck performance was recorded during the spring of 1992 and features renditions of Dave Brubeck’s Summer Song, and the Gershwin Brothers’ Nice Work if you Can Get It. Williams shows her songwriting abilities through three of her own tunes that are spread out through the set.


Bill Mays

Like Williams, Bill Mays is another local who gets a chance to be heralded in the Maybeck Recital Hall. This 1992 performance at the Maybeck Recital Hall provides a unique snapshot of Sacramento native for his excellent piano work has been living in the shadows for some time. Mays has spent most of his career either playing as a session man or recording duets with bassist Ray Drummond. The Maybeck performance finally puts Mays in the long deserved spotlight. The performance covers a wide variety of styles from swing to gospel. The CD also features two Mays’ originals – Boardwalk Blues and Thanksgiving Prayer while versions of Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz and Jelly Roll Morton’s Grandpa’s Spells bring out May’s love of boogie woogie.

These are just a handful of the series that comprise of the Maybeck Recital Hall Series. The great unifying aspect of all of these recordings is the beautiful acoustics, the amazing playing and the simple grandeur that is associated with listening to the unaccompanied grand piano. The music on these CDs is not designed for Pre-Hockey game warm ups or inciting crowds, but rather they evoke introspection and relaxation. When the head is pounding from all the other music, these recordings provide the remedy.