Picks and Pans Review: This Is Keith Macdonald

updated 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/13/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Keith MacDonald

When it comes to nonovernight-success stories, it would be hard to beat pianist Keith MacDonald. "By the time I was 6, I had heard most of the best pit orchestras in the country," he writes. "My father was The Great Lester,' a vaudeville magician-illusionist, and my mother, a former ballet dancer, was his assistant." While a student at North Plainfield (N.J.) High School, MacDonald led several swing bands. After serving in World War II, he studied music on the Gl Bill, then got married and had two kids. "Although I never stopped playing jazz," he says, "I had to be concerned with supporting my family. During a 20-year period I did everything a pianist can do to make a living.... I accompanied tap dancers and glee clubs, singers and comedians, played organ and directed choirs, played classical recitals ... and hundreds and hundreds of weddings." After his first marriage broke up MacDonald married a woman who urged him to devote himself to the "music that meant something to me." In 1982, playing at a memorial concert for pianist Bill Evans (a schoolmate at North Plainfield High) led to a booking at the Kool Jazz Festival. That led to club exposure and to this record, MacDonald's first, at 60. It should not be his last. His playing is gentle, affectionate and unpretentious, yet polished and thoughtful. His harmonic sensitivity recalls Evans, while his links to tradition are evident in his left hand—such as a bit of boogie-woogie bass that walks through When Your Lover Has Gone. MacDonald remolds familiar tunes in a personal way. A good example is his recumbently luxuriant These Foolish Things. The album is like a raft trip down a winding river, lush with overhanging foliage. About the middle of side two a listener begins to long for a run of rapids, but that apparently isn't MacDonald's thing. It doesn't matter. No one is going to fall asleep en route. (Landmark)

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