Jazz Depot Features Ryan and Ryan Piano Improv Sunday
Back around the dawning of this century, Holland Hall middle-school student Barron Ryan collaborated with his father, pianist Donald Ryan, in a concert celebrating the school’s receipt of a new piano.
As Donald remembers it, that’s the first time they played together in public.
“We didn’t have a whole lot we did together, about two or three numbers, and the rest was solo,” he says. “But I recall it distinctly.”
From there, the seeds were planted for a collaboration that has recently been taking them through the middle of the United States, performing an ever-increasing number of dates.
“We’ve played about 10 within the last four or five months, here and in Illinois, Nebraska, and Wisconsin,” says Donald. “We always have a great time playing together.”
And while they expect to have another fine time at the Jazz Depot Sunday, that particular concert is going to be a little different than their touring shows.
“In those, we do things that were written,” he notes. “This one will be more improvisational. The thrust of it will be how we improvise, sparking off each other. We’ll be taking some standards, the `Days of Wine and Roses’ type, and a couple of things from [pianist] Dave Grusin’s soundtrack for The Firm; the way Grusin played it, it’s almost tailor-made for a piano duo. So we’ll have a lot of fun with those.
“We’ll also do some solo things. He’s been working a lot on preparing his next recording, which he’s calling The Masters’ Apprentice, doing stuff by Art Tatum, Fats Waller, and James P. Johnson. He’s been practicing like crazy on those. And another thing we’ll do is piano and drum – just drum, not drums. He’ll bring out a snare drum and play it. When we first started playing professionally, he was a junior in high school, and he played drums with me, so this is a nice little throwback to that. He still loves to play drums, so we’ll do a couple of numbers like `Cute,’ the Neil Hefti tune.”
Barron, says his father, started playing piano at the age of four, “but drums were more fun, and he did them concurrently.”
“He always loved to perform. He’d even create his own shows, hand-write his own tickets, usher us to our seats – and then try to charge us $25.” Donald laughs. “Glenn Miller was one of his earliest loves, and he’d take out his toy drum set and play along to `In the Mood.’ This is when he was in elementary school.
“In junior high and high school, he played more drums, but he played piano also. He was really serious [about drumming] until he went to college at OU. He auditioned for the Pride of Oklahoma drumline and made it, but he was also in the President’s Leadership Class. That was a one-year class, so he decided to drop [drumming] for the first year, and he never did take it back up. He was involved in so many other things at school, and he was a piano major, so he spent a lot of time practicing. He doesn’t play drums much now, but I still think it’s one of those latent loves.”
Although the two played a few engagements together while Barron was still in high school, Donald thought it best to pursue the duet idea after his son finished college.
“We did talk about it, but I didn’t bug him about it too much then, because, when he was off at college, I didn’t want him thinking about stuff he was doing with me at home,” says Donald. “After he finished college, we took up the idea again and decided to make a professional go of it.”
Their styles, Donald notes, are different, “but quite complimentary.”
“Mine is older, more Erroll Garner-ish; he goes more toward Oscar Peterson. But then Oscar Peterson is a great influence on both of us. He has actually listened, over and over, to Peterson’s `Blue Etude,’ put it down on paper, and now he plays it like he owns it. He’s learning so much, so fast, and everybody he listens to and learns and transcribes influences his style.”
Ryan and Ryan are set to begin at 5:00p.m. Sunday, April 27, at theOklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Spring Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fameis a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.