Roland Hanna’s bold, classically-influenced piano solo on Concierto De Aranjuez

Every once in a while, we hear a piano solo that’s so bold it stops us in our tracks. Roland Hanna’s piano solo on Concierto De Aranjuez is one of these solos.

Have you ever heard this solo? It’s on guitarist Jim Hall’s jazz adaptation of Rodrigo’s classical guitar piece Concierto De Aranjuez, which they recorded in 1975.

The 1970s were a pivotal time for jazz. (“jazz is dead, long live jazz!”) The “old” days of swing music we fading from the public consciousness, and most of the jazzers (and crooners, btw) were either creating identities for themselves as “keepers of the flame” or blending their music with the current pop and rock styles of the decade.

Creed Taylor, who produced this recording, was experimenting with ways to incorporate straight-8th note beats into jazz albums and having a great jazz guitarist such as Jim Hall play a Spanish guitar concerto must have seemed like a natural fit.

And it is.

Hall, along with Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Ron Carter, Steve Gadd, and Roland Hanna, play together as a cohesive group, and, after a beautiful, rubato introduction, settle into a pop-influenced groove that sounded contemporary at the time and still hold up, decades later. (I first heard the recording in 1981 and it sounded very fresh to my teenage ears!)

Hall, Desmond, and Baker take a tried-and -true approach to their solos, spinning out legato melodic lines that are firmly in the jazz tradition. They sound great over the straight 8ths accompaniment, and establish the kind of contemporary pop/jazz groove that would eventually become watered down into the “smooth jazz” style. Concierto De Aranjuez, however, is anything but smooth jazz. It’s vibrant, melodic, and it grooves in a true 1970s fashion.

After hearing all of these jazzy guitar, sax, and trumpet solos, 99.999999% of jazz pianists would try for something similar. And this would be fine. But Roland Hanna took another approach. Perhaps being inspired by the piece’s classical roots, he dug down deep into his musical soul and began improvising what I can only describe as Gregorian Chant on the piano.

Yes! Chant-like phrases that float over the beat, and somehow still work in the musical context.

Wow! Bold, idiosyncratic, and visionary.

What’s more, while the other soloists sound like they’re playing to a 1970s listening audience (in the best possible way). Hanna is being inspired by something else entirely. He is playing music in an “interior” way, like he’s reading from his personal diary (as someone once described Beethoven’s late string quartets.)

After the chant-like section, Hanna goes on to use some Chopinesque pianistic textures and other classical devices, alongside some of the jazz phrasing we’d expect. Yet the overall effect is stunning, all the more since it is so unexpected. The only other pianist I can think of who did this kind of this in the same way was Dave Brubeck. Perhaps some of Gil Evans’ orchestrations are in this category as well. Yes, man jazz pianists have used classical devices in their playing, yet few sound so “other-worldly” as Hanna does in this piece.

Here’s the recording. Do yourself a favor and take 20 minutes to listen to the whole thing. This way you’ll experience Roland Hanna’s amazing piano solo in the context in which he played it.

Jim Hall: Concierto De Aranjuez



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