In addition to being a gentleman, Nicholas Bouloukos is a discerning American badass of the piano. He has performed all over Europe and Asia and has played with many great jazz artists including Stefon Harris, Nick Brignola, and Roy Hargrove. Currently his badassery is most frequently on display JZ Club’s much-maligned piano, with the Big Band, Monday trio, and the Singers of R&B night. His deep knowledge of the history and performance of jazz and other styles of music, his extensive experience, and his understanding of production give him that piano player/professor quality, though it is belied by his feeling and spontaneity on the bandstand. He has also worked or still works in hip-hop, R&B, and Latin music, and is a perfect representative of the pan-genre approach to music-loving that we’re all about, as you can see from this playlist:
1. “Ad Lib On Nippon” –Duke Ellington Orchestra
This is the finale of Ellington and Strayhorn’s majestic “Far East Suite.” Ellington was nearly 70 when he recorded this, and he and Paul Gonsalves (tenor), Johnny Hodges (alto), Harry Carney (baritone) and the rest of the ensemble play telepathically, symphonically, joyously.
2. “Don’t See Us” – The Roots.
High energy cut from their live album. It’s hip-hop with an organic sensibility and the story-telling narrative of good song-writing. I don’t listen to much hip-hop anymore, but I never tire of this track.
3. “The Needle and the Damage Done” – Neil Young.
This MTV Unplugged version might not be his best – I’ve seen him play it many times in concert – but as with all my favorite Neil Young there is an element of longing for something past, future or unattainable. Neil kicks ass.
4. “I’ve Found A New Baby” – Lester Young.
In trio with Nat Cole (piano) and Buddy Rich (drums), without a bass player. This track swings hard, and the lack of bass player, instead of hindering the swing, gives these masters freedom to explore the lower registers of their instruments. The intention, the will to swing and the forward drive, intense emotion and creativity of these giants turn a well-worn standard into a tour de force of modernism. And pianists take note. That’s the real Nat “King” Cole, the biggest pianist influence on Oscar Peterson and other giants of the keyboard, tearing up the piano. Tinkling he ain’t.
5. “Achilles’ Last Stand” – Led Zeppelin.
One of my favorite Zep tunes. Bonham’s drumming is incredible, and the band sound they achieve is enormous.
6. “Since Jesus Came Into My Life” – Kim Burrell.
From her incredible CD, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” the spirit of love for the Almighty is so strong in this track that even lapsed Christians like myself might think twice about having neglected their faith. Soulful and powerful, this is jazz gospel with balls.
7. “Ligo Ligo Tha Me Sinithiseis” – Haris Alexiou & George Dalaras.
In Greece, Dalaras is known simply as “The Voice.” His devotion to the performance of rembetika, or the Greek blues, has won him fans around the world. This particular song is very famous in Greece, and the lyrics alone are exactly that – lyric poetry. While I would use the term achingly beautiful to describe the Greek, even in English the beauty is apparent. A rough translation:
You leave me now
That I have grown accustomed to be near you
I live only for your love
I am a piece from your heart
No, no don’t abandon me
Not even if you don’t love me
Stay with me and don’t love me
Just embrace me
And little by little you will get used to me
No, don’t abandon me,
Not even if you don’t love me
What I will become in my life if I wake up one morning
To see that you aren’t in my arms?
8. “Siamese Cities” – Metric.
I can’t understand why this group hasn’t become more famous. Lead singer Emily Haines has an ethereal and versatile voice that is at home in a wide range of styles, and many of the band’s songs are catchy with sing-a-long refrains. The grooves are basically born of hip-hop but their general sound is quicksilver, hard to nail down. This is not my favorite Metric track but it’s been ringing in my ears lately.
9. “Veja bem meu bem” – Maria Rita.
When you’re the daughter of one of Brazil’s most beloved musical icons, you’re going to be judged ten times more harshly than the next diva. My brethren from the land of samba are usually less than kind in their assessment of Maria, preferring instead to listen to her iconic mother, Elis Regina. Of course I love Elis and could spend days listening almost exclusively to her exquisite voice; however, I can’t get this track of her daughter’s out of my head or my iTunes playlist.
10. “Tabletop Joe” – Tom Waits.
Twisted, detuned, bizarre, surreal and coming at you from different angles at once. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether all his songs are delivered tongue in cheek, but so much sincerity comes through it doesn’t really matter. He’s a master storyteller, and for what it’s worth he’s one of the few piano players who plays so badly he unintentionally sounds more like Monk than those who set out to do it on purpose (not on this track of course – I mean generally). It takes an iconoclast to know one, I suppose. Piano players will love this line: “He trouble with the pedals/But he had a strong left hand/And he could play Stravinksy/On a baby grand.”