March 10, 1997

Tommy Flanagan Bebops Biddlemerry (Make That Middlebury)

Tommy Flanagan, the premier living exponent of bebop piano, accompanied by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, will play some jazz for Middlebury audiences on Friday, March 21, at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall at Middlebury College's Center for the Arts.

Long-time accompanist of the late Ella Fitzgerald, and for many years a lyrical, swinging pianist with his own group, Flanagan has been described as "a national treasure," "a genius," "the finest lyric pianist around," and "the greatest bebop pianist living."

Growing up in Detroit, Flanagan made his professional debut in 1945 at age 15, joining forces with Milt Jackson, Thad Jones, Elvin Jones and Kenny Burrell, playing clubs like the Bluebird, Detroit's renowned jazz room. Flanagan hit New York in 1956, playing a sub job at Birdland for Bud Powell whom he calls a major influence on his own early development, along with Art Tatum and Nat Cole. Flanagan's talents were so apparent that he soon was tapped for recording dates with jazz icons like Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.

In 1957, Flanagan made his first trio album, "Tommy Flanagan Overseas," with Elvin Jones and Wilbur Little, which has been reissued many times and is now a collectors' item. He made more than 100 recordings from 1956 through 1968, many of which have become essential to any serious jazz record library.

From 1968 to 1978, Flanagan toured extensively with Ella Fitzgerald. During that time his recently reissued trio album, "Montreux 77," was recorded. It was with Ella Fitzgerald that he earned his stripes as jazz's supreme accompanist.

In 1978, Flanagan formed his own trio and has subsequently performed almost exclusively in that format. His recording career as a soloist or leading his trio has since flowered with 15 universally admired albums.

Tommy Flanagan's lyrical style, at once tough, tender, and bouncing with jaunty humor, expresses a beautifully polished and melodic side of bebop. It swings.

Tickets for the Concert Series performance at $9 general admissions. For ticket information, call 802-443-6433.