Body and Soul
Dick Hyman’s Piano
Pianist extraordinaire Dick Hyman plays “Body and Soul” during a 1992 performance at The Millennium Broadway Hotel in New York.
Richard Hyman was born March 8, 1927 in New York City. Best known for his versatility with jazz piano styles, he has functioned as a pianist, arranger, music director, and as a composer over his 50 year career. Hyman’s versatility in all of these areas has resulted in well over 100 albums recorded under his own name and many more in support of other artists.
Dick Hyman was trained classically by his mother’s brother, the concert pianist Anton Rovinsky, a fixture of the pre-war art scene in New York, noted for having premiered some of Charles Ives’s works, such as The Celestial Railroad in 1928. Hyman said of Rovinsky, “He was my most important teacher. I learned touch from him and a certain amount of repertoire, especially Beethoven. On my own I pursued Chopin. I loved his ability to take a melody and embellish it in different arbitrary ways, which is exactly what we do in jazz. Chopin would have been a terrific jazz pianist. His waltzes are in my improvising to this day.” Dick’s older brother, Arthur, introduced him to the music of Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Teddy Wilson, and others. By high school, he was playing in dance bands throughout Westchester County.
Hyman completed his freshman year at Columbia University, and in June 1945, he enlisted in the Army, transferred to the Navy, and began playing in the band department. When he returned to Columbia, he won an on-air piano competition, earning him 12 free lessons with Teddy Wilson, the great swing-era pianist who a decade earlier had broken the race barrier as a member of the Benny Goodman Trio. A few years later, Hyman himself became Goodman’s pianist.
While developing a facility for improvisation in his own piano style, Hyman has also investigated ragtime and the earliest periods of jazz and has researched and recorded the piano music of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Zez Confrey, Eubie Blake and Fats Waller which he often features in his frequent recitals. Hyman recorded two highly regarded ragtime albums under the pseudonym “Knuckles O’Toole”, and included two original compositions.
In the 1960s, he was regularly seen on NBC-TV’s weekly musical series Sing Along with Mitch. Other solo recordings include the music of Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Duke Ellington. He recorded as a member of the ‘Dick Hyman Trio’, including a 78 RPM hit called “Baubles Bangles and Beads.” During the 1970s, he was also member of Soprano Summit.
Dick Hyman served as artistic director for the Jazz in July series at New York’s 92nd Street Y for twenty years, a post from which he stepped down in 2004.