Dick Hyman: A Living, Breathing Encyclopedia Of Jazz

Dick Hyman. Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Written by Nick Morrison from Jazz24

In this edition of Take Five, we wish a belated but happy 85th birthday to jazz pianist Dick Hyman.

Born March 8, 1927, in New York City, the classically trained Hyman was drawn to jazz at an early age. Today, he’s a living, breathing, swinging encyclopedia of jazz piano history, from ragtime and stride to bebop and beyond. He’s written music for theatre, dance, symphony and film. Notably, he’s contributed music to several Woody Allen movies, including Zelig, Hannah and Her Sisters and Sweet And Lowdown.

Today, he’s still performing, writing and teaching. The following songs present an all-too-brief overview of Dick Hyman’s unique combination of uplifting elegance and jaw-dropping chops.

85 Years Of Dick Hyman


Song: The Crave

Artist: Dick Hyman

Album: Hyman’s Century of Jazz Piano



Dick Hyman is a master of so many piano styles, it’s impossible to touch on all of them in a five-song list. With “The Crave,” we get elements of two early piano styles — ragtime and stride — in one song. Written in 1917 by Jelly Roll Morton, “The Crave” is also flavored with the Afro-Latin rhythms that Morton liked to call “the Spanish tinge.”


Song: Dickie’s Dream

Artist: Dick Hyman

Album: Swing Is Here



Though Hyman is primarily known for his solo piano work, he’s also more than capable of playing well with others. In this composition by Count Basie, Hyman is joined by Bucky Pizzarelli (guitar), Butch Miles (drums), Jay Leonhart (bass), Frank Wess (sax), Randy Sandke (trumpet), Ken Peplowski (clarinet) and Peter Appleyard (vibraphone).


Song: Well, You Needn’t

Artist: Dick Hyman

Album: Dick Hyman’s Century of Jazz Piano



Here, Dick Hyman takes on a composition by one of the most distinctive pianists of all time, Thelonious Monk. Although Hyman doesn’t try to copy Monk’s inimitable style, he does indulge in the spirit of playfulness that was so much a part of Monk’s music.


Song: So Danco Samba

Artist: Meral Guneyman & Dick Hyman

Album: Danzas Tropicales



This composition by Antonio Carlos Jobim first came to the attention of most American jazz fans on the 1963 Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto album Getz/Gilberto, one of the best-selling jazz records of all time. Here, Hyman has rearranged the song for two pianos. He’s joined by a frequent collaborator in jazz and classical pianist Meral Guneyman.

Song: In A Mist

Artist: Dick Hyman & Tom Pletcher

Album: If Bix Played Gershwin



The majority of this album by Hyman and cornetist Tom Pletcher consists of George Gershwin compositions rearranged in the early jazz style of Bix Beiderbecke. One track, however, is Hyman’s solo piano arrangement of Beiderbecke’s ethereal composition “In a Mist.” Hyman turns it every way but loose, as he fills Beiderbecke’s song with all the Gershwin quotations he can. How many can you identify?



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