Written by Alfred Turner from National Public Radio
Dave McKenna, who started at age 15 in the late 1940s and early ’50s with Charlie Ventura and Woody Herman, once said of himself, “I play saloon piano. “I’m a player of tunes first and add my interpretations second.” Guest host a Waldorf Astoria fixture Daryl Sherman calls him “a world class piano stylist of the highest order.”
“I thought [Daryl Sherman] did a good job of hosting,” says Marian McPartland. “And she sang and played well, too. It was fun to hear Dave play again, and the last tune [‘Let’s Get Away From It All’] was great. I definitely remember playing that one.”
McKenna’s unique style is nowhere more evident than in his version of Cole Porter‘s “Dream Dancing,” a request from McPartland. McKenna is not afraid to play softly, beginning the tune with a whisper of notes and then gently increasing the volume over a perfect, sauntering left-hand. Sherman declares, “A song couldn’t have a better friend than Dave McKenna.”
And McKenna couldn’t have a better partner than McPartland. After he solos on Alec Wilder‘s “I’ll Be Around,” she asks him to show her the opening chords, and then joins him in a spontaneous encore of the tune. They burn their way through “Avalon” in what Sherman calls “one of the hottest duos I’ve ever heard.” The two trade 4s and 8s, jump in and out of stride rhythm, and even get into some Mozartean counterpoint before it’s all over.
McKenna also dusts off a few of his own songs. Listening to him play “Cat’s Cradle,” one has to remember that it’s not a duet — McKenna is playing rhythm and counterpoint with his left hand, while playing the tune and variations with his right.
“Teddy Ballgame” is McKenna’s tribute to Ted Williams and his beloved Red Sox. Afterward, guest host Sherman adds her own accolades by singing her original lyrics to the tune over McKenna’s track. Sherman offers another tribute when she plays and sings “Rhode Island,” which is about McKenna’s and her home state.
To wrap up this celebration of Dave McKenna, he and McPartland take off on a sparkling romp through “Let’s Get Away from it All.” At the end, McPartland says, “It felt good. Let’s get a gig!”
Originally recorded on three dates: March 19, 1979; May 19, 1994; and Jan. 8, 2009.