Dick Hyman - Biography
Pianist, organist, arranger, music director, music researcher and composer are all hats Dick Hyman wears and has worn throughout a diverse and prolific career that has stretched from the 1950s until the present day. Blessed with remarkable technical skills and proficient on a wide range of keyboard instruments, Hyman can reproduce individual players’ styles, from Scott Joplin all the way through Cecil Taylor. Though probably best known for his albums of Moog synthesizer music in the late ‘60s, Hyman has emerged in later years as one of America's foremost practitioners of early jazz piano styles.
Richard Roven Hyman was born on March 8th, 1927 in New York City and was raised in the nearby suburb of Mount Vernon. Hyman picked up the piano at a young age and soon showed signs of being a prodigy. Eventually Hyman attended Columbia University, earning a degree in music from the school in 1948. While attending Columbia, Hyman entered a jazz piano contest and won first prize, private lessons with jazz legend Teddy Wilson. His lessons with Wilson would lead to his immersion in the jazz world and he soon made connections with fellow musicians in New York City. During the next few years, Hyman would play with the likes of Wilson, Red Norvo (from 1949 to 1950), Benny Goodman (1950) and Charlie Parker, backing him in the only known sound film that exists of Parker, Hot House, from 1952. Because of Hyman's remarkable technical skills at the piano and other keyboard instruments, he started a side career as a studio musician for both radio and television, and the variety of material he was asked to play and translate obviously helped to further develop his phenomenal versatility and eclectic tastes. At the dawn of the ‘50s, Hyman pulled back from his sideman status in jazz bands and began to take on some solo work. One of his early successes was a harpsichord rendition of Kurt Weill's “Mack the Knife,” recorded under the pseudonym “Knuckles O'Toole”. The single would go on to be a million-seller in 1956. “O'Toole” was his early outlet to play and release the piano rags that he loved so much. Throughout his career Hyman would return to the pre-bop swing and stride styles of his youth.
Hyman spent much of the ‘50s doing film and television work but also found time to record some solo records, mostly in a jazz trio setting. Some of his ‘50s era recordings include The Unforgettable Sound of the Dick Hyman Trio (1955 MGM), Gigi! (1956 MGM), featuring Hyman's interpretations of songs from the Lerner and Loewe musical, and his treatment of another hit Broadway show, Oh Captain! (1958 MGM). This featured an expanded band line-up that included tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins as well as trumpeters Art Farmer and Harry “Sweets” Edison. Towards the end of the ‘50s, Hyman took the post of the musical director for the popular Arthur Godfrey Show, a position he held until 1961. Hyman continued issuing albums of mostly traditional and light jazz through the early and mid ‘60s, including Provocative Piano (1960 Command), Dick Hyman and His Trio (1961 Command), Provocative Piano, Vol. 2 (1961 Command), Keyboard Kaleidoscope (1964 Command), which featured his talents on organ as well as piano, The Man From O.R.G.A.N. (1965 Command), featuring popular spy themes played on the organ, Brasilian Impressions (1966 Command), a collection of Brazilian-flavored jazz instrumentals, and Happening! (1966 Command), an album which featured Hyman on harpsichord, playing modern pop standards of the day. Though Hyman had played and recorded with a variety of keyboard instruments, a new instrument presented itself in 1967, the Moog synthesizer. This new world of strange, spacey sounds intrigued Hyman. He released two albums in 1969 utilizing the Moog, Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman (Varese), which included the hit single “The Minotaur,” and the Age Of Electronicus (Command). Both albums were highly influential in introducing the Moog synthesizer to the general public, and even though Hyman has done work in many musical fields, he is still often identified with his Moog albums.
Starting in the 1970s and continuing on through the ‘80s, Hyman concentrated more on either releasing collections of his own compositions or on going back to early 20th century jazz composers and releasing albums performing their work. He also continued working in and around television and acted as the musical director for Benny Goodman's last television appearance, the ongoing concert series In Performance at the White House and a PBS special on centenarian, jazz pianist/composer, Eubie Blake. In 1980, he received an Emmy award for his work on the children's program Sunshine's On the Way. Some highlights from Hyman's ‘70s and ‘80s era output are Concerto Electro: The Dick Hyman Piano Concerto (1970 Command), featuring Hyman's original classical compositions, Genius At Play (1973 Monmouth), Some Rags, Some Stomps, and a Little Blues (1973 Columbia), Satchmo Remembered (1974 Columbia), Scott Joplin (1977 MCA), the soundtrack to the film featuring Hyman and Hank Jones performing all the music, The Music Of Jelly Roll Morton (1978 Smithsonian), featuring Hyman's re-creation of Morton's music and sound, Say It With Music (1979 World Jazz), a tribute to the music of Irving Berlin, Eubie! (1983 Seven Star), featuring Hyman on solo piano performing the works of the recently deceased Eubie Blake, and Kitten on the Keys: The Piano Music of Zez Confrey (1983 RCA).
In 1985, Dick Hyman started as his run as the artistic director of the Jazz in July concert series at New York City's 92nd St YMCA. He also served as the jazz advisor to the Oregon Festival of American Music. Hyman continued on through the ‘80s and ‘90s, becoming one of the nation's top scholars and interpreters of pre-bop jazz, appearing in concert and issuing albums all along the way. Highlights include Dick Hyman Plays Fats Waller (1988 Reference), Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 3: Music of 1937 (1989 Concord Jazz), Dick Hyman Plays Harold Arlen: Blues in the Night (1989 Music Masters), Dick Hyman Plays Duke Ellington (1992 Reference), Dick Hyman Plays Gershwin, Porter, Berlin and Arlen (1944 Music Masters), Swing is Here (1996 Reference), and In Recital (1988 Reference).
During the ‘80s and ‘90s Hyman also became more involved with film music, composing the score for the 1989 documentary Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser. In 1980, he began a close association with filmmaker Woody Allen. Hyman composed and performed the piano music for Allen's 1980 film, Stardust Memories, then supervised the music on 1984's Broadway Danny Rose and 1987's Radio Days. He continued on and arranged and conducted the music for 1994's Bullets over Broadway and 1999's Sweet and Lowdown, and wrote soundtracks for 1985's Purple Rose of Cairo, 1995's Mighty Aphrodite and 1996's Everyone Says I Love You. Hyman also scored the hit 1987 film Moonstruck. In 2001, Allen even cast Hyman in front of the camera as the band leader in his film of that year, Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
In 1995, Dick Hyman was inducted into both the Jazz Hall of Fame at Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies and New Jersey Jazz Society Hall of Fame. Hyman welcomed the new millennium in 2000 with the dual releases Dick Hyman's Century of Jazz Piano, Volumes 1 and 2 (Orchard), featuring his unique interpretations of both songs and playing styles of landmark jazz piano compositions of the 20th century, and continued on into the 2000s appearing in concert and issuing albums including Forgotten Dreams: Archives of Novelty Piano (2002 Arbors), If Bix Played Gershwin (2004 Arbors), Knuckles O'Toole Plays The Greatest All Time Ragtime Hits (2004 Siggnal), a reissue of some of Hyman's work in the ‘50s, Willie The Rock Knox Plays Ragtime/Slugger Ryan Plays Honky Tonk Music For Little Rascals (2004 Siggnal), another ragtime reissue using two more of Hyman's pseudonyms, Solo Piano Variations on the Great Songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein (2007 Jazz Heritage Society), Variations on the Great Songs of Rodgers & Hart (2007 Jazz Heritage Society), and Thinking About Bix (2008 Reference).