The best of Dick Hyman: Five essential albums by a master of keys

Dick Hyman is a world-renowned jazz pianist, composer, arranger, music director and organist.

In the 1960s, Hyman created some of my favourite albums for Command Records. Over a 70-year career, he’s recorded more than 100 albums under his name, including solo piano, organ, chamber music, orchestral, Moog music and various sizes of jazz combos. He also worked as a composer and conductor for many Woody Allen films including Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Bullets Over Broadway and Everyone Says I Love You. Hyman was named an NEA Jazz Masters fellow in 2017.

These days, you can regularly find vintage Hyman records at yard sales and vinyl collectors’ conventions everywhere — and it’s good to keep in mind that he has also recorded under aliases like Knuckles O’Toole.

Here are five albums I highly recommend.

Just You Just Me (2001)

Dick Hyman and fellow pianist Ralph Sutton had already recorded an album for Concord’s duo series in 1994, and this follow-up is every bit as good. Produced by Ted O’Reilly, the album was recorded during a pair of concerts at the Montreal Bistro in 1996 but only released several years later. This is a terrific recording of classic music by two masterful stride players.

Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman (1969)

This was the first of two brilliant Moog albums that Hyman released in 1969. While Wendy Carlos was recording Switched On Bach, introducing fans of classical music to the Moog synthesizer, Hyman was introducing the new instrument to fans of jazz, pop and alternative music. The Minotaur was the first electronic song to make the Top 40 Billboard charts, and the album peaked at No. 4 on the U.S. jazz charts. (The song Pop Corn by Gershon Kingsley was a hit a year later, and Kraftwerk were just a rock band without synths back then.) Tracks from this album were sampled on Beck’s Sissyneck and Busta Rhymes’ Where We Are About to Take It, and the record also inspired fans near Meaford, Ont., to name their music and arts festival The Electric Eclectics Festival.

Moon Gas (1963)

I’ve always been a fan of exotic music, and this is otherworldly. Hyman channels his decades of experience and throws it into anything with keys on it. His trippy treatment and Mary Mayo’s ethereal voice makes this album a dreamy treat from beginning to end.

Fantomfingers (1971)

While tempted to recommend Man From O.R.G.A.N. or any number of recordings featuring Hyman on the organ, I ultimately picked Fantomfingers because the title track has one of the wildest jazz solos I’ve ever heard. This album is hard to find these days, but it continues to inspire young musicians who can find it on YouTube.

In Concert at the Old Mill Inn (2009)

How can I not have this on my list? I was in the audience and I produced the show. Recorded by Danny Greenspoon in Toronto, this was part of JAZZ.FM91’s Sound of Jazz concert series in 2007. It’s an excellent example of how Hyman kept improving with age — by this time, he was in his eighties and never sounded better.

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