Who is Joe Albany and why has he been forgotten? Joe Albany was born in 1924 and after a stint as a child on the accordion, he switched to piano, just in time to come of age as one of the early bebop pianists. Unfortunately, Albany had serious drug and alcohol problems, and a very unsettled domestic life which included the suicide of his second wife and a third wife who almost died of a drug overdose. Despite these hurdles he was a significant pianist in the late 40s and played with stars such as Benny Carter, George Auld, Boyd Raeburn, and Charlie Parker. He can be heard on select Parker and Lester Young sides from that period, but after 1947 was not recorded again until 1971 as he struggled with his demons. A story of his life and struggles eveidently was part of a 1980 documentary. He played a bit with Mingus in the 60s, but it was only in the 1970s that he steadily recorded as a leader, first in Europe and finally back in the U.S. for his final few years.
I have several recordings by Albany, and when he is on he can play a terrific piano, as demonstrated on his later CDs on Steeplechase, as well as on a late release of some of his playing with Warne Marsh in 1957 on Riverside. I have three of his CDs.
"Two's Company" (Steeplechase 1990) is a recording from a 1974 duo session with Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen in Copenhagen, and features the two stretching out on seven songs, one by Albany, "Birdtown Birds", and the rest by an assorted group of composers. Albany's play is lively and clearly in the bop framework, and tunes like "Star Eyes", "Lover Man", and Lullaby in Rhythm" are outstanding. NHOP is in great form and takes a number of notable solos in addition to offering some sympathetic comping behind Albany.
"Birdtown Birds" features Albany in a trio with Hugo Rasmussen on bass and Hans Nymand on drums, and was also recorded at the Montmartre in Copenhagen. This time the music is spread over 11 songs, from Albany's own title song to standards like "Steeplechase", Night and Day", " All the Things You Are", and "Yardbird Suite." Once again Albany displays a fine touch, and feel for the melodies and improvisations.
The last CD I have is "Portrait of An Artist" (Wounded Bird Records 1982 and 2008), a quartet recorded in the U.S. with George Duvivier on bass, Charlie Persip on drums, and Al Gafa on guitar. This was Albany's last recording and is mostly ballads, featuring some nice performances of such tunes as "Autumn In New York," "They Say It's Wonderful" and "Confirmation."
Players of Albany's caliber get overlooked or overshadowed for a variety of reasons; in Albany's case it was drugs, alcohol and an extended period overseas. But given Albany's initial impact upon bop piano in the 40s, and his fine play on these sides and otehrs recorded from 1957 and again in the 70s and 80s, he deserves recognition and a good listen, especially by those who love the classic bop period musicians.