Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 February, 2011, 12:00am

The Year of the Rabbit marks a significant anniversary for itinerant jazz pianist and organist Bob Mocarsky. It is 10 years since he arrived in Asia, initially for a gig in Bangkok. He has stayed in the region almost continuously since - except for a two-year hiatus in New York - holding down piano residencies in clubs and hotels in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei and Kaohsiung.

He is now resident in Hong Kong, although he also works regularly in Shanghai and continues to travel widely. Mocarsky's travels have given him inspiration for his music, and his latest album, Shanghai, on Skipper Productions Records, collects seven original compositions intended to reflect the places he has lived and worked, plus a traditional Chinese tune he has arranged and adapted.

The album title was chosen because Shanghai is the city where the album was recorded, and also where the close rapport which is at its core between Mocarsky and veteran bassist Henry 'Skipper' Franklin was established.

Franklin's record credits range from Hugh Masekela's huge 1968 hit Grazing in the Grass to Stevie Wonder's The Secret Life of Plants. He has played with a long list of major jazz artists, including Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins and Count Basie, and has released his own albums as a leader. He owns Skipper Productions Records.

'Henry loves playing in Asia' says Mocarsky, 'and we did this four-month gig together at the Ritz Carlton Portman Hotel in Shanghai. I played him these tunes and he suggested that we make a record.'

Although Mocarsky and Franklin had worked as a duo, they decided that a classic piano trio line-up would best suit the compositions, and Mocarsky called Shanghai resident drummer Chris Trzcinski.

Some slightly confusing liner notes by Los Angeles-based jazz critic Glenn A. Mitchell suggest that the CD is a concept album about Shanghai. However, listeners familiar with Asia will immediately recognise several of the titles as referring to other places such as Bangkok, New York and Hong Kong (with Take The MTR-O a Latin-tinged tune with a title that gives an Asian echo to Billy Strayhorn's theme for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Take the A Train).

'I feel like I'm going out on a limb with this album,' says Mocarsky. 'People in Asia like to hear familiar tunes. They want My Funny Valentine, Waltz for Debby or Round Midnight covers. These are all but one originals, so we'll see what happens.'

Sadly, there is no immediate prospect of hearing the trio live. Although Mocarsky and Trzcinski work in both Hong Kong and Shanghai, Franklin is based in LA, so convening the group is difficult.

However, we do have this record of a remarkable day's music making at Studio Number One in the Shanghai Broadcast Building with its fine Steinway piano. The CD is available now from Jazz World and will shortly also be available online from CD Baby.

Take Three

Three albums featuring the piano playing of Bob Mocarsky.

Bob Mocarsky Trio (2007, Eversonic Records): recorded in Brooklyn, New York, with Billy Drummond on drums and Santi Debriano on bass, a set mixing standards with Mocarsky originals.

Liverpool Stories (2009, Music Net): a vocal piano duet album on which Mocarsky accompanies four different singers - Angelita Li, Ela Alegre, Gigi Marentette, and Mimi Lo - in jazz interpretations of Beatles tunes.

Don't Explain (2010, Silva Records): singer Brigitte Mitchell's debut album features Mocarsky as pianist and arranger on most tracks, working with several of Asia's leading jazz musicians.