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Jazz Remembered


Richard 'Dick' Twardzik


Dick Teardzik


American pianist Dick Twardzik was another of those who left the world too young. He died in Paris on tour with trumpeter Chet Baker at the age of 24 following a heroin overdose.

Richard Henryk Twardzik was born on the 30th April, 1931, in Massachusetts. As a child of two Boston artists, he trained as a classical pianist and was taught by Margaret Chaloff, the mother of jazz baritone saxophonist, Serge Chaloff. Dick made his professional debut at the age of 14. He played and recorded with Serge Chaloff who was eight years his senior and it was in his teens that Dick became addicted to heroin. Chaloff was also a heroin addict and although he successfully gave up drugs, he developed cancer of the spine and also died early at the age of 33.


Part 1 of an introduction to Dick Twardzik by Jez Nelson.




When Charlie Parker came to Boston in 1952, Dick Twardzik was just 21, but he impressed Parker enough to play with the saxophonist. Some radio broadcasts were recorded at the Hi-Hat Club at the time and were later released on the Uptown label as Boston 52. 'Symphony Sid' Torin was the radio announcer and he struggled to pronounce Dick's name. Richard Williams of wrote: ' ... listen to the wonderful inventiveness of the piano solo on a relaxed “Don’t Blame Me”, to the way he spins out his double-time lines, shaping them so beautifully, allowing them to float and curl and wind before moving into a passage of contrapuntal and parallel lines, followed by the lightest of block chords. By that time, he had already been using heroin for three years'.


Don't Blame Me is shared in Part 2 of Jez Nelson's introduction from around 6.14 mins.




As well as recording in Serge Chaloff's group, Dick also recorded with Charlie Mariano's Allstars. Listen to Dick Twardzik, Charlie Mariano and Serge Chaloff playing The Fable Of Mabel in 1954.




Richard Williams continues: '... Twardzik made a brilliant set of trio recordings for the Pacific Jazz labl in October 1954, half a dozen tracks first issued as one side of an LP called Trio which he shared with the group of Russ Freeman, his predecessor as (Chet) Baker’s pianist, who had brought him to the attention of the label’s boss, Dick Bock. The tracks, with one addition, were later released by themselves as The Last Set. There are three standards — “Round Midnight”, “I’ll Remember April” and “Bess You is My Woman” — along with three of his own compositions, all of them immediately striking, and not just for their titles: “Albuquerque Social Swim”, “Yellow Tango”, “A Crutch for the Crab”. They’re as full of playful character and unexpected twists ...'


Listen to A Crutch For The Crab:




Marc Myers on JazzWax writes of how he: '... received an email from saxophonist and arranger Bob Freedman, who ... sent along his recollections of Twardzik... "In 1948, when I was 14, I joined the Tommy Reynolds band playing baritone saxophone, alto saxophone and clarinet. Dick Twardzik was on piano. He was a magician on the keyboard. One night we arrived at one of the seaside ballrooms where the piano was out of tune (as usual) and had a bunch of non-functioning keys. Dickie sat down and made the thing sound absolutely beautiful. Then I tried it and walked away after a few seconds of producing nothing but noise ... Dickie and I sort of gravitated to each other. He was 17 and became my jazz mentor. One weekend, he invited me to his parents house in Danversport, Mass., for a weekend. His parents lived in a large, old house that had been restored. It had some historic import, and they gave public tours there. At the house, Dickie introduced me to recordings by artists like Art Tatum (whose playing he could imitate magnificently), Bud Powell and many of the other bop pianists...."

"Dickie helped me understand some of what Charlie Parker was doing on the alto sax and taught me a few of Parker's licks, which I still use when playing or writing. I had my baritone sax with me and we jammed a lot ... It's memories like these that I think about, blocking out the evil turn his life took later on with drug addiction. ...

I think another possible reason for Dickie's crash is that he, like Chet Baker, started off so Chet Baker and Dick Twardzikpositively, discovering and developing his talents that brought him innocent pleasure and seemed to impress those who heard him play. ... As their popularity grew, they inevitably began to associate with other players who were into heavy drugs, and the hoard of hangers-on and dealers who are habitually drawn to new stars soon began to swarm around. Then there came the pressure of having their work get reviewed, in many (if not most) cases by people who were unable to understand the music and incapable of evaluating it. I can’t cite any specific reviews that Dickie got, but I do know that his extremely inventive style was often subject to editorial assassination, or at least to gross misinterpretation". (Click here for the full JazzWax article).


Chet Baker and Dick Twardzik






Listen to Dick Twardzik and Chet Baker playing Sad Walk in 1955.




Jason Ankany in writes: ' ... When (Chet) Baker proposed an extended European tour to commence in the summer of 1955, his sidemen balked -- one by one they quit, but on his way out, Freeman recommended Twardzik as his replacement. Baker agreed, adding him to a revamped lineup that also included drummer (Peter) Littman and bassist Jimmy Bond. The drummer also suffered from heroin addiction, however, and Twardzik's's habit only intensified as a result. He overdosed regularly, at least once on-stage, but nevertheless pulled himself together for an exemplary October 11 date at Paris' Studio Pathé-Magellan, later released by Barclay Records as Chet In Paris. Three days later, the quartet returned to cut the World Pacific release Chet Baker In Europe, which proved Twardzik's' final studio session. A Stuttgart appearance alongside Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin followed, and on October 20 Twardzik made his final live appearance at Paris' Club Tabu. When the pianist failed to show up for rehearsal the next day, Baker sent Littman to check their hotel -- the drummer found Twardzik dead in his room, the needle still in his arm.....'.


Listen to Rondette and other tracks from the album Chet Baker In Paris.




In the liner notes for the album Chet And Dick - The Chet Baker-Dick Twardzik Quartet, covering the 1955 tour where the recordings were made at the Pathe-Magellan Studio in Paris on October 11th and 14th, 1955, we read: 'When they started their European tour together, Dick Twardzik was 24, Jimmy Bond was 22, Peter Littman only 20, and the leader, Chet Baker, just 25 .....'

Part 4 of Jez Nelson's introduction to Dick Twardzik (unfortunately Part 3 does not seem to be available).




In his article, Jason Ankeny points out: ' ... there is much speculation that he (Chet Baker) was with the pianist at the time of his overdose and fled the hotel room in fear -- given the mysteries still swirling about Baker's own death in 1988, it's unlikely the official chronology of Twardzik's final hours will ever be known. (Click here for the full article).


Dick Twardzik with Chet Baker

Dick Twardzik with Chet Baker


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