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Billy Mayerl, Vol. 1 (1925-1936)

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Album Review

This entertaining set from Naxos collects numerous Billy Mayerl recordings, showing both the eccentric, crazy-fingered side of the British pianist while also including his more conventional period pieces. "Marigold" — Mayerl's defining performance — is here; it even provides inspiration for the cover art. "All-Of-A-Twist" shows off Mayerl's wild abandon on the ivories, traveling up and down the keyboard while still staying within the framework of 1920s instrumental style — it's like the rapid-fire soundtrack of an early motion picture. You can just see the herky-jerky footage, with a smiling man in a straw boater riding his penny farthing bicycle, turning to the lens as if to speak, and laughing when he realizes he's on camera. At the same time, Mayerl's slower material shows a flair for nuance. The suites — "Three Miniatures in Syncopation" and "Three Dances in Syncopation" — each move beautifully through quiet moments and flashes of tittering keys. Again, it's easy to hear it and imagine the gray scale snapshot of a British Pathé newsreel, turning its cameras on an estate sale, or a public appearance by Princess Elizabeth. While his introspective suites showed needed depth, it was his rapid-fire, oddly-timed compositions with which Mayerl really made his name, and Original Recordings doesn't disappoint. Besides "All-Of-A-Twist," there's "Jazzaristrix," "Virginia Creeper," and the fabulously wacky "Honky-Tonk." The set is a great overview of a talented pianist's work while being incredibly provocative for his particular time period.


Born: 31 May 1902 in London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '20s, '30s

Pianist Billy Mayerl was born on May 31, 1902, in London's West End. His talent for the instrument was immediate, and by the age of seven he was studying at Trinity College of Music. By his late teens he was earning decent money tinkling the ivories at dances and silent movie cinemas throughout London and its environs. As a natural showman he enjoyed the attention. However, the gigs also afforded Mayerl plenty of room to improvise, and this would come to influence his own compositional style. In...
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Billy Mayerl, Vol. 1 (1925-1936), Billy Mayerl
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