Although Frank Hewitt was not well known in the jazz world, the late acoustic pianist was a talented, hard-swinging improviser who spent much of his life around the New York City jazz scene. Hewitt's specialty was hard bop, and his primary influences were pianists who emerged in the '40s and '50s, including Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Elmo Hope and Bill Evans (not so much Evans' modal post-bop playing, but definitely his early bop-oriented output). Hewitt was not known for avant-garde jazz, crossover jazz or fusion -- bop was his preference, and those who heard him performing around the Big Apple usually compared him to very straight-ahead pianists like Barry Harris, Sonny Clark, Hampton Hawes, Tommy Flanagan and Phineas Newborn Jr.
Hewitt was born in the New York City's borough of Queens on October 23, 1935, but he didn't grow up in Queens -- he grew up in Harlem, an area that has long been closely identified with jazz. Hewitt's mother was a church pianist, and he was only a child when she encouraged him to have his first piano lessons. Hewitt started out playing gospel and classical piano, but after hearing Charlie Parker's recording of "Dewey Square," a teenage Hewitt knew he wanted to play jazz -- and by the mid- '50s, he was performing in New York jazz clubs and crossing paths with bop heavyweights like trumpeter Howard McGhee and baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne. Hewitt remained active on the New York jazz scene throughout the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s (when he was a frequent performer at Small's Café in Manhattan's Greenwich Village), but unfortunately, he didn't have a chance to record any studio sessions as a leader during any of those decades. Hewitt's first chance to record as a leader finally came in May and June 2001, when he entered the studio with producer Luke Kaven and recorded some trio dates that employed Ari Roland on upright bass and Jimmy Lovelace or Danny Rosenfeld on drums. Hewitt, sadly, did not live long enough to see those recordings released; the pianist died of complications from cancer on September 5, 2002 at the age of 66. In early 2004, eight of Hewitt's 2001 recordings were released posthumously as We Loved You, a 68-minute CD that came out on Kaven's own label Small's Records (which he named after the club). After that disc's release, Kaven announced that he still had some Hewitt recordings in the can and would be putting them out in the future. ~ Alex Henderson