andy bey 88.
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This year's Hot Jazz series kicks off tonight at Jerusalem's Gerard Behar Auditorium with something of a revelation. While, at the age of 70, pianist-vocalist Andy Bey is certainly no newcomer to the global jazz scene, he has been termed - pardon the pun - "an unsung hero."
Considering his early entry into the business, velvet-voiced Bey's sparse recording output is a little difficult to fathom. "I used to go to a club called Lloyd's Manor in Newark, New Jersey when I was five or six years old," Bey recalls in a telephone interview from his New York City home. "I'd sit in and sing and play with some of the people that used to play there. Of course, I always had a chaperone. My family protected me when I was little."
Bey's family was also the springboard and the inspiration for his career. "I went to Lloyd's Manor because my sister [Salome], who was six years older than me, used to sing there. My other sister, Geraldine, also used to sing."
Bey was indeed a child prodigy and by the age of eight had already gigged with tenor saxophone great Hank Mobley. Five years on, in 1952, Bey recorded his first album, Mama's Little Boy's Got the Blues. By 1956 the siblings had formed a band called Andy & The Bey Sisters. They embarked on a 16-month tour of Europe and over the coming years recorded three albums. The three parted professional company in 1967.
BUT, AFTER THE meteoric start to his career, Bey's public profile dipped, although he provided commensurate sideman support for a whole host of frontliners over the next decade or two, including the likes of pianist Horace Silver, drummer Max Roach and reedman Gary Bartz.
Bey has a somewhat enigmatic philosophical take of what followed, inferring that some of the industry people he encountered along the way may not have shared his line of thinking. "People are ready for what you have to offer, or they aren't," he declares. "You do what you do. I'm no longer together with the people I recorded with in the past - some of the decisions over those records were not always the best."
Mind you, Bey's marketing pull wasn't exactly helped along by some of the artistic-spiritual directions he chose to follow. His long association with Silver produced a string of religious-themed albums in the 1970s and 1980s, which contained material that Silver called "metaphysical self-help music." While they may have been good for the soul they didn't do much for Bey's pocket.
Like Roach, Bey was also outspoken on civil rights and the Vietnam War, and maintained a highly spiritual stance, although not necessarily within the realms of a recognized religious fold. "God and truth never change," he states. "The truth is just the truth. People can have an idea of what truth is, but it is always just that - the truth. Truth is beyond the physical and music is above you, beyond your control."
In 1996, Bey's career and public profile took an incremental step in the right direction when he released the acclaimed Ballads, Blues and Bey album, which he followed two years later with Shades of Bey. Bey's eclectic approach to music also came through strongly in his 2001 offering Tuesdays in Chinatown, which included covers of numbers by a diverse range of artists, including British angst-driven singer songwriter Nick Drake and Brazilian singer-guitarist Milton Nascimento. American Song, put out in 2004, is an example of Bey's lyrical piano playing and mellifluous gospel-tinted vocal work at its very best.
Andy Bey will perform with his trio of bassist Joe Martin and drummer Vioto Lazjak at the Gerard Behar Auditorium in Jerusalem today at 9 p.m., Mercaz Habama in Ganei Tikva tomorrow at 9 p.m., Zappa Herzliya on Wednesday at 10 p.m., Tel Aviv Museum on Thursday and Friday at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. respectively, and at Abba Hushi house in Haifa on Saturday at 9 p.m..