MUSIC REVIEW: Aaron Diehl @ EJ Thomas Hall by Lisa DeBenedictis & Tricia Hammann

Photo by Evelyn Freja

Tuesday Musical’s annual Margaret Baxtresser Piano Concert is a nationally renowned concert series endowed in honor of the acclaimed pianist Margaret Baxtresser. Every year it showcases one of the world’s most celebrated pianists and has included such artists as Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax, and Conrad Tao. On Tuesday February 13 it featured the illustrious Aaron Diehl.

Diehl, who was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, now lives in Brooklyn. He was recently named New York’s 92nd Street Y’s new “Jazz in July” Festival Director. Diehl is said to have “quietly redefined the lines between jazz and classical,” with his, “melodic precision, harmonic erudition, and elegant restraint.”

Diehl came in early and gave a master class on Monday at the University of Akron with Akron’s own Theron Brown that engaged and inspired more than 20 music students. It was lucky, not only for the students but for us as well, since he may not otherwise have made it in on Tuesday. Two of the members of his trio missed the program due to the snowstorm in New York. Diehl had planned a program, the first half of which was to feature African-American classical composers, with his jazz trio joining him in the second half. Even without two members of his trio, however, Diehl managed to pull a lightweight and charming program out of his hat, for a delightful evening of jazz and ragtime, interspersed with anecdotes about the last century’s great American jazz artists. Diehl is a brilliant raconteur whose vivid depictions and quotes from jazz greats as far flung as Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, and Art Tatum not only brought the music to life but gave us a window into the pathos and wit of those American lives and that culture.

Diehl is a captivating storyteller and made us feel like we were listening to the old jazz pianists of the 20th century.  It was a beguiling, winsome program by this fleet-fingered American pianist. “Embraceable You” was perfect for Valentine’s Day, and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Finger Buster” brought the crowd to its feet. Even after a concert with no intermission, Diehl came back and gave one of the most satisfying performances Art Tatum’s “Tiger Rag” ever given.

Diehl referenced Dr. Billy Taylor more than once. Taylor used to profile jazz and blues greats on CBS’s Sunday Morning, one of best arts programs on television. CBS would be wise to hire Diehl as a pundit. He would be a marvelous addition to Sunday Morning, juxtaposing eclecticism and contemporary tastes.

Kudos should be given to pianist Matias Nester Cuevas (first place winner of Tuesday Musical’s 2023 Scholarship Competition) for filling in last minute and providing a lovely rendition of Brahms’s Opus 118 as a concert opener.

Tuesday Musical’s next main stage concert will be on March 12th at 7:30 pm.  The Kyiv Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra with pianist Alon Kariv, Ukraine’s celebrated orchestra will perform a concert dedicated to peace in our time featuring works by Mendelssohn and Beethoven. They will perform the same program two days later at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Review by Lisa DeBenedictis and Tricia Hammann

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2 Responses to “MUSIC REVIEW: Aaron Diehl @ EJ Thomas Hall by Lisa DeBenedictis & Tricia Hammann”

  1. Alfreda Barnes

    Words matter. Excellent commentary!!

  2. Vickie Curry

    Kudos to this excellent music review!

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