by Piotr Michalowski
Jazz pianists are often judged by the company they keep. Some eventually become soloists and front their own groups, but most have to make their living as accompanists and collaborators, venturing out sporadically for solo or duo performances. Judged on such criteria, George Cables has certainly achieved the highest marks, as he has worked with some of the best front men in jazz. He grew up in New York and by his middle twenties was making his first recordings. In 1969 he toured briefly as part of the famed Art Blakey Jazz Messengers, together with trumpet player Woody Shaw. By the next year both Cables and Shaw were on the West Coast and were playing and recording with saxophonist Joe Henderson and then with Shaw's own group.
Those were exciting times, as both Shaw and Henderson were moving away from the dominant hard-bop idiom of the times, in part influenced by the work of Miles Davis, and Cables played electric piano, as was often the custom of the day. He pursued the electric as well as the acoustic piano on the first recordings under his own name, which offered light funky tracks alongside more traditional standards. In 1976 the father of bop tenor saxophone playing, Dexter Gordon, returned to the United States from years of living in Europe and eventually hired Cables, who stayed with him until 1979. The group toured the United States and Europe and provided excellent exposure for the pianist. After all these years, I still remember the impression he made when I had the opportunity to hear this group. He was a good foil for the grand old man, offering support for his long solos, and providing apposite, though somewhat more modern, excursions when the spotlight was turned on him.
1979 was an important year for Cables. He left Gordon, recorded the first important album under his own name (Cables' Vision), and became the partner of another great saxophonist, Art Pepper. He
continued to freelance and play with others, but he would often be found accompanying the amazing Pepper, whose playing at the time was immensely passionate and creative. Their collaboration is well documented by recordings, perhaps most notably by their 1982 duets that turned out to be Pepper's last recording sessions.
Over the past two decades Cables has played and recorded with a broad range of other musicians, including another veteran saxophonist, Frank Morgan, who is well known to Ann Arbor audiences, and he has released more than twenty albums under his own name. On rare occasions he does solo gigs, but so far as I know, he has recorded only one CD alone, volume 35 of the Maybeck Recital Hall Series. It is a lovely record, with a nice balance of ballads and faster tunes, and it provides a good advance view of his solo performance on Friday, February 10, at Kerrytown Concert House.
[Review published February 2006]