Development is not my primary consideration. The ability to project ever-changing emotions or moods, plus rhythmic freedom, is far more important to me

Richard Twardzik (to Russ Freeman)

Read and listen

Serge Chaloff, The Fable of Mabel
Boston, 3 September 1954, Storyville EP 426

Russ Freeman/Richard Twardzik, Trio
Hackensack, NJ, 27 October 1954, Pacific Jazz 1212

A crutch for the crab

Find out more

Jack Chambers, "Bouncin' with Bartok
The incomplete works of Richard Twardzik"
The Mercury Press, October 2008

Hard Rain    No 37    August 26, 2013
Richard Twardzik and The Fable of Mabel
Sometimes it takes a good biography for real understanding of artistic genius. Jack Chambers' magnum opus about Richard Twardzik's life and music is such a book.

In "Bouncin' with Bartok - The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik" Jack Chambers paints the fascinating and sad story of a brilliant young piano jazzman. The biography takes the Twardzik fan many steps forward in understanding of his genius.

Richard Twardzik was born in Boston on 30 April 1931. He started to play piano when he was nine and studied classical music for seven years. One of his teachers was Serge Chaloff's mother, Margaret. That made the door to jazz wide open. He worked with Charlie Parker, Serge Chaloff, Charlie Mariano and Herb Pomeroy, while closely studying concert pianists like Walter Gieseking and Wladimir Horowitz. His own concept was truly original.

Over the years just a few recordings of Twardzik's music have emerged. One has a certain aura, a composition in a league of its own: The Fable of Mabel. Serge Chaloff was the leader of the session in Boston, 3 September 1954. He had Herb Pomeroy and Charlie Mariano in the band. But Twardzik was in the front seat, having composed the title song.

Chambers gives The Fable of Mabel a whole chapter (pp 187-197), great reading in its own. Twardzik evidently supplied a program note for his opus in three movements - New Orleans, Classical and Not Too Sad an Ending. The recording is only four minutes and twenty seconds. Chambers is right in assuming that in a later LP-format "it would surely have been decompressed to twice its length or more".

The career was short. Twardzik didn't even live to see the release of his first and only recording as leader. This is the legendary Pacific Jazz PJ-1212, Russ Freeman /Richard Twardzik, Trio (released in 1956). Twardzik's music, six tracks, made up for one side of the album. Russ Freeman, with Joe Mondragon and Shelly Manne, is on the other side.

The session took place in Rudy van Gelder's studio in Hackensack, New Jersey, 27 October 1954. The Twardzik trio includes Carson Smith on bass and Peter Littman on drums. There are three originals by Twardzik and three "standards". "Albuquerque social swim" and Yellow tango" have a remarkable glow of rhythmic freedom. Russ Freeman tells us that "the idea for "A Crutch for the Crab" came from watching the hands of the Polish pianist Jan Smeterlin, as they scurried crablike into the keys".

In 1955 Twardzik embarked on his first and last European tour. As a member of Chet Baker's quartet he arrived in France on 15 September. In 36 days Twardzik and the others played "att least 18 concerts or club dates and two recording sessions at 18 different venues in 15 cities in six countries" (Chambers p. 246).

The last known recording (so far) is from a date in Stuttgart, Germany, 15 October 1955, where famed Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin joined the quartet. Only six days after his wonderful rendition of "Loverman" Richard Twardzik is found dead in Paris.