Back many more years than I would care to remember, I took a college music appreciation course called "Piano Literature of the Romantic Period." Neither a pianist myself, nor even particularly knowledgeable about music in general, I thought it was time to learn something about the music written for an instrument I loved to listen to. The course turned out to be a comprehensive introduction to some of the most thrilling music ever written, some of it for piano and orchestra, most for solo piano. There is something about the solo piano in the hands of a skilled artist playing the works of master composers that can paint emotional colors like no other instrument. Think of Rubenstein playing Chopin, or Lang Lang playing Beethoven.
If this is true for the classical piano, it is no less true for the jazz piano, where the artist is as much a creator as he is a performer. Sir Roland Hanna is just such an artist. Let me begin by acknowledging my ignorance. I had no knowledge of Hanna, until one day an album of his arrived as they say "over the transom." Once I had listened, it was clear I had been missing a truly exceptional talent. Colors From a Giant's Kit is a collection of 14 solo tracks recorded by Hanna before his death in 2003. While Hanna may not have the achieved the same kind of public acclaim as some of the more noted jazz pianists—the Keith Jarretts, the Oscar Petersons, the Monks—a little research makes it clear that he is what is known in the trade as a musician's musician. He played with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and Benny Goodman's band among others. He accompanied singers like Sarah Vaughn and Al Hibbler. He composed works for the piano and orchestra and has soloed with some of the major classical orchestras in the country. This was a pianist that deserved a lot more attention.