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Christian Sands On Piano Jazz

Christian Sands is a 21-year-old student at the Manhattan School of Music, and already he has three solo albums, two Grammy Awards show appearances and a duet with the late Oscar Peterson on his resume. In this session, the versatile Sands performs tunes including those by Duke Ellington, Scott Joplin and Wynton Kelly, in addition to a Sands original.

Sands starts the session in a duet with bassist and guest host Christian McBride; together, they pay tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor in "Lonesome Lover." McBride lays down the hypnotic bass groove as Sands plays a soulful melody. An elder statesman of jazz and a noted educator, Taylor composed the tune for his son, who had passed away.

"It's one of my favorite songs, and it's such a pleasure to play that piece because it's so sacred to him," Sands says. "It also made me feel really special when he asked me to record it."

Sands has studied under Taylor, who handed down knowledge gathered by watching the likes of Art Tatum.

A Sands solo rendition of "Hallelujah Get Happy" follows, and he and McBride perform another duet on the "rhythm changes," as in the chord changes for "I've Got Rhythm." The pair get right on the special level that comes so naturally when playing standards. They exchange solo bars on the opening chorus before McBride revs up the tempo and clears the path for Sands' swinging solo.

"Oh, man, I'm sweatin' bullets right now," Sands exclaims.

"There's nothing greater in the world than feeling that heat," McBride adds.

As a young musician, Sands demonstrates a surprising maturity in his approach to interpreting tunes from the jazz canon. In a beautiful rendition of one of Marian McPartland's favorite tunes, Duke Ellington's "Single Petal of a Rose," Sands emphasizes the artistry of Ellington, interpreting the tune in an open, impressionistic manner. And in Scott Joplin's stride masterpiece, "The Entertainer," he bypasses a pure stride workout in favor of a more reflective, analytic approach and varied tempo. He also brings along an original tune to the program, "Musician's Lullaby," and McBride joins in after a brief prelude.

"Beautiful," McBride says. "You're a wonderful musician, and I look forward to watching you grow into a major figure."

The session turns toward home with a closing duet in "Kelly's Blues," and Sands makes the grade as he serves up a faithful rendition of pianist Wynton Kelly's downhome phrasing and trilling on the keys. He clears the table for a McBride bass solo, and the tune simmers for a few extra bars to end this session.

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Grant Jackson