Saturday, May 26, 2018

Deznil Best Was One of the Best

Jazz history is full of great players and characters, many of whom are well known to us. But there are equally many who are less well known than they deserve to be. Denzil DeCosta Best must be somewhere near the top of that list.
In the video below, Best can be seen playing his own classic composition, "Move," with George Shearing's quintet. He was less inclined to call attention to his own playing than other great players, such as Art Blakey or Max Roach, but Best certainly was among the original bebop masters. His brush work in particular is reputed (by Elvin Jones among others) to be among the best on record. The video below provides one nice demonstration; another is the entire recording of Errol Garner's 1955 "Concert by the Sea."
In the mid-1940s Best joined Coleman Hawkin's groundbreaking group, which also included Thelonious Monk. Best and Monk later left Hawkins band to form their own, which became Monk's first group as a leader. Monk reportedly loved Best's laid-back but hard swinging style. The two of them co-wrote "Bemsha Swing." Unfortunately, a freak accident in which Best broke both his legs forced him off the drums for a couple of years, and out of Monk's group. Best later joined up with Shearing and Garner. He also played with Ben Webster, Artie Shaw, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Lennie Tristano, and Lee Konitz. Unfortunately, sometime around 1963 Best developed paralysis presumably  relating to his earlier injury. He died in 1965 at age 48, after falling down stairs at a New York City subway station.
In addition to "Move, and "Bemsha Swing," Best left the world with other fine, and oft-recording compositions, including "Wee," "Nothing But D. Best," and "Dee Dee's Dance."


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