Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the
April 4, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
The Beauty of Bey: Jazz Piano & Vocals
Pianist, songwriter and vocalist Andy Bey has taken
the concept of his own individual style to the Nth degree. Now a
61, the jazz singer is as well-known for his piano playing as he is
for his unique, vibrato-filled, shimmering vocal style. Bey has his
own, instantly recognizable style, and he will bring some of that
beauty in his approach to interpreting jazz and blues standards to
the Peddie School auditorium on Friday, April 6.
Bey’s recordings under his own name are scant: there’s a 1998 release,
"Shades of Bey," and a 1996 release, "Ballads, Blues and
Bey" both for Evidence Music. But other than that, there’s not
a great deal to inform new fans of jazz music that Bey is out there,
touring. However, talk to veteran jazz musicians and they will all
tell you how much they respect his unique piano playing and intriguing
Over the years, the Newark born-and-bred musician has accompanied
the bands of Eddie Harris, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, Thad Jones/Mel
Lewis, Frank Foster, Horace Silver, and even the multi-dimensional
Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who had such a huge influence on rock ‘n’ rollers
like Jethro Tull.
Bey’s 1970 recording for Atlantic Records, "Experience and
was never made widely available, but it was considered by jazz critics
a breakthrough recording, one that took jazz to another place, not
unlike what vocalist Cassandra Wilson has been doing through the 1990s
with her recordings. Bey’s biography from Evidence Music, a
Pa.-based blues and jazz label with integrity, describes Bey as "a
child prodigy." Asked about this, Bey reveals he was raised in
a family of nine kids on Rutgers Street in Newark.
"It wasn’t all centered around me, even though I was the youngest
of nine," he says from his apartment in the Chelsea section of
"I was considered a child prodigy because I started playing very
young. I was banging on the piano and I played a little boogie-woogie.
I started getting interested in piano a little after my first
he explains. "At age three I started making a bit of sense, and
by the time I was four or five I can remember actually playing tunes
a little bit."
He began playing in Newark’s then-thriving club scene in the 1940s
at age eight, when his justifiably proud parents or sisters would
arrange gigs for him.
"I would work at a club called Lloyd’s Manor," he says.
owner there took a liking to me. I used to be chaperoned by my older
sisters or my parents, and they had a lounge and a bowling alley
I remember they used to have Redd Foxx and Dinah Washington or Ruth
Brown in the main room, and sometimes I’d appear there and sit in
with the house band."
"They would let me stand up and sing and I would play piano for
myself in the lounge," Bey says. "I’d play things like
and other Louis Jordan stuff. During the late 1940s and early 1950s,
we had places like the Sugar Hill and the ballrooms. There was always
someplace to go," he says, adding the riots in 1967 changed all
"The first professional gig I can recall, I was eight or nine,
and we used to have an impresario around Newark named Bill Cook. He
had a TV show and he’d have me on the show as a `child prodigy’,"
Bey says. "It was about the time  that Mickey & Sylvia had
the hit with `Love Is Strange.’ I can remember these packages around
Elizabeth and other towns, and I can remember seeing Jimmy Scott on
some of these shows," he adds.
By 1953, as a young teen, Bey got to perform with his
then-idol Jordan and his band at the Apollo Theater. "I had been
a fan of his before I worked with him. `Caledonia’ and `Nobody Here
But Us Chickens’ — they were big hits. I remember being in awe
of him and respectful of his greatness," Bey says.
At the Apollo, Bey performed a single he had out at the time,
Little Boy Got The Blues," but he adds, "I also did standards
at that time, and I loved Nat `King’ Cole and Billy Eckstine, really
anybody else I heard. I was like a sponge that absorbed this and that,
but I have always been very partial to Nat `King’ Cole," he
Bey’s father was a window washer and an amateur musician who played
piano and tuba, while his mother, with nine kids, was a housewife
with a capital "H," he says. By 1950 Bey’s father was able
to afford to move the family up to their own house in North Newark.
Bey began to forge a reputation for himself when performing with his
sisters, Geraldine and Salome, as Andy and the Bey Sisters. "We
were signed with Decca Records for a time, but I did my first
for Jubilee Records," Bey explains. What was it like, as a young,
bright teenager, to be exposed so early to the hard, cruel realities
of the record business? "The record business is still not too
good," Bey laughs, "but as I’ve grown and gotten involved
in the music and recording for a variety of labels over the years,
I’ve learned things."
Bey’s 1970 ground-breaking, critically-acclaimed recording for
"Experience and Judgment," was never fully released, marketed,
and distributed, he explains, and it turned out to be more of a tax
write-off for the company than anything else, he argues. Thankfully,
"Experience and Judgment" has been reissued on Koch
Asked what he was able to glean from working with so many great
i.e., the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Max
Roach, Horace Silver and others, Bey says all of them were helpful.
"They taught me to be an individual, and not follow anybody. You
can listen and learn from the others, but the most important thing
is to be yourself," he says.
Unlike Cassandra Wilson, who is a relatively new arrival on the jazz
and blues scene, Bey has been expanding the boundaries and conventions
of jazz music since the early 1970s. His forthcoming album, on an
as-yet-to-be determined label, "Tuesdays In Chinatown,"
a Brazilian tune "Salides," as well as standards like
"My producer, Herb Jordan [based in Los Angeles] always encourages
me to take risks. I’m a risk-taker anyway, but he picked some tunes
for the new album that would not normally be associated with the jazz
thing," he explains.
"I listen to all kinds of music, and so does he, but with someone
like him around, who already knows what you’re all about, sometimes,
two heads are better than one."
The press release from the Peddie School mentions that Bey is
We ask him how he is faring with the disease in the seven years since
he discovered he was positive.
"I’m in good shape and fine form," he says. "I do a lot
of herbal stuff and stay on a vegetarian diet and I do some breathing
exercises and yoga to keep me healthy." He notes that he has been
into yoga since the early 1970s and that he also takes "all kinds
of vitamins and food supplements."
At the Peddie School this Friday, April 6, coming off a well-attended
series of shows with his quartet at a Manhattan nightclub, the Jazz
Standard, Bey will accompany himself on piano. Asked about his
to a solo piano show, Bey says "I approach it the same way I do
things when I’m working with a trio or quartet. I always imagine I’m
working with bass and drums. I think very intimately, and I play
intimately. I may go into some piano interludes and I’ll do things
like `Like A Lover’ and a lot of the same songs I’ll play with my
trio or quartet. I’ll do some blues, too."
While it’s not so obvious from his piano playing, Bey credits the
stylings of Fats Waller and Art Tatum — as well as more recent
arrivals, in classic jazz timeframe — – people like Hank Jones,
Bud Powell and Errol Garner, for helping to shape his wide-ranging,
eclectic piano style.
"Whatever it is that you do," Bey says, recalling the advice
of the bandleaders he worked with over the years, "you’ve got
to get your music to a point where it’s you, and you have your own
— Richard J. Skelly
Hightstown. $15. 609-490-7550. Pre-concert chat at 7 p.m. Friday,
April 6, 8 p.m.
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