PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
July 19, 2005

Tinkling the Todi Ivories

by Jim Newsom

I must admit that I was not familiar with Dick Morgan, the jazz headliner at this year’s Todi Music Fest in Portsmouth, so when festival director Howard Bender told me Morgan was filling the TodiJazz spot, I did a little research.

I found an online RealVideo presentation of an hour-long performance at the Kennedy Center a couple of years ago and became an instant fan. This man can play! He’s understated and very tasteful, a class act with touches of Oscar Peterson, Nat Cole, Count Basie and a hint of Erroll Garner apparent in his stylistic mix. And he’s made his way around the jazz scene, going back to 1960 when he made his first recordings for the legendary Riverside record label.

Sandy Ingham at AllAboutJazz.com calls him “the best pianist you’ve never heard of unless you've spent some time in the nation's capital searching out its jazz haunts” and goes on to say, “If you're one of those who thinks the old Oscar Peterson Trio of the 1950s was the epitome of small-group jazz, with its emphasis on down-home blues-based swing, razor-sharp coordination between players and solos that build suspensefully to ecstatic crescendos, then you'll love Morgan too.”

It’s Washington, DC, where Morgan has made his home and a name for himself for many years. Interestingly enough, when he was 45 years old, he went to college, got his B. A. degree, then went to Howard University’s law school where he earned a J. D. degree, all the while playing jazz at night. Nowadays he practices law by day and continues to perform around the DC area by night.

The TodiJazz show is billed as “the Dick Morgan Trio plus One,” with the plus being guitarist Steve Abshire, a frequent Morgan sideman as well as a superb player in his own right. He was here a couple of summers ago for a Jazz on Granby date with Joe Byrd and Tommy Newsom, and he and Morgan work off each other like they’ve been playing together for years.

Dick Morgan grew up in Petersburg, where he was so impressive as a youngster that he had his own radio show by the time he was ten. He’s got a lot of friends locally, including Portsmouth mayor Jim Holley, so Monday night’s show will be like a homecoming in many ways. And there’s the venue---a true Portsmouth landmark, the newly revived Circle Restaurant. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Monday evening.

copyright © 2005 Port Folio Weekly. Used by Permission.