Keyboardist and composer Jim Beard has long been a “behind the scenes” kind of guy, contributing his skills to music by better-known acts, such as Wayne Shorter, Chuck Loeb, Eliane Elias, John McLaughlin and Walter Becker; he’s the very definition of a “musician’s musician.” If you’ve caught a Steely Dan or Dukes of September show recently, you’ve seen him even if the name doesn’t ring a bell: he’s been the second keyboard player after Donald Fagen for both of those touring bands.
As an avid reader of the credits list on albums, I first encountered his name in the late 80s on some CDs I had by Michael Brecker and Mike Stern. Brecker’s second album Don’t Try This At Home (1988), like many compact discs in the early days, had a “CD bonus track” tucked away at the end, usually an afterthought recording that didn’t make the cut on the shorter vinyl format. That track for this particular CD was “The Gentleman And Hizcaine,” the lone composition on the album — for the CD format only — contributed by Beard.
It’s a song with a strange but memorable melodic theme, a somewhat dark ostinato that flowed in an odd, almost speaking cadence. It wasn’t much like the other songs on Home and I could instantly figure why it didn’t make it on vinyl. But as I got to get familiar with this tune, I had grown attached to it and it’s eccentricities to the point where it’s one of my favorite cuts on the Brecker album, and that’s a damned good record overall. Ever since then, I immediately think of this song whenever I encounter Jim Beard’s name or music.
Well, I encountered both recently on receipt of his upcoming release Show Of Hands. Beard had made a fistful of records in the 90’s and only one since then, so this is a pretty significant event for him and his fans.
Hands is Beard’s first solo piano record, a mixture of covers, new Beard tunes and old Beard tunes. Listening through this for the first time without looking at the song list, my ears perked up when I reached track 7. From the opening sequence came forth that eccentric ostinato and it immediately transported me back 25 years. Beard doesn’t do any improvising on the song, he arpeggiates a lot of his chords, plays some sly variations of the theme and just lets the composition itself become the main attraction.
Heck, after hearing Jim Beard playing “The Gentleman And Hizcaine” unaccompanied, I think my own attraction to it has grown once again.