MOST of the names on almost anyone's roster of living jazz greats will turn up in this area at least yearly. Well, you needn't take the time to compile such wish lists to see and hear world class jazz artists perform here. Washington itself has some of the finest in its own back yard. Cases in point are two of the best mainstream pianists working anywhere today.
Larry Eanet, a practicing physician here for two decades, puts himself stylistically "somewhere between Nat King Cole and Bill Evans." Dick Morgan, who last week took his final exams at Howard University Law School and soon will be hanging his shingle as an attorney and consultant in entertainment law, describes his approach as "straight ahead," cites Oscar Peterson as his idol and confesses to being a "Bach fanatic." Eanet will be in duo with bassist Van Perry, himself a D.C. institution, at the Henley Park Hotel tonight, Wednesday and Thursday. Morgan will remain at the Pirates Hideaway of the Georgetown seafood restaurant on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Morgan, after a number of years on the road and many extended engagements in Norfolk, Reno, New York and other locales, made Washington his home in the early 1960s. Growing up in Petersburg, Va., he "was fortunate to be exposed to jazz at an early age" and began studying piano at the age of 5. "I could play anything," he recalls, and when he was 10 he was on the air with his own weekly radio show. In the Army in the early 1950s Morgan headed a Special Services swing band that traveled widely.
In a Norfolk club Morgan found himself performing one night for Duke Ellington, who had heard of the young pianist's talents and dropped around to check him out. "Keep on doing what you're doing," said the great band leader. That fleeting moment remains one of Morgan's treasured memories.
Morgan went on to become the first black to have a TV show in Norfolk and his associations over the years have included residences with trumpeter Jonah Jones at the Embers in New York, recordings with Ellington bassist Joe Benjamin, and a frequently renewed musical partnership with Washington-based, but world-traveler bassist Keter Betts.
Ellington, incidentally, was not alone in recognizing Morgan's talents. Morgan has played private parties for Frank Sinatra; swing era giants Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey were on the brink of finding a place for him on their TV program when the two brothers died within a few months of each other in 1956 and 1957, and saxophonist Cannonball Adderley was responsible for Riverside Records cutting an album of Morgan's trio of a few years ago. Guitarist Charlie Byrd brought Morgan to his 18th Street showboat for a two-year stint in the 1960s, and since then he has played in the area and made the occasional trip for a gig out of town.
For the present he is a fixture at Pirates Hideaway. Morgan expects that his experience "on the other side" will enhance his empathy for legal clients in the entertainment world and enable him to more effectively represent them.
Larry Eanet says he "started out just naturally interested in music and my folks gave me piano lessons for my fourth birthday. I studied Bach, Mozart and all that and I loved all of it. When I originally got interested in jazz it was because my folks had a domestic servant (my mother was a junior high school teacher and my father a doctor) whose entire life focus, apart from her job, was her church choir. She sang hymns all day long and whenever she could would play her little tabletop radio and tune in what you'd now call gospel music. And I'd listen with her, I'd hang out and sit in the kitchen with her while she was cooking and I sang along with her and patted my foot. That music's just like jazz, you know--it swung and I loved it."
When Eanet was 11 he was tuning in to black music stations to listen to Louis Jordan, Avery Parrish and other blusey sounds and at Roosevelt High School he was playing big band stocks. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Eanet and his roommate, the late drummer and Washington native Walt Gifford, formed the Crimson Stompers, a Dixieland band, and the 20-year-old pianist once found himself playing intermission to Art Tatum at Boston's Storyville. "I played the sparsest piano you've ever heard," Eanet says with a laugh. "I didn't play a run all week."
But being on the bandstand with legends has long been second nature to Eanet. He has performed in local clubs with, to name a few, violinist Joe Venuti, trumpeter Clark Terry, saxophonist Zoot Sims, vibraphonist Milt Jackson and vocalists Maxine Sullivan, Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson and Barbara Lea. "Music makes a marvelous mistress--she's always ready," observes Eanet, who plays at least several nights every week, frequently more often. "I've been very lucky to have both careers," he admits, "but really the two have nothing to do with each other at all."