My father brought a piano into the house just before my 13th birthday," recalls John Malachi, "and I immediately began to peck away at it." He learned the fundamentals, at 15 cents a lesson, from Wynn Boyd ("who just celebrated his 82nd birthday in Gaithersburg"), and was otherwise self-taught. In 1936 a 17-year-old Malachi found himself playing intermission piano at the Jungle Inn, a U Street club where Jelly Roll Morton was both proprietor and featured act. Malachi's subsequent credits include accompaniment roles for Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Joe Williams.
Malachi, who has made Washington his home since 1930 when his family moved here from North Carolina, is given credit for being one of the first to adapt the be-bop genre to the piano, and his arrangements for the mid-1940s big band of Billy Eckstine are considered among the first in the be-bop style. He will be featured today in Lettumplay's "Sunday Jazz Series" at the Lansburgh Cultural Center, 420 Seventh St. NW, from 4 to 8 p.m. He will perform solo, in trio and quartet formats and with tap dancer Brother Black. George (Dude) Brown will be at the drums, Chaney Thomas on bass and Paul Carr on alto saxophone.
"It was an entirely different kind of music than I was exposed to," says Malachi of the Eckstine book when he joined the band in 1944. "And I didn't understand their approach to it, especially Charlie Parker's. Dizzy Gillespie was very instrumental in helping me learn a lot of things. Charlie was, too -- you learn from him by listening to him."