Hal Schaefer – Just Too Much: The Progressive Piano Of Hal Schaefer / The RCA Victor Jazz Workshop

Schaefer is best known for his relationship with Marilyn Monroe and for his film scores, but here his novel approach to jazz is to the fore


Released in the Fresh Sound series “Presenting… Rare and Obscure Jazz Albums”, this CD comprises two studio sessions by the pianist Harold Herman “Hal” Schaefer” (1925-2012).

“Hal who?” many might enquire, while others might remember him as having had a well-publicised affair with Marilyn Monroe. Schaefer was also Monroe’s vocal coach and helped her master the lyrics of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, featured in the 1953 movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He also accompanied Peggy Lee, Vic Damone and Billy Eckstine and later furthered his career as an arranger and modern jazz composer.

For present purposes, Schaefer was recognised by jazz critics (and fellow musicians) as an original and highly talented musician. After hearing him perform at the 1982 Kool Jazz Festival in New York, critic John S. Wilson contended:”Mr Schaefer is very much a mainstream pianist, but he has his own way of looking at the mainstream, enlivening the relatively standard repertory that he played with fresh and entertaining ideas.”

Schaefer’s considerable talents are evident in the sessions he recorded for RCA Victor. The first (1954) featured him with Joe Mondragon (b) and Alvin Stoller (d). All of the titles were (and remain) favourite vehicles for jazz vocalists and instrumentalists. These include I’ll Remember April, Thou Swell and a sprightly Have You Met Miss Jones? All sound freshly minted, with a fleet-fingered and inventive Schaefer very much in control. He also produces a rhapsodic and introspective version of St. Louis Blues.

The sessions on his second RCA date (1955) found him in the congenial company of such luminaries as Phil Woods, Hal McKusic, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson, Urbie Green, Jimmy Nottingham and Don Lamond. On two numbers Schaefer also made his debut on harpsichord. All participants play the well-crafted charts with apparent pleasure and insouciance. Schaefer is quoted by Leonard Feather as saying “This was to be predominantly an arranging and composing album, designed primarily to exhibit my writing rather than my playing.” In fact, his piano musings and more rigorous excursions complement the contributions of his peers. Listen to Isn’t It Romantic.

In July 1955 Schaefer, still grieving over the deterioration of his relationship with Monroe, tried to take his own life. He later said “It seemed overwhelming to me. I was still a young man, and couldn’t really handle it.” Happily he failed, thrived in Hollywood writing film scores, and lived to be 87; sadly he made very few jazz piano records, so my advice is to invest in this valuable set ASAP.

(1) All The Things You Are; I’ll Remember April; You Are Too Beautiful; Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea; I’m Glad There Is You; The Song Is You; Thou Swell; St. Louis Blues; Yes; Have You Met Miss Jones?; You Stepped Out Of A Dream; Montevideo; (2) Dancing In The Dark; Imagination; This One’s For Jack; A Song Of Love; Isn’t It Romantic; A New Sound For The Blue; Let’s Have A Celebration; Of Things Gone By; Blue Skies; I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself a Letter; Spring Is Here; Real Lee (64.43)
Schaefer (p) on all tracks with:
(1) Joe Mondragon (b); Alvin Stoller (d). Los Angeles, 27 December 1954, 4 January 1955, 10 January 1955.
(2) collectively, Jimmy Nottingham, Nick Travis (t); Bill Byers, Urbie Green, Freddie Ohms, Chauncey Welsh (tb); Tommy Mitchell (btb); Hal McKusick, Sam Marowitz, Phil Woods (as); Milt Hinton (b); Osie Johnson, Don Lamond, Ed Shaughnessy (d). New York City, 17 October, 1955.
Fresh Sound FSR-CD 1071