Joe Albany

Looking at pianist Joe Albany's life in hindsight, it is miraculous that he lived to almost reach 64. Serious problems with drugs and alcohol resulted in a series of harrowing incidents and his domestic life would never be described as tranquil (his second wife committed suicide while his third almost died from a drug overdose). Albany's life was so erratic that he only recorded once during 1947-1971. However, Joe Albany's real importance is as one of the early bop pianists. After playing accordion as a child, he switched to piano in high school and in 1942 joined Leo Watson's group. He had short-term associations with Benny Carter, Georgie Auld, Boyd Raeburn, and most significantly Charlie Parker. Albany's live recordings with Parker and some brilliant studio sides with Lester Young in 1946 (the latter later reissued on Blue Note) were the high points of his career. Decades of struggle followed (which he frankly described in the excellent 1980 documentary Joe Albany...a Jazz Life), with Riverside's The Right Combination (a rehearsal session with tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh) being the only documentation from the lost years. Other than a short stint with Charles Mingus in the mid-'60s, it was not until 1972 that Albany started to have a comeback. He recorded a set with violinist Joe Venuti and was a leader on albums for Revelation, Horo, Inner City, SeaBreeze, and Interplay. The excellent 1982 Elektra/Musician set Portrait of an Artist was the final statement from the troubled but talented pianist.
Scott Yanow, Rovi