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Dick Hyman is hip!

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Dick Hyman

Dick Hyman. (Courtesy photo)

Dick Hyman has done it all throughout his 60-year career: jazz, orchestration, electronic pop, films, television, you name it.

The New York native and longtime Venice resident closes the 34th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival on March 1 with a performance with clarinet-saxophone player Ken Peplowski.

There's no stopping Hyman, who at age 86 performs and records regularly. He has a dry sense of humor and has loads of stories to tell.

2014 Sarasota Jazz Festival at a glance

Face it, Hyman is hip. Here's why ...

1) In the 1950s, the pianist-arranger worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker and also as a studio musician.

"I was a studio musician for several decades and played gigs as well. I graduated from college in 1948 and got work right away. In 1950, I went to Europe with Benny Goodman for three weeks. He was one of the great men, one of the most accomplished players we've ever had. Dizzy and Parker were guests at an Esquire magazine annual show for best jazz performances and it turned out that the video of that broadcast, with our band playing, might be the only one that has Parker performing."

2) In the 1960s, he was a regular on NBC's "Sing Along With Mitch."

"I was, but before that, I was Arthur Godfrey's musical director for three years. We did his daily show and his special seasonal shows and also his radio shows. I was the pianist for Mitch Miller's band when his male chorus performed, and we did a series of shows on NBC. I also did recordings with him at the same time. He was the head of A&R at Columbia, so he was well-connected."

3) He was the in-house organist for the game show "Beat the Clock," from 1969 to 1974.

"The first year was in New York, and the next couple of years were in Montreal. I loved doing it. I might have been the last of the game-show organists since that time, because they all started using prerecorded stuff."

4) "The Minotaur," from his 1969 groundbreaking album "MOOG: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman," was the first Top 40 single to be performed entirely on a synthesizer.

"In its original form, it was 8 minutes long and it got cut down for radio airplay. It got played a great deal. It was preceded by the hugely popular 'Switched By Bach.' My record company jumped in on it and wanted me to compete with it."

5) An element from "The Moog and Me" was sampled by Beck for the track "Sissyneck" off his 1996 album "Odelay."

"What he did was he took my live whistling for that track. That's all he did. Four or five seconds of it. But at least he owned up to it and didn't steal it." (He receives royalties for the song.)

6) He worked as a composer, arranger, conductor and pianist on 11 Woody Allen films, including “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Radio Days,” “Broadway Danny Rose,” “Stardust Memories” and “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

"You work closely with the director and you have a recording session and it's planned out to make sure it all works together. Woody gave me a lot of judgment calls and I think I understood what he wanted."

7) He also scored the 1987 romantic comedy “Moonstruck,” starring Cher, Nicolas Cage and Danny Aiello.

"That is the most lasting of my film work. It still works, it's a very good film in every way. I'm very proud of that one. But I also have to give credit to Mr. Puccini for that."

8) He participated in an historic direct-to-CD recording session in 1991. For his “Dick Hyman Plays Duke Ellington” album, his live performance was digitally encoded, stored on a computer and later those sounds were sent via satellite to a CD pressing plant.

"Actually, I had done this on a previous album, a Fats Waller one, for Reference Recordings. I played a special digital reproducing piano and the performance of the piano itself, not me, was used. I would've had to play it 30 times to get what they wanted."

9) Beastie Boys name-dropped him in "Root Down," a track off their "Ill Communication" album (1994).

"They said something like 'I'm electric like Dick Hyman' ('I guess you'd expect to catch the crew rhymin'). Who knew?"

10) And what about Busta Rhymes' "Where We Are About to Take It"?

"It samples from 'Topless Dancers of Corfu' (also from "MOOG: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman.") I get a songwriting credit on that one, of all things." From the same "MOOG" album, "Improvisations In Fourths" is sampled on Cypress Hill's "Latin Lingo (Prince Paul Remix)" and De La Soul's "Patti Dooke," and "The Minotaur" surfaces on Meat Beat Manifesto's "Mass Producing Hate."

Last modified: February 19, 2014
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