Denny Zeitlin: The Columbia Studio Trio Sessions

Mosaic Records | Mosaic Select MS-034 (3 CDs) Released 2009
Produced by Richard Seidel & Denny Zeitlin.
Executive Producer: Michael Cuscuna

Originally recorded 1964-67 for Columbia on Cathexis, Carnival, and Zeitgeist. Produced by John Hammond

This Mosaic re-issue includes over an hour of previously unreleased compositions.

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for commentary on these sessions.

Musician Credits / Track Lists:

(A) The CATHEXIS sessions:
Denny Zeitlin—Piano
Cecil McBee—Bass
Freddie Waits—Drums
Recorded February 19 & March 6, 1964

(B) The CARNIVAL sessions:
Denny Zeitlin—Piano
Charlie Haden—Bass
Jerry Granelli—Drums
Recorded October 28 & 29, 1964

(C) The ZEITGEIST sessions:
Denny Zeitlin—Piano
Charlie Haden—Bass
Jerry Granelli—Drums
Recorded April 16 & 17, 1966

(D) The ZEITGEIST sessions:
Denny Zeitlin—Piano
Joe Halpin—Bass
Oliver Johnson—Drums
Recorded March 18, 1967


CD #1 (Cathexis plus previously unissued Bonus Tracks*)
Track Listing

1. Repeat (A) (Denny Zeitlin) (3:16)
Soundclip: “This original composition gets the trio off to a hot start.” listen

2. I-Thou (A) (Denny Zeitlin) (5:53)
Soundclip “An original waltz inspired by the philosophy of Martin Buber.” listen

3. Stonehenge (A) (Denny Zeitlin) (5:13)
Soundclip: Another original with some interesting turns and twists that showcases the intense but relaxed feel of this trio.listen

4. Soon (A) (Ira Gershwin, George Gershwin) (5:10)

5. Nica's Tempo (A) (Gigi Gryce) (5:51)

6. Cathexis (A) (Denny Zeitlin) (2:25)

7. 'Round Midnight (A) (B.Hanighen, C.Williams, T.Monk) (5:31)

8. Little Children, Don't Go Near That House (A) (Denny Zeitlin)(4:01)

9-11. Blue Phoenix (A) (Denny Zeitlin) (15:20)
   9. Part 1 5:03
   10. Part 2 5:13
   11. Part 3 5:04

12. Nica’s Dream* (A) (Silver) (6:30)

13. Requiem for Lili* (A) (Zeitlin) (2:32)

14. I Got Rhythm* (B) (Gershwin-Gershwin) (2:51)

CD #2 (Carnival plus previously unissued Bonus Tracks*)

Track Listing

1. Carole’s Garden (B) (Zeitlin)  2:59
Soundclip: “A catchy folk-type original that was fun to solo on. I remember being tickled when Thelonious Monk liked this track in a Downbeat Blindfold Test.” listen

2. We’ll Be Together Again (B) (Fischer, Laine)  6:00

3. Skippy-ing (B) (Zeitlin)   3:37

4. Once Upon a Summertime (B) (Barclay, Legrand, Marnay)  3:10

5. Carnival (B) (Zeitlin)  8:23
Soundclip: “An extended original composition with lots of free playing. This clip is the tail-end of a free improvisation leading into the final thematic statement.” listen

6. The Boy Next Door (B) (Blaine, Martin)  3:21

7. Minority (B) (Gryce)  4:30

8. After the War (B) (Zeitlin)  5:58
Soundclip: “A haunting, austere, original. I recall picturing dried-out relics of a civilization found in an attic...” listen

9. All The Things You Are (B) (Hammerstein, Kern)  8:38

10. The Decision* (C) (Zeitlin) (7:58)

11. The Journey Home* (C) (Zeitlin) (7:27)

12. Later* (C) (Marshall) (6:41)

13. Labyrinth* (C) (Zeitlin) (8:15)

CD #3 (Zeitgeist plus previously unissued Bonus Tracks*)

1. Living Alone* (C) (Previn) (3:20)

2. Dormammu (D) (Zeitlin) (6:35)
Soundclip “The trio with Oliver Johnson and Joe Halpin had a special flair for exciting free playing. Here’s a clip from the middle of this original composition.” listen

3. Put Your Little Foot Right Out (D)(P.D.) (3:10)

4. The Hyde Street Run (D) ( Zeitlin) (2:17)

5. Here's That Rainy Day (D) (Burke, VanHeusen) (3:45)

6. I Got Rhythm (D) (Gershwin, Gershwin) (2:10)

7. Maiden Voyage (D) (Hancock) (7:35)

8. Offshore Breeze (C) (Zeitlin) (2:34)
Soundclip “I think Charlie, Jerry and I got a relaxed, lovely feel on this original bossa nova.” listen

9. Night and Day (D) (Porter) (2:57)
Soundclip “Here’s a clip of my piano solo. I really love the walking time feel with Oliver and Joe.” listen

10-11. Mirage (C) (Zeitlin) (17:11)

    10. Part 1 (9:56)
    11. Part 2 (7:14)

12. Slipstream* (D) (Zeitlin) (3:57)

13. The Bells Of Solitude* (D) (Zeitlin) (6:22)

14. Western Thing* (D) (Zeitlin) (6:19)

15. Spring Is Here* (D) (Rodgers-Hart) (4:30)


"...sounds and stories so fresh, they make today's music feel quaint, like a daisy before a rose...These 4 sessions date from '64 to '67...a balance of tenderness and chaos, these important records showcase the ideas taking flower in the mid-60's...a milestone in [Zeitlin's] walk along the edge between blossom and thorn. They make the perfect soundtrack for talking to your friends about life, liberty, and the new presidency."
     Scott Adler, San Francisco Magazine, January, 2009

“…indispensible collections of the albums Hammond produced by pianist Denny Zeitlin (1964-67)…[“Carnival” is] at once timeless and time-defining, capturing a pivot-point when the most advanced thinking at the jazz center involved an understanding of free jazz and an almost subliminal recognition that rock wasn’t just for kids anymore. This music is radiant with ambition: the exhilaration of owning your music and your instrument with if-you’ve-got-it-flaunt-it virtuosity, not for its own sake but to express the immortal joy of homo ludens… the Zeitlin albums have languished, absurdly, for four decades. Hammond initially recorded him with flutist Jeremy Steig, and then released three studio albums (collected here with an hour of previously unreleased pieces, all worthy, some exceptional, including an uncharacteristically straight-ahead “I Got Rhythm”), and a concert album, not included. In a felicitous coincidence, the Mosaic set was issued at the same time as Zeitlin’s In Concert (Sunnyside), an ideal complement because it shows he never stopped growing while underscoring the fact that he had his stylistic ducks in a row as early as 1964. Hammond did him no favor by adorning the cover of “Carnival” with magazine hype… also working against him was his second career, which limited his touring time and encouraged those who weren’t listening to dismiss him as a dilettante with chops.

Big mistake: Zeitlin, born in 1938, sounds like no one else in his generation. He seems constitutionally incapable of playing an expected harmony; the pleasure in listening to him, especially when he dissects (le mot juste) standards, is bound up with his lightning aversions of the commonplace. The Columbias combine alluring borderline funk ditties—“Repeat,” “Cathexis,” “Carole’s Garden,” “Skippy-ing”—that go down like aged bourbon but with just enough harmonic surprises to keep you from taking them for granted, with expansive meditations on classic jazz (he digs Gigi Gryce), pop tunes and originals that manage the hat trick of not sounding as intricate as they obviously are. Confident enough to re-harmonize “Maiden Voyage” when its slash chords were still new, he is more impressive turning the extremely familiar changes of “All the Things You Are” into an adventurous fantasia. Then as now, he circumvents the sentimental. His two-part “Mirage” is a waltz that isn’t a waltz—it never stays still long enough to fall into line, but the tune and his extrapolations are so strong that your best option, as with Ornette, is to follow the melody. Zeitlin’s signature technique is a two-handed, chromatically omnivorous attack that washes across the keyboard, alternated with dancing single-note figures that have, no matter the speed, the articulation of discrete bells. He works with the best bassists and drummers, including Cecil McBee and Freddie Waits, Charlie Haden and Jerry Granelli, and on the new album, Buster Williams and Matt Wilson—they shoot the moon on a supersonic “Mr. P.C.”
     Gary Giddins, “Lost in Transition”, JazzTimes Magazine, May, 2009

“Now, after weeks listening to the Mosaic set upward of two dozen times, I'm pleased to say that this work is as magnificent as it is fascinating… Zeitlin in the early 1960s truly created his own genre, which is blazingly apparent on this Mosaic set… What I love most about these CDs is that each disc is a like being taken on a different journey through a dense, magical forest. Rather than tug away from Zeitlin's hand or have a tantrum over structure, it's far more fun to get lost with him, emerging in glades or by streams or at heights where there's a breathtaking view. There's a rational enthusiasm and artistic risk-taking here that's intoxicating… The set is extraordinary both for Zeitlin's musicianship and technique, and for the powerful influence he had on so many pianists who followed in the 1960s and 1970s.”
     Marc Myers,, April 24, 2009

“Denny Zeitlin at 70 is still one of the great jazz piano originals, as his recent live Sunnyside disc “In Concert” so abundantly proved. And that makes his astounding and ageless first recorded trio performances from four and a half decades ago that much more dazzling. Zeitlin’s “Cathexis” from 1964 was one of the greatest piano debuts of its era. In both its assured compositions and Zeitlin’s dazzling velocity and seemingly inexhaustible modal inventiveness as a player, he seemed, in the mid-and late ’60s infinitely more promising than Keith Jarrett and absolutely on par with Chick Corea in his first record as a leader, “Tones for Joan’s Bones.” All came from Bill Evans and had heard George Russell and McCoy Tyner, but Zeitlin’s subsequent jazz piano career took a back seat to his day job as a practicing psychiatrist. These first three Columbia trio sessions were terrific. And in its reissue of them, Mosaic has added a full hour of previously unreleased music, some of it new and some of it worthy alternate takes of what we already know. A good three-quarters of the music recorded now in jazz (or any other genre) doesn’t sound half as fresh as these jazz piano trio performances still do.”
     Jeff Simon, Buffalo News, March 1, 2009

“The music Zeitlin made during this brief interlude [1964-67] ranks among the finest jazz piano work of the era. On his studio projects Cathexis, Carnival and Zeitgeist—long out of print but finally made available on a Mosaic reissue a few weeks ago—and the still hard-to-find Live at the Trident, Zeitlin was redefining the jazz keyboard vocabulary and establishing a conception of the piano trio that strikingly anticipated the later evolution of the music… By any measure, this Mosaic release (available in a limited edition of 5,000 copies) is now the place to begin in coming to grips with this important pianist.

And why is Denny Zeitlin important? There is the obvious matter of his formidable technical command of the instrument. His touch, his dynamics, his clarity of execution are exemplary. But even more to the point, Zeitlin came to grips with virtually all of the pressing issues facing the jazz keyboardists of his generation. These were matters that most of his contemporaries addressed partially or with varying degrees of success, or (in some instances) tried to ignore. But Zeitlin’s penetrating intellect and vision allowed him to find solutions where others merely encountered problems. In each of these instances, Zeitlin faced the issue head-on, and came up with a robust solution. And, just as important, did so in an integrated, holistic way. Everything he plays has his own personal stamp on it. Nothing comes across as tenuous or forced or merely experimental… The release of the Mosaic reissue, and a fine new trio CD on Sunnyside, give us a good opportunity to reexamine this artist, and savor anew his contributions to the art form.”
     Ted Gioia,, March 30, 2009

“…The Columbia sessions, recorded at a time when the jazz world was flaming with new ideas, reveal a remarkably assured improvisational mind at work. Still in his ’20s, working on a medical degree at the same time, Zeitlin nonetheless had an astonishingly mature grasp of his creative goals. Well aware of the diverse currents coursing through the music—via the work of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, George Russell, Cecil Taylor, Charles Mingus, Don Ellis, Miles Davis, among many others—Zeitlin steered his own steady creative course. Taking what he could use from his surroundings, filtering ideas through his own creative prism, he produced a set of performances that have been sitting on the shelves, unavailable on CD for far too long.

There is, first of all, his prodigious technical ability. But, unlike many of the current fast-fingered young players, Zeitlin’s virtuosity was completely at the service of an expansive musical imagination. Stunningly fleet bebop figures are juxtaposed against thick chordal clusters; tone-rich lyrical lines alternate with roving bass lines and two-handed, harmonic tsunamis; jaunty, blues and funk-driven melodies are contrasted by occasional forays across the piano strings. All of it pulling the listener into musical territories which, despite their utter sense of newness, continue to resonate with echoes of jazz familiarity.

Originals such as “Carnival,” “Little Children, Don’t Go Near That House,” “The Bells of Solitude,” “Dormammu” and the multi-part “Blue Phoenix” and “Mirage” reach well beyond the characteristic theme-and-improvisations jazz pattern, into fascinating areas of composition, improvisation and expressionistic idea-making.

Zeitlin’s take on standards is equally, if differently, fascinating. Blessed with vivid harmonic intuition, he transforms such familiar items as “I Got Rhythm,” “We’ll Be Together Again,” “Night and Day” and “Here’s That Rainy Day” into startling inspirations, as magically transformative of the originals as a Faberge egg is of its original source of reference. On “The Boy Next Door,” he playfully devotes most of his interpretation to the verse, before climaxing with the song’s chorus. And the often-performed “All The Things You Are” becomes a tone poem, infused with rich, multi-hued cross-currents of harmony and melody.”
     Don Heckman, The International Review of Music, April 28, 2009

"Considering the hot pianists of the day were Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, and George Shearing, what Denny Zeitlin brought to the table as a performer and composer was a unique perspective that could have trumped them all.

Had his professional calling not been that of a full-time clinical psychiatrist, he might have been the "it" guy had he received the kind of publicity the other three garnered. This outstanding offering in the Mosaic Select series… constitutes some of the best modern jazz in a piano trio-based format of the era - period!... With so much variety and depth-of-field vision, not to mention everything here sounding so fresh decades later, it's hard to find much fault because there isn't any.

You'd be well-served in listening to all of the recordings that followed these premier seminal sessions, and discover that his early beginnings were like riding the tail of a comet."
     Michael G. Nastos,

"Like every person who has found his niche in life, pianist Denny Zeitlin is still doing today what he had perfected back when he put these mid 60 sessions out: leading a classy bop piano trio between sessions as a like “Dormammu,” Stonehenge” and the three part “Blue Phoenix” are masters of swinging construction. Clever without being cerebral, the originals have complex angles that still reach and enrich one’s viscera. Standards like “Night and Day” and “All The Things You Are” have a freshness and vitality that sparkles. There are a plethora of previously unreleased tunes; most noteworthy are the '66 Zeitgeist sessions that have Haden and Granelli anchoring their respective chairs...this was a band that had extra hemoglobin in their corpuscles! The sound has been cleaned up amazingly from the original tapes, and the notes by Zeitlin himself are quite illuminating. If you’ve never heard this guy before, here’s a GREAT place to start, and make sure you catch him on one of his rare tours; he’s cheaper in a jazz club than on the couch. It’s a limited edition, so get it quick at"
     George W. Harris,, February, 2009

“Anyone already familiar with the current Denny Zeitlin Trio will be enthralled by the mature artistry and telepathic collaboration of these early sessions and how they build the foundation for Zeitlin’s four+ decade quest “to be able to continue to evolve towards a personal music that looks to the future without being unmindful of the past; to find ways of making the elements of the vast musical universe compatible in my playing without becoming limited to any one stylistic ‘bag’; and to communicate this music as honestly and effectively as I can to the interested listener.” It’s a quest that has taken Zeitlin and his various trios on a more or less straight trajectory skyward…”
     Andrea Canter,, March, 2009

“A new Mosaic Select box featuring Zeitlin’s Columbia sessions from the ’60s shows how dynamic his conception was from the very start.”
     Time Out New York, March, 2009

“The Mosaic box set contains three complete albums, Cathexis, Carnival and Zeitgeist, recorded between 1964 and 1967, along with over an hour of high quality alternate takes and unreleased cuts. It is apparent from the very first track that Zeitlin possesses a keen intellect, chops to burn, a restless imagination and, above all, a unique sensibility.”
     Tom Greenland, April 4, 2009

“Zeitlin appears here as a rapid-fire post-bop stylist with deep roots in the mainstream modern, yet whose methodology extends to free improvisation. His distinguishing marks include his sometimes radical recasting of the harmony of standards, the emotional directness of his ballads, the fluidity and clarity of his up-tempo inventions.

There’s a strong connection to Bill Evans in his harmonic language, but it’s a view of Evans that sees him in full view of his authentic roots, in the jagged lines of Bud Powell and their transmutation in the style of Horace Silver. There’s plenty to distinguish Zeitlin: the harmonic daring (with interests in both polytonality and free playing) would come from Lennie Tristano and George Russell, the latter perhaps Zeitlin’s most significant teacher and mentor.

Zeitlin presented a fresh voice in mid-60s jazz, a progressive rather than a revolutionary presence… He had tremendous skills, including a knack for assembling cohesive trios and picking tunes, as well as composing his own memorable works. The first session here has the combination of Cecil McBee and Freddie Waits, as lively a pairing as you could find among younger musicians in 1964.

Among the delights of his debut is a taut, minimalist account of “Round Midnight.” The expansive tonal language of his unaccompanied flight on his suite, “Blue Phoenix,” is stunning. The next session has Charlie Haden and Jerry Granelli providing support. Zeitlin’s recasting of “We’ll Be Together Again” is a marvel of reharmonization, an eloquent, original take on a ballad that tugs it gently toward atonality. “Carnival”—reminiscent of Stravinsky’s piano transcriptions of his ballets—has him shifting moods and densities with great art…Listening to the Columbia sessions, I was repeatedly struck by the quality and daring of the tracks that hadn’t been released…the stunning “Labyrinth” shows how well he handled free improvisation, pressing into a sonic area that few musicians had entered and in which Charlie Haden and Jerry Granelli are ideal partners…it’s just as surprising with the lyrical “Requiem for Lili,” inspired by Nadia Boulanger’s sister, a brilliant composer who died in her twenties. It employs her own techniques to achieve a startling memorial, as limpidly beautiful as Ravel.”
     Stuart Broomer,, April 7, 2009

Original Critical Acclaim for Denny Zeitlin’s “Columbia Years” Recordings and Performances

BILL EVANS: [Downbeat Blindfold Test, listening to Jeremy Steig’s LP “Flute Fever,” featuring Denny Zeitlin] “…the piano player is also great.”

THELONIOUS MONK: [Downbeat Blindfold Test, listening to Denny Zeitlin’s LP “Carnival”] “Hey play that again…(later.) Yeah! He sounds like a piano player! (hums theme) …and he can play it; you know what’s happening with this one. Yeah, he was on a Bobby Timmons kick. He knows what’s happening.”

DOWNBEAT: “The Zeitlin trio…a stunning display of instrumental virtuosity, emotional depth, and musicality…Zeitlin’s piano is impeccable…introspective, filled with joy, bitingly mocking, always intelligent and emotional.”

NEW YORK TIMES, John S. Wilson: “…among the few contemporary jazz pianists who have the imagination, discipline, and technique to rise above the competent but routine level that most of them appear willing to settle for.”

NEWSWEEK: “What marks all of Zeitlin’s work and playing…is a sense of journey, but one complete with arrival as well as departure.”

LEONARD FEATHER, Editor of Encyclopedia of Jazz and syndicated newspaper columnist: “(at the Monterey Jazz Festival) Denny Zeitlin topped his Newport triumph…pianist of the year…the most versatile young pianist to come to prominence in the early 1960’s.”

CUE: “The most inventive jazz pianist in at least two decades.”

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