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New live album from Max Hymer

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    Posted: 26 Oct 2020 at 8:47pm

Pianist and composer MAX HAYMER’s newest release as a leader, WHIRLWIND, is a testament to his muscular, inventive playing style and his gift for creating sophisticated, dramatic compositions. WHIRLWIND follows his 2008 release Pickpocket Witness, a production of all original tunes which flew under the radar. It has taken 12 years for Haymer to release this new project because he’s been so busy touring as a long-time member of Arturo Sandoval’s band as well as leading his own popular trio and acting as West Coast accompanist for singer Jane Monheit.

Haymer was born and raised in Los Angeles. He began studying classical piano when he was seven years old and was introduced to jazz piano at the age of 14. He studied with the renowned Los Angeles-based pianist Tamir Hendelman through high school and went on to continue his music education at UC Irvine, from which he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Music degree. At Irvine, Haymer studied Jazz Performance with Kei Akagi, who is perhaps best known for his work as a member of the Miles Davis band in the late 1980's. Haymer says, ”Kei was an important influence on both my playing and composing. He used to say that the best melodies are the ones that fight gravity. It’s an image that has stuck with me through the years.” Haymer also studied with top Los Angeles musicians Darek Oles, Bobby Rodriguez, and the late Sherman Ferguson.

Haymer won 2nd place honors at the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition and the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, Florida. He was also a finalist in the Horace Silver Piano Competition and UWF Phillips Jazz Piano Competition. He has worked on both coasts playing with the likes of Mike Stern, Cindy Blackman Santana, Joel Frahm, Denise Donatelli, Gregory Hutchinson, Brian Lynch, Bill Holman, Sara Gazarek, among countless others.

Haymer is an athlete and attended UC Irvine on a soccer scholarship, where he spent four years playing Division 1 soccer. His approach to the piano reflects his athleticism. “I find that the physical act of playing the piano has a lot in common with sports,” says Haymer. “They both require stamina, and you have to physically train to perform at your fullest potential. They both also require your composure under pressure while being fully aware of what your teammates or bandmates are doing as well.”

While Haymer’s approach to playing the piano embodies his innate physicality, his aesthetics have been largely influenced by his years with Arturo Sandoval. Haymer has been part of the band since 2014, when he got a call from a friend while Haymer was at the gym. His friend told him that Sandoval’s piano player ditched a rehearsal, and if he wanted the gig, he should come immediately. Haymer rushed to the rehearsal, still in his workout clothes, worked through the tunes, and found himself onstage at Disney Hall the very next day. He has been with Sandoval ever since, and many of Haymer’s compositions are tinged with Latin colors.  His playing can be heard on Sandoval’s score for Clint Eastwood’s motion pictures “Richard Jewell” and “The Mule.”

WHIRLWIND was recorded live, before the pandemic shut down live shows, at Sam First. The club, which is just a short walk from the LA airport, is known for world-class modern and straight-ahead jazz. Haymer and his trio have performed there many times over the years, and he thought it was the perfect place to capture the energy of a live performance. Joining Haymer are his two longtime bandmates, bass player DAVID ROBAIRE and drummer DAN SCHNELLE. Robaire has played with Larry Goldings, Billy Childs, Ben Wendel, and Josh Nelson. He currently tours with singer Jane Monheit. Schnelle is a first-call drummer who has worked with Billy Childs, Anthony Wilson, Larry Goldings, Alan Ferber, Sara Gazarek, Laurence Hobgood, John Daversa, Larry Koonse, David Benoit, Karrin Allyson and many more.

WHIRLWIND is a high energy album that befits its title. The album comprises six original tunes by Haymer and three standards. Haymer opens and closes the album with two Cole Porter tunes, “So in Love” and “Love for Sale.” Haymer felt “So in Love” lends itself to a Latin jazz feel, and his years with Sandoval can be heard especially towards the middle of the tune, where he injects a mambo break. “Love for Sale” is a compelling barnburner with which Haymer often closes his sets. “Speak Low,” the Kurt Weill standard, is a bolero with the slowest tempo of any tune on the album, but has a contained energy, like a tightly coiled spring that Haymer and the band slowly release in an exothermic process.

Haymer’s original compositions include the album’s title “Whirlwind,” a jazz waltz. Haymer came up with the name because he said the triplet meter reminded him of a “whimsical tornado.” The title “Proof of Evil” is a mashup of Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof” and Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil,” and tidbits of both can be heard in this composition.

Haymer had in mind the podcast called Serial when he wrote “Gold Plated Dime.” The podcast features a tragic nonfiction story over multiple episodes, where the protagonist tried to pawn off gold plated dimes as real gold. “Welcoming” is about the birth of his first daughter and the dreamy feeling of love he experienced when he woke for her 3:45 am feeding. “Killing Time” is the prelude to “Passed Time,” tunes which he composed in his hotel room while on a tour with Sandoval. He wrote them when they had a couple of days off but were in the middle of nowhere with not much to do.

For Haymer, music is a dramatic art, where conflict and passion are expressed in a narrative framework. WHIRLWIND is a series of stories brought to life by three A-list musicians.

WHIRLWIND was released October 15, 2020 and is available on all platforms.

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