I first met Sir Roland Hanna when he filled in for an ailing Joe Pass on a concert I was producing. It may seem odd to have a pianist subbing for a guitarist but in the role of the melodic anchor of a band either of the two instruments works nicely.
I had wanted to book Hanna for several years anyway and this lucky happenstance made that happen. I was familiar with his work with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and a host of trio and quartet dates which spanned several decades. Of course who can forget his work on those CTI albums including the Jim Hall session Concerto.
However, it was one particular recording that caught my attention and made Roland Hanna a regular on my radio show. The recording was a solo session for the tiny Town Crier label. I believe the session took place in a church. However, the recording quality was exceptional and Roland’s playing was captivating. I believe this is the only time he recorded his composition Century Rag. To me it was the highlight of the album.
The concert was a success and I asked Roland to put together a group for a return the following season. The return engagement featured the legendary Richard Davis on bass and Bill Easley on sax. The audience was treated to an evening of good friends making good music.
For me the highlight of the day came before the performance when we were walking to the concert hall from dinner. Roland remarked that my voice sounded familiar. He continued that I sounded like the announcer on a jazz show he briefly listened to while driving from New York to Washington, D.C.
He explained that after playing a Sunday matinee on Broadway he would drive to his home in Washington to spend his off day at home with his wife. It turned out that his route carried him into the signal area of the radio station for which I was doing a Sunday night jazz show. However, he only was able to listen briefly and had not heard me identify myself. I’ve since wondered who else was out there when I was playing jazz on the radio.
Over the years I’ve managed to collect a number of Sir Roland’s recordings including the 2003 tribute to Tommy Flanagan entitled “Tributaries.” I think that recording also serves as an appropriate summary to Roland’s career. To coin a phrase, his playing is soulful but stately.