Pianist John Beasley has had a varied career. At times he has composed music for popular TV series such as Star Trek, Cheers and Family Ties plus he is currently music arranger for the Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno. He has also worked on major motion pictures such as Godfather III and Finding Nemo.
In between sessions in the movie and TV corner of the entertainment industry, he has played jazz with some of the best in the business: Miles Davis, Thad Jones, Diane Reeves, James Moody, Hubert Laws and Christian McBride, to name just a few.
With several previous albums under his belt as a leader, Beasley’s 2009 release, “Positootly!”, was nominated for a Grammy in 2011 in the “Best Jazz Instrumental” category. Beasley lost out to the late James Moody, whose album “Moody 4B” took the honors. If you have to lose, lose to the best!
Positootly! – 2009 – Resonance Records
This week, we’ll take a look at the qualifications “Positootly!” has as great “Jazz For A Saturday Night.”

About that title, by the way. The liner notes state: “According to urban lexicon, ‘Positootly!’ is defined as ‘absolutely positive,’ which is the spirit that fuels Beasley’s sentiment.”

I think you’ll have a tough time finding an album that better personifies that sentiment.
As always, let’s start with a listing of the personnel:
John Beasley, piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer
James Genus, bass
Brian Lynch, trumpet
Benny Maupin, soprano and tenor sax
Munyungo Jackson, percussion
Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums
“Caddo Bayou” gets the disc off to a nicely animated start and “Tain’s” drums drive the melody relentlessly forward. Like six other songs on this album, it was written by Beasley.
After “Caddo Bayou”, the title track “Positootly!” seems almost mellow by comparison. Once again, “Tain” burns with a smoldering fire and what was a quiet beginning turns into a white hot middle and ending.
With a running time of just over six and a half minutes, “Black Thunder” is the longest song on this disk. Bennie Maupin’s blowing on tenor sax really stands out here, as does Brian Lynch’s trumpet work.
Throughout the album, Beasley’s own playing is superb, and nowhere is this more evident than on the Antonio Carlos Jobim song, “Dindi”. Coming as it does right after the two opening barn-burners, “Dindi” requires everyone to shift gears and turn down the tempo. It has a quiet beauty and if you close your eyes you can almost fool yourself into thinking you are floating up and away on warm, white clouds undulating to the music.
Or maybe I shouldn’t have had that glass of wine on an empty stomach before dinner. I’d prefer to think it was the music. 🙂
I’m running way late with this, and I want to get it online while it’s still actually Saturday night, but I can’t close without mentioning the final song, “Hope….Arkansas”.
This is pure Beasley, man and acoustic piano, alone, musing on hope… Hope: the town, which the liner notes reveal was the birthplace of both Beasley’s mother and president Bill Clinton. But also hope for the future, which at times recently has seemed pretty bleak. The events of the last few years have brought out the worst and the best in Americans.
But, Beasley says, “You can waste a lot of time being bitter about the way life has turned, but that’s not moving in a positive direction.”
Speaking as someone who has had his share of experience with being bitter about the way life has turned, I have to admit that Beasley is right. In fact, I couldn’t agree with him more.
And it is that powerfully positive sentiment of Beasley’s plus six wonderful musicians and ten great songs that combine to make “Positootly!” a great addition to any jazz lover’s Saturday night playlist!

To learn more about John Beasley and his music, visit his web site.

Next time ’round: Benny Golson

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Copyright © 2011 by Al Evans. All rights reserved.

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