Introducing Johnny Costa

Intro JC

"Introducing Johnny Costa" and "The Amazing Johnny Costa" share nine common songs. "Introducing Johnny Costa" includes these tracks.

1. Manhattan
2. Flamingo
3. Just One of Those Things
4. Tea for Two
5. Caravan
6. Begin the Beguine

The newest addition to the Savoy roster is a young man named Johnny Costa. He is a musician Savoy is proud to present and one who will merit much future public response. His debut here marks the entry of a skilled pianist with an ability to present palatable music and at the same time, interesting and technically satisfying harmonic exploration.

So many people play the piano but few are actually adept at it. If this weakness were true only about the amateur or non-professional pianist, it would not matter. All too often, however, there are pianists appearing professionally whose lack of skill hampers their playing, hinders fellow musicians with whom they perform, and disappoints the listeners.

It is a pleasant experience to hear an able pianist; one of training, of ability and honest approach. Johnny Costa seems in possession of these qualities. Born in Arnold, Pennsylvania in 1922, he began his musical education on the accordion when he was ten years of age. He studied the instrument seven years and then began studying piano with Martin Meissler who taught Oscar Levant. He spent some time traveling with Tommy Reynolds and other small bands, during the war served as a medical aide, and finally, after the war, worked around the Chicago spots. He then entered the Carnegie Institute of and received degrees in Public Education and Composition. At present he is a staff pianist for KDKA and KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania .

This album represents a typical range of Costa improvisation and musical thinking. It shows him in trio and solo work, fabricating a musical story, and elaborately weaving in technical facility. He is something other than a jazz pianist yet he has a fine jazz flavor. He chooses to be less than a classical pianist but he has their perfected skills. He is not a drawing room pianist nor a cocktail lounge pianist but he has the quiet force of the first and the sophisticated, light swing of the second. He seems to have fused the best of their qualities into his own special way of playing. At any rate, he is a pianist most likeable . . . one whose chief reason for playing is enjoyment and he is a musician you will likely want to hear again because he is so refreshing.

"Manhattan,” the first melody he chooses to shape, becomes a kind of ethereal being—lyrical and pretty. There is definite classical feeling and he brings out the theme so the entire piece is melodic. There is variety in the body of this tune . . . all you could wish from a pianist First it is lingering but quickly turns into a spirited up-tempo treatment full of flourishes; then a fleeting moment when it almost becomes a blues and as quickly changes into romping boogie I rolls just before an end that is Gershwin-like in the hustle-bustle traffic sound it achieves. As suddenly as all this has evolved, there is a quick moment of player-piano roll phrases and then it is ended. Runs and arpaggios, crescendos and even a few glissandos.

“Flamingo” is perhaps the prettiest thing he does in this set. There is the quiet kind of piano opening reminiscent of water-pond music. This is solo piano and then comes the theme, pretty and lingering with rhythm supplement. It is so nice it's closed-eyes Johnny Costa is able to get height and a certain drama in his playing. For those who like apple blossom pink music, this is the best to be found. “Flamingo” is quiet and then vivid and there is the sound captured of this graceful bird shaking and smoothing out its soft feathers. There follows a fuller, beautiful thematic treatment to the end and always the theme is woven in a tapestry of scarlet-hued notes.

Despite the number of times “Just One of Those Things” has been played, it manages a fresh approach here. Costa plays with strength and the tempo moves along rapidly . . . it is a kind of fluid shaking off notes. It's a good “Just One of Those Things!” A swing falls into place near the end and then Johnny doubles the speed (already something to reckon) and his fingers seem to move at incredible pace with embellishing runs. You will marvel at how he does all this at such a tempo.

A favorite piano solo, “Tea For Two,” here finds itself with a simple and pleasant jazz variation. There is a relaxed kind of swinging but this lasts only long enough for Costa to move into a kitten-on-the-keys facility. The left hand keeps pacing the tempo faster and this causes the right hand to gain amazing momentum. Finally there is an immense movement that ends in a deliberate and forceful piano declaration. One interesting improvisation is Costa's left hand playing one line of the melody while the right takes the next line simultaneously. The effect is amusing as well as skilled.

“Caravan” has oblique piano approach to the theme. It must be interesting for a musician to work with this melodic line because the tune has such vitality of its own. Costa interprets “Caravan” i a very swinging way. Throughout is the rich undertone of left hand providing a wonderful area on which the right can paint. It is exciting music. Next is a rhythmic “Begin the Beguine” with Costa losing none of its tropical cast. It makes good listening with its climactic beat and vigorous piano solos.

Awaken your fancy, please your musical palate, and supply pleasant listening. He performs the kind of music you can play when there are people in the house. They'll like it too. Because he understands how to play the piano, because he is technically satisfying and musically tasteful, Savoy is happy to present, in debut recital, pianist Johnny Costa.

                                                                                Notes by Shirley Hoskins Collins


© Copyright 2015 Dr. Hugh Glenn