Today is the birthday of the phenominal jazz pianist, Richard Twardzik. Born 1931 and died in 1955, "If he [Twardzik] had lived, he would probably have changed the whole course of jazz piano," pianist and composer Marc Puricelli, who came of age in the seventies, told Chet Baker biographer James Gavin. Continues Gavin in his bio of the trumpeter: "Twardzik was a forerunner of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, both of whom brought a rich knowledge of classical harmony and an orchestral fullness to the keyboard."
But if Twardzik is remembered at all today, it is as a musician who died of a drug overdose in proximity to a legendary jazz icon, Chet Baker, before he had even turned twenty-five. By the time Twardzik was twenty-one, he had not only recorded and/or played extensively with the likes of Charlie Parker, but had already developed the sizeable heroin addiction that would fell him only a few years later.
Twardzik died while touring with Chet Baker in Paris; he was discovered "blue" and unresponsive in his hotel room in the city's Arab quarter. The full details surrounding his death will probably never be known, but various rumors have resounded down through the years ever since. What was vouchsafed was that someone was with Twardzik at the time, also shooting up, but had fled when it became obvious that the pianist was overdosing. Common wisdom has it that the party was Baker, who was to die an equally mysterious drug-related European death in 1988.
It is fitting that a biography of the pianist, Bouncin' with Bartok: The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik , by Jack Chambers, has been published just in time to celebrate what would have been Twardzik's 74th birthday.
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