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Tom Reney’s writings delve into the history and mystery of jazz, blues, and beyond. The Jazz à la Mode Blog has plenty to stimulate your interest and curiosity in American music.

Tommy Flanagan

Tommy Flanagan 1997
Tommy Flanagan, 1997

[Ed. note: This post was originally published on March 16, 2015]

I had the pleasure of seeing Tommy Flanagan several times in the 1980s and ’90s at clubs in Hartford, Cambridge, and at the Village Vanguard, his home base in New York. When I introduced him at the Litchfield Jazz Festival in 1998, I mentioned that he’d played on landmark recordings by Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and Wes Montgomery. Tommy took the mic and said, “That’s true, but they made all the money!”

Tommy Flanagan Trio - Live in Cologne Flanagan in 1991

Flanagan didn’t exactly warm to a request that pianist Tom McClung and I made of him when we saw him at Lloyd’s, a now-defunct Hartford venue, in 1987. Impressed by the pianist’s recently recorded performance of “Elusive,” a challenging composition by his old friend Thad Jones, we asked if he’d perform it in his next set. Flanagan replied, “Do you have any idea how hard that is to play?” But bless him, after a gruff, tongue-in-cheek reference to us from the stage, he played it. And magnificently, of course.

Tommy Flanagan - Solo Piano (Montreux Jazz Festival 1981)

By the mid-80s, after more than 20 years as a sideman with Ella, Coleman Hawkins, and Tony Bennett, Flanagan had become an icon in his own right, and for the last two decades of his career, he led what was widely hailed as the state of the art piano trio. He died in 2001.

Tommy Flanagan Trio - Live in Cologne

Tom was honored by the Jazz Journalists Association with the Willis Conover-Marian McPartland Award for Career Excellence in Broadcasting in 2019. In addition to hosting Jazz à la Mode since 1984, Tom writes the jazz blog and produces the Jazz Beat podcast at NEPM. He began working in jazz radio in 1977 at WCUW, a community-licensed radio station in Worcester, Massachusetts. Tom holds a BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he majored in English and African American Studies.
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