The Tunes and Arrangements Cherished by T. Flanagan: The 43rd Tribute to Tommy Flanagan Program Notes

tommy flanagan
Tommy Flanagan at OverSeas (1984)


“Tommy Flanagan Tribute Concerts,” held twice a year at the Jazz Club OverSeas since the passing of pianist Hisayuki Terai’s mentor, Tommy Flanagan, in 2001, have reached their 43rd edition.


Thad Jones (left) and Flanagan photo by Francis Wolff
  1. 50-21 (Thad Jones) 
     The concert’s opening is a song that Thad Jones dedicated to the sacred ground of Detroit Hard Bop, the ‘Blue Bird Inn.’ 50-21 refers to the address of this jazz club in Detroit (5021 Tireman Ave. Detroit). Between 1953 and 1954, Flanagan and Jones collaborated as the house band of this club, and during that time, they gave birth to the Detroit Hard Bop Style, which combines many Thad Jones songs that Flanagan would go on to play throughout his life, along with advanced technique and distinctive elegance. There are two regulars at Overseas, incidentally, who have the license plate number “5021”.
     Flanagan recorded on albums such as “Confirmation” (Enja ’77,)”Beyond the Blue Bird” (Timeless, ’90)

2. Beyond the Bluebird (Tommy Flanagan)

Beyond the bluebird
(Timeless, ’90)

 Flanagan wrote Beyond the Blue Bird in 1990 with nostalgia for the “Blue Bird Inn” and the tune became the title track of the album of his trio featuring a fellow graduate of the “Blue Bird Inn,” Kenny Burrell. Prior to the album release, Flanagan had Terai transcribe this music in his apartment in upper westside in New York city. With subtle and rapid key changes, it embodies the typical Flanagan music, exuding elegance, and depth.

3. Embraceable You (George Gershwin)- Quasimodo (Charlie Parker)

Flanagan’s hero, Charlie Parker

 Flanagan’s style can be hardly discussed without taking his medleys into account. Charlie Parker wrote a bop tune based on the chord changes to the famous Gershwin song Embraceable You and named it Quasimodo after the hideous ‘Hunchback of Notre-Dame’ character. The medley, which ingeniously connects the original piece with the bop tune of the same construction through exquisite key changes, seems to express Parker’s message that true “beauty” lies not in appearance but within one’s soul. Among the numerous medleys by Flanagan, this is a legendary signature piece, but unfortunately, no recording with his regular trio has not been left.

4. Good Morning Heartache (Irene Higginbotham)

Billie Holiday

Flanagan’s idol in his youth was Billie Holiday, and the iconic singer became the roots of his rich sense of melody. Good Morning Heartache is one of her hit songs from 1946. Drummer Elvin Jones once said about Flanagan’s playing, “You can hear the lyrics when Tommy plays.” The song is memorable for its portrayal of the pain and strength rising from the depths of heartbreak. Flanagan would often say to Terai, “Listen to Billie Holiday!” Thirty years later, Flanagan’s love for Billie Holiday has been faithfully passed down to him.

5. Minor Mishap (Tommy Flanagan) 

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One of Flanagan’s originals recorded in his first album as a leader, “Cats” (New Jazz, ’57) featuring John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell, which album remains popular to this day. The name of the tune is derived from the circumstances during the recording session. Since then, Flanagan continued to play most frequently throughout his career.

6. Dalarna (Tommy Flanagan) 

The album our name comes from

 The Flanagan’s early original, Dalarna is first recorded on “Overseas” (Metronome/ Prestige ’57). Dalarna is the name of the scenic resort in Sweden, the country where the album was recorded. The tune reflects the impressionistic influence of the esteemed Billy Strayhorn while showcasing Flanagan’s distinctive style, creating a refined beauty through subtle and challenging key changes.

After the recording, Flanagan didn’t perform it for many years. However, inspired by Terai’s CD entitled “Dalarna,” he re-recorded it in ’96 for “Sea Changes” (Alfa), using Terai’s arrangement. Right after the recording, Flanagan called Terai to excitedly announce, “I recorded Dalarna!” His lively voice still resonates in Terai’s heart to this day.

7. Tin Tin Deo (Chano Pozo, Gill Fuller, Dizzy Gillespie)
The closing of the first set is a classic of Afro-Cuban jazz, developed by Dizzy Gillespie. Flanagan crafted an exquisite piano trio version,

Pozo and Gillespie

preserving the strength of the earthy Cuban rhythms and the melancholic melody. It is characteristic of the Flanagan style to perform big band repertoire with a compact piano trio setting, delivering an even more dynamic interpretation.
The composer, Chano Pozo, was born in the slums of Havana, Cuba, and showed early musical genius, mastering percussion while in juvenile detention. After coming to the United States after World War II, he joined the Gillespie orchestra, contributing to the development of Afro-Cuban jazz. Unfortunately, he was killed at the young age of 33 in a drug-related incident.


1. That Tired Routine Called Love (Matt Dennis)

Matt Dennis

A witty love song written by Matt Dennis, singer-pianist and composer-arranger, is best known for penning numerous hit songs for Frank Sinatra, including the jazz standard, Angel Eyes. When Dennis performed in nightclubs, he enjoyed collaborating with top-notch jazz musicians as guests. It led to his

compositions being cherished by jazz artists, such as Miles Davis and J.J. Johnson. J.J recorded this piece for the album “First Place” (Columbia, ’57), in which Flanagan participated. Thirty-two years later, Flanagan included the song in his own album, “Jazz Poet” (Timeless, ’89), and with continued live performances, the arrangement underwent upgrades. Terai played the evolved version of the arrangement at the concert.

2. Smooth as the Wind (Tadd Dameron)
 The composition that encapsulates the bebop aesthetics is penned by Tadd Dameron, another favorite composer of Flanagan. The robust yet gracefully elegant texture and the way harmonies evolve, much like magnificent roses blooming one after another, are truly breathtaking.
 Dameron wrote this piece during his incarceration in a federal prison hospital in Lexington, Kentucky for trumpeter Blue Mitchell’s eponymous album “Smooth as the Wind” (Riverside,’60) in which Flanagan also participated. The song unfolds like a poetic narrative. The high level of artistry of the arrangement reflects the legacy of Tommy Flanagan.

3. Rachel’s Rondo (Tommy Flanagan) 

The Flanagan vibrant original, Rachel’s Rondo was dedicated to his elder daughter, Rachel. Although Flanagan’s recording of the piece is found only on the album “Super Session”(Enja, ’80) with Red Mitchell (b) and Elvin Jones (ds), the song has been popular among our patrons at OverSeas.

4. Lament (J. J. Johnson) 

J. J. Johnson

Lament is a masterpiece composed by the trombone virtuoso, J.J. Johnson, with whom Flanagan performed as a regular pianist and left behind many albums with him such as “Dial J. J. 5 (Columbia ’57).” Flanagan apparently favored the elegance and nobility of the song, and frequently performed it live, to the extent that when people listen to Lament, it reminds them of the legendary jazz club in University Place, NYC called Bradley’s, where Flanagan used to perform regularly. Flanagan’s only recording under his name is “Jazz Poet” (Timeless ’89). However, even after the recording, he continued to play it, and the arrangement kept evolving. The second riff used in this concert is an evolved version after “Jazz Poet.”

4. Eclypso (Tommy Flanagan)

“Eclypso” (Enja, ’75)

 Perhaps one of Flanagan’s most famous compositions, Eclypso is a portmanteau of “eclipse” and “Calypso.” Tommy Flanagan, known for his love of such wordplay, infused this wit into his playing. For Terai, this piece holds a special memory. When he visited New York for the first time at Flanagan’s invitation, on the last night of his extended stay, Flanagan played this piece at the Village Vanguard, announcing “This is for Hisayuki.”

Billie Holiday

6. Easy Living (Ralph Rainger)

Since the 1937 recording by Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra made a hit, a lot of jazz musicians who loved the Lady Day covered the song to be a jazz standard.  
 Terai played the song with tears on the night of Flanagan’s passing. – The lyrics by Leo Robin goes:
“Living for you is easy living,
It’s easy to live when you’re in love,
And I’m so in love,
There’s nothing in life but you.”

7. Our Delight (Tadd Dameron) 

 A signature piece written by Tadd Dameron for the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra

Tadd Dameron (p. comp. arr. band leader)

during the height of the bebop era in the mid-1940s. Flanagan’s musical style, incorporating the dynamism of big band arrangements into a piano trio, is prominently displayed here. Flanagan had a customary introduction for this piece: Bebop is the music before the Beatles and after the Beatles!
The more enthusiastic the applause of agreement, the more magnificent the performance became.


Terai and Flanagan at Flanagan’s apartment in upper westside, Manhattan

With Malice Towards None (Tom McIntosh)

 The renowned piece appeared on the Flanagan-George Mraz duo album,

『Ballads and Blues』

“Ballads & Blues” (Enja ’78,) With Malice Toward None holds a special place among Terai’s repertoire, garnering popularity here at this club. Composed by trombonist Tom McIntosh, Flanagan, appreciating McIntosh’s distinctive style of “Black music,” frequently performed his compositions. The creative process of this spiritual composition, inspired by the melody of the hymn “Jesus Lives Me,” incorporated ideas from Flanagan, who was a neighbor and friend of McIntosh. The title is derived from a famous quote in Abraham Lincoln’s speech after the Civil War, a period marked by significant casualties.

Ellingtonia (Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn Medley) 

Tommy Flanagan first performed at OverSeas in December 1984. It was the first club performance in Japan for the Flanagan Trio. The extended Duke Ellington medley (Ellingtonia) played at the concert has become a cornerstone of Terai’s musical roots.

Ellington & Strayhorn

  Chelsea Bridge (Billy Strayhorn)
A composition by Duke Ellington’s collaborator, Billy Strayhorn. In 1957,

Flanagan, who was deeply admiring Strayhorn, coincidentally encountered him at the Beefsteak Charlie’s in NYC. Upon greeting him with the news, “I’ll soon be touring Sweden with J.J. Johnson, planning to record your songs with the trio,” Strayhorn invited him to his music publishing office and generously handed him a pile of sheet music of his own compositions. Among them was Chelsea Bridge, and Flanagan’s dedicated performance on the early masterpiece album “Overseas” continues to delight us to this day.

  Passion Flower (Billy Strayhorn)
 A signature piece of bassist George Mraz during the Tommy Flanagan Trio

George Mraz at OverSeas
Photo by Makoto Gotoh

era. Almost every night, it featured the exquisite skill of the bow. In the tribute, the bass by Zaiko Miyamoto’s exceptional bowing was featured. Even after Mraz left Flanagan, he continued to play this piece, and it was included in his own album ‘My Foolish Heart’ (Milestone, ’95)

  Black and Tan Fantasy (Duke Ellington)  

Short film featuring the tune
“Black and Tan”

Late in his career, Flanagan energetically performed repertoire from the pre-Bebop era, songs he had enjoyed during his childhood. Perhaps he intended to trace back the roots of his own Black music journey. In this sense, the iconic tune “Black and Tan Fantasy” from the early years of the Ellington Orchestra during the Prohibition era (’27) holds significant importance. Terai fondly remembers that Flanagan, at his last visit to OverSeas, unusually praised him when he played the tune.

Hisayuki TERAI -piano, Zaiko MIYAMOTO-bass

1. Jazz Lives (Michel Ullman) New Republic Books
2. Before Motown :A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1920-60 (Lars Bjorn. Jim 3. Gallert) University of Michigan Press
4. Out of the Background: Tommy Flanagan interview by Stanley Dance (Down Beat Magazine, Jan. 13, 1966)
5. Jazz from Detroit (Mark Stryker) University of Michigan Press
6. NPR’s Jazz Profiles: Tribute to Tommy Flanagan
7. Tommy Flanagan listens to his early recordings: The Interview by Loren Schoenberg (WKCR NY,1990)


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