When Tommy Flanagan plays a jazz club, it’s as if they changed the lighting: the physical surroundings seem brighter, and you can see (and hear) the same old details with new clarity. Flanagan represents the flowering of bebop in the truest sense: the opening up of the original idiom into a more versatile jazz style–one that retains the language and integrity of bebop, but places it at the service of a wider range of emotions. In fact Flanagan remains one of the signal figures of that movement. Along with such long-gone contemporaries as Sonny Clark, Red Garland, and Wynton Kelly, he created the piano sound of the 1950s: a spare, almost haunting piano fabric stretched beneath the hard-bop horns, which would give way to relaxed but exacting solos of shadow and light. (And none of these pianists proved more versatile than Flanagan, who served as longtime musical director for Ella Fitzgerald, but also played behind John Coltrane on his groundbreaking recording of “Giant Steps.”) Like anyone else’s, Flanagan’s sound starts with his touch: his physical connection with (and transference of force to) the keyboard. But it has at least as much to do with the spacing of his chords, which lends the notes a gracious protraction even at fast tempos. As a result his lines have an extra presence, allowing one to fully enjoy the lapidary lyricism of his imagination. His most recently released album carries the title Flanagan’s Shenanigans, and you can count on plenty of those, too–the brainy, playful allusions that dot his solos. Flanagan uses them too cleverly to suggest a simple game of “Name That Tune”; in his hands they offer a subtle, down-to-earth discourse on self-reflexive art. Tuesday through next Sunday, May 14, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Marc PoKempner.