Maybe every big city boasts a pianist like Larry Novak, a near perfect accompanist for a gamut of singers and horn men who can intimidate most musicians with his own solos–but I’d have to hear them to believe it. Novak had unbeatable training: between 1963 and 1975 he led the house trio at two internationally renowned Chicago supper clubs–first the London House, then Mr. Kelly’s–where he played opening sets and backed some of the biggest names in jazz history. Accompanying Carmen McRae or Sarah Vaughan would teach any musician how to listen before he leaped, and sharing the stage with pianists like Oscar Peterson and George Shearing required a youngster to either raise the bar on his own playing or discreetly slink away. Novak met the challenge, developing a blithe and crystalline technique: his style seems so effortless and casual that listeners dazzled by the marbled melodies and urbane architecture of his right-hand work can easily miss the harmonic ingenuity of his left. He knows more than enough tricks to coast through any performance, but I’ve never heard him do that: even on chestnuts he’s been playing forever, he stakes out some unexamined corner, persisting in the endless search that’s essential to good jazz. During the 90s Novak has busied himself mostly in the studio and at private events. But fresh from his Jazz Festival appearance with Chicago Symphony Orchestra clarinetist Larry Combs, he’s reigniting his nightclub career with this trio gig; he’ll play with bassist par excellence Larry Gray and the unflappable Tom Radtke on drums. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, Plaza Tavern, 70 W. Monroe; 312-977-1940. If you’re reading this on Thursday, September 9, you can also catch the trio’s performance tonight, at 7. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.