It was not at all difficult to imagine pianist Johnny O’Neal as Art Tatum in the 2004 film, “Ray” (one of my favorites). Mostly because Mr. O’Neal is easily just as prodigiously talented as Mr. Tatum.
A pianist of extraordinary skill, Johnny O’Neal has appeared with countless jazz legends over the course of his three-decade career. Names like Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Lionel Hampton, Anita O’Day crop up again and again in O’Neal’s life.
Sunday night, March 18th, Smalls will present two sets from Mr. O’Neal, backed by Paul Sikivie on bass and Sharif Zaben on drums. The cover charge is a little steep at $20, but rest assured, this is not a pianist to be missed. And if you’re really feeling it, just close your eyes and pretend you’re walking into that club in “Ray” to see Art Tatum. Sets at 9:30 & 10:45.
Here’s a great track from Johnny O’Neal’s 1995 album, On the Montreal Scene (Justin Time Records):