Larry Karush's piano playing made me think about the definition of an entertainer. He said he thought of himself as basically a boogie-woogie guy, which may seem silly if you've heard some of his more abstract conceptions, but the line between entertainer and artist shifts according to the performer and the listener. While thinking of themselves as entertainers, Art Tatum, Fats Waller and Bud Powell regularly crossed the line into obvious Artistry; without trying, Karush lived on the art side of the line. He entertained himself and people who had a clue about razor-edged technique and the enormous synthesis of world musics he accomplished.
It doesn't pay to be a genius in a world where only the broadest of abstract artists can buy lunch, so it was lucky that this playful intellectual had a real vocation as an educator as well as a player. He did clubs and concerts because a musician needs an audience, not because he was trying to be famous.
Still, it's a little scary that a pianist of Larry Karush's originality and ability wasn't better known. And after his death from cancer on Wednesday, genii of the future have one less window on what's possible.
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Read my review of two 2011 Karush performances here.