New Orleans has been a jazz piano town since, as he claimed himself, Jelly Roll Morton invented the jazz piano. Conun Pappas, Jr. is a native son and a piano prodigy, but in his journey from the jazz program at NOCCA to the Manhattan School of Music, where he is now, he has located his music in a markedly different tradition.
Pappas first received widespread recognition—just a few months before he graduated high school—for his Jazz Fest 2007 performance at the tribute-turned-memorial for his teacher, the late Alvin Batiste. Oh, What a Feeling, Pappas’ frst album, is a collection of his own compositions for piano trio (with bass and drums), all firmly entrenched in the style and vocabulary of modern jazz.
The album is rhythmically complex and harmonically spare. There’s a lot going on, but most of it is implicit. Pappas relies primarily on his right hand, and leaves most of the chord progression to fellow NOCCA grad Max Moran on the bass. (Drummers Joe Dyson, Jr. and Jamal Batiste round out the ensemble, and all three give coolly and impressively professional performances.)
The combo swings, to be sure, but such a style of composition really puts the album’s weight on Pappas’ piano. As a technician, he’s fuid and playful. Though his musical ideas do tend towards the virtuosic run of notes, they’re clearly developed and mindful of the compositions’ shape and scale.It’s the work of a performer who understands the musical language he’s chosen, and who’s on his way to developing a distinct voice that will speak in whatever tradition he chooses.