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Albert “Ted” Gerike, a beloved fixture on the Philadelphia jazz scene for five decades and the last of the true bebop pianists in the region, died just last week at the age of 83.
He was a gentle, unassuming, supportive man who could and would talk for hours about bop songs, bop players, and compositions from the great American songbook. His knowledge of those topics was encyclopedic. Like the man, his piano style was tasteful, understated, swinging, and inventive. But what listeners, jazz lovers and non-jazz lovers alike could hear in his music was his love and respect for the songs he played and the composers who wrote them.
A seven-decade run
His following in this area and the sheer length of the jobs he had were unprecedented. After returning from the service in the early 1950s, he was a regular on the nightclub scene, including the long-gone Latin Casino, backing up big names as a part of the house band. When that work dried up, he began an incredible, 22-year residency at the old Society Hill Hotel, where he played six nights per week from 6pm to 2am.
Despite the long hours, he loved it, as did all those regulars and newcomers who heard him. Upon the hotel’s policy change — they decided to court a younger audience — he moved to the Prime Rib restaurant in the Warwick hotel, where he was a regular part of the nightly jazz piano rotation; Tuesday was his night. He played there from 2002 until 2014 when he retired, something he did not want to do. As was his wont, however, he still hung out and you never knew just where he would pop up.
Stylistically, Gerike could bop with the best of them, coming out of the tradition of jazz piano giants like Bud Powell and Al Haig. What set him apart, and this was likely the reason for his astounding fan base, was his love and respect for the purity of standard tunes as written.
Playing by instinct
You might say Ted Gerike was a jazzed-up Michael Feinstein. He played the songs — and it’s said that even though he did not read music, he knew more than 1,000 of them — but he played them his way. As a performer, he instinctively knew when to play something by Thelonious Monk, and when to play something by Cole Porter.
In 2002, after he was dismissed from the Society Hill Hotel, he did an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I always put the music at the edge of the conversation,” he said. “I never wanted people to totally listen to me. If they put me on stage at the Academy of Music and everybody was quiet, I'd freak out."
Jazz pianist, educator, and Jacobs Music Artist-in-Residence, Andy Kahn, was on that rotation with Ted Gerike at the Prime Rib for several seasons, and got to know the man and his music. He recalls, “His undeniable total recall of who played with whom, and when, along with his encyclopedic knowledge of the composers of jazz classics and American standards, is legendary.”
His ever-swinging, yet always-at-ease style, coupled with his experience as a top-notch pianist and an astonishing chronicler of this music, was, and remains without parallel. Albert “Ted” Gerike was the last of the certifiable Philadelphia jazz piano beboppers.
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