Avant-Garde: The Powell & the Glory

Even as a youngster in The Bronx, Mel Powell was a brilliantly advanced musician. At least that is the way he remembers it. Of course, his fledgling compositions did not exactly bowl over his piano teacher, who "seemed to prefer Mozart." But it was already clear that Powell was something special. He completed high school at 14, and started a precocious career playing jazz piano. "It turned out," he recalls, with barely a smile of irony, "that I became magnificent."

Apparently he did, for soon he was sitting in with top jazzmen in...

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