It’s not often that you learn one of a jazz musician’s past gigs was as a pianist at Walt Disney World from 1999 to 2020. Chris Rottmayer can–and does–put that on his resume, but that will tell you nothing about this man’s style.
Chris Rottmayer also teaches jazz piano at the University of South Florida and music theory at University of Wisconsin-Madison, which might speak to the balance in his arrangements and performances, a mid-point between showmanship and scholarship. You can also sense those same two qualities among his quartet, which also includes tenor sax player Jack Wilkins, drummer Walt Hubbard and bassist Charlie Silva. On Rottmayer’s new album, Sunday at Pilars, their performances of standards such as Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” sound accessible and yet informative–sort of “this is the way that this is supposed to sound, and I still bet you’ve never heard it like this.”
When you get to the core of Chris Rottmayer and his fourth album as a leader, it might just be about Florida. What do you know about the Florida jazz scene? I do know this: the University of South Florida is one of those places, like the University of North Texas, that really keeps jazz alive in this country but training the next generation of performers. I review many of these academic-sponsored recordings, and then usually fall into the “preserving traditions” side of the contemporary jazz coin. There’s a lot of that here, but I think it’s impossible to ignore the whole Florida connection.
The title implies that this set was recorded live at Pilars, a jazz club in Winter Garden. No, it’s a studio recording, but it’s meant to capture the three years that Chris Rottmayer played with this quartet, three years of Sundays. There’s an ease and focus to this jazz, but it’s still played with an energy that is remarkably consistent from the beginning to the end. I can’t imagine hearing something this authentic while strolling around Disney World, but I’ve been in Club 33 (shout out to my Anaheim peeps!) and I know there’s an underlying sophistication that could foster this sort of talent making this fine of an album.