What do they have in common, Gould and Tristano? Both pianists, to start with, of course. Both eccentric semi-hermits, both 'withdrawing' from any regular exposure to their concert public, both intensely self-involved, probably both more than a little "troubled". Both esteemed for astounding pianistic technique (though to my ears Gould's technique seems overestimated) and both ferociously venerated by their fans, to the point of cult worship. Both more acclaimed and perhaps influential now, after their deaths, than ever they were while alive. Both 'went their own way' stylistically, heedless of criticism, ill-adapted to ensemble performance except entirely on their terms.
There are differences, also. Deeper differences than that one is identified as a classical pianist and the other as a jazz man. The classical repertoire for solo piano is immense, but few jazz pianists after ragtime have devoted themselves as thoroughly to solo performance as Tristano. Gould established his cult status with his performances of JS Bach, a composer long dead, while Tristano performed chiefly his own compositions... and that's a huge difference! ... involving once-only-never-the-same improvisation. Most non-players radically misunderstand that term improvisation, however; jazz improvisation such as Tristano's, or the great Charlie Parker's, is more a exploration of the player's musical memory than any kind of free-for-all finger music. Tristano's improvs are always intentional, directional, mentally composed.
Oddly, Gould's appeal to his cult followers seems to be the emotional intensity of his interpretation of Bach and other highly intellectual composers. Tristano, on the other hand, has been perceived as a cerebral, non-emotive performer. Frankly, I hear exactly the converse, at least with regards to Tristano, whose music dazzles me with the same affective passion as Bach's "Musical Offering" or "Art of Fugue." And note, if you will, the titles of the Tristano compositions on this CD: "C Minor Complex", "G Minor Complex", "Scene and Variations". How totally Bachian!
Enough other reviewers and enough critics over the years have suggested that Tristano is "difficult" to appreciate, so that I need to heed their apprehension. Possibly because I am a classically trained musician myself, and come to Tristano from that background, I can't quite imagine what people find difficult about a lyrical exploration of a melody like Tristano's "You Don't Know What Love Is" (track 3), the only 'standard' tune recorded here. It's beautiful! What else is there to say about it? And the two compositions titled "Complex" are indeed complex 'ricercatas' in form, with scintillating cascades of tonal figures developing themes that only become explicit in one's perception of the total piece. Those two tracks, by the way and IMHO, are about the most profound specimens of improv in the whole library of jazz recordings.
Gould and Tristano have another commonality: their musical ideas are far clearer in the notes they played and in the words they so reluctantly spoke. In 1964, when asked about the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Tristano responded that they were "all emotion, no feeling." Pressed to explain himself, Tristano declared that there should be "no real hysteria or hostility in jazz. Their stuff is an expression of the ego. I want jazz to flow out of the id. Putting it another way, real jazz is what you can play before you're all screwed up. The other is what happens after you're screwed up." Okay... make of that what you will. I kinda sorta think I know what he meant, and possibly Coltrane himself would have agreed, after his 'recovery' from drugs and religious 'awakening.' Strangely enough, what Tristano said about Davis and Coltrane perfectly expresses what I feel about Glenn Gould.
As far as I know, Gould and Tristano never met or acknowledged each other's existence. They certainly never attempted to play together. I wonder how it would have gone if they had .....