Sir Roland was a pianist who performed solo; contributed meaningfully to orchestras, bands, and small groups; and provided sensitive, sympathetic accompaniment to such artists as the late Sarah Vaughn (for whom he was musical director),Carmen McRae, and Al Hibbler. As a soloist, his finely tuned sense of time and Rock-of-Gibraltar left hand enabled him to create, without assistance, performances of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic excitement. As an ensemble player, his individuality displayed musical talent that had been honed and refined with years of experience. His experience included almost every aspect of music and occurred in such disparate contexts as The Benny Goodman Big Band, Charles Mingus experimental groups, The Eastman Symphony Orchestra, The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, The New York Jazz Quartet, The American Composers Orchestra, The Lincoln Center and Smithsonian Jazz Orchestras, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and The National Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to an active itinerary that carried him to major clubs and auditoriums throughout the United States, Europe and Japan, the 1990’s provided the opportunity to return to his native Detroit as guest soloist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in performance of his composition, “Oasis,” a work for piano and orchestra. Previous performances of this work included its premiere by the Eastman Symphony Orchestra and the Swedish Symphony Orchestra of Norrkoping. He also performed Duke Ellington’s “New World a comin’” and George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” as featured soloist with The National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. The pianist and composer was the honouree of the 23rd annual Paradise Valley Jazz party in Phoenix, Arizona on April 15 and 16, 2000.
Hanna studied classical piano from the age of 11, but was strongly interested in jazz, having been introduced to it by his friend, pianist Tommy Flanagan. This interest increased after his time in military service, 1950–52. He studied briefly at the Eastman School of Music in 1953 and then enrolled at the Juilliard School when he moved to New York two years later. He worked with several big names in the 1950s, including Benny Goodman and Charles Mingus, and graduated in 1960. Between 1963 and 1966 Hanna led his own trio, then from 1966 to 1974 he was a regular member of the Thad Jones–Mel Lewis Orchestra. Hanna also toured the Soviet Union with this orchestra in 1972. During the 1970s he was a member of the New York Jazz Quartet.
Roland Hanna was in semi-retirement for most of the 1980s, though he played piano and wrote the song “Seasons” for Sarah Vaughan’s 1982 album Crazy and Mixed Up, and returned to music later in the decade. In the late 1980s and early 90s, Hanna was a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. Around this time, he also began composing chamber and orchestral music; a ballet he wrote has also been performed.
Hanna is often referred to as "Sir Roland Hanna" as he was given an honorary knighthood by President William Tubman of Liberia in 1970. Sir Roland Hanna was a professor of jazz at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College (CUNY) in Flushing, New York, and taught at several other music schools. He died of a viral infection of the heart on November 13, 2002.
Roland Hanna (p) George Mraz (b) Motohiko Hino (ds) Album："Roland Hanna / Glove" Recorded：Tokyo, October 15, 1977.