SAY IT SIMPLE: DICK WELLSTOOD

Once the English pianist Harold Bauer gave a concert in San Francisco, and an F-sharp got stuck just after he’d begun his last piece.  He struggled with the note, trying to disguise that from the audience, trying to keep it from ruining the piece, trying to get through.  When he came offstage, his manager said to him, “Harold, I’ve listened to you up and down the world for twenty years, and that last piece was the most moving performance I have ever heard.”  Which means that audiences are rarely on the same wavelength as performers.  In fact, two very different things are going on at once.  The musician is wondering how to get from the second eight bars into the bridge, and the audience is in pursuit of emotional energy.  The musician is struggling, and the audience is making up dreamlike opinions about the music that may have nothing at all to do with what the musician is thinking or doing musically.  If audiences knew what humdrum, daylight things most musicians think when they play, they’d probably never come. 

— told to Whitney Balliett, “Easier Than Working,” American Musicians 312-13.

The Dear Departed Days:

December 1946, Jimmy Ryan’s, New York City: Ed Phyfe (drums), John Glasel (tpt); Bob Wilber, Wellstood, Charlie Traeger (bass).  Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

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4 responses to “SAY IT SIMPLE: DICK WELLSTOOD

  1. I am a huge fan of Dick Wellstood. Have several of his CDs and play them often. He had a style of his own, and I loved it! If there is Jazz in Heaven, you can bet Dick will be at the piano!

  2. When the “kids” in Westchester County were struggling to learn jazz in the ’40s, Dick was not only the most accomplished of all, but the most generous to the lesser of us, with his knowlege and help. When I first played his staggering version of Giant Steps for my piano playing buddy, Jerry Noble, he was absolutely stunned. The sheer magic of his mastery was matched with a gentle manner and a quiet wit that masked a brilliant mind. He truly reached musical greatness.

  3. That is very true. As a performer, I have often wondered what people are thinking while I am terrified of playing on that broken key held together only by sticky notes.

  4. I stumbled joyfully on this picture while looking for recent evidence of Ed Phyfe, the fine drummer from Larchmont who played with many of the jazz greats around Washington, DC for many years. I was delighted to see a picture of The Scarsdale lad,Bob Wilber, immensely gifted on clarinet and soprano sax and was disappointed not to see the Strong brothers (trombone and drums and not playing here). Johnny Glazel was there -an amazing talent at his young age of 14. I was sad not to find Eddy Hubbel the trombonist who was an important member of that group. Ollie Balf (cornet) and I (clarinet ) from Rye met Charlie Treager and Dick Wellstood at a jam session at the Greenwich YMCA (1944?). At the time, Dick was the least talented of the group – but my, did he blossom. His idol at the time was Willie the Lion Smith. Many years later, Ollie and his wife went to hear Wellstood at a bar in Manhattan. Ollie asked Dick to stop at the table for a drink at intermission and Dick sent back a note asking “Ollie Balf the cornet player?” Ollie could not have been more pleased.

    The 1940s in Westchester were a very special time and the photo of the group at Ryan’s refreshed the memories.

    Kenn Hubel in North Liberty, Iowa

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