Last Saturday and Sunday, the Beloved and I were privileged to see and hear three wonderful concerts — Stride Piano Summits — at the Lesher Arts Center in Walnut Creek, California, and the new SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco. The eminent players and singers are as shown in my title. If you were there, I think you are still smiling; if you weren’t, you will feel forlorn when reading about the performances you missed.
A very brief summary follows: Dick and Mike began with a duet on Fats’ HANDFUL OF KEYS; Stephanie frolicked through Eubie’s TROUBLESOME IVORIES; Stephanie and Mike paid tribute to James P. with OLD FASHIONED LOVE and KEEP OFF THE GRASS; Dick and Mike offered SNOWY MORNING BLUES and Porter’s IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME; Mike created delicious variations on LOVER; Dinah Lee sang her way right into our hearts with Fats’ THERE’S A MAN IN MY LIFE and the pretty (but rarely heard) ZING WENT THE STRINGS OF MY HEART. Stephanie began to rock the house with Pete Johnson’s DEATH RAY BOOGIE but Dick, Clint, and Paul crept onstage to join in; Dick offered a solo piano interlude that (depending on the concert) covered AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – JITTERBUG WALTZ – STEALIN’ APPLES, or James P.’s ECCENTRICITY and Hyman’s own SCRABBLE. Mike became both Fats and Andy Razaf for one of his own evocative, funny compositions, COULD IT BE YOU’RE FALLING IN LOVE? Mike and Dick again joined forces for an evocation of the Louisiana Sugar Babes’ THOU SWELL; a seismic I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS by Dick and Stephanie followed; a wildly creative Hyman solo set — LULLABY (early Gershwin, from his first string quartet), I GOT PLENTY OF NUTTIN’, and HONEYCUKLE ROSE, had us cheering; Dinah returned for a beautifully focused HARLEM BUTTERFLY and SUGAR (with two verses, no less); Mike transformed the Beatles’ YESTERDAY into something worthy of Don Lambert; a trio jam on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN by Clint, Paul, and Dick was followed by a real delight, a duet on RUNNIN’ WILD by Stephanie Trick and a young man very close to her heart, Paolo Alderighi. This gave way to a more expansive jam session — complete with bench-swapping and musical hijinks from everyone on I NEVER KNEW; the encore, I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER, brought Dinah back, tender and witty.
Are you breathless yet? (And I might have missed a song or two.)
A few words. The well-paced and remarkably-paced evenings are thanks to Maestro Lipskin, who has a very good idea of what is needed to keep an audience happy. (Some stride events are all Allegretto — solo, duo, or all-hands-on-deck — and the pace is quickly wearying.) He’s also a wonderfully authentic player on his own: you could close your eyes and feel transported to Fats Waller’s house in St. Albans, Queens, for an afternoon: no rush, no fuss, nothing out of place.
Stephanie Trick has continued to blossom as an artist who not only can duplicate the leaps and entrechats needed for this style, but can invent her own caprices. Her TROUBLESOME IVORIES was anything but, and she kept Eubie’s spirit alive while swinging out in her own terms. Her pianistic partner, Paolo Alderighi, has been justly praised in this blog, and he didn’t disappoint in person: his amazing technique is matched by a swooping but right-on-target improvisatory sense, no matter what end of the keyboard he is at.
Dinah Lee was warm, funny, sweet, and salty — all in good time and with a large honeyed voice that honored the songs. Clint Baker swung out on string bass, clarinet, and cornet (as he always does), and Paul Mehling’s rhythmic swing and single-string solos were a treat.
That leaves the Patriarch, Dick Hyman — who is somewhere in his eighth decade, playing astonishing music: inventive, startling, rangy, energized . . . the art of a great musical thinker, athlete, and instant composer who can imagine other musical worlds and gently transport us there.
Individually, these musicians held us rapt: in combinations, they created new synergies that left us open-mouthed or grinning widely. I only hope that the Lesher Arts Center and SFJAZZ understood what marvels had taken place, and invite these magicians back in 2014 to amaze us again.
May your happiness increase!