Yes, you read that right. But it’s not a termite swarm or something to fear. No, rather it is two minutes of the legendary stride pianist Stephen “The Beetle” Henderson, playing James P. Johnson’s KEEP OFF THE GRASS on a radio broadcast circa 1940, introduced by Art Hodes. I assume this is from the period when Hodes had airtime on the New York City municipal station — what we now know as WNYC:
I assume that Henderson got his mildly unflattering name because of wearing thick-lensed eyeglasses. But there’s nothing to satirize in his playing. Yes, a few modern masters I know could and would play this more “cleanly,” but Henderson’s version has the earthy gaiety of a dance, and his bass patterns are beautifully varied. Thanks to the generous BlueBlackJazz for sharing this masterpiece in miniature with us. I’ve subscribed to that YouTube channel and I encourage you to do so as well.
I have found no solid biographical information about the Beetle, except that he was praised by Ellington, and that (this may be apocryphal) he was notoriously relaxed about showing up for gigs. This version of KEEP OFF THE GRASS, however, comes from a record called HARLEM STRIDE MASTERS on the Euphonic label, and the record also includes the Beetle’s version of CAROLINA SHOUT. I’d love to hear that someday also.
It is possible that all might be revealed to us.
May your happiness increase!