Duet playing in any genre is difficult — making two into one while keeping the individuals’ individualities afloat. Improvised duet playing, as you can imagine, might be the most wonderful soaring dance of all but it is fraught with the possibility of disaster. Can we agree on a tempo? Is one of us rushing or dragging? Do we agree on the changes? Do we play the tag at the end of every chorus? Do we change key for the final chorus? Or, as Vic Dickenson said, “How do you want to distribute the bounces?”
But I am sure that some of my most enthralling moments have been as an open-mouthed spectator at some duets: Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines or Buck Washington, Al Cohn and Jimmie Rowles; Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins; Ruby and Dick Hyman; Vic and Ralph Sutton; Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson; Zoot Sims and Bucky Pizzarelli, Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow, Marc Caparone and Ray Skjelbred . . . . and and and. Now I add to that list the two fellows photographed above . . . on the basis of two songs in concert.
Here are two lovely examples of how improvised duet playing — by two people, expert and intuitive — can touch our hearts while we marvel at the risks taken and the immense rewards. Pianist Dalton Ridenhour was playing a solo set at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, and gave us a surprise by inviting his colleague and neighbor, clarinetist Evan Arntzen, to the stage for a dozen memorable minutes.
The tender and evocative THAT OLD FEELING:
The song I call CHANGES MADE (and then someone insists that THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE is the properly pious title . . . . what-ever):
I dream of a venue and an occasion where Dalton and Evan could play as long as they wanted . . .
May your happiness increase!