I’ve described the pleasures of meeting and hearing Captain John Royen at the piano and at the microphone during the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest here and here. I present the third part of Royen’s No Co-Pay Medicine for All Your Ills. But come back when the videos are done . . . a few words will follow.
Something pretty, IF’N I HAD YOU:
AFTER YOU’VE GONE, featuring Joe Goldberg:
CLARINET MARMALADE (with a good deal of audience commentary):
Jelly Roll’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, complete with history, etymology, and vocal:
and finally, PANAMA:
If you go to the New Orleans clubs where John plays, what I write will already be obvious. But for those — audience members and festival promoters — who are encountering John or finding him anew, just this. He is often presented as a stride pianist, and he is a superb one, treating Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and others, with respect and joyous creativity.
But the sets I saw John in, solo and as a band pianist, showed me immediately that he was a complete musician, not just someone locked into a particular style, someone who could immediately take a group of musicians new to him and to each other, and make them into a swinging cohesive band, someone who could take the most familiar repertoire and make it sound fresh.
He is a superb ensemble player, and it would be a fascinating study to listen closely, as I have, to what John does within a band, behind the soloists: he creates consistently uplifting orchestral piano, always swinging, light but intense, with interesting harmonies and variations. Nothing formulaic, and all very satisfying.
He’s also a delight on the microphone — witty and able to improvise masterfully, no matter what the situation is. You can’t see it in this room (I don’t walk around or do panoramic views) but John and his band kept a plenitude of dancers very happy. I will be delighted to see him at festivals in future. Thank you, Captain!
May your happiness increase!