Ralph Sutton (courtesy of BlueBlackJazz)

The pianist Ralph Sutton, who recorded so expansively for more than fifty years, should be better known. But I suspect that since he was typecast as a particular kind of pianist — a “stride pianist,” which he was, splendidly, he was expected to provide a predictable menu of standard tunes, Fats Waller compositions, and up-tempo dazzlers, and listeners forgot just how superb he was as an improvising musician, a magnificent pianist, and an ensemble player. Although Ralph played with great dramatic range, he led a calm life and his artistry was so consistent that there was little for journalists to fasten on: no personal disasters. Too, there are the deplorable labels affixed to pre-KIND OF BLUE jazz, even by the fans of such music. Unlike his contemporaries, the erudite Dick Hyman and the whimsical Dick Wellstood, Ralph did not expend much energy on “show” or wooing an audience. The performance that follows shows him a craftsman, concerned with little else than the extraordinary sounds and rhythms he could create at the keyboard. But it is a rare document of his art, and since he made no commercially issued recordings in 1980, it is especially valuable: a master at work. Of course, I say wryly, it was recorded for European, not American television.

In the first segment, Ralph plays ECHO OF SPRING (Willie “the Lion” Smith) / ALLIGATOR CRAWL (Fats Waller) / LOVE LIES (Terry Shand) / VIPER’S DRAG — interpolating LULLABY IN RHYTHM (Fats // Clarence Profit) / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / GIN MILL BLUES (continued in the next segment):

and GIN MILL BLUES (concluded) / EYE OPENER (Bob Zurke):

In a more equitable jazz world, bereft of labels and hierarchies, Sutton would get his due. But then again, so would a thousand other remarkable artists. Do your bit: share this video with your daughter’s piano teacher, your friend who admires Horowitz, and so on. Let’s launch a peaceful Sutton Revolution.

May your happiness increase!

3 responses to “RALPH SUTTON, PIANO MASTER (1980)

  1. I had the pleasure of hearing Ralph solo and in concert on several occasions, beginning with his emergence from what was basically a period of public exile from the recording studios ( at least under his own leadership ) for a better part of the 1960s and 70s, at Hanratty’s in New York City, and on the Chaz Jazz label, beginning in 1981. This was at a time when Ralph was still playing at his peak, and therefore we are fortunate to also have this documentation of Ralph from the halcyon days of 1980. His 1975 Flyright album is the rare documentation from his wilderness period. Thanks again are in order to Michael Steinman, for a job well done !

    https://soundcloud.com/mark-borowsky/ralph-sutton-i-found-a-new-baby https://soundcloud.com/mark-borowsky/ralph-sutton-keep-your-temper


    Thanks Andy. He was a special player and gave me and many so much pleasure.

    Nick Niles 123 Old Field Rd. Hawley, Pa. 18428 570 775 7138 570 575 2399 (cell) Sent from my iPad


  3. The second video includes a truncated version of Joe Sullivan’s rarely heard, ” Gin Mill Blues, as well as the Sutton staple, ” Eye Opener “.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s