Authenticity is immediately recognizable, no matter where one finds it.
Hearing Mike Lipskin at the piano, it’s immediately evident that he didn’t learn his stride from a DVD or a book of transcriptions. No, he lived and breathed it as a young man — studying with Willie “the Lion” Smith, learning from Cliff Jackson, Willie Gant, and by playing alongside such modern masters as Dick Hyman (their friendship goes back 45 years and continues to this day). Experience and improvisation rather than copying gestures and figures.
Although Mike is seriously influenced by the great players who were the Lion’s contemporaries — James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Don Lambert — and later generations, his style is much more than pastiche: he has his own sound, a steady yet flexible pace, delicious voicings, a nimble tread at the keyboard.
In addition, Mike is a humorist at play: in any performance, there will be playful surprises — modulations up a step or down, key changes for a few bars, and more. Anything to keep the terrain from becoming too level and too predictable.
The Beloved and I had the great good fortune to hear a mini-recital by Mike, happily at his own piano in his Nicasio home (with the very loving audience including his wife, the swinging Dinah Lee). Here’s one of the highlights: Mike’s solo rendition of SWEETIE DEAR, composed by Joe Jordan, most well-known for the quick one-step recording from 1932 by Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier, and Hank Duncan (as the New Orleans Feetwarmers) — riffing seriously all the way through:
Mike’s version is calmer, although subtly propulsive. In the great piano tradition, his sweet improvisation begins in affectionate rubato mode (love can’t be rushed), moves into a strolling tempo, and then to a jaunt before settling down for a conclusion.
On the West Coast, Mike can be found at Bix Restaurant and Pier 23 in San Francisco, and there will be another Stride Summit in Filoli in 2014. You can keep up with him on his Facebook page or website.
He brings joy, and young players should be coming to study him. He has much to share with us — not only about music but about joy.
And if you missed the Stride Summits of August 2013, or the resulting videos, you have only to click here to admire Mike amidst his friends Dick Hyman, Stephanie Trick, Clint Baker, and Paul Mehling. Swing, you cats!
May your happiness increase!