Tag Archives: Luckey Roberts

I’M GETTING MY BONUS IN STRIDE: JAMES P. FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Everyone who follows jazz devotedly has theories about why some musicians become Stars and others remain Obscure.  It clearly isn’t artistic quality, as one could find out quickly by playing recordings of famous and neglected artists. No, other factors interfere.

In that wonderfully uplifting sub-genre known as Harlem stride piano, the pantheon seems to have room for only one man, Fats Waller.  His fame is well-deserved: his genial embellishments, his rhythmic drive, his delicious pianistic surprises.  But we also have to consider the effect of Fats as a Personality (many recordings and some film appearances) and a Composer.  (In the jazz mythology, he is also remembered as a joyous Dionysiac child who died young — elements that stick in our minds.) Willie “the Lion” Smith seems a collection of delightful eccentricities — melodies, derby hat, cigar, scraps of Yiddish, an elegant braggadocio.  In our time, pianists Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Don Ewell, and their current counterparts have (or had) the advantage of being accessible.

But what of the man who came first (leaving aside Eubie Blake and Luckey Roberts), Fats’ teacher, James P. Johnson?  He was not a Personality; the one or two times he sings on record he seems uncomfortable; a quiet man, almost shy, he did not thrust himself forward.  It would seem that he didn’t record sufficiently, but the discographies prove otherwise.  Wellstood once said in print that James P.’s recordings didn’t always document his greatness — although for those of us who didn’t see and hear James P. at all, that would be a moot point.

Mosaic Records, blessedly, has seen fit to put Wellstood’s casual assertion to the test.

JAMES P. Mosaic

This box set will be available in mid-December; it offers the usual Mosaic largesse spread over six CDs; rare material (eleven sides not previously issued), beautiful photographs; a lengthy essay by Dr. Scott Brown, James P.’s biographer, familiar material in the best sound.

And should some worry about six CDs of stride piano, fear not: we hear James P. accompanying blues and pop singers (including Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Clara Smith, and Ethel Waters) and as a sideman in bands that include Frank Newton, Jabbo Smith, Clarence Williams, Garvin Bushell, Louis Metcalf, Fats Waller, Cootie Williams, Arthur Whetsel, King Oliver, Jimmy Archey, Teddy Bunn, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Smeck, Tommy Ladnier, Sidney DeParis, Mezz Mezzrow, John Kirby, Cozy Cole, Sidney Catlett, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Christian, Ed Hall, and others.

Here‘s the discography, for those who (like myself) find listings of music we are going to hear very enticing.  And if you haven’t heard James P. recently — someone Thelonious Monk admired — scroll down on this Mosaic page and listen.

My holiday shopping list is now complete — my gift to myself, I mean.

May your happiness increase!

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“I’M DONE”: EDDIE HUNTER, ALEX ROGERS, LUCKEYETH ROBERTS

I first heard this piece of ancient but still witty vaudeville thanks to Allen Lowe’s massive CD box set, THAT DEVILIN’ TUNE . . . and although my emotional life is far more tranquil and gratifying, this is one of my favorite recordings.  Perhaps it appeals to my deep inner silliness; I find it ingenious all the way from the introduction to the two singers in harmony for a few seconds at the end.

And what’s just as remarkable is the flexible, varied, lightly swinging stride piano accompaniment by C. Luckeyeth Roberts — Luckey to those more casual — that is as light, bright, and sparking as anything Fats or James P. ever recorded.  (It has the same lovely distracting quality of a Jess Stacy accompaniment, pulling my attention away from what is supposed to be the main event.)  Early on: December 17, 1923.

Enjoy this little frolic — first for the mock-serious indignation of Hunter and Rogers, then for the lacy twining of the piano — delicious and never over-done.

Here, courtesy of the Library of Congress and the “National Jukebox,” is a comic swinging pleasure.  Remember to “make a wush”!

May your happiness increase.

HARRY ALLEN and EHUD ASHERIE, JAN. 29, 2009

Here we are at Smalls again (Seventh Avenue South and West Tenth Street in New York City) for another Thursday night duet between gifted friends, eloquent and swinging.

“Manhattan,” Rodgers and Hart’s sweet valentine to this metropolis, always makes me think of Bobby Hackett and Lee Wiley; the duo reclaims it for themselves, with hints of Ben Webster and Teddy Wilson, a royal pair.  Listen to Ehud’s small homages to the lesser-known stride masters in his solo: a touch of Luckey Roberts’s “Moonlight Cocktail,” a passage of Cliff Jackson’s distinctive stride left hand.  And Harry’s tone and gliding phrasing are like a sonic caress:

Then, an old-time stride romp on Vincent Youmans’ exultant “Hallelujah!” — with Harry negotiating every turn so easily, after Ehud has dramatically explored the verse.  Ehud loves Fats Waller but isn’t a prisoner of the recordings; in fact, his single-note lines have all the snap of Bud Powell.  Flip was very pleased to be able to present two Ehuds — the real one and his mirror-image.  What riotous fun as the duet changes keys and the players trade ideas:

I don’t think I am being hyperbolic when I say that these two performances exemplify what jazz is all about: the melding of individual impulse and communal creativity (whether on a tender ballad or at top speed, trading phrases) — amazing for its emotions, intellect, and sheer technical athleticism.