Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant
I’ve heard the splendid pianist Dalton Ridenhour several times in New York City, although most often as a member of an ensemble — where, Hines-like, he glitters and surprises. But this year’s Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (in Sedalia, Missouri) offered more opportunities to savor his exceptional solo and duo playing — both deeply rewarding.
I said to him that he reminded me, at the keyboard, of a man who had built his own idiosyncratic, beautiful house, and was gently exploring it in the dark. And, of course, inviting us along for the journeys. He said the metaphor was about right.
Dalton can frolic and stomp, but he can also muse, and his playing is always animated by wonderful rhythmic impulses. He takes familiar repertoire and through slight shifts — he’s never cliched — we visit old songs and hear them, tenderly liberated from decades of routine. He doesn’t covet “innovation” for its own sake, but his performances reflect his deep self, no matter what the tempo. Here he guides us, gently but with swinging intent, through four compositions either by or associated with Fats Waller.
I find it so reassuring to know that he and his music exist, and hope you share my delight.
Here’s MARTINIQUE, from Fats’ last show, EARLY TO BED. I envision it as a hip-swinging chorus line dance: admire how Dalton’s variations within the form expand and extend it without ever undermining it:
SWEET SAVANNAH SUE begins close to the 1929 Waller version, but becomes even more spirited and playful as it goes along:
Another kind of sweetness, the Harry Warren SWEET AND SLOW, as a change of pace. I love this song dearly, and hear Al Dubin’s always-clever lyrics in my head:
Finally, the Waller classic so often obliterated into a series of chords — but not here — HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which Dalton turns into a stroll through familiar fields yet with surprising vistas. And his shift into Uptown tempo halfway through still makes me feel uplifted:
How that young fellow can play! And his imagination is broad and unfettered.
May your happiness increase!