One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date? I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person. I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays! Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.
Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech. Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.
Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply. And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps. I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.
Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more. He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play. In life.
Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing. Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed. Medium tempos, too.
A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:
TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody. I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination. But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit. And they play the verse! Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:
Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING. Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else. And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!
Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear. But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:
What a pair! Mr. Waller approves. As do I. As did the audience.
May your happiness increase!