Tag Archives: Stride piano

CHARLIE JUDKINS: NEW OLD MUSIC, ONE FLIGHT DOWN (December 17, 2017)

That’s one view of Charlie Judkins, ragtime / stride / traditional jazz pianist (taken in 2015); here’s a more orthodox one:

At the end of last year, I ventured down the long staircase to the underground home of improvised music, surrealism, and (it cannot be ignored) noise from “screeching fratboys,” to quote a friend.  You know it, you love it: it’s Fat Cat at 75 Christopher Street.  Terry Wldo was holding one of his Sunday piano parties, with his special guest being Mike Lipskin.  I’ve posted Mike’s two beautiful performances here.

During the afternoon, Terry and Mike played, and also a number of Terry’s friends and students.  The one who impressed me most was a young man with dark hair who played beautifully — and, even more pleasing to the ear, ragtime pieces new to me.  That’s our man Charlie, seriously talented and seriously young.

“Mule Blues” by Milo Rega (pseud. for Fred Hager and Justin Ring) 1921:

“Le Bananier” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, 1846:

“The Delmar Blues” by Charley Thompson, written but unpublished, c. 1910:

Charlie Judkins (b. 1991) is a practitioner of Ragtime, Traditional Jazz and Blues piano, as well as a lifelong Brooklyn native. He began playing piano in 1997 at age six. In 2007, he was introduced to the music of Jelly Roll Morton and immediately began studying traditional ragtime and blues piano. Shortly thereafter he came under the informal tutelage of several highly-regarded pianists including Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Ehud Asherie and the late George Mesterhauze. He is currently studying classical piano technique and theory under Jeff Goldstein.

His piano playing has been in demand at various public and private events in the New York City area since debuting as a professional bar-room pianist in the Summer of 2010. He also works as a silent film accompanist at various theaters in the New York area, and also provides scores for silent animation archivist Tom Stathes’s series of DVD/Blu-Ray releases.

Charlie will be performing on Wednesday, January 31, at Dixon Place: “I’ll be accompanying my friend Lara Allen performing obscure ragtime/comedy songs from the early 1900s/late 1890s that were featured by pioneer female recording artists such as May Irwin, Marie Dressler and Clarice Vance.”  Details here: Dixon Place is at 161A Chrystie Street, and the show begins at 9.

I’m very pleased to know that Charlie Judkins exists.

May your happiness increase!

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HE STRIDES RIGHT IN: MIKE LIPSKIN at FAT CAT (December 17, 2017)

These performances make me think of Emerson’s words: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

The music I refer to is that of the great improviser Mike Lipskin — spiritual heir of Willie “the Lion” Smith — and two songs he reimagined on Sunday, December 17, 2017, at that downtown and below-ground secret shrine for improvised music, Fat Cat.  I applaud Fat Cat for its eccentricities: it is truly A Scene, but one of the ubiquitous elements there is the roar of the young crowd, playing ping-pong, billiards, and other games.  Exuberant youth isn’t silent, except perhaps when sleeping or texting, so Mike had unsolicited and unmusical accompaniment, which he brilliantly triumphed over.  And please note that Mike isn’t just someone lining up one Waller module after the next: his playing is harmonically sophisticated, swinging along in its frisky gentle ways no matter what the tempo.  He’s a class act at the keyboard.

Here’s Mike’s delightful musings on SWEET AND LOVELY, aptly named:

And here’s Vincent Youmans’ spiritual exhortation, much loved by Fats and other Harlem cosmic magicians:

Thank you, Mike.  Come back soon and play some more!

May your happiness increase!

TRY THESE ON YOUR PIANO, or THE LION LIKES MILT and FATS PLAYS PRANKS

I find jazz paper ephemera so very tempting.  Even though my piano skills were never more than sub-amateur at their height, that candid awareness hasn’t stopped me from coveting sheet music or purchasing a folio now and then.

I saw this on eBay and couldn’t hold back my hand (the price was low and the folio was new to me).  So I am the new owner:

and here (found online but not purchased) is a different edition:

I believe the edition I bought dates from 1934.  Why one folio is ten cents more than the other is a mystery too deep for me.  And speaking of “too deep for me,” here is the first page of ALLIGATOR CRAWL.  Maybe in my retirement I could crawl through those notes?

The Ebay seller also had two remarkable pieces of sheet music — prices too high for an eager dilettante like myself — compositions by Willie “the Lion” Smith inscribed to fellow pianist Milt Raskin in 1937.

FUSSIN’:

SNEAK AWAY:

And if you wonder how we know they belonged to Milt Raskin, the purple-ink rubber stamp on each sheet tells us so.

Music, Maestro, please!

Fats’ liberal improvisation (1935) on ALLIGATOR CRAWL:

FUSSIN’ — played by Ralph Sutton:

Our friend and hero Rossano Sportiello also played FUSSIN’ just two weeks ago at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, so perhaps I might be able to share that with you someday.

And here, introduced by The Lion and Eddie Condon, at a Town Hall concert, is SNEAK AWAY:

It’s possible that having sheet music connected to Fats and The Lion is as close as I will get to playing stride piano, so thank goodness for recordings.

May your happiness increase!

“SWINGIN’ FOR THE FENCES”: BRIAN HOLLAND AND DANNY COOTS (AND MORE)

Oh, no.  Another wonderful CD?  Will those musicians ever let us alone?  When the musicians are pianist Brian Holland and drummer Danny Coots, the answer is a joyous NO.

But first.  Let’s assume you’ve never heard Brian and Danny.  Nothing simpler than remedying this deficiency. From the 2017 Santa Cruz Ragtime Festival, here is their rendition of two Fats Waller compositions, JITTERBUG WALTZ and BACH UP TO ME:

and here are the two gentlemen, caught by a still camera:

Holland (left), Coots (right), for those who have never had the good fortune to see and hear them in person or in action or both.

Their new CD is a delightfully varied offering:

The songs:  Charleston Rag / Jimmy McHugh Medley (Spreadin’ Rhythm Around – I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed) / Memphis Blues / Doll Dance / Wolverine Blues / Black and Blue / Tico Tico – Besame Mucho / Root Beer Rag / Hymn to Freedom / Violet Wedding (A Song for Marcia) / Rubber Plant Rag / Ragtime Nightingale / Troublesome Ivories / Planxty.

Students of the music will notice some well-deserved homages to great composers and players: Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, W.C. Handy, Nacio Herb Brown, Jimmy McHugh, Joseph Lamb, and a few slightly less expected sources: Oscar Peterson, Glenn Jenks, Billy Joel, and an original by Brian.  Ragtime, stride, novelty piano, deep blues, venerable pop tunes, and more.

The title of the CD — even for those who shy away from professional sports, like me — would explicitly suggest that virtuosic larger-than-life musical athleticism is in store.  And in a few instances that impression is correct.  Brian and Danny romp with great grace and power, and they can show off in the most impressive musical ways.  You won’t find players who are more deft at fast tempos than these two, and their quickest skirmishes still make great artistic sense: the listener never feels pummeled with notes.  They work together splendidly as a telepathic team, hearing each other’s impulses and subtexts as well.

But leave aside the gorgeous rapid beauties of the up-tempo performances –CHARLESTON RAG, DOLL DANCE, RUBBER PLANT RAG, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, to consider BLACK AND BLUE, which Brian says he began, musingly, in an effort to get into the mind of Thomas Waller — whose affecting song about racial prejudice this is. It is the most quiet and searching show-stopper I can imagine, beginning with pensive suspended chords, an improvisation that hints at Beiderbecke and Gershwin, before gaining emotional power as it climbs to a moving end.  I call it a show-stopper because once it had concluded, I was overpowered and needed to pause before moving on to the next track.

In an entirely different way, HYMN TO FREEDOM begins as a solo human being’s prayer — for what and to whom I leave to you — and ends up as a jubilant prayer meeting.  PLANXTY starts as a small utterance of grief and ends up a funeral procession, without its volume increasing that much.

But lamenting is not always what Danny and Brian have in mind.  Some of these duets are seriously cinematic: listening more than once to TICO-TICO / BESAME MUCHO, I found myself imagining the brightly colored musical film for which they had invented a provocative soundtrack.  I see elegant, formally dressed dancers all through RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE as well.  I have to say a word about TROUBLESOME IVORIES — perhaps too much autobiography — but had I the ability to dance, and a willing partner, I would not be typing these words now, being otherwise occupied.

The disc is beautifully recorded and, even better, splendidly sequenced, so one never has the sense of listening to ten or twelve minutes of the same thing. Piano and drums — no gimmicks, no novelty vocals or sound effects.  Just lovely music.

You can purchase the CD here.  Or you can find it on Facebook.

And . . . speaking of pleasures that won’t grow old quickly, the Holland-Coots Quintet has just released a new disc, a tribute to Fats Waller, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, with Marc Caparone, Evan Arntzen, Steve Pikal as the additional merry-makers.  I was at the sessions in Nashville in July 2017, and this band made thrilling music, which I wrote about here.  (Caution: HOT VIDEO ALERT.)

I will have more to say when the actual disc flutters into my mailbox.  And don’t let the title fool you: quantity purchases are not only legal, but medically-recommended.

May your happiness increase!

SOUL FOOD (Part Two): TERRY BLAINE and MARK SHANE (April 30, 2017)

A meteorological note.  Yesterday was the end of September, and it finally turned chilly.  (No more short-sleeved shirts, alas.)  Were I more traditional, I would be offering AUTUMN IN NEW YORK on the blog.  But I prefer music that warms from the inside out.

Singer Terry Blaine and pianist Mark Shane are heroes of mine, and if they are new to you, you have some catching-up to do, but it will all be delightful, as opposed to studying for the final.  I found them most recently at the United Methodist Church in Saugerties, New York, where I recorded their heartfelt performance of Hoagy Carmichael’s BREAD AND GRAVY.  Here are four more beauties from that same afternoon.

Fats Waller’s I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING:

YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE  TO ME, complete with Marx Brothers relish on the side:

The Fields-McHugh I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, with the lovely verse:

And a “new” bit of Fats-enhanced love, JUST AS LONG AS THE WORLD GOES ROUND AND ROUND:

A sustaining optimism, a warm embrace of the music and of us: Cupid’s arrows that turn into hugs.  Terry and Mark will have another duo gig at the end of January 2018 at Bernard’s Restaurant | Sarah’s Wine Bar (that’s 20 West Lane, Ridgefield, Connecticut).  Keep a warm space on your calendar for them.  Details to come.

May your happiness increase!

“MAGIC FINGERS”: JIM TURNER’S TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY GUARNIERI (Solo Art SACD 172)

Here’s a sample of the technically inspiring, elegant music that pianist-composer Johnny Guarnieri created for half a century:

and one of his many other sides — the quietly irrepressible swinger:

and then there’s the audaciously gifted stride pianist:

and his variations on and venerable pop tune:

Guarnieri could marvelously become Fats, Tatum, Teddy Wilson, James P., Basie — all at once or in lovely little interludes — but after a few bars on any recording, you knew it was Johnny, which (to me) is the summit that improvisers strive for, influences melded into a recognizable self.

He started at the top, as they say, in 1939 as a member of the Benny Goodman band and the sextet with Charlie Christian, then as the harpsichord player with Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five as well as with the band, then numberless sessions with Ziggy Elman, Cootie Williams, Slam Stewart, Sammy Weiss, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Cozy Cole, Jerry Jerome (in the early Forties, Guarnieri seemed to be the house pianist for Keynote, Savoy, and other small labels) Yank Lawson, Ben Webster, Benny Morton, Coleman Hawkins, Rex Stewart.  He’s the pianist on the V-Disc sessions that brought together Louis, Lips Page, Bobby Hackett, Billy Butterfield, Jack Teagarden, Lou McGarity,Nick Caiazza, Ernie Caceres, Herb Ellis, Al Hall, Cozy Cole, Specs Powell; more sideman work with Don Byas, Joe Thomas, Buck Clayton, Hank D’Amico, Ike Quebec, Flip Phillips, J. C. Heard, Sidney Catlett . . . . and this recital of famous associations is only up until the end of the Second World War.

Guarnieri wasn’t famous, necessarily, in the way that Teddy Wilson was, but he had the respect of the best players, singers, and record producers in the music business.  And the long list of names — did I leave out Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, June Christy, or Dick Haymes? — means that if you have a favorite jazz or swing record from this period, chances are that Johnny was the pianist on it. In the Fifties and beyond, he went for himself as a soloist or led a piano trio or quartet, for the next thirty years, although he participated in the great revival of interest in the masters of the Swing Era, and could be found alongside Ruby Braff, Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, Buddy Tate, Slam Stewart, and others.

Perhaps because of his swing and his dazzle (stride faster than the speed of light, improvising in 5/4 and other eccentric meters) Guarnieri has been admired but never approached.  That is, until Jim Turner‘s new CD, in tribute to Johnny, Jim’s mentor and friend, aptly called MAGIC FINGERS.

Jim Turner

Jim hasn’t had the benefit of Guarnieri’s visibility and name recognition, but I knew of him for years as a convincing, graceful stride and swing pianist.  And anyone who begins his recording career in duet with Knocky Parker and has played concerts with Dick Hyman has to be taken seriously.

Here’s some evidence: POET AND PEASANT OVERTURE, performed in June 1986.  The video is murky, but the music is wonderful: we could have taken Jim uptown and he would have impressed the titans.  Better, he impresses now:

and here’s Jim beautiful version of James P. Johnson’s CAPRICE RAG:

What makes his playing remarkable is not its speed, but his gorgeous marriage of accuracy and warmth, his rollicking swing.  As fast as this performance is, it never feels mechanical (beautiful dynamics!) and it never outraces its jubilant rocking motion.

One more, because I can’t resist.  You might need to increase the volume, but it will be worth it:

But to the subject at hand, MAGIC FINGERS.

A tribute to Johnny Guarnieri by another pianist might get bogged down in layers of emulation, where the second artist, let us say, might decide that Johnny’s choruses on I NEVER KNEW or EXERCISE IN SWING were so fulfilling that the only thing one could do, as if they were a Chopin etude, would be to reproduce them beautifully.  But a CD of copies would not, I think, serve Johnny’s spirit and legacy all that well, especially since Johnny was always being his singular self even while some listeners might say, “That’s a Fats phrase! That’s some Basie!” — as if they were walking the beach with a metal detector looking for identifiable treasures.  (Incidentally, the perhaps apocryphal story is that when Johnny would launch into these pitch-perfect impersonations as a sideman with Benny Goodman, the King would tell him vehemently, “STOP THAT!” and Johnny would, although perhaps not as quickly as Benny wanted.)

The brilliance of MAGIC FINGERS lies, of course, in Jim Turner’s deep understanding of Johnny’s musical selves, and in Jim’s choice to create a disc devoted to his mentor’s ingenious, restorative compositions.  Each of the originals (well-annotated by Jim in his notes) has its own life, with great variety in tempo, key, rhythms, and approach.  A number of the pieces were written with a specific individual in mind — thus a tribute that collects many tributes! — and the ear never gets tired.

At no point in my multiple playings of this disc did I feel the urge to shout at the speakers, “STOP THAT!”  Quite the opposite: from the opening notes of GLISS ME AGAIN, I settled down in comfort for a series of endearing adventures — seventeen selections, all but three by Guarnieri.  Beautifully played and beautifully recorded — the real sound of a well-maintained piano in a large room.

I admire how Turner has not only managed to reproduce the wonderful features of his inspiration’s playing — the great glide of his swing, the impish romping, the energetic and varied stride — but has made them entirely personal and rewarding.  I’ve chosen to avoid a track-by-track explication (discover these pleasures for yourselves!) except to say that the closing track, THE DAZZLER, is a duet for Turner and the singularly eloquent clarinetist Ron Hockett.

I can’t offer the usual tech-inducements of seventeen sound samples or the like, but I assure you that this disc, as they used to say, satisfies.

A closing thought.  I recently had a conversation in cyberspace with a respected musician who plays “traditional jazz,” who lamented that this music was “a language” that modern audiences would not hear and, if they did, might not understand.  Maybe his dark assessment is right, but I would use MAGIC FINGERS as a test case: anyone who purchases this disc might feel encouraged to play one of the more leisurely pieces and then a romp for someone who didn’t know this music but was open to other genres.  I’d hope that the listener would say, “That’s really pretty,” of the slower piece and “That pianist really can play!” of the more acrobatic one.  I have faith in the music and in this CD — and, if it isn’t clear by now, in Jim Turner and in Johnny Guarnieri and the gifts that each offers so generously.

May your happiness increase!

JOEL FORRESTER’S MOVING WORLDS

JOEL FORRESTER, photograph by Metin Oner

My fascination with Joel Forrester and his music goes back more than a decade. I would guess that I heard the quizzically entrancing orchestra THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET on WKCR-FM and was intrigued by its unpredictable mixture of new and old.  And then I heard Joel in person with a few small bands he’d assembled — one called THE TRUTH, which was an accurate description.

Joel doesn’t strive to shock the listener, but he doesn’t follow predictable paths — which is, in an era of reproducible art, an immense virtue. His playing and his compositions can be hilarious, angular, tender — sometimes all at once, and his music is vividly alive, which is no small thing.

I write not only to celebrate Joel — in all his surprises that invite us in — but to remind New Yorkers of opportunities to savor his art.  Every Saturday, he is playing a solo piano gig at Café Loup, 105 West 13th St. at 6th Avenue, in Greenwich Village, from 12:30—3:30 PM.

On Tuesdays, from 6-10, Joel plays solo piano at the Astor Room (located in the Kaufman Studios complex) 34-12 36th St. in Astoria, Queens.  I suggest you mark your calendars for Tuesday, June 6, when there will be a special — no, remarkable — happening, where Joel will begin with a solo piano set (his custom on Tuesdays) and then there will be two sets by The Microscopic Septet with Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone (visiting from Australia!); Don Davis, alto saxophone; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone; Joel, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Richard Dworkin, drums.

And their latest CD — thirteen variations on the blues, with echoes of Johnny Hodges, a Basie small group, Mingus, rhythm ‘n’ blues . . . titled BEEN UP SO LONG IT LOOKS LIKE DOWN TO ME — is frankly extraordinary.  Read more here.

and here’s DON’T MIND IF I DO from that new CD:

And I am not surprised that Joel is a fine writer — think of Joseph Mitchell at a tilt, an affectionate chronicler of urban scenes: read his “Three Memorable Drunks.”

Finally, since I expect that this will awaken some of you to the whimsical glories Joel so generously offers us, here is a link to Joel’s website and gig calendar.  As for me, I have new places to savor, which, even in New York City, is a wonderful thing.

May your happiness increase!