Tag Archives: swing piano

“SWING, STRIDE”: STEVE GRANT at the PIANO (2012)

swingstride

This CD is accurately titled.  Pianist Steve Grant (from Australia) does both — neatly, wittily, and spicily.  The disc’s subtitle is “some good old jazz favorites,” which is also truth in advertising.

There aren’t any liner notes for the disc, so I hope Mr. Grant forgives me if I write the lines that I think should be there.

Many players in these idioms good-naturedly make the error of overwhelming the listener with their technique.  An Ellington original — a stride showpiece eighty years before this — was called LOTS O’FINGERS, and they take that ornateness as their goal.  Volume and tempo follow, and the result can be a density that is impressive but exhausting.

Not Steve Grant.  He can play at rapid tempos (the opening SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is anything but languid, and HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN suggests high tides!) but his playing is lucid, clear.

I thought of the 1935-7 Wilson solos (with a more experimental harmonic range), anchored by a light stride bass opened up with walking tenths and rhythmic suspensions.  Grant is not a gifted imitator, stringing together phrases laboriously learned from the recordings: he is an improviser, going where his impulses lead him.

On each track, he shows himself to be a master of implying: he doesn’t stress or lean on the listener, “Look!  I can really Get Hot, can’t I?”  Rather, a Grant solo is a series of small playful excursions, “Was that a tango I just heard going by?  Quick, look out the window!”  But he leaves himself and the listener a good deal of space, and the overall effect is, “That’s so simple.  If I practiced a bit more, I could play like that,” what I call the Bing Crosby Effect.  Another illusion, as anyone who sits down at the piano finds out.

Most of the tracks toddle along at a rocking medium tempo, but each one has its own delightful explosions.  LAURA, for instance, is full of quite remarkable right-hand arpeggios that show a harmonic imagination that’s anything but simple.  THE MIDNIGHT SUN combines optimism and melancholy with understated emotional power.  And Grant makes it possible to hear BODY AND SOUL without decades of familiar accretions on its hull.

But Grant — because he seems to be so simple — continually tricks us.  The first chorus of THESE FOOLISH THINGS might lull us into complacency,”Oh, he’s just playing the melody,” and then we wouldn’t notice the sweet, quietly subversive things he does in the choruses that follow.  Only a musician with a deep sense of humor and an expansive conception of what it means to improvise would or could create such rewarding music.  This CD is well worth investigating, and I’ve kept on being surprised by it on repeated playings.

The disc offers SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / OLD FASHIONED LOVE / LAURA / BABY WONTCHA PLEASE COME HOME (I reproduce this title exactly) / THE MIDNIGHT SUN WILL NEVER SET / THESE FOOLISH THINGS / HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN / BODY AND SOUL / DID I REMEMBER / PASSPORT TO PARADISE / BYE BYE BLACKBIRD.  It was recorded in the Echidna Studios, Yarra Glen.

Here’s the SHOP page on his website.  And here you can hear other solo performances recorded at home — I hope I won’t hurt his feelings by saying the piano sound is less than studio-quality.  (P.S.  As Julius Yang has pointed out below, it’s a kind of electronic piano.  So I hope I did not hurt Steve’s or the piano’s feelings.)

But the playing is delightful.  (As an aside, I first heard Grant on record as a shining member of Bob Barnard’s crew — at the jazz parties captured on NifNuf Records — then as a cornetist, superbly, alongside guitarist John Scurry on a Judy Carmichael trio CD — details here — he is something special!)

May your happiness increase.

ATLANTA 2012: MR. SPORTIELLO and MR. SHANE AT THE PIANO (April 22, 2012)

A delicious interchange from the last afternoon of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party — Mark Shane and Rossano Sportiello, swing piano masters of subtlety and power, alternating at one piano.

Mark begins with Fats Waller’s AIN’T CHA GLAD? — surely a rhetorical question in these circumstances:

Rossano offers his “Town” medley, more swinging than a discourse on urban planning: IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN / CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN:

Remembering the beauty of the Basie band when it touched ground for a Herschel Evans rhapsody, Mark tenderly essays BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:

Quietly announcing his continued good fortune, Rossano plays Bernstein’s LUCKY TO BE ME:

Mark offers a composition of his own, HOMEWARD BOUND:

And the two swing masters team up for a striding game of musical benches, ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM:

What a swell party the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party was!  And the 2013 version will have Warren Vache, Dan Barrett, John Sheridan, and Ken Peplowski among the creative merry-makers . . .

May your happiness increase.