THE ‘STRIDE’ PIANO OF DICK WELLSTOOD
Dick Wellstood (p) Tommy Benford (drs)
New York; October 25, 1854
1 Old Fashioned Love (3'13") (James P. Johnson)
2 Mule Walk (1'59") (James P. Johnson)
3 Closed Mouth Blues (2'35") (Dick Wellstood)
4 The Shout (2'20") (Art Tatum)
5 Toddlin' Home (2'15") (James P. Johnson)
6 Alligator Crawl (3'20") (Fats Waller)
7 Oh Baby, Watcha Doing to Me (2'36") (Razal-Waller)
8 Liza (2'53") (Ira and George Gershwin)
A quick glance through any current LP catalog well show a few hundred recordings already in existence featuring pianists of varied skills and styles. Nevertheless, pianist continue to be recorded - some, because the artist has a "name" which practically assures a large sale; others, because of some particular gimmick or mood which seems apt to catch on and sell; and, lastly, still others simply because the recording company believes the artist to be a "talent". Records in this last category are not designed not to sell; although far too of the that is their fate; the distinction is merely that the primary consideration is how good those who run the record label believe the musician to be, not how many customers they believe likely to share their opinion.
DICK WELLSTOOD, the artist presented here, is a "talent" - and the writer of these notes happens to be among those who (to put it quite mildly) like Dick Wellstood at the piano, which is exactly why I prevailed upon the powers that be at Riverside to record him.
Wellstood was introduced to jazz when he was sixteen. In those first years he was "on the kick" of virtually every pianist of note in the history of jazz. These early kicks (especially James P. Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Willie "the Lion" Smith, and Joe Sullivan) were most influential in his maturing and emergence, a decade later, as a significant jazz musician in his own right. Playing along with the recorded works of these greats is a feat in itself, for to do so properly one has to get the feeling that the artist was expressing on the record in addition to the technical aspect of hitting the right keys. In learning to do this, Dick gained deep insight into both their inspirations for and methods of interpretation and improvisation of different types of music.
It is, therefore, as though Wellstood received the benefit of a host of teachers. His work today smacks of no one in particular - it's his own style you're hearing on this record. No two tunes are given the same treatment by Dick, and rarely will a second playing of a rune sound like a previous performance.
There will be some who will take exception to some of the above remarks - especially those pertaining to Wellstood's individuality of style. They will argue that he is imitating James P. Johnson on Old Fashioned Love, Mule Walk, and Toddlin' Home, and Fats Waller on Alligator Crawl and Oh, Baby. Fortunately, there are ample recorded examples of these men performing their own works and we are able to make comparisons - and favorable ones, at that.
While listening to this record we find that, although in our mind's eye can almost "see imitating, either of them, but he's putting his own mark on each tune. Almost inevitably, Johnson or Waller tunes will always sound like Johnson or Waller tunes: either lilting gently or rocking with rhythm, and always melodic. In this album Dick is giving us fresh presentation of these tunes - the sound of each belonging to the composer, the musical ideas being the artists.
Dick was born in Greenwich, Conn. His mother, a piano and organ teacher, oddly enough tried to discourage his ambition to become a professional musician, although he'd been studying since the age of four. Formal study ceased eight years later; however, he continued to practice at every opportunity. His career started when he was "discovered" playing with the now famous Scarsdale-Larchmont high school gang (later known as Bob Wilber's "Wildcats"), whose earliest recordings are available on Riverside RLP 2501: Young Men with Horns. Action was forthcoming: record dates, jam sessions, concert appearances at The Town Hall in New York, and the New York Jazz Club, and radio appearances. And then he hit the road: the Savoy Cafe in Boston with Wilber; Jazz, Ltd., in Chicago with Bechet; Ryan's in New York with Jimmy Archey from July 1950 until October 1952, after which the Archey band toured Germany and Switzerland, and played a full month on location in both Hamburg and Zutich.
Returning stateside in March 1953, Dick worked at Lou Terrasi's in New York, playing with such men as Roy Eldridge, Slam Stewart, and Zutty Singleton. In October 1953, he joined the Conrad Janis Tailgate Five for a long stay. This group has performed extensively in the New York area - at Child's Paramount, the Central Plaza, Metropole, and has made innumerable radio and TV appearances.
While all this activity was talking place, Dick studied piano with Albin Metcalf in Boston and Richard MacClanahan in New York, both whom were students under Tobias Matthay. Instruction in composition was received from Ludmilla Ulehla at the Manhattan School of Music.
His study of classical music (his favorites include Schubert, Beethoven, Kurt Weill and Stravinsky) has been broadened considerably in recent years and a new love, chamber music, has emerged. Most recently, the playing of four-hand piano arrangements with his talented wife, Florence, has become another musical outlet. Not one to confine himself within the limits of one interest, Dick has now finished three years towards a law degree.
From preliminary discussion through the actual recording, this album presented none of the last-minute crises which so often plague record dates. When asked whom he'd like for backing, for example, Dick unhesitatingly named TOMMY BENFORD. A drummer of impeccable taste and feeling, Tommy is well-known to jazz record collectors for his work with perfectionist Jelly Roll Morton. Herein he displays understanding and musicianship, and provides support that is rock-solid but does not distract the listener's attention from the solo instrument - a combination that is rarer than you might think.
As for choice of repertoire, the same absence of crisis prevailed (except only some fairly hectic searching for a rare copy of Art Tatum's recording of The Shout, a number that Dick felt he wanted to hear again as originally played before tackling this version). It was simply a matter of finding fitting examples of the musical vein Dick most wanted to explore - tunes either belonging to or suggesting something of the Harlem-style mood of Johnson, Waller and Wilile the Lion. Then, once set up in the studio, Wellstood and Benford loosened themselves up with a couple of tunes, and were off. The actual recording of these eight selections took a minimum of "takes" and very little more than two hours of time. The results, as has been noted above, have much in common with the music of the several pianists who were Dick's first jazz "teachers" - with special emphases on that typically-Harlem "stride" technique and brilliant collection that is wholly Wellstood's.
Several albums by Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, two of the most notable influences on the work of Dick Wellstood,
are included in the Riverside “Jazz Archives” Series:
Rediscovered Fats Waller (RLP 1010)
The Amazing Mr. Waller, Volume 1 and 2 (RLPs 1021 and 1022)
James P. Johnson: Early Harlem Piano, Volume 1 and 2 (RLPs 1011 and 1046)
Harlem Party Piano James P. Johnson and Luckey Roberts (RLP 1056)
LP produced by Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert Parent
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.