PIANO SOLOS IN THE CLASSIC JAZZ TRADITION
Side 1, #1-4; unaccompanied piano. New York; January 22, 1947
On remaining eight selections, George Wettling (drs) is added. New York; June 11, 1952
1. Dill Pickles (2:47) (Charles Johnson)
2. White Wash Man (2:46) (Jerome-Schwartz)
3. Carolina in the Morning (3:19) (Kahn-Donaldson)
4. St. Louis Blues (3:11) (W. C. Handy)
5. A-Flat Dream (3:14) (James P. Johnson)
6. African Ripples (2:44) (Fats Waller)
1. Fascination (2:36) (James P. Johnson)
2. I’m Comin’ Virginia (3:58) (Heywood)
3. Drop Me Off in Harlem (2:58) (Kenny-Ellington)
4. Love Me or Leave Me (2:48) (Kahn-Donaldson)
5. Sugar Rose (3:53) (Ponce-Waller)
6. Bee’s Knees (3:01) (Wood-Lewis-Lopez)
The dozen selections that make up this LP offer a thorough sampling of the considerable talents of RALPH SUTTON. They demonstrate that this comparatively young pianist is well-equipped to uphold a long and very honorable jazz tradition.
The piano, by its very nature, has always occupied a special position in jazz history. There are, to begin with, some highly obvious basic factors that have helped to shape its role: it is the only rhythm instrument that has always been accepted as a full-fledged solo voice; and of course it is virtually the only jazz instrument (with the occasional exception of banjo and guitar) with the ability to hold the spotlight alone – or, as on most selections in this album, with just a minimum quantity of rhythmic backing.
Thus it is hardly surprising that the piano, important as it has been as a part of the band in every style of jazz, has been most significant and effective as a medium of personal, individual expression. What is possibly more surprising is the vast roster of great jazz figures who have risen to stardom as pianists; beginning with Jelly Roll Morton of New Orleans and moving as far forward towards the present as your personal tastes permit, there is no period of jazz without its major, lastingly famous piano men.
It is also noteworthy that there are entire segments of jazz that belong almost exclusively to the pianists. Ragtime (which, although it is somewhat more properly described as a pre-jazz form, exerted a tremendous influence on early jazz) was not exclusively a piano music, but it was originated, shaped and carried to its peak of creativity and of popularity by Scott Joplin and a good many other solo pianists. Quite different from ragtime, but comparable to it as a primarily-pianistic music, was the rough, barrelhouse blues style that developed in Texas and Mississippi, and that became, in Chicago and other midwestern cities during the ‘20s, that staple item at small clubs and “rent parties” known as boogie-woogie. And there was the quite different species of rent party piano that belonged to Harlem, having quite a bit of ragtime in its make-up and largely sparked by the fluent, striding style of such titans as James P. Johnson and Fats Waller.
All of this is a part of the musical background of a tradition-tinged current pianist like Ralph Sutton. He was born in a small Missouri town quite close to St. Louis (in November, 1922), which probably made it almost inevitable that he grow up thoroughly exposed – and highly receptive – to jazz and ragtime influences. His first piano teacher was a lady who, as Fate would have it, knew her ragtime well; and ever since then, Sutton has been a student of the classic piano-jazz forms, continuing right up to the present to explore the paths along which early environment started him. He was first absorbed onto the jazz mainstream in the late ‘30s, when Jack Teagarden “discovered” his playing at a college prom. He toured with Tea for three years, until the job was interrupted by Army service.
Back in civilian life in 1945, Sutton returned briefly to St. Louis and then shifted permanently to New York. He was with Teagarden again in 1947, and was also featured that year on the “This is Jazz” radio series. His first recordings were made late in ’47 and, appropriately enough, they were with Tony Parenti’s Ragtime Band. In the Summer of ’48, Ralph began the first of several long stands as a solo pianist at Eddie Condon’s Dixieland oasis in Greenwich Village, where he has developed a large and faithful following.
Sutton’s pronounced affinity for rags is demonstrated right at the start of this album by a brilliant version of one of the finest of ragtime compositions: Dill Pickles. Quite consistent with this is the fact that the predominate influence on his approach to piano jazz clearly comes from the Harlem school – Fats Waller, James P. Johnson and their colleagues. In the several tunes by these men included here, in tunes associated with Fats, such as Love Me or Leave Me, or even in something that is by origin quite unassociated with Harlem (as I’m Comin’ Virginia, best known as a Bix Beiderbecke recording), there is the characteristic bright lilt and swing and sparkle of the “stride” pianists. Ralph Sutton is no innovator. If this is to be taken as failing, then it is one of his very few weaknesses. His strength lies in the zest and skill with which he demonstrates the lasting pleasure and musical value in the wonderful jazz first played by earlier masters of the piano.
On eight of these numbers (all of which were originally recorded for the Circle label), Sutton has the extremely potent assistance of the driving beat laid down by one of the finest and most tasteful of all drummers. George Wettling was one of the cornerstones of the Chicago style; raised in that city and first influenced by Baby Dodds, he has been a key member of the rhythm sections of a great many Swing bands and Dixieland combos.
Ralph Sutton can also be heard on the following Riverside albums:
RAGTIME! – Tony Parenti’s Ragtime Band and Ragpickers Trio (RLP 12-205)
WILD BILL DAVISON: Sweet and Hot (RLP 12-211)
WILD BILL DAVISON featured with the All Star Stompers (RLP 2514)
The great classic figures of piano jazz are well represented in Riverside’s “Jazz Archives” series. Among them are:
FATS WALLER – The Amazing Mr. Waller (RLP 12-109; Rediscovered Early solos (RLP 12-102) (both 12-inch LPs)
JAMES P. JOHNSON – Early Harlem Piano, Vols. 1 and 2 (RLPs 1011, 1046) (two 10-inch LPs); Rare Solos (RLP 12-105) (12-inch LP)
JELLY ROLL MORTON – Rediscovered Solos (RLP 1018); Classic Jazz Piano, Vols. 1 and 2 (RLPs 1038, 1041) (all 10-inch LPs)
JIMMY YENCEY (RLPs 1028, 1061) (two 10-inch LPs)
Giants of BOOGIE WOOGIE: Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson (RLP 12-106) (12-inch LP)
Scott Joplin and many others, in: RAGTIME PIANOROLL, Vols. 1, 2, 3 (RLPs 1006, 1925, 1049) (three 10-inch LPs); The Golden Age of Ragtime (RLP 12-110) (12-inch LP)
Among the many Riverside albums of recent recordings in the traditional and Dixieland jazz idioms are:
SIDNEY BECHET, with Bob Wilber (RLP 2516)
GEORGE LEWIS (RLP 2507); with Red Allen (RLP 2512)
YANK LAWSON’s jazz, with Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Marsala (RLP 2509)
The Stride Piano of DICK WELLSTOOD (RLP 2506)
DIXIELAND RHYTHM KINGS (RLPs 2504, 2505)
JOE SULLIVAN: New Solos by an Old Master (RLP 12-202)
GEORGE LEWIS New Orleans Jazz Band and Quartet (RLP 12-207)
DIXIELAND in HI-FI: Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings (RLP 12-210)
CONRAD JANIS: Dixieland Jam Session (RLP 12-215)
San Francisco Style: LU WATTERS’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band, with Turk Murphy, bob Scobey, Wally Rose;
BOB HELMS’s Riverside Roustabouts (RLP 12-213)
Notes by Peter Drew.
Cover designed by Gene Gogerty:
photograph by Robert Parent.
Re-mastering : Reeves Sound Studios.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.