Mu­sic Mak­ers

Ed­mund White­house

Evergreen - - Contents - ED­MUND WHITE­HOUSE

What causes a pi­ano tune to tap your feet? The an­swer may be the well- known song ti­tle “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”, or in the com­ment that if you need to ask then you don’t un­der­stand the ques­tion!

Mu­si­cal syn­co­pa­tion has at least four va­ri­eties: sus­pen­sion, even­note, off- beat and an­tic­i­pated bass. Each is slightly dif­fer­ent but adds a bounce to the tune which can be read­ily iden­ti­fied if not com­pletely or read­ily un­der­stood. Play­ing rhythm ( or syn­co­pated) pi­ano is not easy and it was Vic­to­ria Wood who dis­cov­ered that, much though she wanted too, she could never em­u­late her pi­ano hero, Fats Waller, be­cause her hands sim­ply weren’t big enough to cover the chords re­quired.

Who first played rhythm pi­ano? Scott Jo­plin has a claim as we can tell from the early pi­ano roll on the ac­com­pa­ny­ing CD ( see over­leaf) when his rag­time style caused a sen­sa­tion at the turn of the 20th cen­tury. How­ever, it was dur­ing the Twen­ties and Thir­ties when it re­ally came to the fore with the birth of what we now call clas­sic or tra­di­tional jazz, when a strong pi­ano rhythm ac­com­pa­ni­ment was of­ten used to make a piece swing more. Would Mozart, Beethoven, Schu­bert and Tchaikovsky have ap­proved? Prob­a­bly be­cause they knew how to write a good melody but the idea of a new syn­co­pated tempo, which gave rise to pi­ano gen­res such as stride,

bar­rel­house and boo­gie- woo­gie, had yet to be in­vented.

Even pi­ano ge­niuses like Jelly Roll Mor­ton and Billy May­erl were es­sen­tially one step away from true syn­co­pa­tion be­cause their style, bril­liant though it was, tended to em­bel­lish the tune rather than com­ple­ment it. Nev­er­the­less, it didn’t stop them us­ing the ex­pres­sion, as do many mod­ern pian­ists who run their nim­ble fin­gers up and down the ivories at an as­ton­ish­ing rate, but de­part so much from the orig­i­nal melody that the rhythm gets lost in the trans­la­tion. Billy May­erl’s fin­gers were so quick they were even filmed in slow mo­tion!

On the CD op­po­site we cover the bouncy rhyth­mic style best ex­pressed by Fats Waller, a larger than life char­ac­ter but whose gym­nas­tics on the key­board have never been bet­tered. Russ Con­way ( see Ever­green, Au­tumn 2016), is still re­mem­bered but lesser names also knew how to play swing pi­ano, espe­cially Char­lie Kunz whose gen­tle but melodic play­ing never fails to make one’s feet tap in time to the tune. In many cases the rhyth­mic ac­com­pa­ni­ment also en­hances the pi­ano play­ing by a huge amount, espe­cially wth Char­lie.

Ivor More­ton and Dave Kaye were mem­bers of Harry Roy’s band who made many record­ings on their own while Raw­icz and Lan­dauer were show­men rather than swing

pian­ists but had an un­canny li­ai­son even when play­ing back to back, play­ing any­thing and ev­ery­thing. Pat Dodd and Ce­cil Nor­man came to­gether on the long- run­ning BBC Light Pro­gramme Mu­sic While You Work ( see Ever­green, Spring 2004), on which they al­ways re­ceived a good re­cep­tion.

Ge­orge Gersh­win’s leg­end lives on as a com­poser if not for his pi­ano play­ing but he also knew how to han­dle the keys in grand rhyth­mic style. Pa­tri­cia Ross­bor­ough trained as a clas­si­cal con­cert pi­anist be­fore be­ing se­duced by swing, while Winifred Atwell also trained as a clas­si­cal pi­anist, re­fer­ring to her honky- tonk in­stru­ment as her “other pi­ano”. Of the re­main­ing pian­ists Ed­die Car­roll, Arthur Young, Billy Thor­burn and Ian Ste­wart were all band lead­ers while Peggy Dell is best re­mem­bered as a pop­u­lar Ir­ish singer with Roy Fox.

Fats Waller’s huge hands spanned more than an oc­tave.

Char­lie Kunz was one of the best and most pop­u­lar rhythm pian­ists.

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