It’s always nice to hear a good stride
player in this day and age. It was a bit surprising though, to find a stride piano man living in Whitehorse, Yukon. For the uninitiated, the Yukon is the Canadian Territory immediately east of Alaska. The Whitehorse folks are hardy souls who sometimes juggle chainsaws or go street bowling with frozen chickens. Seriously, the Yukon isn’t really that cold and the activities I just mentioned are only done during the Sourdough Rendezvous Days
. With a hot piano-man like Simpson on the scene, things will always warm up.
Grant Simpson was born in Diana Krall’s hometown of Nanaimo, BC and has been part of the Canadian west coast scene for some years. He has performed with Fraser McPherson, Alan Matheson and ex-Kenton reedman Roy Reynolds. In recent years, Simpson’s stride talents have been in demand all over the USA and Canada. He is an admired jazz educator and has mentored such people as Ingrid Jensen
and singer Caroline Drury
. Caroline sent me her first record about five years ago and I became an instant fan. Stride And True
packs a lot of hot piano into fifty-three minutes and it’s a nice mix of composers. Fats Waller, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Clarence Williams, Dick Wellstood, James P.Johnson and Ferdinand Morton are thoroughly represented. Most importantly, there are five of Simpson’s original compositions in the stride style. One of the Grant Simpson pieces, So Beautiful Like You
stands out. It’s an easy-going tune taking the listener back to simpler times. A sequence in the melody reminded me of an obscure tune from the 40s called "Fair Jennie’s Lament." Phil Napoleon’s Memphis Five recorded it about 60 years ago. Echo of Spring
penned by Willie "The Lion" Smith and Clarence Williams is a difficult piece and is seldom performed today. Simpson handles it with confidence and class. It’s almost an obligation for modern stride players to include Jelly’s The Pearls
and Waller’s How Can You Face Me
in any set. This pianist’s versions will not disappoint the most discriminating listener.
Grant Simpson joins a tight little fraternity of stride preservationists including Dick Hyman, John Sheridan, Mark Shane, Andy Fielding and Canada’s Reide Kaiser. Long may they live!