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At St. George Church by Ralph Sutton

Here’s a two-CD set to tempt lovers of stride piano. Probably the last of the vintage stride players, Ralph Sutton, is presented in solo performance in 1992. The setting is St. George Church in Brandon Hill, Bristol, England and the 19th century building is noted for having the finest chamber music acoustics in the country.

Hosted by Alyn Shipton, jazz critic for The Times, the concert was broadcast in two parts by the BBC. The most discriminating audiophiles will be pleased with the quality of this session. Both discs begin with brief comments by the announcer and are limited to a couple of minutes, leaving plenty of space for the music that is to follow.

Ralph Sutton kicks-off the first set with "Tea For Two," tipping his hat to Fats Waller and Art Tatum. The six minute reading of the old Vincent Youmans classic gives the appreciative audience a chance to absorb a few of the incredible techniques they will hear during the balance of the concert. In short, it’s an introduction to Harlem Stride.

Fats Waller’s revered "Ain’t Misbehavin’" is given the most soulful treatment ever. It’ll bring a tear to the eye of any Waller fan. Sutton then jumps into a pretty, but unknown song titled "Love Lies." It was introduced to the pianist by Jack Teagarden who played it often. The tender performance shows Sutton’s sentimental side.

Ralph Sutton performs a number of tunes in medley style and each is a tribute to favorite composers including Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Vernon Duke and the lesser-known Willard Robison. The Robison set includes some great material from the early 1930s. We hear "Old Folks", "’Tain’t So Honey, ‘Tain’t So" and the venerable "Cottage For Sale."

Take a short glance at the song list below and you’ll discover tunes from Bob Zurke’s "Eye Opener" to W.C. Handy’s classic "St Louis Blues." The pianist chats amiably with the audience and adds his personal recollections of both songs and personalities.

Ralph Sutton (1922-2001) was never in better form. This fine performance will sit on my shelf of personal favorites for a long time.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ralph Sutton
  • CD Title: At St. George Church
  • Genre: Traditional / New Orleans
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Arbors Jazz
  • Tracks: Disc One: Introduction, Tea For Two, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Love Lies, Honeysuckle Rose, Medley (Old Folks, Cottage For Sale, ‘Tain’t So), Viper’s Drag, Medley (Sophisticated Lady, Ring Dem Bells). Disc Two: Introduction, Morning Air, Ralph’s story about Morning Air, Echo Of Spring, Ralph talks about Willie “The Lion” Smith, Dinah, When I Grow Too Old To Dream, Medley (Jitterbug Waltz, Say Yes, You’re Slightly Less Than Wonderful, The Ladies Who Sing With The Band), Medley (Cabin In The Sky, Taking a Chance On Love, Old Fashioned Love), Eye Opener, St. Louis Blues.
  • Musicians: Ralph Sutton (solo piano and narration)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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