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Ralph Sutton at St. George Church by Ralph Sutton

A massive stroke felled Ralph Sutton in December 2001, ending a musical career that started when a small boy in Missouri first heard Fats Waller on the radio. He was one of three piano giants often thought of as the second wave of stride pianists - Dick Wellstood, Dick Hyman, and Sutton. They were much more than that. (For that matter, so were those who came before - Fats, James P. Johnson, and Willie "The Lion" Smith.) Wellstood was eclectic. On a similar Arbors 1997 release, his repertoire included "Giant Steps" and "Groovin 'High." Hyman's output covered the jazz spectrum.

Sutton chose to use his considerable technical ability and respect for the past to interpret the music of his predecessors. That was what he was about in February 1992 at a converted church in Bristol, England when he played this concert, recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3. The acoustics were superb. Sutton was pleased with "the best damn piano I ever played on." He was introduced by jazz critic Alyn Shipton, who also contributed the informative liner notes for this double CD.

Then Sutton turned the ecclesiastical setting into a Harlem rent party. Seven Waller compositions. Four medleys. Like Dave McKenna, Sutton favors medleys and has an ear for finding tunes that work together (also apparent in his quotes and paraphrases) as his combinations salute Waller, Ellington, Willard Robison and James P. Johnson. The program ranges from the languid "Love Lies," learned from Jack Teagarden, to Bob Zurke's challenging "Eye Opener." You can sense the rapport between him and the audience, particularly in his verbal asides (some Walleresque, some pure Sutton) and stories about Willie "The Lion."

There's an ease to Sutton's performance, whether playing easy-going stride, gentle introductions or those "now you see them, now you don't" virtuoso runs. Andre Previn has described him as having "complete mastery of his instrument." He is at his peak in Ralph Sutton at St. George Church, a fitting remembrance of this genial piano master.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ralph Sutton
  • CD Title: Ralph Sutton at St. George Church
  • Genre: Traditional / New Orleans
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Arbors
  • Tracks: Tea For Two, Ain´t Misbehavin´, Love Lies, Honeysuckle Rose, Medley: Old Folks, Cottage For Sale, ´Taint So, Honey, ´Taint So, Viper´s Drag, Medley: Sophisticated Lady, Ring Dem Bells, Morning Air, Echo of Spring, Dinah, When I Grow Too Old to Dream, Medley: The 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).
  • Rating: Five Stars
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