WALLY ROSE Whippin’ the Keys Delmark DE 248
Wally Rose – pno. Recorded: San Francisco[?] (tk 1-11) 28 June, 1971; (tk 12-21) 6 September, 1968.
Whippin’ the Keys/Ragtime Dance/Blue Goose Rag/The Kangaroo Hop/Scott Joplin’s New Rag/Rags to Burn/Ragtime Oriole/The Hobble Rag/Cleopatra Rag/American Beauty Rag/The Lion Tamer Rag/Peace & Plenty Rag/St. Louis Rag/Pastime Rag/New Era Rag/Pickles & Peppers/Cannonball Rag/Junk Man Rag/Elite Syncopations/Jamaica Jinger(sic) Rag/St. Louis Tickle. TT: 66:00.
Around the turn of the 20th Century, Ragtime was one of the major musical inputs into the development of jazz music as we now know it– among its many contributory aspects for jazz was rhythmic; its sense of syncopation, a precursor to a later sense of swing! Wally Rose was the pianist first with Lu Watters, then Bob Scobey, and Turk Murphy and he was the White “go-to” pianist for traditional jazz and ragtime in the Bay Area. This CD couples two LPs from the Blackbird label (12010 & 12007), plus one unreleased tune from the 1971 session (tk 11). The repertoire covers all the big-name bases (Joplin, Scott, Lamb, Turpin, a.o.), plus some lesser knowns (Adeline Shepherd, Melville Morris, Sam Goold [title tune]) – both “classic” composers, and “popular” ones, plus a name or two names to jazz aficionados (such as Luckey Roberts).
As Scott Joplin once had printed at the top of some of his sheet music, this music is not meant to be played fast! A common “chops” approach was heard with many a “popular” ragtime artist (“Kitten on the Keys”, anyone!), either because the sheet music was “jazzed” up to catch folk’s attention, or the player was just not talented enough to do it right. The “snow them with all the notes you know” approach is nothing new and did not begin with stadium-rock guitarists! “If you play it too darn fast, you loose the beauty of the melody” [C. Berry – “Rock and Roll Music”] has been an important dictum through the ages.
Wally Rose is not in that technique-and-ego-driven category by any stretch of the imagination! His playing is appropriate and controlled, respectful of the music as written and interpreted… no Crazy Otto or Knuckles O’Toole syndrome here! This is a lovely CD for the rag-o-phile, and then some, as it contains much fine piano playing and 21 intelligently chosen selections. While the expected composer names are there, what is NOT is the usual group of suspects in the songs selected (we don’t need yet another version of “The Entertainer”, now do we!). Cleanly recorded and digitally mastered, get this is you’ve not heard good ragtime lately – it’s delightful late 19th/early 20th Century parlor music. Bravo to the folks at Delmark for putting the two LPs together here for our aural delectation.
PETER B. LOWRY
pub: I.A.J.R.C. Journal; Sep ’09; v 43, #3 – p. 98.
WILLIE “THE LION” SMITH & DON EWELL Stride Piano Duets Delmark DE 249
Willie “The Lion” Smith, Don Ewell (out on 7) – pnos/Smith – vo, 10-11. Toronto; “The Golden Nugget”; Fall, 1966.
Relaxin’/Blue Skies/I Found a New Baby/Tea for Two/Charleston/You’re Driving me Crazy/Here Comes the Band/Sweet Georgia Brown/Georgia on my Mind/Linger Awhile – Shine/If I Could be With You/Just You, Just Me/Squeeze Me/Twelfth Street Rag. TT 60.00.
Recorded “live” in Toronto, these heretofore unreleased tapes put two master “professors” together in a club setting… like that film title says, piano players rarely ever play together, so these duets from ’66 are special. The tapes went first to Don, and then his widow, Mary, who passed them on to Koester, and Bob’s your uncle – for your delectation, wall-to-wall stride piano!
The two of them do a pretty good job of not getting in each other’s way, not an easy accomplishment in that style, but I think I’d have rather had split solo performances – I like The Lion on “Here Comes the Band” by himself. This is a sufficiency of a plenty, as someone once said. That said, with those two, it’s interesting and they don’t try to cut each other… it’s a mutual admiration duo, with Willie in the lead. “Just You. Just Me” is a real stormer, and the other high light on the CD, with “Squeeze Me” not far behind! As the Brits might say, something of a curate’s egg; good in parts (for those of you in North America). You’ll like this if it’s the sort of thing you like. While it doesn’t really grab me (or turn me off), it might grab some of our readers, so the ball’s in your court. Give it a go.
PETER B. LOWRY