Back in the Saddle

While unpacking and organizing today, I played prized new acquisitions. In the main they were James P. Johnson-related.


Hank Duncan. Hot Piano: A Tribute to James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. Duncan is a shadowy figure. He reminds me of Paul Lingle. When you hear Lingle or Duncan you say, “Who the hell is this and why aren’t they better known?”

This LP is cheap document, maybe a bootleg. Live performances at a small venue, perhaps a party; tubby piano; no information given. Duncan died in 1968, this LP is possibly posthumous.

The feel is perfect but his left hand is sloppy. For no respectable reason I think Duncan was a drinker, like Donald Lambert. Perhaps he’s got a bottle of booze on the piano, which doesn’t impair the swing but makes the left hand hand leaps a bit blurry, just like Lambert’s late recordings in Jersey. The most impressive tracks are on the slow side, like a seriously beautiful “Old Man Harlem.”

A bright, charming, and inaccurate “Carolina Shout” is either at wrong speed or is in G-flat (instead of G). No other tracks seem as nearly as off-key so maybe Duncan just likes the black notes.

Jim Turner: Old Fashioned Love: A Tribute to James P. Johnson. Turner is still around, like Mike Lipskin and Terry Waldo one of the remaining links to a once-glorious stride tradition. (Jim Turner website.) This recital is from 1981 and must be one of Turner’s first discs. Very impressive! His version of “Carolina Shout” is in B-flat (of all things) and sounds both respectful and a young turk who’s making this stuff his own.

The last track is “The Turner Shout” dedicated to Turner by his teacher, authentic jazz great Johnny Guarnieri. It’s a short charming rag that sounds like a real devil to play.

At least at this stage of his development, you can tell Turner is an academic whereas Duncan really lived it. However, that doesn’t invalidate Turner’s approach. Indeed, I am most happy to have this rare Euphonic Sounds LP.

Euphonic had one of the most esoteric catalogs of blues, boogies, and stride. Paul E. Affeldt died in 2004: who has the rights to his stuff? A box should really come out of the complete Euphonic.

Playing the Black and Whites: Dick Cary, Cliff Jackson, Art Hodes, and Nat Jaffe. Released 1989 in the early years of historical CD issues. Black and White was an independent 78 company who sold a few sides “during and after WWII” (according to the liner notes).

I got this CD to have Hodes’s astonishing rendition of “Snowy Morning Blues,” which I might vote as the best James P. Johnson cover yet.

Cary is known for a few key Louis Armstrong records and offers two mellow duos with George Wettling; Nat Jaffe is even more obscure but is virtuosic and pleasant enough in a guitar trio setting.

However, the other essential tracks on this compilation belong to Cliff Jackson. Somehow Jackson has mostly eluded me so far but the uptempo stride performances on “Limehouse Blues” and “Who?” are simply jaw-dropping. Giving Donald Lambert a run for his money! Unbelievable. I see “Limehouse” is on YouTube, with a fair number of similarly-astonished comments.

The classical LP awaiting my return was Harold Shapero’s Serenade in D for String Orchestra; Arthur Winograd conducting the Arthur Winograd String Orchestra. Completed in 1945, recorded in the 50’s, never digitally issued and now hard to find.

Much later Shapero slimmed the Serenade down for string quintet, a version that was recorded by the Lydian Quartet for one of the essential Shapero CDs.

My first impression is that little was changed in the argument when the piece was re-orchestrated. The chamber music version is charismatic but I just loved that full mid-century orchestral sound blasting out of a mid-century LP.

I haven’t yet gotten close to what some claim to be Shapero’s masterwork, Symphony for Classical Orchestra. As of now, I think the Serenade is better. A fabulous work.