I’ve been interested in ragtime and stride piano since I was a kid. Naturally, I’ve collected many records of relevant stylists. This is no kind of organized overview; during the 2020 pandemic I simply had time to listen to my LP stash.
Earl Hines Tea For Two
Earl Hines Quintessential Recording Session
Jaki Byard Family Man
Earl Hines/Jaki Byard Duet!
Erroll Garner Afternoon of an Elf
Erroll Garner Gemini
Donald Lambert Meet the Lamb
Hank Jones This is Ragtime Now!
Hank Jones Solo Piano
Ram Ramirez Rampant Ram!
Dick Wellstood One Man Jazz Machine…
Ralph Sutton Off the Cuff
Herman Chittison Piano Genius
Claude Hopkins Crazy Fingers
Jim Turner Old Fashioned Love: A Tribute to James P. Johnson
Hank Duncan Hot Piano: A Tribute to James P. Johnson and Fats Waller
Eubie Blake The Marches I Played on the Old Ragtime Piano
Eubie Blake The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake
Eubie Blake Volume 1 (featuring Harold Browning)
Luckey Roberts Ragtime King
Johnny Guarnieri at the Stereo Piano: Piano Dimensions
Charles Thompson The Neglected Professor
Sir Charles Thompson Portrait of a Piano
Doc Cheatham and Sammy Price Black Beauty
Joe Sullivan New Solos by an Old Master
Burt Bales New Orleans Ragtime
Paul Lingle Dance of the Witch Hazels
Paul Lingle The Legend of Lingle
Ellis Larkins A Smooth One
Hazel Scott After Hours
Sir Roland Hanna Sir Elf
Sir Roland Hanna A Gift From the Magi
Hampton Hawes The Challenge
Earl Hines Tea For Two (1965). The great ragtime and stride pianists are usually heard to best effect when the style was popular and the best players were young, generally in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s when they recorded for 78 rpm discs.
However, there’s at least one exception: Earl Hines, who beat the odds and left a long and vital of series LPs made in the ’60s and ’70s. Tea for Two is one the earliest of his solo LPs and it’s a gas. Hines was a deep swinger and had endless chops, but what really sets him apart is his fearlessness as an improviser. At times he tries too much; the liner notes cite “Tea For Two” as a tour de force, which is fair, but it’s arguably also a scattershot ramble. When Hines dials it in just right, like on “Blues in Thirds,” then the music is just phenomenal. Hines programs Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings,” which must be one of the earliest covers of this Basie band hit (and still one of the only solo piano versions_. A truly vast roar of sound (helped along by his signature double glissandos) occurs near the end of several tracks: try “Blues After Midnight.” Good lord.
Earl Hines Quintessential Recording Session (1970). This album is an odd duck. Some of the most honored 78s of all time are the collections of originals Hines recorded for QRS in 1928. In 1970, Marian McPartland invited him to re-record the whole set for her label, Halcyon. McPartland’s notes are excellent, it’s a relief to read a fellow practitioner on this esoteric art. In the end I guess I think the 1928 tracks remain in a class of one, but the remakes are good fun and certainly an invaluable resource for anyone working on this repertoire. “Panther Rag” is an underrated composition, a Zez Confrey style novelty rag that is incredibly difficult to play. The elder Hines still has the measure of the music.
Jaki Byard Family Man (1978). The avant-gardist who did the most to keep a two-fisted attitude in the music was Jaki Byard. (Charles Mingus would stop his band and tell Byard to play some stride.) My favorite Byard remains the first two trio LPs and the unrepentant masterpiece The Jaki Byard Experience!, but there will be something unforgettable on any Byard disc. On Family Man, it is “L.H. Gatewalk Rag,” a piece written for theatre and possibly inspired by Scott Joplin’s “Great Crush Collision March.” A genial rag in B-flat straight-eighths begins, G-minor drama ensues, and then a swinging C major takes it home.
If Jaki Byard says it, it must be true.
Earl Hines/Jaki Byard Duet! (1972). A smart idea, almost too smart, for at times it is a little challenging to guess who is playing what! Hines and Byard are truly on the same wavelength. The opening train blues “A-Toodle-Oo, Toodle-Oo” is a masterpiece, but every track is great — “As Long As I Live” is perfect for these two — including a beautiful romantic solo from each.
Erroll Garner Afternoon of an Elf (1955) and Gemini (1972). Erroll Garner was another unclassifiable talent, someone whose expansive reach covered all the bases, from the deepest swing to the most esoteric concepts, all played with a smile and supreme technical know-how.
Garner recorded a lot, and while there are by definition no bad Garner albums, neither of these seem unusually essential compared to benchmark discs like Concert By the Sea or Plays Misty.
Afternoon of an Elf is a solo recital, it must be one of his earliest solo LPs, and — incredibly — his left hand index finger was in a splint at the time of recording. The best track is a smoking “Fandango” that rolls from G major rhythm changes to G major blues with casual grace. The title track recalls Willie “The Lion” Smith’s “Echoes of Spring.”
Gemini has bass (Ernest McCarty), drums (Jimmie Smith), his regular conga player (Jose Mangual), and even a bit of harpsichord. Garner is keeping up with the times, for example a funky “Eldorado” (where McCarty has more to do than most bassists with Garner) and a chorus of George Harrison’s “Something.”
Donald Lambert Meet the Lamb (recorded 1960-’62). Anyone who follows this genre bows their head at the mention of Donald Lambert.
(It was probably 1996 or 1997 when I visited Vince Giordano’s house in Brooklyn and he played me Jelly Roll Morton on piano roll — the actual machine, “live” in his house — and Donald Lambert on LP. A very important day!)
Lambert might have had the best left hand of all. There are a few precious early tracks from 1941, an “Anitra’s Dance” at Newport that remains one of the most shocking things ever captured on video, and a bunch of music from the era of Meet the Lamb LP. Lambert was near the end and the pianos are horrible. Still. At tempo, Donald Lambert’s fearlessness can make one’s eyes water.
Hank Jones This is Ragtime Now! (1964) Like many of the very greatest jazz pianists, Hank Jones made his share of unlikely concept albums. Here Mr. Jones plays rags quite straight, albeit with a swing beat and some improvisational flourishes, in a trio with Milt Hinton and Osie Johnson. These are studio veterans, everyone does whatever it takes, including Johnson clicking on his rims like a much earlier drummer. Sadly, the first side has Hank on tack piano, which really seems wrong. On side B, the pianist digs into reasonably obscure repertoire on a concert grand, including three classics from Joesph Lamb and a new rag from Manny Albam that sounds like a James P. Johnson riff piece.
Jones’s own charming double-note etude “Bag O’ Rags” is the best thing on the whole album. “Bag O’ Rags” should be transcribed and paired with Roland Hanna’s “Century Rag.”
After “Bag O’ Rags,” the most important aspect of this curio may be simply that the great Hank Jones was willing to do this project.
Hank Jones Solo Piano (1956). More on Jones’s normal beat is the classic recital of standard songs. While an older LP, the fidelity is wonderful, and overall remains one of the very best records for appreciating Jones’s touch, which ranks with Art Tatum. It’s the kind of pianistic control where you just open the dictionary and try to find the right kind of superlative: Silky, pearly, golden, effervescent, luminous…
Jones was influenced by Tatum and Teddy Wilson, but also learned bebop on the job. Unlike most beboppers, Jones kept some of the stride feel even when playing with a modern rhythm section like Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Jones was two-fisted no matter what.
This LP has it all. Indeed, there’s no better example of post-Tatum striding standards. A basic library item.
Ram Ramirez Rampant Ram! Piano Solos (1973). Ramirez is the composer of one of the most famous standards, “Lover Man.” He’s on a certain number of jazz records with major players in the 40’s but this is one of his few records as a leader. It’s an enjoyable listen, moderate swinging tempos, a bit ‘o stride, attractive flourishes not far from Teddy Wilson. The repertoire includes Ellington, the blues, and of course “Lover Man.” If you want to really learn the “right” changes to that chestnut, here ya go. (Ramirez plays it in D-flat.)
Dick Wellstood One Man Jazz Machine… (undated, probably mid-70s). A live set from the Cookery, where you can occasionally hear a little talking and eating in the background. Wellstood had a lot of raw ability, could play stride at a high level, and also had a significant career as a jazz critic. “Eclecticism” was Wellstood’s watchword, and the set starts in a pretty unlikely place, a set of bluesy variations on the same famous Paganini’s caprice used by Brahms and Rachmaninoff. Near the end he busts out some stride in a Donald Lambert vein and it’s genuinely exciting. When Wellstood is playing slower and more like “typical jazz” (there are covers of the hard bop ballad “Theme for Ernie” and McCoy Tyner’s “Search for Peace”) he’s not so engaging: I’m not quite sure of Wellstood’s own voice or what he believes in terms of an improvised line. But when Wellstood goes all out with two fists blazing, the music settles into a “thing.” On “If Dreams Come True,” which is associated with James P. Johnson, the music kinda just sits there for a few minutes before he finally lights it up with serious Harlem know-how.
Ralph Sutton Off the Cuff (1976). Ralph Sutton is a fantastic pianist. Each song is in the zone, whether an a stride classic like “Echoes of Spring” and “Viper’s Drag” or a mellow standard like “Memories of You” and “Two Sleepy People.” One highlight is an obscure Bob Zurke fingerbuster, “Eye Opener,” but just as good is “Muskrat Ramble,” which I don’t think I ever heard a solo pianist attempt before. The breathtaking precision of Sutton’s execution suggests that it is all quite pre-planned, but the spirit is still jazz. On the second side an anonymous electric bassist and drummer sit in to no effect whatsoever.
For some reason I never paid much attention to Sutton before — I must have bought this somewhere and never listened to it — but going ahead I will keep learning about his contribution; a casual listen online suggests that his best work ranks with anybody.
Herman Chittison Piano Genius (anthology of 1944 and ’45 tracks). Like so many Swing Era legends, Herman Chittison is an obscure figure today, although Robin D.G. Kelley recently made a case for Chittison being an important influence on Thelonious Monk. Much of this LP is taken up with trios with bass and guitar, which are fine, but the meat are four solos. The aesthetic is reasonably “light classical,” Chittison even plays arrangement of Schubert, Chopin and MacDowell, but his chops are almost Tatum-level and he can swing too. The best thing is a superb traversal of “Where or When.”
Claude Hopkins Crazy Fingers (1973). Like Eubie Blake, Claude Hopkins was interested in writing songs, and this late-in-life recital of mostly original compositions has plenty of straightforward rumination before the left hand opens up for some Harlem action. The title track is swinging “novelty number,” while a memorable “Late Evening Blues” shows that authentic member of the fraternity can make a pure triad speak the blues. It’s interesting to hear someone play “Willow Weep for Me” and “Indiana” who learned them when they were new.
Jim Turner Old Fashioned Love: A Tribute to James P. Johnson (1982). A really nice tribute from a youngster, very well played, if perhaps lacking the last degree of confidence. The repertoire includes “Carolina Shout” (in B-flat!) and many other wonderful James P. pieces. Turner was a protege of Johnny Guarneri, and one of the highlights of this LP is a modern stride work by Guarneri for his student, “The Turner Shout.” The label Euphonic Sounds released a lot of cool piano records that are a bit dim sounding overall; while not a household name, Turner stayed in the game and some more recent releases have a more charismatic sound reproduction.
Hank Duncan Hot Piano: A Tribute to James P. Johnson and Fats Waller (no date given). Duncan played with King Oliver and Sidney Bechet; other biographical details are scarce, and there doesn’t seem to single picture of him online. At any rate, he’s a great stride pianist, very much in the Waller and James P. mold. The best track might by James P.’s “Jingles,” on this LP called “Old Man Harlem.” The ballads and boogies are less distinctive, but when Duncan opens up the left hand at tempo it’s the real deal.
This dubious LP has no date, liner notes nor even a back cover. However it’s obviously a selection of various live recordings on barroom pianos. Duncan was from Kentucky but this record must document his late years in New York.
Eubie Blake The Marches I Played on the Old Ragtime Piano (1960). One of the best post-war Eubie Blake releases! If you don’t like this, quit listening to two-fisted piano. The conceit is perfect: Mr. Blake plays John Philip Sousa and other march composers, composers who were already next to Scott Joplin, before Blake “rags” them with swing, syncopation, and a full complement of stride tricks and trifles. Blake lived a long life and achieved respected elder status and received many honors. However, while all of his records are valuable, most of his easier to find discs and videos are from when he is elderly indeed. In 1960 Blake is a sprightly 73, and boy is he hitting that damn piano. There’s quite a band present: Milt Hinton, Kenny Burrell, Panama Francis, and legendary clarinetist Buster Bailey, but everyone is subordinate to the star, where Bailey stands far back to Blake and Burrell is all but inaudible. The last track is an enjoyable little lecture demo called “Tricks,” where Blake credits Luckey Roberts and Franz Liszt.
The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake (1968). A famous 2-LP set that did a lot not just for Eubie Blake but the whole world of ragtime. Eubie talks and interacts with the small studio audience. After this set was released, Blake spent another decade entertaining delighted audiences all over the world. Apparently Blake was actually 80, not 86, at the time of recording. It’s a bevy of amazing music. Blake plays full out, not trying to take it easy on himself, and the engineering can be a little brittle: For my own taste, the 1960 marches LP above and the 1971 set below actually have more charismatic production. Still, by any standard, The Eighty-Six Years of Eubie Blake is a crucial historical document. The last track is his famous torch song “Memories of You,” played in grand pomp in F major before modulating up to A-flat.
Eubie Blake Volume 1 (featuring Harold Browning) (1971). A good sampling of original Eubie Blake piano music is on side A. Like Muhal Richard Abrams, Blake studied the Schillinger system, and his “Dicty’s on Seventh Avenue” written in the mid-’60s was his kind of Schillinger graduation piece, a fabulous Harlem-style work with a few more whole tone chords than usual. “Fizz Water” was an early Blake rag from 1914, and he plays it very “straight.” “Melodic Rag” was written in 1971, and it is much more relaxed and swinging…and what smooth octaves this pianist has! “Ragtime Merry Widow” gives us the famous waltz “as is” before taking it to a stomping 4/4. “Novelty Rag” is an obvious tip to Zez Confrey.
The second side has the simply gorgeous singer Harold Browning, born 1891, and a key associate from Blake’s earlier years. Listening to these two perform songs together in 1971 explains something about the history of race relations in America that no words can ever express.
Luckey Roberts Ragtime King (1958). Roberts was a speed demon and a terror of Harlem rent parties when he was younger, but at a mellow 70 years of age he is ready to take it pretty easy on a set of standards with a nice quartet including Garvin Bushell, Joe Benjamin, and Herbert Cowens. Unlike the Blake set with Buster Bailey just above, Bushell is the lead voice and takes solos. Cowens doesn’t play a jazz cymbal beat but keeps it on the snare like an older New Orleans drummer.
The few solos from 1946 are the best Roberts I’ve heard, there’s something timeless about those tracks, I particularly adore the avant-garde style of “Railroad Blues.”
For this 1958 band excursion, certain details suggest a dated “concept” album, as if the quartet was hired to play Dixieland on a steamboat. I might be wrong about that. At any rate, this is still a beautiful date nonetheless, with a serious handful of keys from Roberts, albeit on a piano with some kind of “tack” preparation.
It’s uncommon to hear Bushell in an exposed setting, I’m not sure if this somewhat sentimental alto and clarinet performance is really “his style” or not. (Famously Bushell played Fletcher Henderson, Fats Waller, and Cab Calloway before accompanying John Coltrane at the Vanguard in 1961.)
Johnny Guarnieri at the Stereo Piano: Piano Dimensions (1965). Guarnieri could play. He held his own with Lester Young and other Basie-ites in the ’40s at a time when there weren’t so many white pianists who could really swing. His career sort of stalled out after the Swing Era; In the 70’s he was in residence at the Tail O’ the Cock restaurant for over a decade. The liners of Piano Dimensions makes a big deal about fancy stereo sound, which is ridiculous since the LP sounds pretty bad. Some of the Rachmaninoff-esqe gestures in “I Cover the Waterfront” and “Stella By Starlight” are in rather banal Don Shirley territory, but Guarnieri had still kept up the Harlem chops he learned from emulating James P. Johnson. Uptempo pieces like “Keep Movin'” and “My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms” are lively, and the mid-tempo closer, “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” is perfect, with a beat that undulates back and forth just so.
Charles Thompson The Neglected Professor (mid ’60s?) In his extensive notes, the ragtime historian Trebor Tichenor lays out the case for Thompson (born 1891) deserving a place in St. Louis ragtime history alongside Scott Joplin and Tom Turpin. (This Charles Thompson is not the same as the Sir Charles Thompson who wrote “Robbin’s Nest,” that personality is on the LP just below.)
These recordings are from late in life but they are still rather astonishing, both musically and technically, especially for a deep blues feel. Thompson sounds more like a New Orleans pianist than a New Yorker, with eighth notes that hang out between straight and swung. Sadly the fidelity is terrible and the pianos are worse. Still, a valuable document.
Sir Charles Thompson Portrait of a Piano (1984) This well-produced and well-played solo recital is a mellow listen. Most of the tracks are standard songs played in the swinging Teddy Wilson to Hank Jones mold, including Thompson’s own big hit, “Robbin’s Nest.”
In his glory years, Thompson was a crucial member of the swing-to-bop fraternity, on records with Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Buck Clayton, Charlie Parker, and of course the co-writer of “Robbin’s Nest,” Illinois Jacquet.
According to the liner notes, this album was made after a decade playing in piano bars, where Thompson got to practice his two-fisted approach. The results are obviously excellent, it’s top shelf pianism. However, it is also strictly middle-of-the-road, ideal for talking over as you serve drinks at a party, and thus perhaps not totally satisfying for a dedicated listener.
Doc Cheatham and Sammy Price Black Beauty: A Tribute to Black American Songwriters (1979). Like the Sir Charles Thompson, another Sackville LP produced by Bill Smith and John Norris, who thank the artists in the liner notes “for the privilege of being able to record their music.” Norris supplies helpful liner notes as well.
Naturally, Black Beauty is more of a feature for soulful trumpet than stride piano, but Sammy Price is in there, playing lots of rhythmic notes in support of the great Doc Cheatham. I am aware of Price more as a blues and boogie player than a ragtime and early song artist, but of course almost everyone has more reach than any thumbnail sketch lets on.
The concept for the album is great, and the duo is reverential and swinging throughout.
— Travelin’ All Alone (J.C. Johnson)
— Some of These Days (Sheldon Brooks)
— Love Will Find A Way (Blake/Sissle)
— After You’ve Gone (Layton/Creamer)
— Someday You’ll Be Sorry (Louis Armstrong)
— Old Fashioned Love (J. P. Johnson)
— I’m Coming Virginia (Heywood/Cook)
— Squeeze Me (Waller/Williams)
— Memphis Blues (W.C. Handy)
— I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling (Waller/Link/Rose)
— Louisiana (J.C. Johnson/Razaf)
Joe Sullivan New Solos by an Old Master (1953) Sullivan was a big jazz star in the Swing Era, but like so many others, faded from view. Released in 1955, this disc must be one of the earliest stride piano recitals on 12-inch LP. Sullivan is already past his prime, but it’s still a good listen, showcasing his aggressive “spanking” of clusters in the right hand, which oddly foreshadow Don Pullen. There are remakes of his biggest hits “Gin Mill Blues” and “Little Rock Getaway” and a pretty good boogie woogie, “Farewell to Riverside.”
Piano Ragtime of the Forties (undated, probably mid-70s) (It looks like the title of the LP is “Pork and Beans” but the cover is a picture of the sheet music to the Luckey Roberts composition). There were exceptions, but a kind of basic division in the 20th century ragtime players was easy to make, the black originators and the white followers.
David A. Jasen has given so much to the ragtime literature. Since Piano Ragtime of the Forties was curated by Jasen, it automatically has merit. He shows his appreciation of the originators by giving them over twice as much text on the back. (The first side is originators, the second side is followers.)
A few things on this collection are probably still not online.
Like his composerly contemporaries William Albright, William Bolcom, and Gunther Schuller, Jasen was impressed with the published score. Indeed, the cover of this LP, a picture of sheet music, confirms this attitude. At that time there was no computer-assisted transcription, which would have been another barrier to learning this music by ear.
It is time for a new round of ragtime scholars to publish a critical edition of original compositions as played by James P. Johnson, Wille the Lion, Fats Waller, Luckey Roberts, Eubie Blake, Charles Thompson, Claude Hopkins and others — heck, I’d put “Bag O’ Rags” by Hank Jones, “L.H. Gatewalk Rag” by Jaki Byard, and “Century Rag” by Roland Hanna in there too. (James Dapogny’s edition of Jelly Roll Morton is a useful model.)
After all, these are some of our great American composers, and conservatory students should step away from those tired Gershwin preludes and deal with some of this serious piano repertoire instead.
Burt Bales New Orleans Ragtime (1973?) Another great pianist. Bales’s covers of classic Jelly Roll Morton are unforced and swinging. Perhaps even better are a pair of ruthless servings of Scott Joplin, “Original Rags” and “Maple Leaf Rag.” Talk about two-fisted. Dimly recorded.
Paul Lingle Dance of the Witch Hazels and The Legend of Lingle (1951). Burt Bales can be heard paired with Paul Lingle on a on a 1957 LP, They Tore My Playhouse Down, which is easy to find on CD and highly recommended to two-fisted enthusiasts. Bales is a straight swinger, while Lingle has something mysterious and poetic in his conception.
The Lingle studio performances on They Tore My Playhouse Down are better than these two LPs worth of casual tracks recorded on the job at the Jug Club. “Louisiana Rag” by Leon M. Block is obviously being read from the sheet music (apparently Lingle carried stacks of the stuff around to the gigs) but it’s got a certain feel that is undeniable. A “new” piece like Harry Warren’s “September in the Rain” (from 1937) is more anonymous, that’s just normal cocktail music. It’s more valuable to hear Lingle play Joplin’s “Original Rags” or George Thomas’s “Muscle Shoals Blues.”
Ellis Larkins A Smooth One (1977). In the 70s, Larkins was someone who helped make New York New York, a smooth stylist in the piano rooms with a local reputation but not perhaps a name known to the jazz world at large. His big influence was Teddy Wilson, so he naturally pairs with Hank Jones, but he also has surreal moments like Earl Hines, and can rhythm guitar out in the left like Erroll Garner. The tracks with George Duvivier and J.C. Heard are enjoyable but the two solos, Benny Carter’s “Blues in My Heart” and Larkins’s own “C. E. B.,” define an idiosyncratic talent. The left hand stuff Larkins does here is simply outrageous, full tenths the whole time, enabling the whole piano to resonate from top to bottom.
Hazel Scott After Hours (1980). Hazel Scott is back in the news. thanks to a mesmerizing 1943 novelty performance on two pianos, which Alicia Keyes saw YouTube and emulated for a performance at the Grammys.
Scott’s last record (she died a year later) has some affinities with the Larkins just above, a mainstream trio disc with Duvivier and a swinging drummer, in this case Oliver Jackson. It’s an expansive mood record of medium tempos and grooves, with a two-fisted bluesy profile next door to someone like Gene Harris, although Scott has a rhythm guitar left hand.
They called “After Hours” the “Black National Anthem” at one point, everyone had to play in it the ’40s and ’50s. In the the opening stanza Scott is all the way in the low register, a great effect. Two unaccompanied choruses setting up “St. Louis Blues” is an album highlight, and makes one wish for a larger Scott discography.
Sir Roland Hanna Sir Elf (1973) and A Gift From the Magi (1978). Hanna was a modern jazz pianist, but he was also interested playing the whole instrument and creating a language where nothing was missing in a solo recital. Past a certain tempo, Hanna’s left keeps a half-tempo feel, so it never really opens up into a Harlem stride thing. Still, like Jaki Byard and Hank Jones, Hanna brought aand unforced and uncliched “two fisted” feel to mainstream post-bop piano.
Sir Elf is mostly standards done with a exploratory touch, for example a swinging “Yours Is My Heart Alone” that explores motivic development and even hints at bitonality. “You Took Advantage of Me” starts a bit in the Tatum tradition before snaky bop lines over stride bass reminds us of his heritage as an essential Detroit pianist. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” evokes Jelly Roll’s “Spanish Tinge” while “There Is No Greater Love” is straight up serious jazz.
A Gift From the Magi is starkly different, all original compositions with a classical flavor, at times sounding like a literal lift from French Impressionism. (Hanna says as much in his notes.) The “Spanish Tinge” is now much more like Granados than New Orleans. Charlie Haden’s “Silence” is included in the set list, confirming my suspicion that Roland Hanna and Keith Jarrett could operate on a remarkably similar wavelength (Jarrett debuted “Silence” on record a year or two earlier).
Both of the above LPs are naturally excellent, but they are also arguably just steps in Hanna’s development. In 1979 Hanna would track Swing Me No Waltzes, a perfect assemblage of the striding exploration on Sir Elf and the formal composition of The Gift of the Magi. For me, Swing Me No Waltzes is one of the greatest unaccompanied jazz records ever made. Detroit piano! Hank Jones’s Solo Piano offers the standards, Swing Me No Waltzes offers the originals.
Hampton Hawes The Challenge (1968) and Tommy Flanagan Alone Too Long (1977). In terms of working on a solo piano approach, Hank Jones and Roland Hanna were somewhat unusual of their peer group. The solo LPs by the impeccable beboppers Hampton Hawes and Tommy Flanagan might have something missing, or at least the titles suggest that the success of these ventures were in doubt: The Challenge, Alone Too Long.
Hawes plays a light time in his left, usually a walking bass line, which is arguably not quite meaty enough to support the quicksilver brilliance of his right. Flanagan’s recital mostly offers ballads, and when the goes into a faster tempo he relies on the sustain pedal more than he would with a bassist.
If you love Hawes or Flanagan, there’s still plenty to enjoy here, but neither disc would be a good gateway album. In the context of everyone else on this page, these bop masters show that they are not really two-fisted.
Keith Jarrett Facing You (1971) and Geri Allen Homegrown (1985).