Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ralph Sutton plays the music of Fats Waller

Ralph Sutton plays the music of Fats Waller ( English) Ralph Sutton speelt de muziek van Fats Waller ( Nederlands)

The last of the great stride pianists.
Hans Koert

Possibly no one in popular music had a more infectious personality than the late Fats Waller. Enjoyment bubbled out of everything he did. Whether pounding a piano with a curious sort of elephantine delicacy or impishly tinkering around with the console of an organ, he effused an enthusiasm and likeability that has rarely been equalled. ( cover text )

As a young adult the first jazz musician that really hit me was Thomas Fats Waller. He was a swinging stride piano player with a great technique, humorous and a personality you couldn't ignore. I collected all his recordings on the French RCA Black and White series. Having a piano at home I tried to play like Fats, but I didn't had his voice, his size, his humor and, above all, I possessed insufficient skills to touch the keys like him. I was fascinated by piano players who could play in that typically stride-piano style of Fats Waller, like Ralph Sutton. I found some albums with him on the Dutch Riff label featuring the Ralph Sutton Trio with a Dutch rhythm section featuring Koen Van Der Sluis on bass and Ted Easton (real name Theo Van Est) on drums. One of those LPs was titles Piano Moods ( Riff 659009) ( not to be mixed up with a 1950 Columbia record with the same name by Sutton) and it contained several tracks played with that typically Waller groove, like Alligator Crawl, Blue Turning Grey Over You, Ain't Misbehavin' , a Handfull of Keys, Squeeze Me and of course Honeysuckle Rose.
Milt Hinton once said: Ralph is without doubt the greatest, and he's just about alone with it now, because he's one of the few left from our finest and most creative piano eras.
Ralph Sutton was born in Hamburg - Missouri November 1922 and passed away December 2001. His father was a country-style fiddler and he learned, as a kid, to play the piano. He got some lessons from a lady whose ragtime training was sound and complete. He performed with his father's band as a kid at local dances and started his professional career, 19 years old, in the orchestra of Jack Teagarden. Jack had heard him playing at a prom at his school and invited him to join his band.
As so many young adults he had to join the army and after this break he became active in radio programs, like the show This Is Jazz, that was broadcast weekly. These early airshots are released too with a band that performed during these shows in the summer of 1947. The group contained great names like Wild Bill Davison ( I heard this man once playing in Rotterdam during the 1970s), Jimmy Archey, Albert Nicholas, Danny Barker, Pops Foster and Baby Dodds - all veterans in 1930s jazz music. During the early 1950s he played at the Eddy Condon 's club as an intermission pianist. In 1956 he moved to San Francisco and got a job in the Bob Scobey band. He labeled himself as a traditional swing pianist, often playing in the Harlem stride tradition. His repertoire of Harlem stride often contained the music of Fats Waller. With these tunes he set my heart. One of his early recordings complete dedicated to the music of Fats Waller is now on my turntable: Ralph Sutton Plays Music of "Fats" Waller ( Columbia 1025) - a 25 cm Long Playing album with a great cover that contains a photo of a young Ralph Sutton at the piano, while a picture of Fats himself illuminates behind the piano. The eight tracks were recorded in New York on the 7th of February 1951 for Columbia.
On the album eight tracks with well known Fats Waller tunes, like Keepin' Out of Mischief Now, Ain't-cha Glad? - Viper's Drag, Blue Turning Grey Over You, Alligator Crawl, Clothesline Ballet and Take it From Me. It's remarkable to learn that Sutton used some tunes, composed by Fats, but, as far as I know, never recorded by him. What to think about Ain't Cha Glad, which was registered in August 1933 and recorded that month for the very first by Isham Jones. Sheltered By The Stars ( Cradled By The Moon) was registered in May 1932 and recorded by dance bands directed by Gene Kardos, Chick Bullock and Roger Wolfe Kahn in August 1932 - Fats never recorded it. And Take It From me was written in April 1930 and recorded by the Sunshine Boys and Leo Reisman: what a co-incident- both recording session were on the same date: 30th of June, 1931 in New York City - in the Victor and the Columbia studios.
Love to finish with a film fragment in which you can hear Ralph Sutton with the Lino Patruno Trio - Fats Waller's Honeysuckle Rose. Enjoy it!

How he could swing ..
Sutton's playing is characterized by a robust but tastefully controlled technique, an impeccably precise sense of rhythm, and an ebullient dancing quality ( Norman P. Gentieu in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.)
Ralph Sutton - together with Dick Wellstood and Dick Hyman - were the post war giants in the Harlem stride piano style. If Ralph had been born 30 years earlier he could have become one of the greats beside James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Art Tatum.
Ralph Sutton passed away in Evergreen, CO (USA) on the 30th of December, 2001, at the age of 79.
Hans Koert

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Blogger Jo said...

Thanks, Hans, for this great post. Ralph Sutton truly was a master of the jazzpiano, his style emulating the stride pioneers, but first of all - : he really could swing! - I have the same LP featuring Fats Waller gems, mine was issued in the UK by Decca on a Ace Of Heart 12" LP. I wonder, if these tracks have been re-issued in the cd-format? At least, they ought to be available for contemporary admirers of classic swing piano!


5:00 PM  
Anonymous Ted O'Reilly said...

The 1950 and 1951 Ralph Sutton sessons for Columbia are all included as Disc III in Mosaic's "The Columbia Jazz Piano Moods Sessions" (MD7-199). Unfortunately, it is out-of-print.

Still available from that period (on Sackville Records SKCD2-2063) is the 1949 San Francisco material for Down Home records, and 1952 sides for Lyragon in London. There's some Waller material there, but it's more wide-ranging, with some rags, Morton. The Lion and Ellington. Fine stuff on a CD authorized by the Sutton estate.

10:10 PM  

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