Dave Ratcliffe Piano
Highlights Archive

August 2022
In his autobiography, African Rhythms, Randy Weston observed, “Nobody wrote more great music than Ellington, and I don’t care what Duke played or wrote—you always heard the blues underneath.” Beginning in Kansas City in the 1930s, Jay McShann expressed his own fundamental access to and articulation of the blues as composer, band leader and master pianist. “In the late 1930s and early 1940s, along with his fellow pianist and bandleader Count Basie, the singer Joe Turner and many others, McShann helped establish what came to be known as the Kansas City sound: a brand of jazz rooted in the blues, driven by riffs and marked by a powerful but relaxed rhythmic pulse.”[] This recording of My Chile is from a 1966 LP that has never been digitized, until now.

July 2022
I began seriously tuning in to Duke Ellington when I was introduced to At His Very Best. For decades following I discovered a cross-section of his music from 1927 up to 1973. The reach of his imagination and creativity was utterly out of this world. The way he voiced horns, his musical ideas, writing for the specific quality of sounds each member of the orchestra brought to the table, his unmistakable pianistic style, his unbounded ability to continue to grow and expand as well as keeping his band working non-stop for more than 40 years ... The liner notes for the 1950 LP, Masterpieces By Ellington observes something of Duke Ellington’s sources of inspiration:
Ellington once listed George Gershwin, Stravinsky, Debussy and Respighi as his favorite composers, a significant group of choices to remember in listening to his music. Gershwin, the inspired melodist, also showed a masterly preoccupation with intricate rhythms and meters. Stravinsky, certainly the most important influence in modern classical music, is an experimenter of the first order, continually exploring rhythms and textures in his compositions. Debussy is the master of Impressionism, refining delicate themes to a gauzy web of articulate grace. And Respighi, whatever his claims as a composer, was a master of orchestration. These revealing choices give the clue to the basis of Ellington's music, and to its incontestably immense appeal: melody, rhythm, delicacy and color.
While he used the piano to compose, Duke Ellington’s instrument was his orchestra. As he put it in a 1962 interview in Vancouver, “The band is an accumulation of personalities, tonal devices, and as a result of a certain musician applied to a certain instrument you get a definite tonal character.”

June 2022
PHOTO: DON SCHLITTEN
Genius is inexplicable, but Art Tatum, when asked, usually cited Fats Waller as his main inspiration. “Fats, man. That’s where I come from. And quite a place to come from,” he once told an interviewer. Waller, in turn idolized Tatum. Once, when Tatum entered a club where Fats was performing, he stopped the music and announced “Ladies and gentleman, I play piano, but God is in the house tonight!”
This LP, recorded in 1940 and 1941 after-hours venues, presents, in Dan Morgenstern’s words, ”the relaxed, informal, completely at ease Tatum.” In this paean to the unique spirit of after-hours, two favorite gems are Fine and Dandy and Begin The Beguine. Tatum’s seemingly effortless rhythmic fluidity underpinning and supporting the swinging melodic lines—interwoven with Reubin Harris “discreetly, moving two whiskbrooms over a folded newspaper placed on a chair”(!)—is truly out of this world.

May 2022
MARY LOU WILLIAMS
HESITATION BOOGIE
Mary Lou Williams’ composition, Hesitation Boogie was recorded by her Trio in 1946. A transcription of this recording is now published in Transcriptions. In The History of Jazz album (1978), she describes this style of playing in the Kansas City Swing era:
During this great swing period a pianist had to have two strong hands. Especially a good swinging left hand to compete as a top pianist. During this period boogie woogie was also very popular. I was never considered a top boogie woogie pianist but was trained to play all styles.

April 2022
RANDY WESTON
on THELONIOUS MONK & HARLEM STRIDE PIANO
Excerpt from Thelonious Monk: American Composer, Masters of American Music Documentary (1991). Randy Weston describes and plays an example of Harlem Stride Piano, followed by Producer Orrin Keepnews, a segment of James P. Johnson’s The Mule Walk (1939), and closes with Randy Weston describing how Monk “put the traditional and modern ... together - so there was no separation” and demonstrates this playing Monk’s tune, Functional using a little bit of stride.