Dave Ratcliffe Piano
Highlights Archive
My Grandfather had a photographic memory. I have some kind of “audiographic memory”; I hear something that I am drawn to and hear it playing back inside. Highlights of the Month include reflections of wondrous, irrational meaning for things heard and felt, encountered while here on the journey.
2024 Jan Feb Mar Apr
2023 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2022       Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

April 2024
Thelonious Monk: ’Round Midnight
Two years on from inaugurating this place, I wanted to bring Monk’s ”Round Midnight front-and-center. Working out the transcription in 1989 and recording it into the disklavier in 1993, daily practice recommenced in January to revive it, making possible the recording in March. Like Duke Ellington, Monk’s music is beyond category. Films reflecting some of his essence are Thelonious Monk: American Composer (1991) and Straight No Chaser (1988).

March 2024
Originally from Monk’s Music: Thelonious Monk Septet (Riverside, 1957), I found my way to these two pieces as part of the Thelonious Monk & John Coltrane – Monk / Trane reissue (Milestone, 1973). Crepuscule With Nellie was one of the few Piano Giants pieces I worked out by ear sans transcript. For this Highlight, I finally endeavored to make a transcription, decades later. In 1987 I made a piano transcription of Monk’s four-horn arrangement of the Hymn, likewise recording a form of it this month.

February 2024
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Valentina Lisitsa
Piano Sonata No.14, III Presto Agitato
“Recording in Beethovensaal, Hannover Germany, Dec 2009.
Wilhelm Kempff recorded Beethoven cycle in the very same hall.”[source].
The “Presto Agitato” third movement of Beethoven’s (so-called) “Moonlight” Sonata 14 (Op.27, No.2), is the powerful force-of-nature complementing the Adagio sostenuto (slowly sustained) tempo of the opening movement.[1] Composed in 1801 and published in 1802, I first explored this in 1993 with Richard Goode’s interpretation and find it intriguing to contrast his depiction with that of Valentina Lisitsa’s 2009 form; compare audio instances of each: RG, 7:00 vis-à-vis VL, 6:47.
“The Sonata in C-sharp minor ... has attracted more than its share of attention and more praise than its comparative worth by its romantic implications and the sobriquet “Moonlight” tagged to it by the critic Rellstab. (Rellstab associated it with Lake Lucerne, as if that lake, which of course Beethoven never saw, had a special brand of moonlight!) Beethoven is reported to have had no special fondness for this Sonata, partly perhaps because it eclipsed others in the public attention. Whatever its worth, which is certainly considerable, it is significant through its fortunate (but not permanent) solution of the slow-movement question. The almost formless introductory slow movement (Bach-like preluding which in its course develops a theme) is followed by an allegretto interlude and a finale which is the peak of all, and which is altogether remarkable. It is the first of the tumultuous outbursts of stormy passion which Beethoven was about to let loose through the piano sonatas. It is music in which agitation and urgency never cease, even when they are an undercurrent to the melodic passages. The poet of passion has taken complete possession at last, his turbulence erasing for the time being all memories of the rollicking rondo finale from which a tempest had grown. (See pages 64, 146.)”
The Life And Works of Beethoven, John N. Burk, Random House, 1943, p.425.
Additionally, comPartituras, a musical community, provides a film playback of the score (below) portraying the “manuscript in motion” as well as a 12-page PDF. Further, kudoshinichit on musescore.com proffers a playback with tempo changes indicated throughout.
1 Beethoven’s tempo indicator of Adagio sostenuto for the first movement is curious regarding the cut time, 2/2 time signature. For rate of tempo, Adagio falls in the general range of 66 to 76 beats per minute. Given that the slower side of this range is faster than one second, consider the opening 2 bars of the movement. The first two pairs of eighth note triplets comprise one beat. Measured in this way, this piece should be played much more rapidly than any performer I have ever heard play it. Listen to Richard Goode’s 1993 recording for a “middle-of-the-road” instance.

January 2024
Little Walter (1930-1968)
featuring Dead Presidents
Marion Walter Jacobs aka Little Walter was an innovative blues musician, singer, and songwriter; see complete discography. “Described as ‘king of all post-war blues harpists’, he is widely credited by blues historians as the artist primarily responsible for establishing the standard vocabulary for modern blues & blues rock harmonica players.” I learned about Little Walter in the ’70s from my sister-in-law Ashley who had a longtime appreciation of his music. Initially finding Boss Blues Harmonica (1972), I later picked up the three Le Roi du Blues volumes containing an all-time favorite: Dead Presidents (Jarret Gibson, bari sax; Lafayette Leake, piano; Billy Emerson, organ; Buddy Guy, guitar; Jack Meyers, bass; Al Duncan, drums; by Willie Dixon & Billy Emerson, 5 Feb 1963) which sings the praises of what lucre affords:
Them dead presidents
   Them dead presidents
   Well I ain't broke but I'm badly bent
   Everybody loves them dead presidents.
A little bit of Lincoln can't park the car
Washington he can't go too far
Jefferson is good, played the track
If you think you're gonna bring some big bitch back.
Hamilton on a ten can get you straight
But Jackson on a twenty is really great
And if you're talkin' about a poor man's friend
Grant will get you out of whatever you're in.
A hundred dollar Franklin is really sweet
Five hundred McKinley is the one for me
And if I get a Cleveland I'm really set
A thousand dollar Cleveland is hard to get.
A smattering of other favorites include:
  • Evans Shuffle (Muddy Waters, guitar; Big Crawford, basss; Elgin Evans, drums; McKinley Morganfield, 23 Oct 1950)
  • It’s Too Late, Brother (Robert Lockwood Jr., Luther Tucker or Leonard Caston, guitars; Willie Dixon, bass; Fred Below, drums; Al Duncan, 27 Jul 1956)
  • Just Your Fool (Otis Spann, piano; Fred Robinson, Luther Tucker, guitars; Jimmy Lee Robinson and/or Willie Dixon, bass; Fred Below, drums; Willie Dixon, Dec 1960)
  • Shake Dancer (Robert Kockwood, Luther Tucker, guitars; Fred Below, drums; Walter Jacobs, 5 Mar 1957)
  • Flying Saucer (Robert Lockwood Jr., Luther Tucker, guitars; Willie Dixon, bass; Fred Below, drums; Walter Jacobs, 9 Mar 1956)
  • Worried Life (Luther Tucker, Fred Robinson, guitars; Willie Dixon, bass; George Hunter Drums; Willie Dixon, 25 Feb 1959)
  • Teenage Beat (Robert Lockwood Jr., Luther Tucker, guitars; Willie Dixon, bass; Fred Below, drums; Walter Jacobs, 27 Jul 1956)
  • My Babe (Robert Lockwood Jr., Leonard Caston, guitars; Willie Dixon, bass; Fred Below, drums; Willie Dixon, 25 Jan 1955)
  • Roller Coaster (Bo Diddley, Robert Lockwood Jr., Luther Tucker, guitars; Willie Dixon, bass; Fred Below, drums; Ellas McDaniel, 28 Apr 1955)

December 2023
Jaki Byard
Pianist / Composer / Musician Exemplar
From the liner notes to Amarcord Nino Rota (Hannibal, 1981):
“A master of the difficult art of solo piano, Byard puts his prodigious technique and encyclopedic style to work on the theme from ‘Amarcord.’ It is an alternatively wistful and playful theme and Byard’s set of variations on it, which includes a characteristic touch of stride piano, captures both those qualities.”
This compilation celebrates the soaring genius of the soul incarnated in the human overcoat named John “Jaki” Arthur Byard, Jr. (1922-1999). Exploring his 1960s and ’70s (sometimes solo) piano recordings over 40 years ago, it is a great joy to assemble them here, highlighting his nonpareil sound and unbounded creative mastery of what Duke Ellington called “the Music of Freedom of Expression.”
For a cross-section of Jaki Byard’s range and depth of piano styles combined with his breath-taking technical prowess, listen to how he conjures up 1960 flavors of Journey and The Hollis Stomp in Excerpts from European Episode and again 13 and 9 years later in There’ll Be Some Changes Made and Solo Piano respectively. Then try on for size: Milan to Lyon (second half of Excerpts from European Episode), Aluminum Baby and Jaki’s Blues Next (1960); Garnerin’ A Bit and Giant Steps (1961); Excerpts From “Yamecraw” and There Are Many Worlds (1962); New Orleans Strut, Spanish Tinge #2, Top Of The Gate Rag and A Basin Street Ballad (1969); Bugle Call Rag, Shiny Stockings and Going home blues (1971); Genoa to Pescara and, with Earl Hines, La Rosita (1972); Blues For Smokes Brother and Django (1972); There’ll Be Some Changes Made, Blues Au Gratin and Besame Mucho, (1973); and on and on.....
The versatility and range of this soul is on iridescent display during the 1965 Jazz Workshop in Berlin in his Free Improvisation where echos of Tillie Butterball (1960, 0:30 to 0:44) chime in for a brief moment (3:35 to 3:50). Then (in the same program), the two duets with Earl Hines—Rosetta and Cherry—groove on the intimate connection with their respective pianos that Byard and Hines revel in, engaged as they are in instantaneous be-here-now communication drawing upon the stellar library each mines to “sing together” in sacred harmony.
To conclude, from the Amarcord Nino Rota liner notes:
Jaki Byard’s interpretation of the theme from “La Strada” brings things to a poignant close. “La Strada” is perhaps the most heart-breaking theme Rota ever composed, and Byard’s sensitive reading draws out all of its pathos without ever hitting a false emotional note. His understated final chord provides a most eloquent finis to a most remarkable—and long overdue—tribute.

November 2023
Mal Waldron: Nervous
I found my way to Mal Waldron’s Nervous piano solo on the double LP, They All Played Bebop (released in 1982). Recorded on 5 December 1957, it was part of the LP, The Sound of Jazz, which was followed on 8 December by the TV broadcast of the same name. The restless, edgy feeling conveyed through Waldron’s musical imagination is a notable “utterance” of the word’s meaning as expressed in our universal language.

October 2023
Claude Debussy
Walter Gieseking playing Passepied from Suite Bergamasque
I learned about Walter Gieseking from my father who had been tuning in to him since the 1950s. The rhythmic feeling of Passepied mixed with its melodic line showcases Gieseking’s unique style of interpretation. In the 1990s I found my way to Gieseking’s 1954 recordings of the Complete Works for Piano Solo of Mozart in this 8-CD box set:

September 2023
Found this album in the early ’80s. Especially love the final track, Chorinho Do Marquinho. The Portuguese direct translation is something like “Marquinho’s Little Cry”. The song struck a beautiful chord inside when I first heard it. The interplay between TM and NHOP repeatedly rises and falls like ocean swells making land fall. Catch the extended wave beginning at 2:10.

August 2023
I saw West Side Story as a kid in 1961. It was out-of-this-world powerful. Later at home, I listened to the LP soundtrack a LOT. The Prologue was/is especially captivating. Above goes to a 9:51 minute film version of the Prologue (with the very end clipped). Below is a visual representation of the 6:32 minute original August 1960 soundtrack recording. The transition beginning at 4:32 turns up the heat. The xylophone phrase begins at 4:34. See how many different xylophones you can detect that begin riffing off each other starting at 4:44 and running through 5:07.

July 2023
Sergei Prokofiev
Monster Composer and Pianist
Casting about for more piano wonder to discover and explore, I fell into the expanding universe of Sergei Prokofiev in 1994 with the 3-CD set, PROKOFIEV, Vladimir Ovchinikov – Piano Sonatas / Toccata / 9 Pieces from “Cinderella”. Introduced to Prokofiev’s genius by the utterly inspired pianist Vladimir Ovchinikov, this set continues to be a cherished favorite in the music library. Scores of III: Quarrel (Six Pieces From The Ballet “Cinderella”) and IV: Vivace (Sonata No. 2 in D Minor) are presented in Transcriptions. This music highlights the influence of SG’s oeuvre on composer Danny Elfman (from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure[1][2][3][4]). Consider the following as fodder for Elfman’s musical sense: Toccata, Op. 11 and from Sonatas: No. 2, II: Scherzo - Allegro Marcato, No. 4, III: Allegro Con Brio, Ma Non Leggiero, No. 5, II: Andantino, No. 7, III: Precipitato, and No. 8, III: Vivace, to name a very few.

June 2023
Mary Lou Williams
recordings of No Title Blues
I have wanted to record this quintessential Mary Lou blues with a bass for a very long time. Finding Max Ridley and playing/recording together on 7 and 14 June 2023 was a great gift on many levels.

May 2023
Randy Weston
A vinyl LP that never made it into CD form, here is a digitized edition. While containing some of vinyl’s telltale snap, crackle, and pop, the music is straight-ahead Randy Weston. Fave’ tracks are: Portrait Of Tuntemeke, Good Harvest (Buena Coscecha), and Monk Steps.

April 2023
Tuned in to this album in the early '70s. Two favorites are Compared to What and You Got It In Your Soulness. Just recently stumbled on a film of the former which prompted this highlight.

March 2023
Facing You
As described last November, Facing You was the other album Oscar pointed me at in 1976. The two blow-me-away songs here are In Front and Lalene. Various versions of transcripts are now presented in Transcriptions.

February 2023
Adriano Celentano: Prisencolinensinainciusol
This song was composed by Adriano Celentano in 1972. Some years later it was performed on Italian television—above, and the fun starts at 1:25. It was written to mimic the way English sounds to non-English speakers. Supposedly the English sounding lyrics are mumbo jumbo and his intention was to write a song that means nothing. In addition, the claim is made that the reason it sounds so good, even if it’s gibberish, is because Celentano studied phonetics theory. In Celentano’s own words, “Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did. So at a certain point, since I like American slang – which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than to sing in Italian – I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate. And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn’t mean anything.” Taking the music one step further, “OreStones” worked up a subtitled-inventive interpretation of the meaningless English-sounding words.

January 2023
Texas Seaport 1934:1937
I discovered this album when it came out while working at Rhymes Records. Among the inspired tracks, Rob Cooper’s West Dallas Drag, Joe Pullums’s Cows See That Train Comin’, Rack It Back And Tell It Right, Mississippi Flood Blues, and Andy Boy’s House Raid Blues, and Church Street Blues are especially rich.

December 2022
Christmas Time Is Here
released December 1965
A very simple arrangement of a dreamy tune.

November 2022
Oscar Peterson: Sandy’s Blues (17 Oct 1968)
By 1976 I had burned out on rock n’roll and, at the suggestion of my friend-from-the-beginning-of-time Oscar Hills, picked up copies of Keith Jarrett’s Facing You and a two-fer of Oscar Peterson’s titled, In A Mellow Mood. Putting on Sandy’s Blues, the first song on Side 2, I knew I’d gotten onto something I’d been looking for for a looooong time.

October 2022
This 2000 recording paints a sound picture of a locomotive fired up, slowly rolling out of its wheelhouse, hooked up to the cars it will pull, and then barreling down the tracks to destinations amongst the great beyond.

September 2022
Transcription of Prelude No.16 Variation
Going back to the 1990s original by-hand transcription of John Lewis’ improvisation in the middle of J.S. Bach’s Prelude 16 in G minor from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, I have now put together a more accurate representation, detailed at the top of John Lewis: The Bridge Game, Vol. 2, 1984/85.

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
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’ 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
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.