The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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60                                   THE INSTRUMENTS, THE SOUNDS, THE PERFORMERS
the elements of ragtime with the general jazz style heard at that time on other instruments.
Close to the core of ragtime but certainly linked to a later era as the father of the stride pianists was James P. Johnson (best known in the pop-music field as composer of the song Charleston), some of whose player piano rolls have been trans­ferred to LPs on Riverside. As Orrin Keepnews observes, John­son "very obviously began in the ragtime tradition; to this he added a substantial feeling for the blues, a touch of the brittle gaudiness of Broadway, a great deal of the rollicking spirit of the crowd that gathered around the party piano. . . . His vigorously striding, joyous style set the pace at the all-night doings that took place as often as possible in just about every Harlem apartment that owned a battered upright , . "
Johnson, who had been playing professionally for a decade before World War I, considered Luckey Roberts his major in­fluence. In addition to the piano rolls, he was heard during the 1920s on many records, on tours with Negro revues, and in early sound movie shorts with Bessie Smith and others. During those years New York was firmly established as the mecca of jazz piano, the city in which Willie "The Lion" Smith, one of the subtlest of the stride artists, would coax his gentle, wolf-in-sheep's clothing variations on lacy, spring-airy themes from Harlem keyboards; when Duke Ellington, at the vortex of this piano school, idolizing the Lion, would sit down and try to follow him at the Capitol Club, 140th and Lenox, and when Fats Waller, who brought James P/s ecstasy to a sharper edge and ultimately to a far wider audience, would follow Johnson around and study the superb symmetry and rounded beat that made every chorus swing.
Stride piano was the left-hand technique that obtained in jazz all through the f20s and most of the '30s. Though men like Johnson and Waller were directly associated with it, there were others whom it served as an occasional or frequent prop in a more variegated style, among them Cliff Jackson, a blues expert still prominent in the New York clubs of the late 1950s; Count Basie, a Waller disciple who later leaned toward a simpler, singje note style that depended for much of its success on the